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Comic books can have many benefits for improving children's literacy and identity, according to Andréa Gilroy, a Pro Tempore instructor from the University of Oregon.

Gilroy spoke at Whitman College earlier this month about the ways in which comic books can be used in the classroom. The discussion was sponsored by the Film and Media Studies department and the Robert and Mabel Groseclose Endowed Lecture Fund.

One of the key points Gilroy highlighted in her lecture was that children who read comics - even if only for fun - are more successful readers, thus proving that comics can be used as a tool for improving literacy.

Gilroy also highlighted the benefits comics have in promoting multimodal literacy. Words and the pictures in comics complement each other in a unique way that is crucial for the reader in understanding the narrative.

Gilroy noted that although the reading of comics can be seen as "kid stuff," reading comics is a complicated cognitive process. In comic books, the reader determines how time functions, but it's the artist that controls the reader's sense of time and space through the two-dimensional world created on the page.

Comics also serve as a mirror for current events in pop culture and society at large, Gilroy said.

"Comic books - especially those of the ‘pop culture' variety, like superhero comics - are absolutely a mirror of a society's culture and current events. Superhero comics, for example, tell us a whole lot about a culture's values. What is heroic? What is good and evil? What is moral action? What counts as justice? And that's before we even get to questions about who gets to be a superhero and how superheroes are represented visually," Gilroy said. "We are in an interesting time in the world of superhero comics, in which the comic books are simultaneously opening up to more diverse heroes and to more diverse creators."

While a more diverse cast of superheroes and comic book creators has been generally well received, other critics and fans have vocally protested, she said.

"The politics of the comics community seems to reflect the politics of the U.S. at large - general movement forward regarding diversity in representation, but a troubling backlash attempting to silence new voices and rewrite the history of comics in a more conservative image," Gilroy said.