What can I learn from comic books?
December 18, 2006 11:33 PM   Subscribe

I like to learn things, but textbooks are boring! I find comic books gripping in ways that normal books aren't. Can you all offer examples of educational, information-rich comic books (or, if you prefer, "graphic novels")?

I'm a fast reader of normal prose but I find it easier to understand concepts when visuals are added. I'm a total neophyte when it comes to comic books; I haven't read all that many. I'm leaning more towards narratives (Maus, Pesepolis) and non-fiction (A Cartoon History of the Universe) rather than full blown fiction (while I did enjoy Sandman, I don't count learning the name of that stuff in your eyeballs as being educational).

Bonus points for comic books that could actually help me learn a foreign language.
posted by Deathalicious to Media & Arts (29 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

crap, he used relative URLs. can somebody wipe that for me? much appreciated.

Here's Larry Gonick's Amazon list
posted by cosmicbandito at 11:42 PM on December 18, 2006

Scott McCloud's "Understanding Comics" and its two sequels, "Reinventing Comics" and "Making Comics" are brilliant examples of comics that teach. Plus, they have the added bonus of being about comics.
posted by Robot Johnny at 11:49 PM on December 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also, Chester Brown's Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography is a historical/biographical graphic novel about the 19th Century Canadian political figure and rebel. Probably most interesting to Canadians, but it's still great.

And Guy Delisle's Pyongyang is a fascinating look at North Korea through the eyes of a visiting outsider.
posted by Robot Johnny at 11:55 PM on December 18, 2006

Response by poster: I've read Understanding Comics and managed to sneak it into the bibliographies of at least two undergradute papers -- one on architecture and another, I think, on post-Rennaissance literature. I think it's really excellent and part of the reason that my interest in comic books was piqued.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:59 PM on December 18, 2006

Freud for Beginners and others in the same series - Darwin, Postmodernism, Jung, Marx, Plato, Einstein, Plato, Iris Murdoch, Opera ... there are a lot more of these than I knew!
posted by paduasoy at 12:04 AM on December 19, 2006

Best answer: I'm surprised no one has mentioned the 9/11 Report in comic book form. It's really good, actually.
posted by Brian James at 12:06 AM on December 19, 2006

Response by poster: comicbandito: Yes, I've heard of Larry Gonick (I mentioned his Cartoon History in my question).

Ideally I'd like to get a variety of perspectives and styles, so reading everything by him doesn't appeal to me, although I'm certainly going to be reading some of his stuff.

Understanding Comics appealed to me because Scott McCloud is clearly so passionate about that topic, and I want to read more stuff like that.
posted by Deathalicious at 12:07 AM on December 19, 2006

As paduasoy mentioned, there's that "For Beginners" series (once called the "Introducing..." series), but don't bother with it. It's dumbed down, unclear, and generally awful.

It's more of a textbook with comic pictures than a comic book, but The Anatomy Coloring Book is rad. There are other subjects in the series too.
posted by painquale at 12:31 AM on December 19, 2006

I believe there are two versions of the series in question, one "For Beginners" and one "Introducing." The Beginners is certainly dumbed down, but the Introducing is pretty good, though probably best used as a general overview before delving more deeply into the subject with "normal" books.

My recollection of the difference between the two was not helped by these three links, and I don't have the copy I liked handy. Poop.
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:52 AM on December 19, 2006

Also, Joe Sacco's work is pretty great. I recommend Palestine.
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:59 AM on December 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I just came across these two a few minutes ago (from here):

- a history of Warren Buffet
- a possibly true history of instant-noodle soup

Apparently the latter is part of a whole series of books on subjects in the same vein.

As far as languages, there's this for Japanese. For Spanish there's a book that uses For Better or For Worse strips, and the Amazon page also has some interesting links in the recommendations section.
posted by lullabyofbirdland at 2:00 AM on December 19, 2006

Best answer: Clan Apis is a fantastic comic series about bees, written by a bee-ologist1. I clicked on the "Order" link at the book's homepage and got no joy, but I can't recommend it highly enough.

Action Philosophers is a series dedicated to funny explorations of philosophical schools and the men who created them. No, I'm not making that up. The second trade paperback for the series (you don't really need to pick up the first) comes out this week for a mere $8.95.

Others have said it, but Larry Gonick's Cartoon History series2 really is great stuff.

That Cup Noodle manga lullabyofbirdland recommended is brilliant. When they nail the formula, you'll be cheering3 and wanting to know how they can market it properly!

1I'll let myself out.
2Blatant self-link.
3That's a bit of an exaggeration.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 5:10 AM on December 19, 2006

Classics Illustrated. Runs the gamit from The Bible to Faust.

Why can't I see the link button in Safari?
posted by Gungho at 5:36 AM on December 19, 2006

Best answer: Two Fisted Science and other stories from gt-labs.com, which are primarily graphic novels/trade paperbacks documenting the lives of famous scientists.
posted by leapfrog at 5:51 AM on December 19, 2006

Another vote for Understanding Comics which I think is one of the best textbooks ever.
posted by rongorongo at 5:57 AM on December 19, 2006

Best answer: The "Big Book of" series are pretty cool for stories and factoids. I'm an especially big fan of The Big Book of the 70's - sounds dorky but I did learn a lot of 1970's culture and history from reading it.
posted by cadge at 6:29 AM on December 19, 2006

Seconding the Anatomy Coloring book, linked previously. Lots of good explanation wrapped up in crisp illustrations.

There's also a physics book that I liked in HS that had a lot of nice illustrations of ants and wheels and stuff. It was also nice because the formulae themselves were "illustrated" in a nice way. As something varied (like mass in f = ma), the formula's corresponding letter/symbol would grow and shrink. This really helped with things like rotational velocity and other hard relationships to grasp.

I can't find the textbook. But I did find this: Quantoons. By Thomas Bunk.
posted by zpousman at 6:39 AM on December 19, 2006

Best answer: Tim Hunkin's Almost Everything There Is to Know is great fun - lots of short cartoons on everyday science and technology. I think originally printed as a newspaper strip.
posted by crocomancer at 7:15 AM on December 19, 2006

Ah, turns out at least some of it is online: e.g. bacteria
posted by crocomancer at 7:20 AM on December 19, 2006

Maus I and II are definitely worth your time.
posted by phearlez at 8:00 AM on December 19, 2006

While not a comic book The Way Things Work formed much of my initial knowledge on things like electricity, physics, and general mechanics. Not much math there though.
posted by zabuni at 10:07 AM on December 19, 2006

Best answer: William Messners-Loeb and Sam Kieth's Epicurus the Sage is an entertaining romp through Greek History, philsophy and mythology.
posted by Sara Anne at 11:30 AM on December 19, 2006

For math and logic, Martin Gardner's Aha series has little comic strips for each puzzle. These are not graphic novels, however, and there's about a page or two of text for each strip, but it's still very entertaining.

Online, you can also read Howtoons.
posted by hooray at 5:50 AM on December 20, 2006

Best answer: You might be interested in Brought To Light
posted by Clay201 at 6:02 AM on December 20, 2006

Again not a comic but you might like Alan Fletcher's "The Art of Looking Sideways" - a predominantly visual world of wonders.
posted by rongorongo at 7:41 AM on December 20, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses everyone. Looks like Larry Gonnick is popular, and of course Understanding Comics appears to be (deservedly) well-loved.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:32 PM on December 20, 2006

Response by poster: Oh, and while I suppose this may go against AskMe ettiquette -- you really shouldn't answer your own question -- I'd like to add that nearly everything I know about American history and politics from the late 1970s through the early 1990s I learned from Doonesbury.
posted by Deathalicious at 9:39 PM on December 20, 2006

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