Students analyze graphic novels—”comic books”—in AP English

Eliza Coleman

Over the past month, students in Ms. Williams AP English class were asked to read and analyze graphic novels. You read that right. Graphic novels. In an Advanced Placement, college level course. So-called “comic books” are usually viewed in society today as being an entertaining past time for geeks and nerds. They are the basis for cosplay and Comic Con, activities which can never truly be understood by the casual passerby. Students were given the task of analyzing whether or not these texts could add anything substantial to the curriculum of high-achieving and intelligent students.

Students were given an assignment to read one of a list of critically acclaimed graphic novels, including Watchmen, Persepolis, Maus, and Fun Home. They were then told to review the novel, and ask ten in-depth questions which they would then use in an open discussion with others who had chosen the same book. Following the discussion, they used what they had learned to write a literary analysis. This is standard procedure for books read in Ms. Williams class; a similar analysis was assigned for Tim O’Brien’s semi-autobiographical work of fiction, The Things They Carried. The difference in this assignment, though, is that students were forced to look past what the words were saying, and see what the artwork could reveal about the story as well.

After the reading, analyzing, discussing, and writing about their graphic novels, students were asked to write a final essay which would answer the following question: Should graphic novels be read and analyzed in an AP English classroom? While a few still remained skeptical, most students appear to be in favor of the mixture of art and literature.

“I think they’re beneficial because they fall in line with the intention of the course to help us interpret the argument behind a piece of literature,” Aaron Jessie (11) said. “Graphic novels also display rhetorical strategies like symbolism and imagery, just in a different manner that allows for people with different learning styles to pick up on them.”

Anna Shelton (11) has a similar view. “Graphic novels should definitely be included in the curriculum,” she said. “It gives readers who normally cannot pick up on the main themes or other things in a normal novel a new way to analyze the writing.”

However, some students still prefer novels in their original form. “Even though graphic novels do provide insights into other aspects of literature, I myself prefer traditional novels,” R.J. Ariel (11) said. “I find them to allow much more creativity for interpretation on my part.” Whatever their opinion, these students have been exposed to a new form of story-telling that Ms. Williams, and other AP teachers at Manual, will continue to utilize in the future.