Cartoons & Comic Books in Education
Updated: Oct 29, 2022
The origins of modern-day comics can be traced back to the 1930s. Although, they were initially deemed as dangerous, things changed in the 1940s. This is when “comic books first became a mass medium and educators enthusiastically researched ways to teach with them.” (Utilizing Comics for Educational Reform, n.d.) In the past 25 years, the use of sequential art in education has exploded as educators and librarians realized the value of using images to support literacy. However, this effective instructional strategy pre-dates language and goes back to the primitive form of communication in cave paintings like Lascaux which are believed to be the earliest “Instructional Manuals.” These images emphasize our need to communicate with a universal language that can be “translated” by anyone.
Outside our basic need to communicate, comics in the classroom are an excellent tool used to engage students in meaningful learning experiences. Students are motivated to learn through visuals and educators can “sneak” in literacy skills that include reading, writing, speaking, and critical thinking.
There is an increased benefit in having students create their own comics. By giving learners this opportunity, they have jurisdiction over their own understanding. As students build their story, they get to practice key thinking skills when they decide what their characters will say through using limited text and putting panel breaks on the page. This process develops stronger storytellers with the ability to think critically and develop more effective communication skills.
“Graphic novels do give the brain a good workout. That’s because readers are processing words in captions and in speech bubbles, while also taking in art through the series of panels. The brain is working through all this at the same time the reader is following a storyline, getting to know characters, interpreting facial expressions and predicting what comes next. That’s a lot for the brain to do!”
-Linda Johns “Getting Serious About Comics,” 2012
The following web-based apps are 3 digital tools available to make comics. They are simple and easy to use, but none of them offer a mobile option. To get a good understanding of their features, I used the same concept in all three options in order to offer a truly side-by-side comparison. These tools also provide a wide variety of pre-designed materials such as templates, characters, backgrounds, images, objects, speech bubbles, panels, grids and more. For the most part, students simply drag, drop, and edit a project that they can then share.
FotoJet is known for collages, and they offer the most visually engaging templates out of the 3 reviewed apps. Compiling a collage didn’t take long to create with the pre-built templates and you can upload your own photos. However, it was hard to navigate through and I consider myself pretty tech savvy. Saving work is a bit complicated if you haven’t set up a free trial or have a paid membership. And don’t make a mistake because unlike Canva, there’s no undo button.
The unpaid version offers 10 free templates, but your only options to save are by sharing on social media, downloading a jpg, or printing. This would limit use to one class period and let’s be honest, everyone will not finish the assignment. The paid version offers additional templates but is only a single-user subscription. The cost is $6.99/month, but you can save 50% by choosing annual billing.
Pixton is another web-based app that give teachers and students a unique way to create stories. It seems to be specifically geared towards education and students can explore topics in any subject. Images are available from pop-culture, books, movies and educational topics and they are all Common Core aligned.
Pixton is fully preset with characters, backgrounds, poses and more. It’s got an intuitive design, but there was limited potential for uploading your own images. This would be a great addition, since there were limited search options for these features. The comic I created was saved with the free option, but there is no way to download, print, or share unless you have a paid subscription. I had to screenshot my panels for access to the images.
The positive side of Pixton is that it is really geared towards education. Students can build comics, avatars, and classrooms and teachers are offered lesson ideas, comic school, and content packs. Plus, there are opportunities for feedback through interactive rubrics, pintables, and multiple assessments. And for a very affordable price, there are the following plans available:
$9.99/month – Lesson Plans Only/No students
$24.99/month – Unlimited Classrooms/Unlimited/Students
$99.00/year – Discounted Price offers unlimited use for a year
All Access Plan - Volume Discounts for multiple teachers in a school or district
Although this wasn’t visually my favorite, it is probably the best option for educators. This is a platform with the potential to motivate students, getting them to share subject knowledge in a way that blends art and literacy.
MakeBeliefsComix emphasizes writing and creativity for students and there’s hundreds of printables for teachers. It does fell pretty dated and disorganized. To add insult to injury, it offers poor navigation and the inability to upload your own content, which for creative students will be discouraging. For me however, it forced me to get creative with the concept, which could potentially force students to think critically.
Students would have to work individually on the site. It does offer the ability to save creations, but you must create an account for this option. Students can also print, email, or share their creation to social media. The biggest bonus for this option is that everything appears to be FREE.
Beyond printables, lesson plans, writing tools, and prompts, there are sections geared towards ELL and Special Needs students. So while this option might not be the most sophisticated option, it can still be a useful tool that promotes creativity and self-expression in any classroom.
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Lepore, J. (2015). The Secret History of Wonder Woman (Reprint). Vintage.
Ryder, D. (2020, August 18). Creating Comics in the Classroom. Edutopia.
Syma, C. K., & Weiner, R. G. (2013). Graphic Novels and Comics in the Classroom:
Essays on the Educational Power of Sequential Art (Illustrated). McFarland.
Utilizing Comics for Educational Reform. (n.d.). PRIME VICE. Retrieved October 29, 2022,