Ben Bova thinks graphic Novels are the death of literacy – I can prove he’s wrong

The SF author Ben Bova likes to write editorials for his local paper, the Naples News. Last week he wrote a politely worded diatribe against graphic novels and how they’re a sign of declining literacy. Even though I think he’s wrong, it’s still worth a read.

I’ve been thinking about his column for a week now. I was trying to find the best way to present a counter argument. I found a new article today in Inside Higher Ed about a business professor who co-wrote a pair of graphic novels that he is using instead of textbooks. (Nothing wins an argument like empirical evidence.)

Jeremy Short’s students read comic books in class. Then they take exams, do well, and finish the semester with an understanding of the fundamentals of business management. In an effort to make dry content more interesting, Short co-wrote a set of two graphic novels together with Talya Bauer, professor of management at Portland State University, and Dave Ketchen, professor of management at Auburn University. The second of their books was released this summer.

It shouldn’t surprise you that the students preferred the graphic novel over the regular textbook:

Formal evaluations showed that 86 percent of his students that used the book said they agreed or strongly agreed that it “compares favorably” to other management textbooks they’ve had, Short said. He added that the most rewarding part of the process teaching with Atlas Black is having students wonder what happens in the story when the book ends. “The idea of a student asking what comes next in a textbook is really just unfathomable,” he said.

Before I found this article, I’d been planning to point out the popularity of manga (graphic novels) in Japan. Japan has one of the highest literacy rates in the world, and they’ve maintained that rate alongside a very successful manga publishing industry.

via No Shelf Required

P.S. The graphic novel was published by indie textbook publisher Flat World Knowledge, and will be used be used by 25 professors this fall.

Nate Hoffelder

View posts by Nate Hoffelder
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader. He has been blogging about indie authors since 2010 while learning new tech skills weekly. He fixes author sites, and shares what he learns on The Digital Reader's blog. In his spare time, he fosters dogs for A Forever Home, a local rescue group.


  1. Mike Cane20 August, 2010

    Bova is totally off the rails here. My first reading as a kid wasn’t books. They were COMIC BOOKS! I didn’t get into books as books until my 20s — when I was well OUT of school and wasn’t being harangued by teachers I despised to read them.

  2. Richard Adin21 August, 2010

    I think you are confusing literacy with communicating ideas to students. The Classic comic books of the 1950s and 1960s were certainly more fun to read than the original Moby Dick, but did they enhance literacy? That is questionable. The fact that the professor had to resort to comic books/graphic novels to get students to understand the subject matter is not a positive for literacy. By the time students reach college, they should be able to read and understand standard textbooks and not need comics to simplify.

    1. julienne26 August, 2010

      Yes, college students should be able to read and glean knowledge from standard textbooks. However, that does not mean that tradional texts are always the best resource to utilize in the classroom. I think the professor in the article was not trying to simplify material but rather engage his students in a way that was not working with more formal text formats. Test scores, student evaluations and other forms of assessments prove his success.

      Your comment did cause me to wonder why exactly you feel that graphic novels (or comics) may not strengthen literacy skills such as comprehension and reading fluency or foster a love of reading. Have you ever read Maus,Persopolis or The Last Resort? What about books such as Flotsam, The Snowman, or American Born Chinese? Why does text format matter? Shouldn’t students (of all ages) be exposed to various media and texts in order to gain knowledge and understanding?

  3. […] novels, literacy, quality, words, wordsnSync Recently, The Digital Reader ran a post titled “Ben Bova thinks graphic Novels are the death of literacy – I can prove he’s wrong.” The thrust of the article is that science fiction author Ben Bova thinks graphic novels […]

  4. Your Daddy31 August, 2010

    Pictures do not portray the emotions you receive from your imagination. It’s very important to understand Bova’s point. Picture books are a form of visual entertainment and do not offer the learning growth that you can receive from a good novel. There great for toddlers. They do not need to become the basis for learning. Comics leave no room for the intellectual growth of the mind. Imagine 1984 in graphic form. Pictures do not portray the meanings that words do. Look at movies made from novels.


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