My mother was a master of deception. Committed to the long con of getting me, her pickiest son, to eat something more than macaroni and cheese, my mother tricked me into eating healthy food. On homemade pizza night, she snuck baby spinach under the mozzarella with the stealth of bootleggers during prohibition. I still remember her dastardly grin as I chugged glasses of what I now know to be protein powder-infused Nestle Quik.
A few decades older, and a few broccoli florets healthier, I use my mother’s clandestine cunning to ensure that my students get a different kind of nutrition. Just as she hid the vegetables in her cake batter, I teach literary analysis through superhero comic books.
Comics can be an invaluable teaching tool, but aside from the occasional non-serial graphic novel, they are underused. For every Maus, Fun Home, and American Born Chinese, countless superhero comics are disregarded as too superficial for the level of analysis afforded “real” works of literature. But comics can serve three primary roles in the classroom:
- They can facilitate a better understanding of complex required texts by serving as a preliminary reading activity;
- They can extend the analysis of a classic work of literature, either by providing examples of derivative fiction or by making strong allusions to the classics;
- They can replace less-accessible works from the literary canon while still conveying the same messages and using the same literary and rhetorical conventions.