Denver Pop Culture Con 2019: Comics Across Curriculum
by Brendan M. Allen
Comics Across Curriculum focuses on the Charles M. Schulz Museum and how graphic novels and comics help teach to school standards in every subject from Art to English to Science. Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales is an excellent example of a series that has brought the history curriculum to life for many students.
Comics Across Curriculum at Denver Pop Culture Con 2019 was moderated by Jessica Ruskin, the Education Director of the Charles M. Schulz Museum, and featured Nathan Hale (Apocalypse Taco, Hazardous Tales) and Brian Fies (A Fire Story, Mom’s Cancer).
Entering the room, I was greeted by a projection of one of Charles Schulz’ classic three panel Peanuts strips. Jessica Ruskin used the strip to show how she uses Peanuts to teach storytelling and structure. Three panels. Beginning, middle, end. Getting a little deeper into language arts, Mr. Schulz’ strips are used to dissect and decode structure and theme,
There are also programs that use the strips to teach science, life cycles in nature, astronomy, and physical science. All of the museum’s educational programs align with Common Core, and they all use comics to teach.
Brian Fies is known for Mom’s Cancer, Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow, and A Fire Story. Brian points out there are things you can do with comics that just aren’t possible in other media. Comics are an instant visual metaphor, combining words and pictures in a way that’s way more powerful than either could possibly be on their own.
There’s one panel in Mom’s Cancer that demonstrates this idea brilliantly, where Mom is drowning in a sea of medical jargon. That’s what it actually feels like, and the reader instantly empathizes. You don’t need anyone to tell you she’s overwhelmed or terrified. You instantly get it. This is a type of communication Mr. Fies says comics handle uniquely well.
Mom’s Cancer is so effective at portraying the experience through the eyes of a patient and her family, it’s used in medical schools to help future doctors understand the patient experience. A comic, used as a med school text.
Nathan Hale’s series Hazardous Tales uses comics and humor to teach history. The books are very carefully fact checked, and then there are 1,000,000 jokes added. When Nathan speaks to students at schools, he uses an app on his tablet (Procreate) to live draw the subject he’s speaking on. It’s a very effective tool. He’s talking, and the picture is evolving on the screen at the front of the class.
He shared an experience from a school he spoke at, where the lodging situation wasn’t exactly ideal. He’d normally get put up in a hotel, but somehow, he ended up saying with a host family of one of the school’s students. The evening of the day he gave his presentation to the student’s class, the family was all at the dining room table for dinner, when the parents asked the kid what he had learned that day.
The kid said, “I need some paper,” and then proceeded to draw and tell Nathan’s lesson, from memory, with about 60% retention.