Intersectional Identity Representation and Approaches in Comics

Intersectional Identity Representation and Approaches in Comics

Jason D. DeHart (University of Tennessee, Knoxville, USA) and Syd Shadrick (Appalachian State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2023 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-4313-2.ch010
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The co-authors present this work as a graduate student/preservice teacher and university professor pair who have a common interest in equity, literacy, and fostering inclusive environments. While the professor-author has provided a space for the graduate student/lead author to share their experiences, they note that the planning and thinking of this lead author, as well as their experiences, are central to this chapter. The authors explore comics as a space for literacy development with elementary and middle school students and highlight texts that have a focus on LGBTQ+ intersections of identity and experience.
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Stories That Push Back

In the following sections, I will explore a wide range of texts and provide commentary on the potential for the comics as a source of literacy motivation for an equally wide readership. Comics have the potential to do more than tell about an experience or identity, but to actually show elements of lived experience in the shades, lines, and panels that adorn their pages.

As Hughes et al. (2011) have noted, readers of “all ages and abilities read comic books and comics” (p. 625). Indeed, it is difficult to constrain readership in comics to one particular demographic, especially given the proliferation of texts that have entered the market over the past ten to twenty years. At one time, comic books were thought to be solely focused on superhero narratives, and were marketed to younger audiences. With the publication of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore’s Watchmen in 1986, the market turned more heavily to adult audiences. Botzakis (2006) has explored the potential for comic books and comics to sustain readership well into adulthood. Many comics can be enjoyed by older readers, and still other examples are so flexible that they can appeal to readers from younger years all the way to adulthood.

The other side of this issue is that comics and comics are not only for adults these days, either. Chase, Son, and Steiner (2014) have noted the presence of comics in primary grade classrooms, and suggest a wide variety of titles that can be chosen for engaging a young readership. A number of examples of books exist that are represented in brief form, with a fairly scant amount of words. Mo Willems’s Elephant and Piggy series are one suggestion provided by Chase et al. (2014), and work to merge the design of a picture book with the aesthetics of a comic book. Willems retains the word bubble and dialogic nature of comic books, although pages in Elephant and Piggy do not make use of panels to delineate the narrative as many comic books do. Additionally, Chase et al. (2014) offer the TOON Books (Brenner, 2010) as a textual choice for younger readers.

Beyond these recommendations, wordless comics like Andy Runton’s Owly (2004) and Sara Varon’s Robot Dreams (2007) present an intriguing possibility for a wide range of readers. Harvey and Ward (2016) have noted Robot Dreams, in particular, for its potential for building dialogue with learners. Author/artist Sara Varon (2007) indicated at the end of the text that they included anthropomorphic characters that “are not boys or girls and have no ethnic or age identity” in order to reach a universal audience (p. 211). This notable as an example of a creator who thoughtfully constructs a comic that can be engaged with by readers who are young and old, as well as nonbinary.

Other suggestions for a wide range of readers include Harper’s Bean Dog and Nugget (2013) series, Ben Hatke’s Little Robot (2015), and Aaron Blabey’s The Bad Guys (2016) series. Each of these books works in a comic -like manner, and yet is designed in an inviting way for younger readers, with little to no adult content included. There may not yet be a term for what these books are as they weave elements of picture books alongside comics. What is more, Hatke’s text, Mighty Jack (2016), another example of work that can engage younger students, captures a portrait of a character who is on the autism spectrum. This narrative move acts as an example of representation in comic form, and works in a way that is a seamless part of the story. It may also be of note that each title I have just included has appeared over the past decade, perhaps speaking to the proliferation of a wider range of texts in comic form.

Moving up the age span, Edward (2009) noted that young adolescents have shown a preference for comics during independent reading time. As suggested here, some books from this medium can be used with students who are working at the pre-primer level, including activities built around sequencing (Chase, Son, & Steiner, 2014). Other titles can also captivate adult readers (Botzakis, 2006). Indeed, readers of all ages can appreciate comics (Connors, 2015). Given this reported range of motivated engagement, it seems that comic books and comics have the potential to encompass readership from the early stages of reading all the way into adulthood.

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