Writer shows how comic books can be used in education

Writer gives lesson at Cary library

With pencil and on a white piece of paper, Owen Butler, of Cary, sketched a three-panel comic of Yoda in battle with a man.

Yoda won the light sabre fight in the 11-year-old’s comic strip.

The story was Owen’s creation, after a presentation by Palo Alto, Calif.-based comic book writer Josh Elder at the Cary Area Public Library, where Elder discussed how comics are created and how they can be useful in the classroom.

Owen’s favorite part of the presentation was when Elder described the process of creating a comic book, which includes a story outline, sketching out the pictures and adding color to the pages.

During the presentation, Elder showed the roughly 20 youngsters how simple shapes can be used to draw characters in a comic.

Elder drew Superman using a circle for the head, a rectangle for the body, lines for the arms and legs and a triangle for the cape.

“You can make a comic out of the simplest things,” Owen said.

During his presentation, Elder asked the kids, what are comics?

“Comics are graphic novels that are basically stories written with pictures and speech bubbles,” said 9-year-old Matthew Cotting, of Cary.

Elder also discussed on Tuesday how comic books encouraged him to read.

“I learned to read from comics, learned to love reading from comics. It opened up all the doorways to all subject areas to me,” Elder said. “Hooked on comics worked for me.”

Elder, a 2002 Northwestern University graduate, is a writer for DC Comics and has worked on Batman, Scribblenauts and Iron Man, and Mail Order Ninja, among others.

He is the founder of Reading with Pictures, which promotes the use of comic books in schools as part of the Common Core curriculum.

Reading with Pictures has created a series of short stories and lesson plans that are aligned with Common Core. The first series is aimed at late elementary school and early middle school students.

He hopes to have material for all grade levels in the future.

Elder said comics are helpful because they help engage students in a subject matter, especially for kids who won’t read anything else.

“The format is less intimidating or more interesting and you can put the same content, same material in two different ways, and they will engage with one of them, and not with the other,” Elder said. “You get them engaged, everything else is ... magnitudes simpler.”

Comics also help youngsters remember material better, he said.

“You can convey an enormously complex ideas in powerful ways in comics in ways prose cannot do by itself ... or text and images can’t do alone,” Elder said. “You put them together, you get more.”

Comics also help present material in a more efficient time frame than just a block of text, Elder said.

“We live in a world where we have to process information faster because there’s more information,” Elder said. “The rate of information growth is accelerating.”