Student-Created Graphic Novels Address Social Issues
By Mike Emery
Comic books … or graphic novels as they’re commonly referred to … used to be considered distractions in the classroom. Now, professors are embracing the medium and helping students learn how to utilize comics as a vehicle for effective storytelling.
At the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD), students are not just spinning fantastic yarns using comics, they’re using the art form to promote social change.
For the first time at UHD, the class “Creating a Graphic Novel” is being offered to fine arts students. Led by lecturer Beth Secor, the class walks students through the process of generating sequential narratives using images, panels, dialogue balloons and other visual elements. Secor, however, has directed students to create stories that address an issue affecting society. Students are following her instructions and creating graphic novels addressing immigration, racism, sexual harassment, healthcare and a variety of other topics.
“Everyone is enthusiastic about their projects,” Secor said. “Although each student is working on his/her own graphic novel, they consult with one another and share ideas. They learn among each other as much as they learn from me.”
One of Secor’s students, senior fine arts major Bobby Ramos, isn’t a stranger to creating comic art. Ramos makes the rounds at Texas comic conventions displaying his renderings of popular characters. His class project is focused on the children who were separated from parents at the Texas border. The story focuses on one of these children, who emerges as an antihero 20 years later.
“Graphic novels are a good platform for addressing topics like this,” Ramos said. “It’s a different way of receiving and interpreting information. We are bombarded by so many viewpoints on social media. With graphic novels or comics, readers can come to their own understanding of a topic. They can draw their own conclusions based on these stories.”
Other graphic novels include a collection of short stories written and illustrated by Chelsea Markcray. These tales address police brutality, racism and other issues.
UHD student Mariana Cano’s graphic novel tells the story of anthropomorphic cats affected by pollution and contaminated water.
Brenda Chapa’s project places insect characters in a story centered on immigration.
And, Constanza SanMiguel’s illustrated story addresses victims of sexual harassment, who come together to face their antagonist.
Unlike many of her classmates, SanMiguel was not too familiar with graphic novels. Her primary creative interest is painting, but she wanted to expand her artistic horizons.
“This is something that’s out of my comfort zone,” SanMiguel said. “I wanted to try something new. The tools and materials I use for this kind of artwork are different from what I am used to. I have to dig deeper to get an understanding of how this art is produced. It’s hard, but I'm enjoying it.”
The graphic novels will be completed by the semester’s end, and the public can get a sneak preview of these works during UHD’s first comic convention, Gator-Con, on Oct. 25. Students will present a panel on their graphic novels during a Gator-Con panel at 9 a.m. in Room A300 of UHD’s Academic Building.
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.