For all but the most financially sound school districts, it can be a struggle to convince penny-pinching department chairs to make a heavy investment in a hard copy set of graphic novels or student-wide Comixology access.
Luckily, the internet can still surprise with its infinite array of resources of such high quality that they have no business being free. With nothing but a half-decent computer lab, your students can still explore comics by accessing web comic hosting websites.
Although this is by no means an exhaustive list, below are three web comic hosting websites that could provide you with worthy content for your classroom. These amazing hubs of creative expression let users browse through the passion projects of thousands of aspiring comic artists at no cost (with most offering a link for donations, of course.) Stories from every genre and of every length are posted page-by-page over months or years until a truly impressive library of works builds up for public consumption.
Now, only in our dreams would these free comic stories come with pre-made lesson plans. As an educator, you’ll need to comb through them to find the sort of works that would fit your class’ subject, objective, and maturity level. To make it easier for newcomers, though, I’ve picked out some exciting and age-appropriate up-and-coming webcomics from each site for you to check out.
Happy hunting! And be sure to check out Webcomic in the Classroom: Part 1 to learn about the other great webcomics out there.
FREE WEBCOMICS HOSTING SITES
I credit my discovery of these resources to one of my students who first turned me on to Tapas. She invited me to read the beginning of her story and give a little feedback. One of the advantages of using websites like this is that grade-level material is easy to find because some of it is created by artists at grade-level!
As a website, Tapas is a little clunky. Clicking on links takes you counterintuitively to the last page of a work with no way to quickly jump back to the first. There is an iOS app that works more smoothly, but not every class has access to iPads! The best way to quickly lead students to a story would be to find the URL of the first page and hyperlink it for them.
Promising Comic: Heroes of Thantopolis
A boy wakes up with no memories of his previous life to find himself thrust into a war to protect Thantopolis, the city of the dead. I can definitely see this being used in a junior high or even elementary school English class.
2. Smack Jeeves
This website seems to be the most well-designed of the three listed here. It also seems to provide a very rare and powerful safe space for authors and artists with an LGBT perspective. Beyond that, a great deal of diverse characters seem to occupy this space. This might be my first choice to mine for material if I were working in an urban setting or if I want to expose my students to other cultures & viewpoints (and I always do!)
Promising Comic: Joseph and Yusra
While Marvel gets into trouble by calling into question the validity of diversity as a sales strategy, a contributor to Smack Jeeves named KawaiiYusra has paired up a Jewish boy with a Muslim girl as they flirt while fighting extradimensional beings with magical guitars and hammers. Yes. A thousand times Yes.
3. Comic Fury
Comic Fury offers something unique and immediately useful: it very helpfully tags each comic with a warning label for content like Violence or Sex. It let me zero in on appropriate material much more quickly than the other two. Beyond that the site has a retro, almost 90’s style that frequent childhood visitors to dial-up internet will appreciate.
Promising Comic: Abby Normal
Abby Normal, a Frankenstein-type zombie and a charming homage to Mel Brooks, tries to solve the mystery of her death with her sidekicks Petunia the Ghost and Benedict the talking-brain-in-a-jar. Although it’s macabre, the atmosphere is earnest and funny.
Web comics are an excellent, zero-budget way to start thinking visually. If things go well, then maybe it’s time to start exploring the ways that comics and graphic novels can bring new life to your teaching. And while these are a great start, keep in mind they don’t even scratch the surface of all the great webcomics out there.
And keep an eye out for Part 3 to get more examples and suggestions!