To many adults, graphic texts may appear to be nothing more than comic strips compiled in book form but experts in the field of reading say that is far from the truth. According to literacy experts Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell, readers of graphic novels and nonfiction texts face many demands as they read and understand these books.
First readers must recognize and use the conventions unique to this genre. They must know that speech bubbles in circles tell what the character is saying and have an arrow to identify the character. Thought bubbles on the other hand have dots leading to the speaker and are telling the reader what the character is thinking not saying. Sometimes there are narrative boxes which may be squares or rectangles to explain what is happening or give other important information. The size of the lettering may vary and often text is written is all capitals. The reader must read the panels left to right and top to bottom but the size of the panels is not always the same. Spaces between the panels, known as gutters, are important too because the reader must infer what has happened in that blank space. For instance, the gutters may show the passage of time, or simply be the means for a new character to enter the scene. Details in the pictures need to be studied for they also carry information. For example, characters’ feelings are often only known by carefully examining their facial expressions or body language.
Readers of graphica must use the same strategies to understand the book as readers of a typical novel or information book do. They must infer character feelings, notice how characters change, infer information from character dialogue, notice and think about the style of the illustrations, gain meaning from the author’s words, build on information they already have and change ideas, and think about the author’s style to name just a few of the thoughts and understandings a reader must have to fully understand the book. A well written graphic text places many demands on the reader!