Kleefeld On Webcomics #72: Get Your Learnin’ On

By Sean Kleefeld

Comics in general can be a great way to relay information. As comic creators are generally expert in distilling ideas down to their key components, they often make for excellent teachers by taking complex ideas and making them more easily understandable and digestible. You can see a similar attempt in infographics, and much of their popularity is due to graphic artists giving concrete visuals to large sets of data. Comics can do the same thing with broader concepts. Will Eisner did a fantastic job in the 1940s creating comics for the U.S. Army to educate its soldiers on a wide variety of relevant topics, like how to properly clean a rifle or keep a Jeep in good repair.

Not surprisingly, strictly educational comics aren’t a terribly financially viable path to take. Generally speaking, only a small group of people would be interested in an ongoing series educational pieces on a single topic or theme, and those people would likely prefer something more in depth and detailed than a regular comic series might allow. But that’s not to say there isn’t plenty to be learned from webcomics!

One thing that many writers do is take note of a lot of different facts. Random facts that might not have anything to do with one another, or even with a particular interest to the creator. But these collection of facts can then be pulled out from time to time to help either jumpstart a story idea, or to be just dropped into an existing story to provide some level of authenticity.

Here’s a prime example. Greg Cravens’ strip Hubris is about a guy who owns and operates a small sporting goods store. Most of the strip’s humor centers around either the retail side of sporting goods, or Hubris’ mis-adventures in rock-climbing, biking, skateboarding, etc. Although he does have to return home from time to time, and encounters his neighbor…

Not exactly a hard core science lesson, to be sure, but a casual fact about bats that you might not have otherwise even considered, much less known.

More focused on obscure information is Dante Sheperd’s Surviving the World fumetti webcomic. Many of Sheperd’s comics start with a fact or set of facts, with the punchline often being an extreme or absurd extrapolation based on them.

 

Though he likely increases his credibility only slightly with the lab coat, Sheperd also frequently backs up the assertions in his comic with links to articles on the topic at hand in the comments after each comic. Over the long term, this provides readers with an understanding of Sheperd’s style and how he presents facts versus jokes, and it also gives instills a sense of trust. Readers can verify his claims often enough that they learn to accept his regular presentation of facts. Cravens, by contrast, doesn’t generally provide a lot of fact-based comics, so his strip perhaps less authoritative in that regard.

One final example I’ll point to: Sci-ence by Maki Naro and Nadir Balan. Their comics are often rooted in scientific themes, but have curiously little actual science in them. They take a different approach, by trying to entice readers with a humorous comic that only loosely touches on some aspect of research or scientific theory and then providing another 500 words after each comic going into more detail about the actual science. (Though, this too is liberally peppered with comedy and sarcasm.)

While there are certainly plenty of webcomics out there that aim for fun and adventure, there’s also examples out there of where the creators infuse their work with something educational too. Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of these type out there, but it’s fantastic that they can take advantage of a market that allows them to make these at all.

Related Posts:
Kleefeld On Webcomics #71: Original Art
Kleefeld On Webcomics #70: Thoughts From Greg Rucka

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