Comic Books

I’d like to believe we all have our niches: things we love and would like others to understand and appreciate as much as we do. Last Thursday evening, Dr. Balasubramanian invited writer, publisher and Editor-in-Chief of T-pub comics, Neil Gibson who introduced us to his once guilty pleasure, now turned career. In an interactive and compelling lecture, Neil introduced us to the realm of comic books and successfully led us to challenge any preconceptions we may have had of them. We learned about the public perception of comics, their advantage over other mediums, and how they can help us with learning.


In short, comic books are publications of sequential juxtaposed panels that represent individual scenes, composed of both drawn art and text. To be able to appreciate the full potential of comic books we must first understand the crucial difference between content and medium. Neil took the liberty of assuming most people associate comic books with childish stories, where the protagonists are none other than superheroes and right angled-spine ladies (see below). By the looks of the people in the room, he was right. But in believing this, we had failed to recognise the content change within different mediums as we grow older. For example, whilst we have always enjoyed the medium of TV, our interests in TV shows and films have shifted from Peppa Pig to Game of Thrones and from Saved by the Bell to Peaky Blinders. By appreciating that our interests change with time, it is possible for our interest in comics to resurrect and to reject the stereotypical image we normally associate it with. Genres of comic books range from theatrics to comedies to psychological thrillers and no, Neil says, they aren’t always “supposed to make you laugh”. They can be used for various purposes, from entertainment to legal means and education, proving the versatility we also see in movies and books used as manifestos and political statements, as opposed to being created for the simple purpose of entertainment. The “legal means” example took Neil’s audience by surprise, but he was quick to explain. Comic strips have helped illiterate workers to understand the contents of their work contract, by, for example, explaining that if a certain level of produce is collected in a day, the boss will have a happy face and the worker will go home with some money. On the other hand, if the level of produce required was not collected, the boss will have an angry face and the worker will go home with no money. Thus, comics can efficiently communicate simple and complex ideas, whilst also allowing us to get involved emotionally and add complexity to simple panels of art.


Small luxuries like adding personal interpretation to characters and the rhythm of narrative can only be found in comic books; in movies, we are spoon-fed everything from the tone of dialogue to the pacing of each scene, whilst in books everything is left to our devices. Whilst the latter can help us form some connection with the story, we become arguably more involved in the narrative of comic books, for we understand the intention of the author whilst also interpreting it ourselves. For example, take a moment to consider what is happening in the panel below:


I bet my interpretation of it was somewhat different than yours, but that we both still understood what is happening in the panel and what the power balance is between the two characters. The usage of visual means also encourages memory retention, as vison is the strongest of all senses, with 30% of neurons in the brain being concentrated on sight. Combining recall with simple comprehension due to lack of difficult text – as you might find in books— makes for comics being easy and accessible to read and perhaps even easier to remember. The usage of the visual also makes for an easy way of reaching out to people. Countless political leaders have used art and comic for propaganda, as it was simple to understand by the entire population, from peasants to intellectuals and the bourgeoisie. For example:


This is a propaganda poster used during Mao Zedong’s rule in China, illustrating the essential elements of good communist living: arms to represent a revolutionary spirit, the little red book with Mao’s quotes for daily reading, grain to represent fruitful harvest and men and women uniting to fight for the same cause. The image is simple, using three colours only, allowing them to co-dominate and be easily remembered.

Similarly, we can create pictures or use already made ones to help us remember concepts for school work. In physics, for instance, distinguishing between red shift and blue shift can be quite tricky to remember, but after seeing the following picture, it will be essentially impossible to forget which way around it is.


The clouds are closer to us, illustrating the blue shift presented by objects moving closer. The red rays of the sun are further away, illustrating the red shift presented by objects moving away. Pretty easy, ey?

Maybe we don’t all have remarkable skills to create intricate and elaborate comic strips, but even doodling on notes could help us with learning.  Combining relevant images with relevant text creates the maximum memorability for educational material, which could potentially help us rank up those grades in our soon-to-come exams. Take five minutes to give it a try. And, if you’re still not convinced or maybe need a little support, keep watching this space for announcements of an upcoming workshop in March 2018 where we combine knowledge with comic-style drawing to create tailored study-notes and narratives. Join us in discovering the power of comics. Let Neil introduce you to his niche, and let it help you learn.

For more information on Neil Gibson’s publishing, please follow to links below:

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