I thoroughly enjoyed my time this past weekend at CITE 2016, the annual meeting of the Conference of Independent Teachers of English. For those of you who attended my sessions, and for those of you who didn't but are interested in the material, here are the Prezis for your viewing pleasure!
A new issue of Martian Comics -- "The Canals of Earth" -- is coming your way in an exciting courtesy of new Kickstarter! Before you do anything, check out the video above and then lend your support to Julian Darius and Kevin Thurman's exciting new addition to the series.
Julian was kind enough to answer my questions about the series. It's this kind of thoughtfulness, insight, and love of comics that makes Martian Comics
Why Martian Comics? What was your original motivation for the series?
Kevin Thurman, my co-writer, had an idea for a story, and we'd talked about it in several iterations. He revised it again, tying it to the sci-fi backstory I'd created for the publisher Martian Lit! So from there, I was locked into the concept, and I felt invested in it. And it just snowballed from there.
But I love the title "Martian Comics!" It's such a throwback to things like Adventure Comics or Action Comics. And I meant that title as a kind of umbrella designation, indicating that we're building a universe here that's bigger than any single story.
What does "The Canals of Earth" bring to the series?
"The Canals of Earth" is the story of the early days of Mars-Earth relations. Most of it is a flashback, as we watch ancient Martians looking towards Earth and imagining a Martian goddess named Earth, the same way humans once imagined a god named Mars. We also see Martian science-fiction, in which Earth is imagined as a very Martian-like society, but more advanced and eager to invade Mars. This science fiction evolves. And we track the whole relationship through the Martian space age.
In terms of the larger series, this story occurs thousands of years prior to almost anything we've seen so far. Martian Comics is simultaneously running "The Girl from Mars" and these other stories. Those stories are part of a large short story collection. "The Canals of Earth" would be a very early story in that collection, in which we see Mars-Earth relations grow and change over millennia (and see lots of other stuff evolve too!).
"The Canals of Earth" does give us our earliest depiction of Martian society, a glimpse of early Martian religion, and reference to a Martian city we've never seen before. We're building something big. But you can enjoy "The Canals of Earth" without any previous knowledge! It's just a good sci-fi story.
What does the sophisticated reader take away from Martian Comics? What are you hoping they take away?
First, I just hope that people like the issue and enjoy the story. I think the art's beautiful, and the writing is beautiful, and if someone enjoys it, that's enough for me!
Second, I hope that people take away a kind of mind-bending way of imagining a very foreign perspective. We're not on Earth in this story. We're looking at how Mars has seen and imagined Earth. We're decentralized. And we're seeing Martians imagine that people on Earth would look like them. We're seeing how Martian science-fiction is a projection of Martian anxieties, and it's laughable but wonderful, in that old-school sci-fi way. Readers might be tempted to study the history of science-fiction after this issue! But I like this idea of a totally decentralized story, in which we're seeing a parallel of our own history but through alien eyes, and the entire story is this sort of distorted mirror that puts our own anthropocentric tendencies in stark relief. And maybe, just maybe, through that, some readers might see a parable of our own anthropocentrism and the need to imagine other perspectives! Maybe. In any case, there are things to think about here, places for the readers' brains to go! And I like giving readers these experiences, and seeing what they think about, which is never exactly what I'd think about -- and that's great!
Third, on a more meta level, I hope the sophisticated reader sees a comic that demonstrates that comics can do this -- make people think. So many of the comics that have most affected me were intelligent. Certainly, the truly classics are. And I think you can be intelligent and entertaining at the same time. But I think that there's a perception that most of the smart comics being made are autobiographical or "non-genre," whereas the genre work tends to be flashy but a little thoughtless. Martian Comics is here to say, "No, you can do smart -- even really smart -- sci-fi comics that are still sci-fi, and unembarrassed about their genre, and fun!" "The Canals of Earth," in particular, really reminds me of some issues of Planetary, which was intelligent and played with genre and had the same sort of mix of smart fun. Comics can do this. We know that. And we need to get back to it.
Where do you see the series going from here?
Everywhere. I'm in it for the long haul. We'll be continuing with "The Girl from Mars" and these other Martian stories for a while yet. We'll be getting out collected editions. Eventually, these other stories, like "The Canals of Earth," are going to be a massive volume spanning thousands of years, with different cultures and characters and historical trends being explored in a really sprawling way. I've got other ideas, other volumes, stories I want to tell. There's a very long-term plan here. We may only be on issue #5, but I'm currently writing a story that'll probably be in issue #13, and I've got plans for many dozens of issues' worth of material after that.
What do you think is the most compelling reason for readers of Comics in Education, or fans of comics in general, to support your Kickstarter campaign?
Because comics can do this. They can tell ambitious stories that can only be told in comics.
Best Class Ever!
As promised, here are the resources from my two presentations. First up is "Best Class Ever!" In addition to the Prezi, I'm including the workshop handout and the workshop package!
"With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility"
Check out the Workshop Package. Pages and pages of resources and ideas!
Just a quick note...
Hi everyone! Just a quick note to let you know that I'll be presenting this coming week at Reading for the Love of It at the Sheraton Hotel in Downtown Toronto!
This year's conference is the 40th anniversary of the event and it should prove to be a wonderful opportunity for educators to gather and share their stories.
Here are the places where you can catch my presentations!
Best Class Ever! The Top 10 Activities for the English/Language Arts Classroom
Thursday, February 18th -- 10:45-12:00, Dominion South
Friday, February 19th -- 12:45-2:00, Dominion North
Gathered, collected, honed, and refined over the course of two decades in secondary and postsecondary education, the activities presented in this workshop are guaranteed to have your students coming up to you afterwards and saying, “Best class ever!” Whether it’s an activity based on a popular game show that brings out our passion for literature, a unit on World Mythologies that uses the framework of reality TV, or a hilarious poetry activity that sees students marry human emotions with mundane objects, participants will get a fist-hand look at some phenomenal classroom activities by getting right in there and having a blast doing them! Participants looking for a fun, activities-based workshop that can be taken directly back to the classroom need look no further.
"With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility" -- The Top 10 Strategies for Teaching Comics
Thursday, February 18th -- 12:45-2:00, Chestnut
Friday, February 19th -- 2:15-3:30, Dominion South
Understanding that comics and graphic novels have a place in the K-12 classroom is one thing. Understanding how to teach them in a way that empowers students is quite another. This workshop provides practical teaching advice about using comics and graphic novels with struggling, reluctant, probcient, advanced, and even gifted readers and writers by looking at pedagogical strategies that maximize student engagement and build conbdence with the form. The tendency in the past has been to look at how using comics and graphic novels can improve students’ engagement with other literary genres, but this can only come about if students brst understand the visual narrative form they’re exploring. The workshop will feature a wealth of fantastic print and digital resources that teachers can start using right away in their classrooms
Despite having its detractors who complain about the long lines, expensive photo ops, and last-minute cancellations attendant with cons, Toronto Fan Expo 2015 was one hell of a good time. Let's face it...if you take that many nerds and put them in any kind of building, you're violating the principles of common sense. You're also bound to have a group of people that are friendly, fun to be around, and generally awesome.
Here were some highlights, one from each day of the conference, in no particular order:
Friday evening: Q&A with James and Oliver Phelps
Saturday morning: Script Reading of Back to the Future
With acclaimed voice actors like Nolan North and Grey Delisle, it was impossible for this session not to be a hit. Throw in an assortment of voices ranging from the Penguin to Bill Cosby, and a cast of actors willing to go from PG-13 to R faster than a speeding bullet, and you can see why the session was such a hit with fans
Thursday afternoon: The crowd
If you only went to FanExpo on Saturday or Sunday and the crowds drove you mental, consider coming on Thursday next year. This birds-eye shot from the overlook shows that there is plenty of room for you to check out the North building. Not only that, but minutes later my family and I were sitting down at a table having pizza for dinner. That's right, we were actually sitting at a table!
Sunday afternoon: The Dark Lord, Sauron
I don't know what motivates someone to spend a warm Sunday afternoon at a crowded Fan Expo convention sweating inside a Sauron costume, but this stood out as a highlight when it came to the great costumes being worn this year. I mean, when you have children who love everything to do with Lord of the Rings, and, most especially, the villains, then you can't get any better than running into this guy.
Fortunately, his infernal graciousness was kind enough to pose for a couple of photographs just between the food court and Artists Alley before taking a couple of steps and being asked by someone else for a photo. Such is the price when you're the Dark Lord.
All in all, the show was once again a tremendous success. Despite being packed on the weekend and despite some of the strange ways we're lined up for events, the people in attendance are the ones who make the event -- kind, considerate, and respectful people who just want to nerd out with one another at the end of the summer each year.
There is everything to like in The Adventures of Whiz Bang, The Boy Robot. Coming to you from the wonderful imagination of Forrest C. Helvie and beautifully illustrated byMichelle Lodge, the book is perfect for parents and educators looking for great visual narratives for young readers. Here's how Forrest describes the project on his Kickstarter site:
This first full-colored volume contains the longer story of Whiz Bang and Amelia along with 2-3 short, stand-alone comic stories geared for an all-ages audience – especially emerging readers ages 4-7 that will enable readers to easily pick up any issue and follow along without facing the difficulties of continuity. Later volumes will include a continuation of this story along with additional short stories about Whiz Bang, Amelia, and later friends we haven’t met yet!
The book is already getting a lot of buzz, with an article on Bleeding Cool coming out yesterday. If you'd like to check out some of the sample pages, you can find them on the Issuu website. Take a moment to check out the publisher as well: Under Belly Comics.
Supporting this project shouldn't require much deliberation. It's a no-brainer. You can see that parents, educators, and members of the comics community feel the same way from the wonderful support it's already received.
Simply put, it's a beautiful book for kids.
"Remember What I Said in Class -- No Comics!" (or, why we shouldn't tell kids that what they like to read is dumb)
A friend of mine who volunteers at a local public elementary school recently told me about an incident he found a little strange. He was working in the library when a grade four teacher brought her class in to get books to read. The teacher was giving the kids all of those instructions teachers give when they bring students to the library: be quiet, be respectful of other people, and ask the librarian for help. As the kids were heading for the stacks, however, she threw in one final instruction:
“Remember what I said in class – no comics!”
My friend found it strange that the students—who routinely take out comics, graphic novels, and Japanese manga—were being instructed to avoid them. “I guess she thought they should be reading other stuff too,” he said.
“No, that’s not it,” I replied. “She was trying to tell them that what they like to read is dumb.”
I’ve often talked with teachers about my experiences as a young reader, and how I was encouraged to read “more challenging” books rather than the superhero comics, Choose Your Own Adventure stories, and Dungeons & Dragons modules that lined my bedroom shelves and eventually led me to pursue a Ph.D. in English literature.
So, it concerns me when I hear stories about teachers actively dissuading students from reading comics, because it runs counter to everything that intelligent people know about reading. If you think about what the above teacher said to her class—if you really think about it—you’ll see that it does three things that you should never do to an aspiring reader.
1. It tells students that what they like to read is dumb.
Imagine that you want to build your students into powerful, lifelong readers. Is your first order of business to tell them that what they like to read is a stupid waste of time? Well, when a teacher tells students “No comics” on a visit to the library that’s precisely the strategy being implemented. No doubt that teacher is hoping to develop the students into lifelong readers, but he or she is beginning the process by shaming their reading habits.
If the teacher feels that strongly about comics, he or she might say “I would really prefer it if you chose something other than comics this time.” This is still pretty terrible, but at least it allows an opportunity for the students to ask the question, “Why?”
But “No comics” means “No comics” and also, I think, “No discussion about comics” as well as “No discussion about why I said `No comics.”
2. It tells students that their reading habits should be determined by other people.
A teacher who tells students what not to read puts them in a position that is altogether unfair. Seen as an arbiter of knowledge and an authority on what is right and what is wrong, a teacher wields tremendous power. The problem with the situation above is not simply that the students come to understand that the teacher sees comics as trivial, but that they themselves should somehow be comfortable in having their reading habits determined by other people.
There is no better way to compromise children’s ability to love reading than to suggest that other people know better than they do what they should read. Kids are likely to believe you and stop reading what they like. Then, I’m afraid, they are also likely to stop reading altogether.
3. It teaches students that a library isn’t a place to discover things but only retrieve them.
The problem with well-intentioned people, I find, is that they never think of the terrible, awful, well-intentioned things they say and do. When teachers tell students “No comics” on a visit to the school library, they teach students that a library—that great repository of possibilities filled with stories, known and unknown—is only a place to retrieve things that the teachers themselves deem acceptable.
Now someone might make the argument that a kid taking out a comic for the fifth time isn’t “discovering” anything, but that represents a fundamental misunderstanding not only of children but of the act of reading.
Such an argument presupposes that a child can’t discover or rediscover in the act of reading what he or she loves about the comic: its story, its characters, its beautiful artwork. It also presupposes that the child can’t discover anything of value in a new comic they might find while looking for the old one. Teaching children that they can only discover things that we allow them to find is to deprive them of the very act of discovery.
About a week after my friend told me about the incident at the library, there was an update to his story. He related that the same teacher had come to the library again with her students, but without the admonition against comics. My elation was short-lived, however. As the students headed off to the stacks, the teacher once again gave them a reminder about something they had obviously talked about in class.
“No Star Wars,” she said, as they went to go find their books.
“Oh well,” I thought to myself, “I really hope they loaded up on comics.”
If you're interested in this article, you might also be interested in Ian Dawe's piece on the Sequart website, "Comics and Literacy: Still Struggling."
Photo courtesy of Sarah Spencer (c) 2015. From left to right, Scott McCloud, Robin Brenner, Raina Telgemeir, George O'Connor, and Glen Downey
On the scale of 1 to awesome, the Toronto Comic Arts Festival for 2015 was awesome. There was literally nothing about it that wasn't. From the tireless efforts of Christopher Butcher and the folks at The Beguiling to the waves of wonderful volunteers to the writers, artists, and fans who came out, the festival was, as always, a tremendous success.
It was personally very rewarding this year given the amazing people I got to meet, talk to, moderate for, and present with. Here were some of the highlights.
Friday -- Teacher-Librarian Day
Friday was Teacher-Librarian Day at TCAF, and I was honoured to moderate and present on "Comics in Education" with Leslie Holwerda, a librarian from the Peel board. Leslie talked about strategies to get young people interested in comics, including her superhero battle that young people find so engaging. I gave a lightning talk called "Three Principles of Comics in the Classroom" and stressed the importance of teaching the history of the form, the vocabulary of the form, and the applications of visual narrative to the writing process. We had a small but engaged audience, with excellent questions all around.
Raina and myself watching Scott McCloud do his thing.
Saturday -- How, Where, & Why Should I Start Reading Comics
What do you get when you put New York Times Bestselling authors with Eisner Award winners? Well, you get a panel that includes four of the nicest people in comics that you'd ever want to meet. What's the cool part? Oh, I get to be on it too!
Fortunately, other than the fact that I talk with my hands a lot more than George O'Connor (The Olympians), Raina Telgemeier (Smile, Sisters, Drama), Scott McCloud (Understanding Comics, The Sculptor), or our awesome moderator, Robin Brenner (Understanding Manga and Anime), we all had things in common in our experiences with comics....
...although Scott had the ridiculously unfair advantage of being childhood friends with Kurt Busiek.
Sunday -- Scott McCloud Presents "The Sculptor"
Hats off to Chris Butcher, The Beguiling, and all the volunteers at TCAF. What a wonderful conference!
Thanks to all of you who came out to my workshops at the CITE Conference today. Great hosting by the CITE executive and the wonderful folks at Hillfield-Strathallan College. Please click on the link below to retrieve the PowerPoint for my second session, "Literary Terms We Never Teach Our Students."
For those of you who want to check out the Prezi from the third session, "The Art of Visible Thinking," I've embedded it below.
Thanks again to everyone who made it out! If you want to get in touch, please email me or get in touch through a contact form!
William Carlos Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow" is a cool little poem to visually brainstorm with a visible thinking activity like sketchnoting. What's even cooler is to get a whole class engaged in putting together their own sketchnotes on the same poem and then taking a look at the final results, either with an installation that's spread across the classroom bulletin boards, a repository of the scanned doodles saved as a Google doc, or the completed sketchnotes tweeted out for all to see.
Williams was influenced by so many different developments that were happening not just in American poetry but throughout the visual and performing arts. Looking at what he, Stevens, cummings, H.D., and Stein were doing in those first three decades of the 20th-century shows just how impactful someone like Pablo Picasso was on the development of their writing.
One has no idea what someone like William Carlos Williams would have thought about visual brainstorming, visible thinking, or sketchnotes, but something tells me that he and others like him would have been rather fond of the practice!
If you enjoyed this little post, you might also enjoy:
Although away on a short hiatus for a couple of days, I still got up to some doodling -- this time about a subject I know pretty well: the history of chess in literature. This visible thinking sketchnote is actually pretty linear, moving from the centre down the right hand side of the page, and then hanging around the bottom before it moves upward. Of course, it can be read in any different number of ways, but the way I've suggested allows the reader / viewer to trace the historical progression.
The study of games in literature is known as the field of ludology, which served as the focus of my Ph.D. I think visible thinking and sketchnoting are pretty natural for someone who looks at games, play, and sport under the larger umbrella of motif studies. It's an area in which constantly drawing rich connections is vitally important.
Hope you're enjoying the Visible Thinking Project, and let me know if you'd like your own work featured on the site!
If you enjoyed this little post, you might also enjoy:
My first graphic novel, Fire Mountain, has a kind of a neat story that goes along with it. While homeschooling our son, Will, we found that he had developed a pretty strong fascination with ancient Rome, and more specifically, the destruction of Pompeii by Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE.
Well, lo and behold, the Canadian Museum of History in Ottawa/Hull just happened to be having an exhibition of the plaster casts made by Giuseppe Fiorelli who, in 1863, discovered that air pockets left in the layer of ash covering Pompeii were left by decomposed bodies. This encouraged him to inject plaster into the voids and recreate the death throes of those who perished when Vesuvius erupted.
There was no question about whether or not we were going to see the casts. When a child is being homeschooled and the very thing he loves to read about is going to be on display in a museum, you really have to get to that museum even if it hadn't originally been in the holiday forecast.
At the museum, our son was in his element, not only in going from room to room examining the artifacts, but in finding this little gem of a DVD, Pompeii: The Last Day, that he absolutely couldn't get enough of:
When we got back from our trip, he couldn't stop drawing temples and ruins and gladiators and just about everything else "Ancient Roman" he could draw. The whole time he was telling me that I should write a book about Pompeii and that he'd draw the pictures.
As luck would have it, I was asked shortly after our return to write for a new series of graphic novels called Timeline produced by Rubicon Publishing in Oakville for Scholastic Canada. I already knew the title of the first book I would write and I also knew a certain eight-year old that would be drawing up a storm when he knew what I'd be doing.
The book became Fire Mountain, and was illustrated by Liam Thurston for Rubicon/Scholastic. It shows, I think, how a young child can be genuinely inspired when homeschooling allows for genuine, self-directed learning, and how the child's excitement about his own learning experiences can subsequently inspire others around him.
Well, in honour of 3/14/15, I thought I'd put together a neat little visible thinking example that celebrates that most irrational of numbers, pi. Despite being an English type, I initially cut my postsecondary teeth in the Faculty of Science at McMaster University in Hamilton. If I could have taken only courses in solving mathematical word problems, I would have become a mathematician, but alas, they do other things in the faculty.
Like the Fibonaaci sequence, pi has always been a source of fascination with me, so I thought I'd share a little bit of that with you since I won't have a chance to until next century rolls around.
It's only fitting, I think, to call this the 3.1415.th post of the Visible Thinking Project. In several future posts, I plan on returning to a mathematical theme.
But hey, if you have some cool examples of visible thinking that you'd like to see published on Comics in Education as part of the Visible Thinking Project, please make sure to send them our way!
If you enjoyed this article then you might also enjoy...
There are many reasons why Margaret Atwood is awesome, not the least of which is her poetry. I've taught it many times and have had great success with it, especially when it comes to having students connect with it. A great example, that I've shared in the past, can be found in a previous post, "Margaret Atwood, Comics, and the Awakened Imagination."
When I read Atwood, what strikes me is her curiosity about things that have a kind of dual nature. I don't know...maybe that's the wrong expression. It's things that we can't pin down or fix...whether it's snakes, or photographs, or mushrooms, or the moon, or mirrors...
When we take a look at this little visible thinking exercise, I think there's a lot we can take away from it. I've always loved reading Atwood because of her preoccupation with the strange and delightfully odd nature of seemingly mundane things.
That's what a great poet does--they think about these things. Then, they let their gift with words do the rest.
If you enjoyed this article then you might also enjoy...
UK's Newest Literacy Charity
If you're looking for a charity to support literacy and a lifelong love of reading, you need look no further than CLAw (the Comics Literacy Awareness organization):
Comics Literacy Awareness (CLAw) is an exciting new literacy charity formed by a group of passionate and highly experienced trustees from the fields of education and comics.
If you'd like to help the organization, there's a way to do so. CLAw is now accepting support through its UK website. Here's an update from CLAw trustee, Paul Register:
Comics Literacy Awareness now has a special section on the website for people wanting to make donations to help us with our mission. Any size gift would be gratefully accepted and will help us in our efforts to increase the literacy levels of UK children through the medium of comics and graphic novels. We're going to need a lot of funds over the next few years and this is where it starts.
With an awesome group of trustees, a links page, and an overview of the Stan Lee Excelsior Award (you can check out our article from last year on this cool program), what's not to love?
This is, quite simply, a literacy organization you should support...
If you enjoyed this article then you might also enjoy:
Visible thinking and visual brainstorming are great activities for literary onomastics, the study of names and naming in literature. I've done a bit of this before, specifically for Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Have a look at what can be done with Pip Pirrip's name in Charles Dickens' Great Expectations.
And as I mention at the bottom of the visible thinking exercise above, this is really just getting things started. Indeed, using visible thinking in connection with the study of onomastics can yield some really special insights. All you really need is pen, paper, and a dictionary!
If you want a good one to tackle using visible thinking and visual brainstorming to look at names, try F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. Make sure you have a couple of pieces of paper, though. That one is a doozy!
If you liked this short article, you might also like:
An Exercise in Visible Thinking Lunacy
My goal with the Visible Thinking Project is to generate 365 scribbles, doodles, or other visual brainstorms at the rate of one per day for the next 365 days. Sometimes, I hope to post more than one a day and other times I'll be resting. My goal in undertaking this is to help those who find the site's resources useful and to thank users for a great first year here at Comics in Education. So, for the first visible thinking post of the series, I thought I'd go old school...
I won't comment too much on these doodles. This one helped me to clarify some of the connections between Hamlet's "To be or not to be" and Iago's "I am not what I am." The weird connection begins with them sharing the curious literary device of epanalepsis, and then things just get weirder from there.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy these exercises in visible thinking throughout the next year. Better yet, I hope you'll submit some of your own that we can feature on the site. If you have something you'd like to share, get in touch with us through our contact page. We'd be happy to share it!
See you in a year!
If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:
When I was about 10 or 11 years old I can remember going to my school library and taking out a copy of Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective for about the sixth or seventh time. I can remember the librarian telling me that I was very good reader and that I should challenge myself with some more difficult books rather than the assortment of mystery stories and Choose Your Own Adventure books that I was voraciously reading.
When I give talks at conferences, I often share with my audiences my most distinct memory of this incident, and I think it's this memory that most profoundly shaped who I became as a reader and academic.
I remember thinking that the librarian was giving me terrible advice.
Even at a young age I knew that the secret to having a lifelong love of reading was to read books that I loved. How else was I supposed to do it? Besides, my parents encouraged me to read whatever I wanted and there was no way the librarian was going to know better than them, right?
I mean, I loved Encyclopedia Brown and Trixie Belden and Fighting Fantasy gamebooks and Dungeons and Dragons manuals, and so it was impossible for me not to also love comics. Now, I'm sure at a tender young age I could have read Poe and Hawthorne and Dickens and Austen, but I sure as hell wasn't going to read any of that when I had Tomb of Horrors or the final issue of Omega the Unknown to get to.
I'm sorry, but the classics would have to wait.
And as it turned out, my formative reading experiences didn't compromise my learning and I didn't leave reading behind once I "grew out" of the books I was devouring. Instead, I just grew into other books when fancy struck me, which was a bit later than it is for most. And I still continued to enjoy mystery novels and comic books and adventure stories and fantasy role-playing games even as I was tearing through The Divine Comedy and Martin Chuzzlewit.
And then I proceeded to do a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in English literature, and a B.Ed. in English and Mathematics education. I wrote my dissertation on Anne Bronte, Thomas Hardy, and Lewis Carroll, published papers in academic journals in the field of game studies, and undertook a career in education. Since then, I've worked as an editor, reviewer, and consultant, and written nearly 100 books for children and young adults, many of which have been part of award-winning series.
So why read comic books?
Well, I guess it's so that when someone tells you that you should be challenging yourself, you can tell them that they're an idiot and don't know what they're talking about...
Or you can just think it, like I did.
Much more than a series of lessons...
A lot of educators have approached me asking about how I teach Art Spiegelman's Maus. I've considered putting together a conventional unit plan, but I've always resisted, in part because I don't feel that the graphic novel is best served by taking a conventional approach. If we are to produce students that can go beyond "receiving" meaning and indeed can learn to "make" it, then something else is needed.
Enter Maus: An Inquiry-Based Unit Plan in 5 Lessons. You might initially think that five lessons means five classes, but there is no limitation on how much or how little time is spent on the five areas of investigation that the unit plan highlights.
And as I said earlier, calling it a unit plan undervalues it I think. It's a way of approaching Maus that forces the student to inquire in a profound way--to ask deep questions about the Holocaust, literary biography, guilt, memory, the history and tradition of visual narrative, racism, genocide, and Maus's place as a work of literature.
Here's what I mean by different:
Each of the five lessons has relevant questions that teachers and students ask as they make their way in a clockwise fashion beginning at the top. But as for where your lesson can go, the unit plan is designed to allow it to go wherever you like. How much time you allow students to investigate Art Spiegelman (as a writer, artist, chronicler of his father's experience, etc.) or Vladek (as a Holocaust survivor, husband, father, etc.) is entirely up to you. The power of this plan, then, is that it doesn't limit you in any way and encourages students to inquire without restrictions. This is not a series of traditional lesson plans with an assessment at the end. This is a series of crazy, cool, provocative questions and insights that hopes to inspire you to build powerful inquirers in your students.
The unit plan is currently available in our store, and is loaded with ideas that can serve as jumping off points. There is no attempt in this six page pdf to be exhaustive, and yet the possibilities that it opens up for studying Maus will allow you to take as much time as possible covering the unit.
For a limited time, get 60 Blackline Masters of comic book pages with unique panel arrangements with the Maus Unit Plan!
Those looking for a Kickstarter to support, you have just enough time to back Curls: The Ultimate Book Collection. The brainchild of Carolyn Belefski, this collection brings together comic strips "about adventurous situations in Curls's everyday life with a gang of animal friends and a life-sized piece of toast. Here's the video currently running on Kickstarter:
Here's how Belefski describes the project:
Curls is a comic strip written and drawn by Carolyn Belefski featuring a gal named Curls who dreams of adventurous situations that come to play in real-life with a gang of her animal friends and a giant piece of toast. The purpose of this Kickstarter is to collect every strip into a book which will allow readers to see the evolution of Curls—from a university newspaper to an award-nominated comic strip. The book will also include never-before-seen extras, including sketches and behind-the-scenes glimpses of the creation process.
Although Belefski's project has gotten a lot of early support on Kickstarter--and love from Kickstarter staff to boot--she needs your support in the final stages of her campaign.
So click the image at the top of this post to find out more about the project, and click the button below to go directly to the support page!
Make Your Classroom a Place Steve Would Be Proud Of!
With the interest expressed in our Literary Terms posters inspired by pulp comics, the Comics in Education Store has put together a set of nine Parts of Speech posters featuring the world of Minecraft. Using hilarious examples and containing simple definitions and explanations, these posters are perfect for a junior, middle, or even high school classroom. They are Tablet-Sized (11x17") and sure to draw the interest of students who like their grammar with a dose of Minecraft.
The pedagogical value of the game has been recognized recently in courses like math and science, but why shouldn't it help students learn the fundamental building blocks of the English language?
Check out our Parts of Speech posters today in our store!
Decorate Your Classroom with Posters that Rock!
Now available in the Comics in Education Store are these bad boys: Literary Terms posters inspired by comics from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s! The posters are Tabloid-sized (11x17") and feature a literary term, its definition, its use in a pulp comic panel, and a brief explanation of how the literary device works!
It's clear that in recent years, comics and graphic novels have been used with great success in the classroom in order to inspire reluctant readers, but here they make a great addition to a poster that your students might otherwise pass by.
Check them out today in our store!
The most vital part of the graphic novel - what sets it apart from standard literary novels - is its ability to construct a narrative with both words and images. In a graphic novel, the process of choosing the specific images, scenes, and panel arrangements to tell the story is called encapsulation. Unlike movies, which are continuous, a comic must choose specific moments to present, and must thus ensure that they add significant depth and meaning to the story. In Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, difficult topics like revolution, war, and torture must be addressed with poise, but also must be drawn in such a manner that readers will be affected by them. For example, in the accompanying image from the first book, Satrapi chose to use five specific images in order to illustrate her first experience of what becomes a violent confrontation.
The encapsulation of this scene involves five very different images which, taken together, provide the reader with a powerful example of visual storytelling. A tableaux in the third panel showing Marji’s mother in a revolutionary stance shows how Satrapi viewed her: as a powerful figure. In the next panel, a contrast made between Marji, wearing a smile dressed in white, and the angry protesters in black intensifies her innocence and isolation from the crowd. The fifth panel on the page is an action shot of men beating the protesters with bats and a speech balloon saying “The scarf or a beating,” indicating how quickly the protesters come under attack. WIthout the encapsulation of these specific images, the sentence, “So I went with them, I passed out flyers… when suddenly things got nasty,” leaves no lasting impression on the reader. Only with the particular encapsulation Satrapi employs is meaning driven home.
If you wish to cite the above article, please use the following citation:
Wolfe, Talia. "Encapsulating the Moment in Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis." Comics in Education, 01 March 2015. Web
If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy...
The extra-diegetic gaze, which is when a character presented in a photograph, comic, advertisement, film, or other visual medium appears to look out of the frame and often at the reader, is used to great effect in Persepolis. Satrapi’s most frequent use of the extra-diegetic gaze is in creating an emotional connection with the reader in order to deliver a more impactful message. One example of this is on page 48, when Marjane tells another girl named Laly that her father, who is allegedly “on a trip,” is actually dead.
Were Marji simply to tell Laly that “on a trip” is synonymous with “dead” in the drawn style of the first frame, the reader would view the whole scene from a somewhat detached, third-person perspective. But when the second frame switches to Laly’s own perspective and Marji looks beyond the frame at the reader, we are now forced to experience the news from the former’s point of view. The direct eye contact and facial expression make the viewer feel part of a real world conversation rather than simply a witness to the one that Satrapi has drawn. This makes for a much more realistic experience of the exchange between the two girls. Satrapi in this instance uses the extra-diegetic gaze to enhance the impact of the scene and to create an emotional connection between the reader and the characters.
Another less common use of the extra-diegetic gaze is to isolate a single character from the other characters in a scene. By making the character look outside of the frame, they appear isolated from the people and things within it.
In the example above, Marjane lies and says that she is French, not Iranian, in order to avoid discrimination. This causes her to feel guilty and alienated from both the people she lives among and her own culture. This is shown in the second frame, where Marjane looks outside of the panel with an unhappy expression on her face. The extra-diegetic gaze allows us to connect more easily with her guilt and sadness, but it also serves to place her back to the other people in the shot. This creates a clear divide between them, mirroring the isolation Marjane feels. Once more, the extra-diegetic gaze reinforces the ideas and themes Satrapi is exploring.
If you plan to cite this article, use the following citation:
Lazzam, David. "What Are You Looking At? The Extra-Diegetic Gaze in Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis." Comics in Education, 28 Feb. 2015. Web.
If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy...
There are 21 titles in the Graphic Poetry series from Rubicon / Scholastic. Click on one of the images below to scroll through the various titles. As well, on the homepage for the series, each of the books has a look inside feature. Click here to visit the site.
THE CIRCLE GAME
by Joni Mitchell, ed. by Glen Downey
On the carousel of life, history often repeats itself and people find comfort in tradition and familiar experiences. In these poignant lyrics, folk music legend Joni Mitchell shows that we cannot return to the past but we can appreciate every moment of our lives.
COLONEL FAZACKERLEY BUTTERWORTH-TOAST
by Charles Causley, ed. by Glen Downey
When Colonel Fazackerley Butterworth-Toast buys a castle for himself, he doesn't realize that he's bought more than he bargained for! Find out what happens when the Colonel meets one of the castle's oldest residents.
THE CREMATION OF SAM MCGEE
by Robert Service, ed. by Glen Downey
Have you ever been so cold that you'd do anything just to get warm? In this classic poem, Robert Service tells the story of Sam McGee, who finds himself deep in the Canadian Arctic, dreaming of his home in Tennessee.
THE WRECK OF THE EDMUND FITZGERALD
by Gordon Lightfoot, ed. by Glen Downey
In this haunting ballad, legendary folk musician Gordon Lightfoot describes what happens when the Edmund Fitzgerald meets the "Gales of November" on Lake Superior.
WHAT DO I REMEMBER OF THE EVACUATION
by Joy Kogawa, ed. by Glen Downey
In this poignant poem, Joy Kogawa revisits a painful period from her childhood -- when she and her family and other Japanese Canadians were placed in internment camps during World War II.
HURRICANE / CHILDHOOD TRACKS
by James Berry, ed. by Glen Downey
Truly great poets have the ability to transport readers into the world of the speaker -- so get ready to pack your bags! Whether James Berry is writing about the fury of a hurricane or walking the reader through memories of his own childhood, his poems bring the sights, smells, and sounds of Jamaica to life.
I AM A CANADIAN
by Duke Redbird, ed. by Glen Downey
There are great poems written by Canadians, and great poems about Canada. However, none show off the pride we have in the breadth, diversity, and beauty of Canada and its people more than Duke Redbird's "I Am a Canadian."
LIFE DOESN'T FRIGHTEN ME / ALONE
by Maya Angelou, ed. by Glen Downey
In these emotional and inspiring works, Maya Angelou shows how the right attitude and the love and support of friends and family can help people confront and overcome all of life's obstacles.
THE MARCH OF THE DEAD
by Robert Service, ed. by Glen Downey
The Second Boer War is over and the soldiers have come home victorious. People line the streets to celebrate as the men march proudly on parade. But then, the air is filled with another sound -- an eerie reminder from another group of men who also wish to be remembered...
MOTHER TO SON / HARLEM NIGHT SONG
by Langston Hughes, ed. by Glen Downey
In "Mother to Son" and "Harlem Night Song," renowned American poet Langston Hughes captures the struggles, challenges, beauty, and soul of Harlem — one of the most dynamic neighbourhoods in America.
ORANGES / ODE TO FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHS
by Gary Soto, ed. by Glen Downey
In "Oranges" and "Ode to Family Photographs," Gary Soto gives us a bird's-eye view of those weird but charming moments that bring meaning into our lives.
THIS IS A PHOTOGRAPH OF ME / GIRL AND HORSE, 1928
by Margaret Atwood, ed. by Glen Downey
In these two poems, renowned Canadian author Margaret Atwood delves deep to reveal that things aren't always what they seem.
FLIGHT OF THE ROLLER-COASTER / LAKE OF BAYS
by Raymond Souster, ed. by Glen Downey
In "Flight of the Roller-Coaster" and "Lake of Bays," Raymond Souster takes us out for a day at the carnival and for a walk across a bridge, and provides us with moments that we will likely never forget.
SAME SONG / MAESTRO
by Pat Mora, ed. by Glen Downey
Each and every day, we are influenced by the people we interact with and by the world around us. These influences can be positive or negative but every person is subject to them. In these two poems, Pat Mora explores insecurities and inspiration — common themes we can all relate to.
SOUTHBOUND ON THE FREEWAY / WATER PICTURE
by May Swenson, ed. by Glen Downey
Poet May Swenson had a unique perspective on the world. Whether she was describing a reflection in a pond or cars racing down a highway, Swenson's creative imagery helped people see everyday occurrences in a whole new way.
THE CHOICE / SONG FOR AN APRIL DUSK
by Dorothy Parker, ed. by Glen Downey
Dorothy Parker was a girl with attitude. Her wit and talent for biting sarcasm could easily put those around her to shame. Here, Parker's pretty, poetic lines take a sudden turn that keeps readers on their toes.
THE SHARK / SEA-GULLS
by E. J. Pratt, ed. by Glen Downey
We see animals all the time, but how often do we take a long, hard look at them? In the first poem, E.J. Pratt takes us on a terrifying trip through the harbour. In the second poem, he shows us the unexpected beauty of seagulls in flight.
THE EAGLE / THE KRAKEN
by Alfred Tennyson, ed. by Glen Downey
Ever wondered what it would be like to soar with an eagle or travel to the bottom of the ocean to visit an ancient sea monster? You won't need wings or swimming gear when you read these breathtaking classics by Alfred Tennyson!
I SHALL WAIT AND WAIT
by Alootook Ipellie, ed. by Glen Downey
In this captivating poem by Inuit writer Alootook Ipellie, we get an unforgettable lesson in the importance of patience, determination, and dedication to a goal.
THE WOMAN I AM IN MY DREAMS / NOW I SEE YOU
by Maxine Tynes, ed. by Glen Downey
In "The Woman I Am in My Dreams" and "Now I See You," poet Maxine Tynes shows us how much we can learn about ourselves and others, just by taking the time to look, to consider, and to dream.
PAUL REVERE'S RIDE
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. by Glen Downey
The sounds of troops approaching, guns being fired, and a single horse's hooves pounding the pavement bring Paul Revere's famous "midnight ride" to life in this action-packed poem.
If you've found this site useful and would like to donate to Comics in Education, we'd really appreciate the support!
Dr. Glen Downey is an award-winning children's author, educator, and academic from Oakville, Ontario. He works as a children's writer for Rubicon Publishing, a reviewer for PW Comics World, an editor for the Sequart Organization, and serves as the Chair of English and Drama at The York School in Toronto.