According to a 2011 Phi Delta Kappan article, Comic Books’ Latest Plot Twist: Enhancing Literacy Instruction (available through Academic Search Premier with your library card), research shows that comic books and graphic novels are useful and appealing formats that allow students, especially those who struggle with text, to grasp new and complex ideas and opinions.
The U.S. government recognized this as far back as 1918, when the Committee on Public Information created the Bureau of Cartoons, which was launched to support the war effort and promote pro-government propaganda. Though the Bureau was short-lived (it was disbanded after a year), its legacy of disbursing information about complicated subjects in an accessible way lives on.
During World War II, the creation of governmental comic books was done in a more-covert way, through the formation of a seemingly independent organization, the Writers' War Board. It was actually funded by, and received direction from, the Office of War Information, a federal agency. This arrangement allowed the government to disburse racist, bold, anti-German, anti-Japanese and anti-fascism messages, leaving readers in the dark about the real source of the information.
The Vietnam War had large numbers of soldiers sent to combat with varying levels of expertise with their M16 rifles. The M16 Comic Book Training Manual was created and distributed to every serviceman to educate them on cleaning and servicing their weapons. The lessons titles are smutty ("Cues from Guys Who Know", "Sweet 16", "How to Strip your Baby") and are taught by a buxom blonde.
Today, the U.S. government publishes graphic novels on a large variety of topics ranging from consumer awareness to the environment to Social Security:
- In response to complaints from Spanish speakers about scams, the Federal Trade Commission has developed a series of fotonovelas with tips on how to identify and avoid fraudulent schemes that target the Latino community. Available in English and Spanish, examples include Manuel Avoids Car-Buying Trouble and the Rivera Family Avoids Telemarketing Scams. You can order copies for free or read them online.
- Preparedness 101: Zombie Pandemic, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) follows Todd, Julie, and their dog Max as a strange new disease spreads, turning people into zombies. The family learns how to prepare for all kinds of real emergencies.
- Our friends at the CDC also developed “The Junior Disease Detectives: Operation Outbreak,” a graphic novel intended to educate youth about the flu and the real disease detective work conducted by public and animal health experts when outbreaks of infectious diseases occur.
- Fabulous artwork and alluring storylines tell the story of astrobiology (the branch of biology concerned with the study of life on earth) in a series from NASA entitled Astrobiology: The Story of our Search for Life in the Universe. Titles include The Amazing Adventures of AstrobioBot and Missions to Mars.
- The Docs tells the story of four Navy Corpsmen deployed to Iraq and their commitment to meet the challenges they fac, and gives a glimpse of life within a combat zone.
Want to learn more? Check out the book Government Issue: Comics for the People, 1940s-2000s, by Richard Graham.
Questions? Ask Reference Services or call 720-865-1363 today!