No Laughing Matter: Three Reasons Why Comics Are An Underutilised Learning Medium

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Recent days have found our Creative Director & CSO poring through the December 2015 edition of an American publication by the name of Previews, a >500 page directory of comic titles that are scheduled for upcoming release. Most of the forthcoming entertainment neatly slots into standard categories – established superheroes and borderline-implausible fantasy worlds seem especially in vogue – but there was one newcomer which caught his eye: Snowfall. Under the ingenious tagline In the future, weather is a weapon, Snowfall is set in the year 2045, where climate change, political remapping and corporate dominance are the (familiar) leitmotivs; the star of the series is a mysterious fugitive who uses precipitation to wage a lone crusade against a corrupt system.

The premise of Snowfall set us thinking about a question that occupies us more than many others: why is there such reticence to use comics as learning aids when their potential uses and scope are near-infinite? After some contemplation, we at Mediolana think we have three plausible reasons – but all of them can be overcome:

  1. Outdated perceptions. In most of the world, comics are still strongly associated with early childhood or at best adolescent leisure: consequently, they are perceived as a mere distraction which has little to do with the serious matter of education. But while it is indubitably the case that some such publications can be classified as mindless pulp, the medium has radically changed over the past two-and-a-half decades as artists such as Joe Sacco (Palestine, Safe Area Gorazde) and Guy Delisle (Shenzhen, Pyongyang) have successfully addressed the most serious of topics – anomie, war and crash urbanisation to name but three – and won the highest forms of international critical recognition for their work.
  2. Cultural myopia. Incredibly – and notwithstanding at least twenty-five years of ever-deepening pop culture relations with East Asia – Japan remains remarkably unique in treating comics as an age- (and increasingly, sex-) neutral communications tool. From a knowledge-dissemination perspective, this stance is simply indefensible; fortunately (and like the first reason), all that is required to remedy it is a change of outlook.
  3. An inadequately-appreciated talent base. As anyone even vaguely familiar with portals such as DeviantArt will be aware, the number of skilled artists who are capable of compositions in instructional drawing styles such as manga is rising all the time and seemingly unconstrained by geography. However, publishers have been extremely slow to utilise and develop this resource: doing so will require that rare combination of talent, graft and openness to new ideas and ways of working.

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