Kiwi comics lead the world: Discussion with New Zealand Education Gazette

My discussion with New Zealand Education Gazette Editor Geoff Vause can be found in the print-only curriculum support supplement to Volume 90, Issue 17 of the magazine, out today.

In it, we talk about New Zealand’s leading role in the use of comics in the classroom.

You can see more on using comics in the classroom under the comicsedu tag on this site.

Comic book learning in action at Alfriston College
Comic book learning in action at Auckland’s Alfriston College

Kiwi use of comics in education outstrips even that of New York, the hub of the global comic-book industry, according to British educator Dr Matt Finch.

“With its small population, New Zealand encourages contacts between comic book professionals, educators and students in a way that few larger nations can match – and with visual literacy a key element of today’s NZ arts curriculum, Kiwi comics are a more valuable educational resource than ever,” Dr Finch said.

New York comic book author Alex Simmons has also praised NZ’s use of comics in education. Alex is the mastermind behind the International Kids Comic-Con convention, which brings together comic book professionals, educators and children at locations from New York to Senegal.

“New Zealand should be an international model,” said Alex. “Around the world, I encounter individuals who understand the importance of these tools in engaging young learners – but to find a nation embracing comics to inspire kids in this way is fantastic.”

Michel Mulipola, a prize-winning Kiwi illustrator and ‘professional geek’ of Samoan heritage, said comics kept him out of gangs. A colourful character with a sideline as a Samoan wrestler, Michel’s comic book work has taken him from a tough South Auckland youth to San Diego and beyond – but he’s also part of a growing movement in Aotearoa, using comic books for literacy development and youth engagement.

Michel recently received $10,000 to visit America’s largest comic book convention after his 2-page comic strip won an award sponsored by the sports drink V Energy. His education workshops in Auckland encourage students to consider art in terms of storytelling instead of static images, using his own work as an example.

“I’m a self-taught professional comics illustrator – not your typical Samoan artist!” Michel told the Gazette. “I show a difference face of Polynesian art, and remind kids that there are opportunities out there to follow any artistic dream, if you only try.”
Dr Finch said the use of comics in education is one of New Zealand’s least-known success stories. “While teachers and librarians once saw comic books as trivial, the nation is now a world leader in using comics to foster students’ creativity.”

He said “leading lights of the scene” included Steve Saville, the deputy head at Auckland’s Alfriston School who used student-directed comic workshops to engage a largely Polynesian student body; Stu Colson, a comic store owner who advises school libraries on reaching reluctant readers; and Jeremy Bishop , a librarian turned publisher who is a passionate advocate for the graphic novel as a way of getting young people involved in their community.

“I’m now based in Australia; however, during a recent visit to New Zealand I interviewed these people and others from the NZ comics scene to help record how Aotearoa has become the breeding ground for cutting-edge developments in education and graphic literature.”

Dr Finch said the new Ministry of Education resource He Reo Tupu He Reo Ora had also captured people’s imagination, resulting in strong uptake. The resources target Years 1- 6, are relevant to Year 7 and 8, and can easily be adapted for secondary students. They use strong cartoon concepts in a te reo Māori multi-media teaching resource.

Over the next few posts at Books and Adventures, we’ll be looking deeper into the use of comics in education and New Zealand’s place as a centre of collaboration between creators, publishers and educators. Stay tuned for more on comics and education in New Zealand!

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