Excavating Visual Texts: Information Literacy, Critical Thinking, and the Graphic Novel in the Crime Fiction Classroom



  • Comics as the textual basis of information literacy (IL) instruction provide distinct pedagogical advantages at the same time as they throw up obstacles to that pedagogy. This chapter will explore how students’ facility in decoding visual texts challenges instructors’ and librarians’ ability to provide the interpretive scaffold upon which students critically engage with visual primary materials. The authors, an English faculty member and an instruction librarian at the urban commuter campus of a state university, have long collaborated to embed IL into the undergraduate curriculum serving a mix of traditional and non-traditional students. In this case, they partnered on an IL unit in a senior-level Crime Fiction course, targeting students who have experienced numerous IL sessions during their time at the College. At this point, students had robust experience navigating library databases and evaluating academic sources but would benefit from exploring the way their own perspectives on a familiar historical topic were informed by vexed popular narratives. The unit focused on Alan Moore’s graphic novel From Hell, as well as visual and textual contemporary sources exploring the comic’s subject matter, the Jack the Ripper events in Victorian London. In choosing to marry IL instruction and comics, instructor and librarian wanted to harness students’ existing interpretive facility with visual texts. The colleagues wished to build on this by a) developing students’ ability to decode graphic novels through metalanguage; and b) facilitating students’ analysis of the primary sources for signs of situational biases and perspectives. This case study describes the instructors’ and students’ journey through the graphic novel, newspaper cartoons, broadsheets, and articles, and their uncovering of the anti-Semitic, xenophobic, classist, and gendered responses to the serial murders in Victorian London. Students discovered that visual depictions of events, such as in comic books or newspaper cartoons, can create static in their ability to engage in this textual archaeology. Visual images make immediately evident certain inherent biases; at the same time, they complicate students’ critical abilities by often eliciting strong emotional responses to those images. Guided by the instructors, students learned to decode visual narratives using the metadiscourse of graphic fiction; to interrogate their sometimes visceral reactions to those images; to apply their IL skills to new texts; and to excavate the biases of what has come down to us in the received narratives about the Ripper events.
  • Status

    Publication Date

  • 2019
  • International Standard Book Number (isbn) 13

  • 978-1-63400-080-2