Coll. 06 - Rex Stewart's handout

American Comic Books Used as Authentic Texts

By Rex Stewart

The comic is an important medium in America, but is not often used in ESL/EFL classes. While comic strips and comic books present standard usage, they are also a rich source for introducing idioms, paralanguage, and colloquialisms, as well as being less intimidating to students than short stories and novels.
The presenter will discuss how going beyond simple uses of comics can create a learning experience that includes language, social issues, and culture, while making learning fun for students. Participants will be led through hands-on activities that will culminate in the creation of participant-generated comic books.

Comics use cultural myths

One way to make something humorous is to take a cultural cliché or myth and put a new twist on it. Morrison, Bryan, and Chilcoat (2002) give three reasons for using popular culture in the classroom with middle and high school students: 1) it is integral to the lives of students, 2) it helps to promote critical consumer awareness, and 3) students enjoy popular culture (p. 758-759). Sometimes, humor works off of cultural idioms or beliefs. For instance, in one Garfield comic, Garfield teaches his kitten friend Nermal how to climb a tree. See Figure 15 from Davis (1984, p. 31).

Figure 15. Garfield comic strip

Discussing this comic in class could be a way to explain the notion that cats need to be rescued by firemen. We find it funny because it represents cats as realizing they need to be rescued and that there will be someone who will rescue them. In Garfield’s case, he climbs the tree with the intent of having firemen come to rescue him. Even in the first Superman film with Christopher Reeve, Superman saves a cat that can’t get down from a tree. Students can talk about myths like this that exist in their cultures.

Another way that comics are useful is in demonstrating humor. Calvin & Hobbes, Garfield, Peanuts, Bloom County, and others demonstrate the American taste in humor.  Certainly, not all jokes are thought to be funny by all people in a given culture, but for the most part, there are cultural standards in regard to what is considered funny. This is another opportunity for discussion or writing assignments.

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