The Power of Comics to Build Resilience

Special Focus : Well-Being for Better Learning Outcomes
Access and Inclusion March 18, 2019

Did you know that Superman, one of the most iconic heroes, is a refugee? His parents sent him to Earth as a baby when his home planet Krypton was destroyed. He was raised up by a kind couple living on a farm in Kansas. The acclaimed graphic novel, Persepolis, discusses the challenges of leaving your home country, coming to terms with your own identity, and adjusting to new environments. Welcome to the New World is the first fully reported and regularly published comic strip to appear in The Times. It reports the journey of a Syrian family and their effort to adapt to life in the United States. What do all of these have in common? They are powerful stories that tackle challenging issues through visual storytelling.

Our risky and fast changing society demands a flexible, more innovative, and lifelong learning system. This is to ensure that we prepare all students, young or old, to adapt easily to the new systems shaped by various global crises and a digital economy. Arts-based teaching programs are gaining ground as they “teach us to judge in absence of rules, to appraise the consequences of one’s choices and to revise and then to make other choices” (Eisner 2004). Comics, according to many scholars and educators [Hutchinson, McDonald, McCloud], not only tell the stories of creatures with supernatural powers, but they also have this power to transfer knowledge. The dynamics nature of comic language can be a motivating and educational tool that can replace “I must read, search, learn” with “I want to read, search, learn.”

Comics are a medium for knowledge transfer because of various advantages: the possibility of participation and intervention during the reading process, as the reader has to fill with his imagination the gutter between the panels, illustrations overcome cultural and linguistic barriers, sensitive issues can be approached with ease, the development of critical thinking through storyline development, the creative format encourages curiosity for further reading. Stories are not only effective at being inspirational, educational or persuasive, but they are primarily a way for people to understand the world and to construct or reconstruct social realities (Didion, 1979, Berger, 1979, Zipes, 2011). Comics are stories and through them one can better understand different cultures, observe the realities of various groups, and feel empathy as one can imagine themselves as the hero or heroine of those stories. By reading, creating, co-creating, and sharing comic stories, groups and individuals are able to identify with the various characters and contexts.

Taking into consideration all of these advantages of comic books, there are three additional powers of this mode:

  • The narrative form is expressed through words and pictures, allowing to the reader become efficient in multimodal literacies.
  • The creative process of a comic book requires co-creation, as there is the artist and writer who work together to bring the comic to life.
  • Comic storytelling is a tool to foster connections through collaboration, teamwork, and creativity.


With these in mind, our organization asked how we could apply this collaborative form of storytelling to mixed groups of people from various cultures and backgrounds. Our first attempt in June 2016 was a huge success. Ten unaccompanied minors form Iran, Syria, and Africa [mainly from Somalia] worked along with local people from Athens. to co-create their own comic stories. Not only was it a fun experience, but it was interesting to observe people who couldn’t speak each other’s language finding ways to communicate, discuss, and engage. The satisfaction of this experiment came after the end of the session, when people left the room having learned a lot about each other and overcoming cultural stereotypes about one another.

After this success, we decided to work on prototyping the workshop and methodology, eventually collaborating with the Erasmus+ program to pilot and test it in other countries. In October 2016, we officially started the program Booster the Emotional Dimension of Social Inclusion for Immigrant Mothers and Children (BONDS), with the aim of designing and developing a specific training program for refugee and immigrant mothers and children in order to supply children and mothers or caregivers with a mix of soft skills, including language, cultural, social, and civic competences. Working with non-verbal, autobiographical, and superhero comics we managed to reach mothers and children in different hosting structures, from hostels to camps, building bridges between people who needed to share their stories and have their voices heard. The workshops start with an introduction to comics and a discussion on how stories affect our everyday lives. Participants have the chance to design their own heroes and then create or co-create in small groups to make a full story.

Today, two years after the initiation of the project, we have made many new friends. We have heard their stories, sad and also happy ones, and we have proven that comics are an excellent tool, not just for literacy, but for social skills, to bring people together, and to inspire them to follow their dreams.