DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Smash! to the Graphic Guide

Written by: on October 28, 2019

I remember for the first four years my son was in school, I would enter the parent teacher conferences with one question for the teacher: How will you get my son to read books other than graphic novels? 

Comic books, manga, and other forms of graphic text were his favorites. It was near impossible for him to consider anything else. It wasn’t until fifth grade that he met his match in a teacher. Ms Menoher, while an avid fan of graphic novels, also loved science-fiction and fantasy and she was an amazing teacher for boys. Her love of various forms of literature was infectious and was passed onto my son. Not only did chapter books enter our home, but really big chapter books were present and being devoured by my once laser-focused, graphic novel loving boy. 

Recently, for his English 10 class, my son brought home a graphic novel series entitled Persepolis. Persepolis is a visual autobiography of Marjane Satrapi’s childhood through young adult years during the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Though “its graphic language and images, (caused) controversy surrounding the use of Persepolis in classrooms in the United States,”⁠1 neither my son nor his teacher were swayed by the warning. Instead, the images and language rich text provided depth to a story that sought to share realities of life lived within political and social upheaval.  As expected, this format captivated my son’s attention and provided insight to a culture and situation he had never considered. 

The use of graphic novels in education is on the rise. Indeed, interacting with this genre requires high levels of concentration, as complex reading skills are needed. Care should be taken though, before rushing to implement such texts into a curriculum. It’s shown that they are best used as a bridge between in and out of school literacy. The strength of graphic novels lies in their format where there is a clear beginning, middle, and end, and those sections are held together by strong character development through conflict and climax. Another strength is their ability to effectively develop grammatical skills and literary understanding through a creative medium.⁠2

It is evident that this upsurge in popularity in graphic novels has poured over into the adult learner realm in the form of Graphic Guides. Graphic Guides are “unique, comic-book style introductions to humankind’s biggest ideas and thinkers.”⁠3 These small, pocket guides tackle some of humankind’s most complicated philosophical, sociological, and cultural issues, ranging from politics to Shakespeare. In particular, in Critical Theory: A Graphic Guide, authors Sim and Van Loon tackle the history of critical thinking from The Enlightenment to Postmodernism. The text is filled with countless “-isms” and names of individuals, both remarkable and obscure. Through image and small segments of text, examination of critical theory is attempted. 

With its vast amount of content, tackling the history of critical theory in a concise and creative way is both ambitious and ineffective. The presentation of material is disjointed and lacks cohesiveness, especially for the novice critical theorist. While many of the illustrations are engaging and telling, the text often fails to move smoothly from one time period to another.

Sim and Van Loon would have done well to capitalize on the graphic novel genre by utilizing a compelling story form to communicate their overview of the subject. Placing it in the context of a narrative, with a clear begging, middle, and end, driven by the development of a main character, would have grounded the complex concepts in a way that was more relatable to the critical theory novice, and likely would spur more robust interest for further study. I could imagine this being done with a Dr. Strange-type of character who pops in and out of time to discover the latest philosophical thinking of the day, including the pros and cons of each. The authors close the book with the thought, “Theory is power.”⁠4 While that may be true, the power of communicating theory is significantly lessened in this page by page, illustrated timeline format. 

Still, there must be some value in the genre, as there are numerous Graphic Guides for sale. While the reviews for Critical Theory are at best mixed, I personally would not opt to pick up a Graphic Guide for further academic study. Though if I had a lead mentor like my son’s fifth grade teacher, who is totally and completely head-over-heels giddy about the Graphic Guide, I suppose I could be slowly persuaded to give these handy, pocket sized editions another try. Until then, I will look for my super heroes in the pages of comic books, instead of in the illustrated and theory packed Graphic Guide texts. 

#Sim #graphicguide 

Photo by Limor Zellermayer on Unsplash




3 3.

4 4. Stuart Sim and Borin Van Loon. Critical Theory: A Graphic Guide (London, UK: Icon Books, LTD, 2009) 164.

About the Author


Darcy Hansen

16 responses to “Smash! to the Graphic Guide”

  1. mm Joe Castillo says:

    Darcy, I was thinking of my own kids and how the graphic novel is a material that bears many similarities with the comic. You can actually take advantage of the benefits offered to the teaching-learning process to convey a new concept of reading in class and at home.

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      Totally! If done well, it can lend itself to tackling some very complex issues in a more reader friendly way, especially for those who may not fall into the traditional box of chapter books.

  2. mm Dylan Branson says:

    I think the value of a book like this is that the goal is to provide a brief overview of the concepts it’s trying to communicate. Every concept listed or touched upon in this graphic guide can be extended to thousands upon thousands of pages, but it is able to encapsulate the ideas in a picture. If anything, I think this book encourages us to look deeper on our own at the concepts it talks about. As a guide, it’s just that: A guide that leads you on a longer and more complex journey. It raises questions and then asks you to explore them.

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      I totally get that. I just feel like it would have served the reader a bit more to narrow the focus, pull out some of the side concepts, or present it in a different way. I almost wrote on Barthe and his “death of the author” (pg 72). Maybe that would have been a better approach?

  3. Nancy Blackman says:

    I hear your frustation running throughout your post. And yet you realize that your son’s teacher is utilizing materials that will help the children learn and you remain open, which is awesome!

    Where do you think your resistance lies and why?

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      Honestly, I had a tough week last week. That combined with Jason encouraging me to critically think through the text, i.e., “What’s missing?” (lack of grounding through story), and then to decrease my word counts (right at 800 instead of 1000). I tackled both in this post. It is super rare I am ever critical of a text. I struggled with this in the Mdiv, too. I could have just as easily crafted something like others did, pulling a topic of focus and diving in. Instead, I thought I’d take a chance and give this a go. It was definitely a stretch, and likely not ideal. But I am good with that.

  4. mm Greg Reich says:

    I also found this book disjointed and distracting. I am not strong in Critical Theory but not ignorant in it either. I did appreciate the authors attempt at summing up a very chaotic thought process that to many just doesn’t make sense. Though not opposed to graphic novels I do believe they dumb down the process. Societies attempt to broaden the students learning while removing the work behind the learning process is teaching our young people that the short cut is the best process. There are so many things in life that take commitment and drive to be successful at. Somethings in life are better in a crockpot than microwaved. We live in a society of instant everything which shows in our pursuit as human of instant gratification.

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      It was near impossible for me to move past the disjointed aspects of the book. The format in and of itself was a barrier, and one that I just didn’t have time to push though to mine any treasures that might have been lying tucked in some speech bubble emerging from the corner of a page. The issues addressed in the book as so vast and deep, that in a way, I felt this was an injustice to those who have crafted the theories, even as a “guide.” Indeed, “Some things in life are better in a crockpot than microwaved.”

  5. mm John McLarty says:

    There were certainly a plethora of multisyllable words and deeply academic concepts. I was excited to start the book because of the illustrations, but quickly got bogged down in drawings that were more obscure and complex than cartoons in the New Yorker! Things got muddy and discouraging as I tried to make sense of what I was reading and how I might talk about this with a member of my congregation. In the end, I think this was about ways we engage with the world in deeper and more reflective ways. So I’m curious- what would the “Critical Theory Comic Book” look like?

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      When I read Dylan’s post, and the example he used from the recent story series he’s reading, I thought, “Wow, presenting those theories through story would have been way more engaging.” I wonder if many of those key critical theories aren’t already woven into various comics? They all seem to touch on the internal wrestlings of humans and society, so it seems those themes are likely present in illustrated form. I’m not a graphic novel/guide expert, so I’m not sure what it would look like, but I have to think with a bit more creativity, the critical theory content could be presented in a way that is easier to digest.

  6. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    Where I agree with you about this certain text and its ability to hold attention, I admire anyone trying to break through the mundane of simple text or “talking heads” for speeches.

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      It is a start. How could it have been done differently, in a way that honors the complexity of the content and engage the novice reader a bit more? Of the reviews I read, those who were more versed in the content gave positive reviews; seems it was a quick summary of info they already knew. But others found it to be frustrating. I love the visual possibilities that this format provides, I just felt this one fell short in too many ways. Maybe other editions are more readable?

  7. mm Steve Wingate says:

    There was always a disdain from me about comics. Yet, I wonder now, considering I’ve learned I like to hear the Bible more than reading it, should I have mixed my learning streams with more art or creative avenues than merely words on the page.

  8. mm Steve Wingate says:

    I saw the ineffective mode a bit different that you pointed out. It seemed like a book of brief historical markers with terms that made little rabbit trails for me and helped me learn new views.

    • mm Darcy Hansen says:

      It seems I am definitely in the minority regarding this text. I’m so glad you found it to be helpful! The authors would be most pleased, I am sure:)

  9. mm Chris Pollock says:

    Thanks Darcy! I really appreciate the better idea for the authors to have conveyed their story by way of graphic novel than the topsy-turvy way they did.

    I would say that I am a novice in Critical Theory. There was a lot in this book that was new to me, much that I had only a slight understanding of. A novel streaming the subject matter chronologically would have been very interesting. Doctor Strange could have made it happen with more tad more clearness!

    It does get a little complicated doesn’t it? Some of the illustrations are made more challenging for me to understand as a result of the seeming possibility that bias or ridicule are being portrayed (beyond the titles and text) by the authors,

Leave a Reply