Aaron Rosen, a professor of religious studies and director of international and cultural projects at Rocky Mountain College, delivered a lecture on the educational value of graphic novels at Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, Montana. The lecture, titled "The Antihero in Contemporary Comics," was held during a 130-piece exhibit put on by the museum showcasing superhero-inspired artwork, and it delved into the connection between depictions of antiheroes and the rising popularity of the graphic novel.
An antihero is "someone who isn’t perfect, who doesn’t have super strength or super abilities, and yet is somehow the protagonist in their struggle,” Rosen said. “I really don’t like fantasy that much. I was never into superheroes or anything like that," Rosen continued. "It was only as an adult, as an academic, that I realized how much I was missing in some of these different media.”
During the lecture, Rosen went into the influence of Art Spiegelman's Maus, and how it was the first graphic novel he read that showed him the potential of the graphic medium. The fact that "you could tell the story of the Holocaust literally as a cat-and-mouse game, and that that could be so much more complex than the readings I’d done as a child," he said. "There's almost no limits to the serious subject matter that people can explore through graphic novels."
Rosen's lecture looked into this marriage of deeper contextual meanings through the art and literautre of the graphic novel format, discussing that the degree of complexity available through graphic novels is a concept that many people overlook. Rosen teaches a Rocky Mountain College called Religion, Philosophy and Comics where he looks into this complexity and examines the preconceptions about comics books with his students. “Comics and graphic novels can work so well because they have the iconography of good and evil, so they can use those symbols and then they can deconstruct. So they can use those binaries and then deconstruct them,” Rosen said.
Rosen explained that many consider graphic novels a primitive literature because of the use of artwork; however, his aim is to open up other educator's views on graphic novels to show them the intellectual weight of the medium. Graphic novels "kind of smuggle in really complex, interesting material and trick people into being interested," he says. The ability to engage and educate a reader is a powerful tool within the classroom and is critical for educators to utilize in their classrooms.