Comics: From Pulp to Educational Reading

4 min read

| By Jennifer Stock |

It should come as no surprise that kids love comic books and graphic novels. After all, when modern comic books first emerged in the 1930s, their main readers were children. During the Golden Age of Comics, kids embraced Superman (1938), Batman (1939), Captain America (1941), and Wonder Woman (1941), as well as comics featuring Disney characters like Mickey Mouse.

In the 1950s, the appropriateness of comics for kids came into question. In 1954 the U.S. Senate held hearings on comic books and juvenile delinquency—in response, the comics industry formed the Comic Code Authority to regulate content. With the rise of the counterculture movement of the 1960s and the work of Art Spiegelman and others, the comics industry began to create more and more adult-themed content. Kids were still reading comics, to be sure, but they were no longer just for kids—and a large number, such as Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Frank Miller’s Sin City, were decidedly not for kids.

However, there has been a resurgence in the popularity of graphic novels for kids. While the earliest comics were considered pulp fluff, that perception has now changed. Parents and educators talk about the value of comic books and graphic novels for early and reluctant readers. Graphic novels are not text-heavy (early and reluctant readers can feel overwhelmed by too much text) and the illustrations provide context and help with comprehension. The stories are exciting and the art is engaging. These graphic novels have also expanded beyond superheroes and Mickey Mouse, to stories about the tribulations of elementary and middle school.

In Raina Telgemeier’s best-selling graphic novel Ghosts, a youngster experiences the healing power of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.
Source: Graphix

As the mother of a fourth-grader, I can attest to this popularity. This year, my daughter’s entire class (independent of any assignment) has been devouring everything by Raina Telgemeier, the Eisner award-winning author of the graphic novel Smile, a memoir based on the author’s childhood experiences with braces. The kids are talking about the books, complaining that they are always checked out of the school library, and even sharing personal copies among themselves.

And as a parent, knowing that not all comics are appropriate for younger readers, it can be a challenge to find more books that are right for my child. But there are resources out there. Many comic book stores include sections for kids. Various organizations have developed “best” lists to help parents, teachers, and librarians identify graphic novels that will capture kids’ interest. Some of my favorites are from the American Library Association, School Library Journal, and A Mighty Girl.

Another great resource is Gale’s Something about the Author. Each volume in this ongoing series provides illustrated profiles of approximately 75 children’s authors and illustrators. The entries feature biographical and critical information (book reviews), along with book descriptions. This content is extremely valuable to parents, teachers, and librarians who are trying to help kids find graphic novels and other books that are 1) appropriate for their age, maturity, and reading level and 2) will capture their interest and imagination. Furthermore, several children’s and YA authors write for multiple age groups, including adults. Something about the Author can help parents determine which of an author’s works are appropriate for their kids.

The most recent volumes of Something about the Author cover several graphic novelists. Volume 322 includes Raina Telgemeier; Matthew Holm, co-creator of the Babymouse graphic novels; and Jill Thomson, author of the Scary Godmother comic books. Volume 323 features Jessica Abel, author of the graphic novel Trish Trash: Roller Girl of Mars.

Finally, Ms. Telgemeier, if you’re listening, I know a bunch of fourth graders who can’t wait for your next book.

Something about the Author is available in print and eBook format on our GVRL platform, learn more >>

Meet the Author

Jennifer Stock is a senior content developer at Gale, a Cengage Company, where she began her career as an assistant editor some seventeen years ago. In that time, she has worked on a variety of projects, including eBooks and electronic databases, for both K-12 and academic audiences.

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1 thought on “Comics: From Pulp to Educational Reading”

  1. I gifted the graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time to three kids this year. At least one of them has moved on the original narrative version since then.


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