Comics as an educational tool

There’s a drive to include comics in the country’s national drive for literacy and it’s all thanks to the people behind the Graphic Novels Library Malta.

It all started with Batman, Graphic Novels Library Malta (GNLM) co-founder Luke Caruana tells me with a smile. “A number of us realised that we had a love for comics, particularly Batman, in common, so we decided to get together to form the GNLM.”

GNLM, as those of you who visited either of the recent comic conventions will be aware, is an NGO that was formed with a specific aim: to work towards having a physical library in Malta with a fully-fledged collection of graphic novels, comics and other material, including digital collections, related to pop culture.

Chaired by Ryan Scicluna, the association is made up of another four enthusiasts with a passion for anything that falls under the realm of comics. There is Caruana himself, who took on the role of events coordinator, Luke Brincat in charge of marketing, treasurer Julia Pollacco and research officer Audrienne Degiorgio.

Together, the five have been working hard in an attempt to transmit their passion to other people, notably students and teachers, in an effort to show how comics can be used as an educational tool. So far, the project seems to be meeting with both interest and success.

Guillermo Ortego-wolverine_vs_thor_3“Things started coming together last summer when we col-laborated with a number of summer schools precisely in order to kickstart this process. Teachers reacted very favourably to the idea, as did the students, especially the younger ones for whom more often than not it is easier to relate to a particular topic when it is presented in graphic novel format,” Caruana says.

Caruana says that the team is also trying hard to remove the negative stereotypes that are often associated with those who love reading comics and graphic novels.

“You know the way it goes. People usually picture this big loser living in his mother’s basement. Unfortunately, that’s the way comic book readers are usually depicted in the media,” he says.

This group couldn’t be further from this stereotype. The handful of events they have organised, despite GNLM still being in its infancy, have exhibited a level of professionalism that has gone down very well with the education sector.

These events have included a project at St Margaret’s College, where comic books were used to highlight the importance of caring for the environment.

There was also an exhibition to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Batman at the University of Malta Library, workshops with secondary school children to create the ‘Maltese Batman’ with surprising results, events involving schoolchildren at the comic convention and the comic expo and a campus debate that used the V for Vendetta graphic novel as a springboard to discuss the historical and political elements of a leftist dystopian setting.

Another exciting project launched by GNLM is the launch of the comics and graphic novels collection at the children’s section at the Central Public Library, Floriana. This section, which was launched this week, will give children and teens an introduction into the world of graphic novels in the hope of promoting literacy and inspiring young people to read and make use of the public library.

“We are happy with the response so far. What we are experiencing vindicates a study that had been conducted by writer Ġorġ Mallia. The study centred around different teaching method-ologies and it emerged that comics were most effective in terms of engaging even those who typically were not interested in the lesson. From our events, I can tell you that this is true. This information can be used to full advantage from the point of view of the literacy scheme that was launched by the education department.”

Now, the group is working on another event, Legends of the Knight, set to take place this week. The event is being organised in collaboration with Euro Media Forum and St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity and includes the screening of the titular documentary, which tells the true stories of people who were inspired to become real-life heroes because of their childhood love for Batman.

The documentary will be preceeded by a discussion about the myth of the superhero figure.

Legends of the Knight takes place on Friday at 5.45pm at St James Cavalier, Valletta.