Last Updated: 12/20/17
Eager to get started using comics and graphic novels to help your students improve reading skills, increase exposure to STEM topics, or just generally spark a love of learning across a wider range of learners?
If you’re like many of the educators we often talk with, the biggest challenge may be how to afford those comics in the first place.
There’s good news. There are a growing number of free sources of comics online and, with a little creativity, you may be able to get free (or very low cost) printed books as well.
Here’s a few of our favorite ways of getting comics for your classroom at no (or very little) cost. We’ll be updating and adding to this list moving forward, so be sure to check back often to see what’s changed.
IMPORTANT ATTRIBUTION: We’d like to give a huge thank you to the School Library Journal (SLJ) for providing the descriptions for some of these comics via their recent blog HERE. Any descriptions that originated on the SLJ blog/website are marked with “SLJ:”
Free Comics Online (Updated Regularly)
Pop Culture Classroom’s Colorful History
Free 2-page comic celebrating major events in Colorado history, plus a free Teachers Guide, Script and Rough Sketches.
Super-funny and irreverent webcomic a-la Lord of The Flies meets Weird Supernatural summer camp stuff.
A creator owned and free-to-read publisher of a variety of web comics.
A webcomic of romance, with sarcasm, math, and language. NOTE: Lots of these are not appropriate for kids.
The Creepy Casefiles
SLJ: Charles Thompson’s parents have uprooted him from his comfy home and moved to a dilapidated hotel in a strange city, where there’s a troll in his closet.
SLJ: A 46-page story about a princess in a tower who is rescued by…another princess. There’s a low-key romance and a strong message about self-confidence in this charming fairy tale.
SLJ: The humor is goofy, topical, and perceptive in this gag-a-day comic with a loose cast of characters: Sheldon, a 10-year-old billionaire, his friends Emily and Dante, his grandfather, a talking duck, a dog, and a lizard.
Breaking Cat News
SLJ: A trio of cats report breathlessly, CNN-style, on the doings of the people in their house in this hilarious gag-a-day comic. Andrews McMeel will publish a version this year.
SLJ: This long-running comic follows the supernatural adventures of Antimony Carver and her friend Kat Donlan at a most peculiar boarding school.
As the Crow Flies
SLJ: Charlie is sure she won’t fit in at Three Peaks Camp, a Christian backpacking camp for teen girls. She’s black, she’s queer—and she’s in for a few surprises.
SLJ: A fantasy about a girl traveling through the desert to scatter her mother’s ashes who encounters a cast of characters with their own agendas. Winner of the 2015 Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity.
SLJ: Launched in January, this is a slice-of-life story about a schoolgirl who “learns the true meaning of Halloween.”
Hark! A Vagrant
SLJ: Kate Beaton’s wry gags riff on history, literature, and pop culture, taking on everything from Wuthering Heights to Joan of Arc. The print collection Step Aside Pops! made the 2016 YALSA list of Great Graphic Novels for Teens.
SLJ: Homestuck, with a lot of game-ish elements, starts with one character and builds into a complicated plot about kids playing a video game to save the world. More than 7,000 pages, it’s epic, with a huge fan base.
You Say Latino (One-Pager)
SLJ: The author, who is half Mexican, explains the difference between “Latino” and “Hispanic.”
Threads. The Calais Cartoon (One-Pager)
SLJ: Evans recounts her experiences as a volunteer at the refugee camp in Calais, France.
(Almost) Free Ways to Get Printed Books
Scholastic Book Clubs Points
Scholastic has been offering a fantastic program for many years that awards points to teachers when their students purchase books from the club.
The more books (including comics and graphic novels) your students buy from the program, the more points you earn and can spend on purchasing more comics.
Plus, Scholastic Book Club is one of the least expensive places you can buy comics that are appropriate for kids. They will often be priced at wholesale or below, and other comic publishers sell through the program.
Some titles are even sold below cost, acting as primarily an advertisement (aka “loss leader) to promote he publishers’ most recent and/or most popular titles.
Partner with Your Local Comic Book Shop
Take a trip to the comic book shop nearest your school and bring your teacher ID. Let the shop owner or manager know you’re a teacher with a very limited budget (but are eager to get comics into your classroom) and see if they can help you out with some free of very low-cost books.
To sweeten the deal for the shop owner, ask them if they have any stickers for their shop that you could place on each of the comics, encouraging your students — and anyone they share the comics with — to go in and buy comics at the shop when they can.
This is just one example of creating a “win-win” for you and the shop, and most owners are always looking for new and creative ways to get new customers.
Here’s a few other things to ask or discuss while you’re there:
- Ask to look at their discount bins. It may take time to flip through all of them, but it’s often worth it since you can find great comics heavily discounted — sometimes for as low as a dollar each.
- Ask if they are willing to sell educational copies of comics at cost or a specially discounted rate.
- Consistently remind them that you’re open promoting their store via popups, posters, or whatever promotional materials they can provide at your school, in return for them donating comics on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis.
- And, last but certainly not least…
Free Comic Book Day
Each year, on the first Saturday in May, comic book shops host Free Comic Book Day (FCBD). On that day, publishers provide comic shops with a wide range of free comics as a way to attract new readers.
The next one happens on May 5, 2018. Before then, go into your local shop and ask if they would be willing to set aside any remaining grade-level appropriate books after FCBD is over, for you to use in your classroom collections. Let them know you’ll share any extras/duplicates with your colleagues.
For Next Time
In our next post, we’ll be focusing on ways parents can use comics to increase their child’s reading skills.
See you there.