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Representing Organizations with Comic Books

posted: 12.3.12 by Elizabeth Losh and Jonathan Alexander


Writing for community organizations is a well-regarded type of composition assignment that aims to engage student writers with issues from the real world. For example the National Council of Teachers of English has a lesson plan devoted to writing in the common genre of the brochure.  Many composition instructors who want to incorporate service learning into their classrooms have asked students to create written materials for real world organizations that might include clinics, centers, and non-profit agencies.  Writers learning to think about mastery of a collective voice rather than an individual voice have also been encouraged to compose in many genres.  Examples cover a wide range of common formats for mass communication, such as brochures, booklets, catalogs, posters, press releases, blog entries, and websites.

The comic book format is also often used as a means of public outreach by many organizations and might serve as a good potential kind of assignment for students doing public writing to tackle.  For example, Planned Parenthood created a series of comic books in the fifties and sixties called Escape from Fearto dramatize the value of birth control.  For more examples, check out the website Comics with Problems for everything from help with poison control to advocacy for segregation from the office of Alabama governor George Wallace in the pre-Civil Rights South.

More recently, in 2005, a pamphlet with comics-style illustrations produced by the Mexican Foreign Ministry drew fire for seeming to endorse illegal entry into the United States by offering tips for border crossers that included guidance on proper hydration and wayfinding when lost.

Competing interests have used comic books as a form of institutional communication to make particular arguments about how questions of public policy should be applied in everyday practice.  For example, copyright law has inspired comic books from those who want to protect intellectual property from the perspective of the entertainment industry (PDF link) and from legal experts who argue for fair use protections. Although scholarly critics like Tarleton Gillespie  have argued that anti-piracy comics oversimplify complex issues, many who produce such highly legible graphic texts might argue that there is virtue in the seeming clarity of using comics to convey even controversial presentations of information to the public.

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