We talk a lot here about how comics and graphic novels can be incorporated into the K-12 curriculum. But as one college professor was pleased to discover this past semester, the post-secondary level is definitely not too late to win converts and get students thinking about comics’ cultural role. Brian M. Puaca, an associate professor of history at Christopher Newport University, just finished teaching a course on the history of comics and American society and wrote up his findings for Bleeding Cool.
Most of Puaca’s 50 students were not devoted comics fans before they took the course, he said: “Many had never read a comic book and almost none of them had purchased a comic in the past year.” They were familiar with a wide variety of superheroes, but much of their knowledge was gleaned from Hollywood films rather than the source material. They weren’t against the idea of reading comics–obviously, since they were taking the class–but they just didn’t know how to begin.
Puaca’s course quickly expanded the horizons of some students who only thought of comics in terms of superheroes. The discussion of two frequently challenged graphic novels–Maus and Blankets–allowed for examination of autobiography, historiography, and allegorical representations. By the end of the course, Puaca notes, many students said they intended to continue reading comics on their own. Of course this is a positive for the students who’ve discovered they enjoy the format, but Puaca also thinks that converting more college-age readers could be transformative and reinvigorating for the entire industry:
[T]he average age of the comic book reader is around forty years old…[and] increases a little bit every year. And yet it doesn’t seem to me that the constant drift toward fifty needs to continue. As I see it, the take-home lesson from the class in regard to audience and readership was a simple one: it’s wrong to think that young people don’t like comics. From what I saw this semester, they don’t really know comics. Most of them don’t have any personal experience with comics. They know characters, see movies, and play video games. But they haven’t read comics. And what makes me all the more optimistic is that when they do read comics, they love them! Here’s to converting some new comics readers next year!
Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.