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Superhero image from Wikimedia
Thanks to Lauren Becker
for writing this lesson plan for Creative Thinking. Lauren served as our Graduate Library Student Assistant at Steely Library in 2015.

Teaching Intellectual Property Using Superhero Comic Books

Superhero comics are a great tool to teach students of all ages about intellectual property and how to go about creating their own original works. Whether you are presenting to a public library audience or to a school library/classroom, there are suggested steps to take in presenting an enjoyable, yet educational, lesson. Our example here is targeted to middle school students in the sixth and seventh grades. However, this concept works well for all ages once adjusted for the needs of other grades.

The lesson objectives for students are to:

  • understand intellectual property and how it relates to comics and other literature
  • understand the different aspects of telling a story, from theme to characters
  • create their own comic book to combine what they have learned about intellectual property and telling a cohesive story

Presenting to a Public Library audience:

1.      To begin, find a large photo that includes as many superheroes as possible. Display this so that the participants have a chance to look it over and then ask questions to get a discussion started. Some things to possibly ask would be “How would you describe superheroes?” “Who creates superheroes?” “Who are some of the superheroes sidekicks?” and “What powers do certain superheroes possess?” Once the audience has warmed up to the topic, these questions could easily lead a brief lecture on the history of superhero comics.

2.      The history of superhero comics actually starts with non-superhero comics such as Happy Hooligan (1900) and Barney Google (1919). From there, comics enter the Golden Age (1930s-1950s) with the introduction of Superman (1938), Batman (1939), and Wonder Woman (1941). Next, the Silver Age (1950s-1970s) introduced Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer, the Bronze Age (1970s-1980s) introduced the Amazing Spider-Man. As for the more recent decades, this is referred to as the Modern Age. The introduction and history lesson should only last about 15 minutes.

3.      Introduce intellectual property to the group, using superheroes and their creators to help explain copyright, trademark, and patents.  For this age group, asking questions about the creation of comics and their authors is an ideal place to start talking about intellectual property. Some questions to think about would be “Have you written a short story or done a drawing?” “How would authors and artists protect their work?” Make sure you use the superheroes and their authors to explain intellectual property definitions. For example, are Batman and Superman stories under copyright? The answer is yes! An example of a trademark would be the comic series’ names as well as DC and Marvel brand names. There are also patents such as U.S. Design Patent # 329, 321 for the Batman head dress. This section of the presentation should run about 15 minutes.

4.      The longest portion of the presentation is where you can really get the kids involved. Participants create their own superhero while they think about intellectual property as they do their drawing. Give their superhero a trademarkable name, think about patentable gadgets or superpowers they might have, and make sure they know what the artwork and stories they have created are automatically under copyright! This section of the presentation should last for about 30 minutes.  

5.      For the last part of the presentation, display library books that the children could check out and learn more about superheroes and intellectual property. This might be a good time to show YouTube videos. This final section should be about 10 minutes.

Presenting to a School Library or Classroom audience:

1.      When presenting at a school library or classroom, have an assignment where the students create their own comics. This will allow them to take what they learn about comics and intellectual property and create something tangible. To start the lesson, give the students a lesson on intellectual property, explaining patents, trademarks, and copyright. Make sure they know that they have automatic copyright of their comics once they have created them. Use superheroes and their creators (authors and artists) as examples so the students understand how intellectual property pertains specifically to comics. This section should be about 15 minutes.

2.      After explaining intellectual property, it is important that the students understand the literary aspects of creating a comic book. Explain how to create characters, the difference between plot and theme, how to come up with a setting, and more. This section should help them break down the various elements of a story so they can start building their comic. Ask questions to get the students thinking about their overall story. “Is there a villain in your story?” “What is the conflict – Man vs. Man, Man vs. Self, Man vs. Society, or Man vs. Nature?” “How has the main character changed in the end?” These are all important things to know before the students begin creating. This section should be about 15 minutes.

3.      The next step is to have the students begin creating their comic books. Will the students be working in pairs, in a group, or on their own? If two people are working on a comic, it might be interesting to have one do the writing and the other do the drawing. Once this has been decided, the students can begin coming up with ideas for their story, making sure to cover the literary elements. They should not write or draw on their finished paper so they have room to make changes. Once they have everything worked out, then they can create their finished product. This section could be done in class or used as a homework assignment. If done in class, it should last about 35-45 minutes.

4.      Once the comics have been created, allow time in class for people to share theirs if they wish. They can have copies made to pass around the class or simply stand in front of the room to explain their story and how they turned that into a comic. Depending on the amount of students who present (or if it’s required for everyone), this section should take about 30-40 minutes, allowing at least 3-5 minutes per comic.

Education Standards (Common Core Standards listed in Bold)

Kentucky State Standards That Relate Underneath

CC.7.W.3.a: Students will engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and point of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically

KY.7.W.C.EU.2: Students will understand that different forms of writing are appropriate for different purposes and audiences across the content areas and have different features (e.g. editorials, self-reflective essays, summaries, responses to text).

C.7.W.3.b: Students will use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.

KY.7.W.C.EU.3: Students will understand that to be effective, writing must be a sufficiently developed, coherent unit of thought to address the needs of the intended audience.

AASL Standards

1.2.3: Students will demonstrate creativity by using multiple resources and formats.

1.3.1: Students will respect copyright/intellectual property rights of creators and producers.

McRel’s Standards for Lesson

RL.6.2. Determine a theme or central idea of a text and how it is conveyed through particular details; provide a summary of the text distinct from personal opinions or judgments.

RL.6.3. Describe how a particular story’s or drama’s plot unfolds in a series of episodes as well as how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.

For additional examples and guides related to this concept, visit the following links:

Superhero Matinee: Comics Used as Examples of Intellectual Property Concepts (guide)

Superhero Team Up! Working together to teach intellectual property to our student (slide show)

Superheroes: Innovation & Creativity (slide show)

Using Superhero Comics to Teach Young Children Intellectual Property Concepts (article)