Comics as a New Genre in (Academic) Communication

Tanja Psonder
FH JOANNEUM University of Applied Sciences, Austria


This contribution briefly introduces the application of non-fictional comics in presentation courses in tertiary education. It aims at demonstrating how easily and well comics can replace the traditional presentation formats while adding structure to the presentation. In addition, the paper looks into the preparative steps and first findings.

Keywords: non-fictional comics, presentations, structural component, visual literacy


The student cohorts we are currently teaching in tertiary education belong to Generation Z or the Millennials. This generation is clearly characterised by its strong focus on pictorial self-presentation. They regularly present themselves daily on different social media platforms by using images, snapshots either in a realistic or more attractive respectively filtered version. Images in comparison to words are doubtlessly their preferred means of communication. They are taken within seconds, published immediately and occasionally complemented by some brief comments.

Comics share this figurative focus as they present a sequence of related images (McCloud 2001) which make up a story. They form part of popular culture and have been predominantly appealing to the younger generations around the globe. Comics were also examined for their educational potential, and fortunately, have recently qualified as apt to be used as a means of instruction. Reading comics involves a complex multi-modal literacy. Using them actively in the classroom helps students develop as critical and engaged interpreters of multi-modal texts.

Comics tell a story and we all love listening to a good story. Those who tell stories best are most able to get their points across, and this successful transfer of information is what we aim at in good presentations. Comics add structure to the content and link well the individual parts. According to Nick Sousanis (Sousanis 2015), the great potential of comics lies in their concreteness. He argues that images are whereas words are always about something; hence they require context and explanation. In comics, images and words attractively liaise in a mutual relationship. They visually and verbally intermingle which results in a dynamic cycle of read-look and look-read that adds liveliness to the presentation.

Josh Elder (Elder 2014) argues that the three E’s of comics, which are engagement, efficiency and effectiveness, summarise best the power of comics as an informational tool. According to him, the active engagement of the audience is based on the creation of meaning from the text combined with images. Second, the format of a comic is seen as highly efficient in disseminating the relevant within a short and limited time span. Last, the effective conversion of text and images into meaning aims at and definitely results in a better recall and transfer of the learning.

Application and Task Preparation

Professional presentations training in English forms a major component in the communicative skills training at Universities of Applied Sciences in Austria. In the field of architecture, presenting is of utmost importance and hence particular attention is given to the training.

In comics, the drawer cares about the detail’s size, its shape, its orientation, the sequence, and naturally about the overall placement within the composition on an individual page. The way the drawer arranges the details on the page significantly shapes and develops the meaning that is conveyed. Hence, there is a strong connection between comics and architectural composition in terms of spatial relationships. Taking this into consideration, the first student task is to observe a simple architectural composition such as a window or a door frame that surrounds the student cohort and use it to create a single comics page which is based on the structure. In this first step, the learning is focussed on experiencing the transfer from words only to images plus words that explain the architectural composition.

In a second step, the student cohort is requested to present a given topic (e.g. tiny house movement) in the form of a comic presentation. The students are provided with different examples which are either selected from earlier student cohorts to demonstrate the feasibility of the task or others which are produced for science communication. These non-fictional science comics explain real life phenomena (Tatalovic 2009) by using fictional elements and techniques.

The preparative steps resemble those of a standard presentation. The essential difference, though, is that the selected or hand-drawn images are not an add-on to the spoken word but equally complement the oral part. In comic presentations, the images take over the structure, the sequence of the talk and clearly show this function. Hence, the audience is able to follow the talk more easily.

The organisation of a comic presentation also follows the principles of preparation, design, and delivery. While preparing, the presenters confront themselves with questions such as what is the purpose of the presentation, what does the audience expect and what content do I want to deliver. The significant difference, however, is that they take down their ideas in the form of simple images, sketches that transport their reflection process and already determine the structure of the talk. Hence, the focus is clearly shifted as the images are fundamental from the very beginning till the final presentation. During the drawing process, the active discussion with the content is very intensive and doubtlessly contributes to a strong identification with the product. The delivery of the presentation follows the standard procedure of technologically supported presentation formats. Furthermore, students can either digitalise their comics or present their hand-drawn versions.


The student feedback on the comic presentation assignment was very positive, as they enjoyed the creative task and the drawing experience in a different context. Architecture students, in general, are well aware of the fact that presentations form a fundamental part of their future professional life. Hence, they assessed the construction of meaning by interacting with both the written and image-based information very positively and considered the format as an appropriate presentation tool. A further conclusion drawn by the instructor was that the students immersed more deeply into the task due to the drawing experience which resulted in very fluent and coherent presentations.


Elder, J. 2014. Reading With Pictures: Comics That Make Kids Smarter. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing.

McCloud, S. 2001. Comics Richtig Lesen. Die unsichtbare Kunst. Hamburg, DE: Carlsen.

Sousanis, N. 2015. Unflattening. Cambridge, USA: Harvard University Press.

Tatalovic, M. 2009. Science comics as tools for science education and communication: a brief, exploratory study. Journal of Science Communication, 1-17. Retrieved from: