This SLJ article is so great, I have little to add to it:
Comics Are Key to Promoting Literacy in Boys, Study Says
Just in time for Comic-Con 2010, a new report says comics and graphic novels may hold the secret to promoting literacy in young boys.
Long dismissed as fluff by parents, educators, and even librarians, the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL) reaffirms what researchers have long held to be true: girls are generally more inclined to read than boys. But it goes on to say that's partly because their literary interests aren't well represented in school libraries and classrooms.
Boys are more likely to enjoy reading science and nonfiction, informational texts, how-to manuals, fantasy, adventure stories, and stories that are scary or gross, along with books about hobbies and things they do or want to do. They also tend to prefer visual media, such as the Internet, newspapers, and magazines that focus on sports, electronics and video games.
"While boys show clear preferences for specific reading material, these genres and media are generally under-represented or even unavailable in school libraries, a reflection of the views of teachers and librarians who judge such material inappropriate," says the CCL.
The report says comics serve as an effective gateway to reading prose-based works and contribute to visual literacy, as well as the ability to understand and respond to a visual image. Comics also can help develop many of the same literacy skills as books, such as how to follow a sequence of events; connect narratives to the reader's own experiences, predict what will happen next, and interpret symbols.
Even before children are ready to read text, comic books can give them practice in understanding material printed on a page, tracking left to right and top to bottom, and inferring what happens between individual panels in a story, the report says, adding that thanks to their strong visual element, they're a used as teaching aids for second-language learners and students with learning difficulties.
"It is clear that comics have become an undeniable and potentially powerful part of our society and culture," says Cappon. "Considering the evidence it is time that educators and parents put aside any misgivings that they may have and embrace comics as a positive teaching and learning tool."
[UPDATE:] I stand corrected. I do have something to add: Go read the actual report on the study, because it's even awesomer. (See the vocabulary I picked up from reading comics as a kid?) For instance, this great section:
Debunking some comic book myths
One common myth about comics is that reading them can replace the reading of other genres. Research shows that concern is misguided. Boys who read comic books regularly also tend to read more text-based material and report higher levels of overall reading enjoyment, compared to boys who do not read comic books. In fact, some evidence supports the idea that comic books provide a “gateway” to other literary genres. For example, some researchers have argued that the language of comic books can help young people make the transition from informal everyday language to formal written language.
Another popular myth is that the visual element of comic books makes them more suited to immature readers. In fact, comics can help readers develop a number of useful language and literacy skills. The extensive use of images in a comic book requires readers to develop two kinds of literacy: visual literacy and comics literacy. Visual literacy is the ability to interpret the meaning of various kinds of illustrations. It involves all the processes of knowing and responding to a visual image, as well as all the thought that might go into constructing or manipulating an image. Comics literacy refers to the ability to understand a sequence of events or images, to interpret characters’ non-verbal gestures, to discern a story’s plot and to make inferences.
Comic books allow children to develop many of the same skills as reading text-based books such as connecting narratives to children’s own experiences, predicting what will happen next and inferring what happens between individual panels. Even before children are ready to read text, comic books can give them practice in making meaning from material printed on a page, tracking left to right and top to bottom, interpreting symbols, and following the sequence of events in a story.
Comic books have been shown to be useful for beginning readers, since the reduced text makes the language manageable for new readers. Comics expand children’s vocabulary by giving contexts to words that the child would not normally have been exposed to. New readers can also learn story elements through reading comics. Like novels, comics have a beginning, middle and end, main characters that develop through conflicts and story climax. Comics thus introduce the concepts of narrative structure and character development.
Comic books can also provide a tool for improving reading development among second- language learners, as the illustrations provide contextual clues to the meaning of the written narrative and because they present language as it is used in action.
Comic books can help children with learning or reading difficulties. Research highlights how a number of the features found in comics can be of benefit to those with dyslexia and similar challenges, particularly the left-to-right organization of comics' panels, the use of upper case letters, and the use of symbols and context to help with comprehension. As well, the research indicates that learners who can read well and those with reading problems are equally attracted to comics.