The goal of this study is to identify what place, if any, graphic literature should have in academic curricula. While it is reasonably common to find courses in art and literature at any mainstream college or university, courses on graphic literature can be somewhat harder to locate. The reason for this is that academic disciplines are genres which means they are subject to constraints. These constraints work well with already established modes such as books or film but can become trouble for graphic literature. As a blend of art and narrative, it cannot fully be placed in the art or literature departments. It may be the case that without a department for graphic literature, courses in the form will remain rare.
However, some educators have found use for graphic literature in other departments. Each semester Professor Sebastian Maisel of Middle Eastern Studies at Grand Valley State University uses graphic works such as Majane Satrapi’s Persepolis to bring a different reading experience to his MES 201 course. In order to determine the efficacy of graphic literature in this setting, I took a survey of his course. One of the questions of this survey asked students to define graphic literature. In forming these definitions some students indicated the form was more about art while others indicated the text was the more important aspect. This may suggest that different students have different experiences in the cognitive processing of graphic literature.
In order to provide solid evidence of this I replicated a test originally given by Academic Coach Wendy Marty. The test asked students to look at a simple example of graphic literature for fifteen seconds and then reproduce what they could from memory. Analysis of these tests allowed us to determine on a case by case basis whether students were better able to learn visually or textually. From our test sample we found that there is actually a pretty large mix of these types of students. If these results are indicative of anything it’s that there are different learning types that professors and students may not be fully aware of.
Dale Jacobs, in his analysis of graphic literature, offers a new way of thinking of the form by placing it into the genre of multimodal literacy. The purpose of multimodal texts is to incorporate elements from all sorts of visual and audio forms. The beauty of multimodal texts is that they compensate for the difference in processing among different readers. Therefore, if the goal of academic curricula is to create the best learning experience for all students, multimodal texts need to be more prevalent. If there are indeed different styles of learning, professors must be able through their coursework to reach all of these different types of students. Graphic literature may not have its own department but because of its multimodal properties it can prove to be beneficial if incorporated into courses in a wide variety of disciplines.