Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Comics in Education

Continuing from yesterday's entry I will go on with manga (Japanese comics). Today I would like to write just briefly how manga can become a great tool for education on creativity and logical, critical thinking.

Comic books tend to be looked down as just something for children to read and is rather cut apart from ideal education, but as can be seen rather clearly, it is a work of art. Of course, the level of art varies from top quality "beautiful" kinds to pretty rough or "unique" ones, but comic as a form of creative artwork does not just stop there. In my opinion, it is one of the ultimate means of presentation of the finest expressions and elements of human beings that can be created by a single person.

Creating a good comic requires good drawing skills but what exactly does this drawing skills mean? It may mean good skills in drawing characters and backgrounds in the "right" proportion and making them look to some extent unrealistically, but a really good artist makes visible the inner expressions i.e., thoughts and emotions, and a really good comic artist can draw thousands of different expressions. Expressions can be seen in the character's face, action, reaction, words and are often times exaggerated a lot. The differences and the exaggeration allows the reader to see the motion and flow of the story.
Imagine a comic strip with excellent artwork, but with poor expressions. I bet it would look plain and boring, or more like a piece of illustration rather than a sequential story.

That brings me to the point of the storyline. When I start reading a new series, I choose mostly by recommendations from my friends but other times I look at the art. But the ones that I feel like I want to keep on reading have good storylines like a good book, and many of my friends say the same. It's probably not too much to say that the quality of a comic book is more determined by the storyline than the artwork. Ones with the combination of the two, plus a fixed theme makes a masterpiece, I think. A good storyline requires a great deal of plotting, logical and critical thinking, and careful revising.

Ones with a good, fixed theme becomes a masterpiece that doesn't fall even after decades since its first publish. It's mostly because it carries a philosphy or throws a universal question that we need to think about at some point. For instance, the works of Tezuka Osamu constantly questions and even challenges the reader with themes like life, death, development, environment and so on. His works may be very exciting stories for small children, but as you grow up you realize that there's a whole lot to think about in his works.

Especially for the very last reason that I just mentioned, comic books of a certain kind or with certain themes are often kept in school libraries for students to read freely. Aside from the pop comics, there are also comic books made on history to make it easier and more entertaining for students to study history. Like this, manga has been in Japanese school education for a while by now.

As for the first two, the art and plot, it is not so much used as education means in school but I think it can become an effective educational tool to solve the problem of the modern lack of imagination and logical thinking among children, and even as a tool for cultivating communication skills. It is quite true that children who read a fair amount of manga have rich imagination and self-presentation abilities than those who don't, and are good at making people laugh and being cooperative with others... only if the kid's interest in manga doesn't go as far as obsession or delusion.

All the above is what I had been discussing with my boss a few days ago, my boss who is a father in the midst of educating his grade-school son using manga.
Well... for two days I've written about manga and I'm afraid that all I wanted to tell is that manga isn't merely a children's crap. But really, some of them is just more than entertainment.

Today's update on Japan Mode: Hot Spring Guide Chubu Region ed. - got started with this hot spring series a couple of months ago (when I wasn't yet a webmistress) and am kind of regretting it cuz it never seems to end... Anybody got any ideas on some features on the website?

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