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Service Learning Through Comics

posted: 2.4.13 by Elizabeth Losh and Jonathan Alexander

Service Learning or Community-Based Learning is widely recognized as an effective form of experiential learning that promotes civic engagement, professional and scholarly preparation, and increased global awareness and understanding. Organizations like the Association of American Colleges and Universities recognize these forms of engaged education on their list of recommended “high impact educational practices”. Although popular culture often treats the reading and writing of comics as a mode of distraction or entertainment that separates comic book fans from the problems of the real world, there are many ways that working closely with comic books can promote connection to off-campus communities.

Through the Sixth College Practicum program, a number of students have found meaning working with veterans at a local center through a program created by UC San Diego Theatre & Dance professor Tara Knight. Knight is a filmmaker, animator, and production designer who often collaborates with artists, composers, and choreographers. She had a small workshop of students learn about ethnographic techniques, interview veterans, and create films short animated films based on the veteran’s lives that were screened for the veterans and their families. By participating in the project, students learned a lot about the challenges that veterans face, and their engaged learning also broke down stereotypes about age, race, class, and ability that the students might have entered the class with. Artist Ian Patrick also had Sixth College students pursue service learning projects with the veteran’s groups, but he had the students create graphic novels rather than animated films.

This year Sixth College is offering a new practicum course that builds on the collaboration of Ethnic Studies professor Wayne Yang and graphic novelist and MFA candidate in Creative Writing Keith McLeary. (We’ve written about Yang and McCleary separately in Bedford Bits here and here. The duo is building on the concept of “docu-comics” that provide gritty nonfiction accounts of war, strife, forced migration, or immigration to promote intercultural understanding with assignments that include a graphic novel project that builds on an extended interview.

      Students will conduct interviews with members of local public outreach organizations in order to create 1-page personal narratives. Interview candidates should have some first hand knowledge of the communities they represent, be it a veteran’s group, LGBT support center, immigrations representative, etc. Using only found dialogue from these interviews, students will uncover a short story that can be recreated through visuals, and may use original photos or drawings to create their work.

In the class students are expected to interpret, produce, and curate comics with a framework of empathy and critique of structural injustice that addresses multiple audiences and communities in what is both a service learning and an upper-division writing class. For more about docu-comics, check out this course on “Docu-Comics on the Road” at a Jerusalem university:


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