Inkers and Thinkers 2014: Author Avatars, Lecturing and Authority in Educational Comics by Aaron Humphrey

This is the final presentation from Inkers and Thinkers 2014 and it comes from one of our co-organisers Aaron Humphrey. Aaron’s bright and engaging presentation style was the perfect way to end a long, but enjoyable day of comics. The 2014 event was such a success that we are coming back and better this year. Over the coming weeks we will be introducing you to the presenters and workshop leaders we have chosen for the 2015 event. In the meantime enjoy Aaron’s presentation on the multimodality of comics in relation to educational comics with insights from his own work as a cartoonist.


Author Avatars, Lecturing and Authority in Educational Comics

The use of comics for education dates back to before World War II. However, social stigmas attached to comics in the West largely kept them out of schools, libraries and classrooms until around the start of the 21st century. The cultural and economic capital accumulated by literary graphic novels has helped to create space for book-length comics on the shelves of school libraries, and increased the market for educational comics and “graphic textbooks.”

Several new book-length, non-fiction educational comics are published in North American every week, on topics ranging from xxx to xxx, and recent research into the benefits of using of comics in classrooms at all levels of education suggests that this trend may continue to increase.

One benefit of using comics over traditional textbooks is that they are multimodal, incorporating many different ways of interacting and interpreting the text. Modern theories of education champion “active learning” led by students. However, most textbooks create a passive experience where readers are meant to be led through a text by it author. The multimodality of comics may offer a way to make textbooks more active.

To explore how this works in practice, I will examine several educational comics through two theoretical lenses: information design, particularly the work of Edward Tufte, which asks what meanings and actions are made possible by visual presentation; and curriculum alignment, as articulated by John Biggs and Catherine Tang, which examines how well particular learning activities support intended outcomes.

My paper will show how educational comics that align their design with their content and outcomes are able to support deeper levels of learning and student engagement. I will also identify several principles that can help guide the creation of effective educational comics, and show how I have put these principles into practice in my work as a cartoonist.



Aaron is a PhD candidate in the Discipline of Media at the University of Adelaide. His research is focused on the crossover between comics and education, specifically the idea of comics as an educational tool. He is also one of the co-founders and organisers of the Inkers and Thinkers Symposium and an artist in his own right, producing the Echidna Dirgible mini-comics and examples of educational comics for his thesis project.

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