Using Comic Book Themes and Archetypes to Write About Humanity

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Inspired by Garrett Hardin's "Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor"
Inspired by Garrett Hardin’s “Lifeboat Ethics: The Case Against Helping the Poor”

This week we finally got to bring The Walking Dead into my online writing class and I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am about that. Of course, as you know if you know anything about me at all, I am a huge Walking Dead fan so that alone was exciting. Just love being able to talk with others about my obsession. But the really big deal for me was what happened when I invited zombies (and bats, spiders, and aliens) into my class.

Inspired by Kenzaburo Oe's "The Unsurrendered People"
Inspired by Kenzaburo Oe’s “The Unsurrendered People”

As I’ve written about before (see The Walking Dead in my Writing Classroom), our Writing II class requires that students read diverse texts (from a reader as well as other sources) and then write about the ideas/issues/themes presented in their reading. This concept presents two big challenges for instructors: students don’t want to read these texts and when they do read them they don’t want to engage with the ideas in more than a superficial manner. I leave to your imagination the uninspiring writing that results from this lack of engagement. Personally, I’d rather talk about zombie eating habits.

Inspired by Frederick Douglas' "Learning to Read"
Inspired by Frederick Douglas’ “Learning to Read”

My solution was to focus on the fact that the ideas presented in these texts really are big ideas that humans have grappled with for a long time. Our [human] struggles to understand these issues and find answers to these questions have inspired literature, art, music, and more recent cultural explorations through comic books and graphic novels. While many of my students may not be familiar with the great works of art, literature, and music that have been inspired by this very human quest for understanding, I felt confident that that they were familiar with the iconic comic book heroes and so that is where I chose to focus my efforts this semester.

Inspired by David Suzukie's "The Sacred Balance"
Inspired by David Suzukie’s “The Sacred Balance”

Our work began with reading one text from our book (chosen by each individual student) and writing summaries. Not an unexpected activity for this type of class. After the summaries were revised and polished, we created six-word-memoir posters for each reading (See Using Six-word-memoir Posters to Discuss Reading, Inspire Writing). As they shared reflections about their posters and described their thoughts during the creative process, I was impressed and intrigued by the many ways my students were interpreting and engaging with the ideas shared in the original texts as well as those of their classmates. I could see lots of interesting ideas and possibilities bubbling throughout our class blog and I was (and am) very excited to see all this active engagement taking place.

Inspired by Kisautaq Leona Okakok's "Serving the Purpose of Education"
Inspired by Kisautaq Leona Okakok’s “Serving the Purpose of Education”

This week, I challenged students to find explorations of these ideas in pop culture, specifically comic books, graphic novels, and the movies/TV shows inspired by them. I am so excited and proud of the connections they have made and I can’t wait to dive into some really great class discussions inspired by these ideas and I am very excited to see the writing that results. Already I can see evidence of serious engagement with the ideas and the primary texts that has been prompted with their comfort and interest with pop culture archetypes. My students are finding ways to connect with these authors, texts, and ideas that are interesting to me and to them. In addition, students are using visuals to augment their work and provide additional entry points for discussion and reflection.

Inspired by Mencius' "Man's Nature Is Good"
Inspired by Mencius’ “Man’s Nature Is Good”

Not only am I excited about the connections that my students are making between Batman and texts as diverse as Mencius in “Man’s Nature Is Good” and Kenzaburo Oe’s “The Unsurrendered People” or Spiderman and Frederick Douglas in “Learning to Read” or Yoda and Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” but the students report to me that they are having fun with these assignments and many have commented that this “work” has been a nice break from the midterm madness of tests and papers.

jordan yoda
Inspired by Sun Tzu “The Art of War”

Right now our class blog is a laboratory with many different projects cooking away as students prepare their prompt assignments (digital presentations which will inspire future class discussions) and plan for their final writing assignments (a lengthy analysis paper). I am one happy teacher as I watch all this creative activity and anticipate some really juicy results.

What are your favorite techniques, strategies, and assignments for inspiring student reading and writing?

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