The more you look into what is happening with comics in education, the more likely you are to find great things. Carlos Salazar is teaching an elementary ESL class in Detroit and is raising money to bring comics to life in his classroom and develop literacy skills in his students.
Mr. Salazar is trying to buy academically rigorous comics for his ESL classroom at Southwest Detroit Lighthouse Academy. Please take the time to read his project proposal at DonorsChoose.org by clicking on this link.
And remember, if you have a great project that you're working on which brings comics and education together, don't hesitate to get in contact with us. We'd love to promote it!
Carlos reached his fundraising goal. Congratulations! I look forward to hearing more about how his efforts go in the coming months.
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We're not kidding ... it's the coolest
Now that my summer of writing, editing, and reviewing has ended with two weeks of eating Butterbeer ice cream on the steps of Gringotts Bank inside Diagon Alley, I thought I'd be in the best frame of mind to share with you the coolest activity you can do with a comic book.
I first shared the idea at the 2014 Reading for the Love of It Conference back in February and it generated a lot of positive feedback. The idea, however, is very simple.
So many of the activities that are built around visual narrative in the classroom have teachers getting their students to create a graphic novel or story out of some other work they are doing. For example, students are asked time and again to "Choose a favourite moment" in a novel they are studying and turn it into a graphic story. They are often told how many panels should be on the page and are reminded to use dialogue bubbles and narrative boxes in their story.
There's nothing wrong with this activity once in a while. It serves a purpose.
However, if teachers are really wanting students to understand something about a novel, poem, or play, and think that comics can help, then the opposite activity is much better: Have students take a comic book and get them to transform it into the form they are presently studying.
What this activity teaches students is that novelists must rely exclusively on words to present a whole range of complex ideas, emotions, and situations. Since graphic novelists use pictures, and pictures (as we know) tell a thousand words, how cool is it that novelists can create these in our head without a visual component to their narrative?
Let's say I wanted to use graphic storytelling in teaching Dickens' Great Expectations. Sure, I could ask students to "visualize" the opening scene by creating a graphic narrative about Pip's encounter with Magwitch. Will this teach students something about the impact that Dickens' words have on what they imagine? I suppose it will, although students who are self-conscious about their artistic skills might suggest they can't adequately represent what's in their head.
However, I am much more inclined to take a comic like issue #117 of The Defenders--one that begins with a group of superheroes gathering in a storm-swept glade in upstate New York to commemorate a fallen comrade--and get them to turn it into what could be the opening of the novel. Sure, they can incorporate some of the narrative captions and dialogue featured in the comic--these will prove to be useful scaffolding--but they are going to have to use language to describe the visual landscape of the comic.
This gives students a hands-on activity that really teaches them something about novel writing rather than about graphic storytelling. If you want students to learn about a particular literary form, then, have the work they are producing be of the form you want them to learn about about.
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Even if you're teaching Maus for the first time, there are more resources out there than you might think...
It can be both an exciting and daunting task for teachers if they're teaching a graphic novel for the first time, and that graphic novel happens to be Art Spiegelman's Maus. Although it is one of the most frequently taught GNs in the high school classroom (along with Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis), there are dozens of resources available to assist you in your preparations. Here are some good ones to get you started with your unit!
These resources should help you to prepare a unit that your students will thoroughly enjoy. If you still have any questions about teaching Maus, don't hesitate to ask us here at Comics in Education!
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Why having some (etymological) perspective is a good thing...
A subject that rears its head from time to time in the world of comics has a fair bit to do with the story depicted above. It's from Will Eisner's A Contract from God, of course, a work that has commonly been regarded as the first modern graphic novel. The latter term, however, has often ruffled the feathers of those who write comics, since it strikes some as pretentious--as a term that tries to turn comics into something more than what they are.
But let's face it: the argument has never really been about the term "graphic novel." Rather, it's been about the term "comics." As pretentious as "graphic novel" might seem to some, the term "comics" only occasionally identifies what's actually happening in a comic book. The word "comics" is simply convention; it came into existence in the late 19th century and we've collectively kept it in use.
You'll hardly be surprised to discover that "comics" derives from "comic," and that the latter is the adjective we get from the noun "comedy." However "comedy" itself has an interesting etymology, as we see from Douglas Harper's Online Etymological Dictionary:
comedy (n.) late 14c., from Old French comedie (14c., "a poem," not in the theatrical sense), from Latin comoedia, from Greek komoidia "a comedy, amusing spectacle," probably from komodios "actor or singer in the revels," from komos "revel, carousal, merry-making, festival," + aoidos "singer, poet," from aeidein "to sing," related to oide (see ode).
If we put aside books whose authors would refer to them "graphic novels" and just focus on traditional, mainstream comics, is the term "comics" particularly useful in describing such works? Would you say that there is typically more of the comic than of the dramatic or tragic in a typical issue of The Avengers? or Batman? or apparently July's issue of Life with Archie for that matter?
Instead of getting bent out of shape about the multiplicity of terms with which we refer to comics, we should probably just embrace them. If you happen to think a work is pretentious because its author refers to it as a "graphic novel," think carefully about what is really bugging you.
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Boldprint Kids Graphic Readers Help K-3 Students Learn Math
Math is one of those subjects that students will make judgments about pretty early on in their academic career. It's not so much the math they make a judgment about--it's their ability to do math. It's sad when kids make these kinds of judgments about themselves early on, or when parents makes such judgments for them (e.g. "Don't worry, I wasn't very good at math either").
A great resource for the K-3 math classroom is the Boldprint Kids Graphic Readers series from Rubicon/Oxford. These readers speak directly to the most common curricula found in the primary grades.
What's the Problem, for instance, looks at rudimentary problem solving of the sort that students in Grade 3 would engage in, while Hoop Shot helps to support students doing the measurement unit in Grade 1. Indeed, all of the readers in the series are designed specifically to provide a visual narrative that helps to support a child's development in one of their core subject areas, like mathematics, science, and social studies.
You can find this award-winning series at their official website.
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If you're thinking that comics and graphic novels are only for the English or Social Studies classroom, think again. One of the best graphic novels you can get your hands on is actually about the history of mathematics. In Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth, Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papdimitriou examine the life of Bertrand Russell as well as some of the most important and influential mathematicians and thinkers of the 20th century.
The book isn't only about Russell's life as a mathematician and pacifist, however, but of the group of artists and illustrators trying to put it all together, and so the narrative switches back and forth between the actual present, the present of the narrative, and the recollections of Russell's own past, including his work with Alfred North Whitehead on Principia Mathematica.
Of special interest to math educators will no doubt be the part of the story when Russell's attempts to establish a progressive school for young people that does not subscribe to traditional models. Needless to say, things go horribly awry when the students realize that they are not bound by traditional rules!
The book was #1 on the New York Times bestseller list for Graphic Novels and received widespread critical praise. Although it plays fast and loose with historical accuracy at times, it is thoroughly engaging, and a great way to show students how the math they are studying didn't just fall out of the sky one day. It came from the likes of the mathematicians and thinkers shown below!
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The world of academia just got a little less flat.
While everyone was wishing one another a happy #StarWarsDay yesterday or enjoying #FCBD (that’s Free Comic Book Day for those who don’t get out much) the day previous, I'm guessing that considerably fewer were paying attention to what Nick Sousanis was doing at Teachers College, Columbia University.
He was defending his doctoral dissertation, written entirely in comic book form.
Writing a dissertation is challenging enough, but what Nick has undertaken is a step beyond challenging. His dissertation, “Unflattening: A Visual-Verbal Inquiry into Learning in Many Dimensions,” uses visual narrative in a way that may cause a few traditionalists to raise a Spockian eyebrow, but his work and its particular form are an important contribution to academia.
As Sydni Dunn noted in her Chronicle article on Nick's dissertation earlier this year, his work is being recognized by other academics as part of an important development in the evolution of research at the doctoral level:
Sousanis’ work is just one example of this evolution, says Sidonie Smith, director of the Institute for the Humanities at University of Michigan, who is a former president of the Modern Language Association. Smith has also seen dissertations presented as series of articles, as public blogs, and as interactive digital projects, to name a few.
In earlier blogs I’ve provided K-12 teachers with a a rationale for comics in education and in other posts have discussed both why we should teach comics and how we can explain to fellow colleagues and administrators the reason they should be included in the curriculum.
Nick’s work should help to make such conversations easier.
Next time someone balks at your suggestion of choosing The Silence of Our Friends or Boxers & Saints for a unit on cultural conflict because "comics aren’t academic," show them Nick’s dissertation and tell them that the 21st century has arrived and that they should put down their copy of Martin Chuzzlewit and come outside and play!
...And if there's anything better than free comics, it's an entire day devoted to free comics!
Linda Layne reminded me earlier today that this coming Saturday, May 3rd is Free Comic Book Day. I don't know about you, but when someone mentions "free" and "comic book" in the same sentence, I get kind of excited.
However, before you rush out to your local comic book shop and begin emptying their racks into a large hockey bag, you might want to take a minute or two to find out how to get ready. The above video is a good place to start, and they're currently showing it on the mediabistro site.
As well, Linda gave me some excellent links to share with you. One is to the Free Comic Book Day Store Locator, while the other will get you ready to go with everything you need to know for a successful Saturday.
Those interested in why we have such a thing as Free Comic Book Day will want to check out the following mini-documentary:
Let us know if you have a really cool experience on Free Comic Book Day. If so, we'd love to blog about it for our readers!
Why Comics in Education?
As you may know, I was inspired to launch Comics in Education after the 2014 Reading for the Love of It Conference at the Sheraton Centre in Toronto. I received so many wonderful inquiries from teachers that I wanted to create a forum where K-12 educators could find what they needed and be inspired to share the great things they were doing with their students to further explore visual narrative in the classroom. Below are synopses of the two workshops I gave at the conference, but I'm also including the workshop notes as well!
Everything I Know I Learned from Comics
Everything I know I learned from comics. No really -- everything. Not surprisingly, then, this session examines visual narrative as a genre worthy of study -- not simply as a means of giving elementary students material they find "easy" or "accessible" but as one whose form, content, and history can illuminate for kids different ways of accessing, thinking critically about, and making meaning of the world around them. Special focus will be given to teaching comics, graphic novels, and graphic poetry, and to the use of visual narrative with young learners. The session will look at award-winning titles and series that teachers can use with their students, including trade publications and those specifically designed for the junior classroom.
Fostering Inquiry One Comic Book at a Time
This session examines how visual narrative—specifically comics and graphic novels—can be used to foster inquiry in young people, specifically in developing their global perspective. Visual narrative is transcultural, with a history that predates writing, and looking at its development shows us, at every turn, what the culture that produced it was thinking and feeling about itself and the world around it. The session will share ideas and activities that can be used to engage students in understanding the ongoing dialogue that comics and graphic novels have about how the world works and how (from their perspective) it should, while giving participants insight into a genre that has finally come into its own.
Founded in 2005, The Doug Wright Awards were established as a way to honour the legacy of the iconic Canadian cartoonist Doug Wright (1917-1983) by publically recognizing the best in Canadian comics and graphic novels. Wright, whose strip Doug Wright’s Family graced newspapers from the late 1940s to the early 1980s, was arguably the most recognized Canadian cartoonist of the mid-twentieth century. A proud Canadian, Wright managed to reflect the aspirations and anxieties of a generation through his wordless panels.
As a regular reviewer of comics and graphic novels, many written by my fellow Canadians, I know how talented and deserving of recognition this group of nominees and award-recipients will be. Thanks for your support!
If you're wondering what the next Kickstarter project you should fund is, I've already found it for you. It brings together Sequart founder, Julian Darius, and Kevin Thurman, and puts a Darrick Robertson cover on the front for good measure. Here's the promotional video with a quote from the authors below:
Martian Comics is an ambitious new sci-fi comic that’s the brainchild of Sequart’s Julian Darius and Kevin Thurman. It features a Darick Robertson cover and interior art by Sergio Tarquini. Interior colors are by R.L. Campos, cover colors by Diego Rodriguez, and lettering by Colin Bell.
The project has a modest initial goal, with stretch goals that will simply mean greater rewards for those who support it. It's quite possible that those who donate a mere $3 might have a whole whack of issues to show for it should the project make some of its stretch goals.
I know the Kickstarter landscape can be pretty busy these days, but that's why it's important to identify something worth supporting and then make sure it gets the funding it needs...
...something like Martian Comics!
Great Characters Often Come with Great Traditions
The next time you're enjoying the antics of DC Comics' Harley Quinn, you might consider where she gets her moniker from. Indeed, the Harlequin is a figure from the Commedia dell'Arte tradition, and has a variety of characteristics that can help to explain the Joker's favourite sidekick. The Harlequin or Arlecchino was very nimble and agile, and was a comical servant who often attempted to realize his own plans and schemes even as he was supposed to be helping his master. Dressed in a brightly-coloured costume, the Arlecchino was a tricky one to pin down, and could use his quickness to take advantage of a situation.
In having my class visually brainstorm characters from the medieval stage and from the Commedia dell'Arte tradition, I was pleased that Gillian chose the Harlequin. Here's what she came up with.
And this, incidentally, is what you might expect the original Harlequin to look like:
Gillian has packed a considerable amount of information into a short space. We learn that the Arlecchino or Harlequin had connections to the zanni in the Commmedia dell'Arte tradition on the Italian stage, that he was a comic character and an acrobat, and that he used slapstick comedy by wielding a battachio as a weapon. All of this information can, in fact, be found just in the bottom right hand corner of the page!
Harley Quinn's battachio may have gotten a bit bigger and she's perhaps using it in a more lethal way than her late medieval and early renaissance ancestor, but understanding the tradition out of which she has evolved can only make readers and fans more knowledgeable about her character.
This is just the sort of thing I love about comics...
I think I was destined to come across Amy Crabtree--not just because I love all manner of comics and visual art but because I also happen to appreciate a good vegetable maki set. Amy Crabtree is a UK graphic artist with a passion for Japanese culture and you can see these Eastern influences both in her art and in the subject matter of her book, How to Make Sushi.
Here is Amy talking about her labour of love:
"How to Make Sushi" is a comic-style recipe book that guides you through the process of making sushi at home. The whole book is in comic format, and the recipes really work. The book has just been published worldwide on Amazon Kindle, and is also available as a printed comic.
Any practical instructions could be communicated using a comic - maybe instructions for flatpack furniture should be drawn as comics to make the process less frustrating!
If you're already smitten with Amy's cool book projects, you should know that she's the owner of the T-shirts and accessories brand, "Cakes with Faces," specialising in fun and colourful designs, many of them involving food (and cakes) with faces. You can also find Amy on Twitter, where she hangs out as @cakeswithfaces, or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/cakeswithfaces.
Her ebook is available here from the Kindle Store, and the printed version is available as a gift set with a rolling mat and chopsticks from http://www.cakeswithfaces.co.uk (worldwide shipping available).
Yet Another Great Comic Book Shop that Is So Much More...
In one of my first posts on this blog, I talked at length about Strange Adventures, The Beguiling, and The Dragon--three of the best comic book stores in Canada. From that post, you probably gathered that I like few things better than losing myself in a good shop for the better part of an afternoon.
Another gem in this regard is Happy Harbor Comics, an Eisner-nominated store in Edmonton whose reputation as both a comic book store and a community builder is second to none. Happy Harbor is a great store in its own right, but it does considerable work in the community not only to raise the profile of comics but support local schools and libraries. A recent example of this was the appearance of owner Jay Bardala and two professional artists at a school in rural Alberta. Here, they shared with students the complex process of how a comic book goes from the mind of a writer to the store where you purchase it through a whole team of talented people that help bring the story to life.
But Happy Harbor does so much more. They help to support Alberta Literacy through their 24 hour Comics Day in October and work with Edmonton Big Brothers and Big Sisters through their 12 hour Comic Challenge each March. They're an annual donor to the Edmonton Public School Foundation and fund raise for the Edmonton Food Bank through a variety of activities, like movie nights and a Free Comic Book day. They've even recently started a Cover Artists for Charity program.
So, if you live in the greater Edmonton area or happen to be visiting, you'd do well to pay Happy Harbor Comics a visit. After all, there's nothing better than spending an afternoon in a comic book shop...
...Especially when you know it's one that really cares about its community.
Books that Provide Teachers with the Ideas and Activities for Teaching Visual Narrative in the K-12 Classroom
Once teachers have read a few comics for their own enjoyment, done some additional reading about the genre, and found a good graphic novel to use with their students, only one thing remains. They need to do some reading about how to teach the genre to young people. Below are four excellent resources that teachers can use when they want to bring visual narrative to the K-12 classroom.
I had the great fortune of having my kids--who absolutely adore Stan Lee--get their picture taken with the legend when he made an appearance at the 2012 Fan Expo in Toronto. It's nearly two years later and they still haven't stopped smiling.
Imagine my delight, then, in discovering the Stan Lee Excelsior Award, a prize given to one of eight graphic novels each year as selected by the real experts on comics and graphic novels: teenagers! Here's the description of the award from the website:
The Stan Lee Excelsior Award is the only nationwide book award for graphic novels and manga - where kids aged 11-16 choose the winner by rating each book as they read it!
You'll be pleased to know that the organizer of this award is Paul Register, the librarian at the Ecclesfield School in Sheffield, England. Ecclesfield specializes in visual and performing arts and I can't help but think that it shares a kindred spirit with my own institution, The York School in Toronto. As noted in the award description, Stan the Man himself has endorsed the award, and it's such a great way to help foster and promote the idea that a school--an academic institution--sees comics and graphic novels as worthy of study, appreciation, and recognition.
So hats off to Paul Register and the Ecclesfield school for the Stan Lee Excelsior Award.
...Apparently that they understand something about the elements of farce.
I know that as this series of blog posts on visual brainstorming goes along, you'll eventually become convinced that I've hired a professional artist to create the work I'm sharing with you. This latest example is courtesy of Grade 11 York School student, Kersti Muzzafar, and it appears she's taken to heart the school's motto: "Be yourself. Be great."
I mean, this is pretty great.
It's especially great, though, when you look at it a bit more closely and realize that Kersti has managed to capture the different kinds of characters, themes, and issues that would make an appearance in a farce: the fool, the inflexible character, the older man who lusts after the younger woman, disguise, deceit--it's all there.
This is a short post today and it comes with a simple message: Try as early as possible in the school year to learn these things about your students: what they can do, how they can express themselves, and how they interpret what we ask of them. I didn't expect Kersti to take this home and turn it into what was obviously a labour of love...
But that's what happens when we encourage our students to be themselves.
They end up being great.
In the End, There Are Five Books You Need...
It is incumbent upon teachers wanting to incorporate comics into their classroom practice to familiarize themselves with the resources below. These are among the finest books about the genre of visual narrative and will help to provide a foundation for educators wishing to explore comics and graphic novels with their students.
Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud
There are lots of great books written about comics, their history, and the world of visual narrative. Perhaps nowhere else, however, does an author make these things more accessible and engaging than Scott McCloud does in Understanding Comics. McCloud makes the case for looking at comics as part of a historical tradition, examines why the genre speaks to us, and provides readers with the kind of insight into visual storytelling that is difficult to findelsewhere. Understanding Comics has been consistently regarded since its publication as the preeminent work of its kind, and is often the only or among the few works on comics to be found on the bookshelves of K-12 educators.
Comics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner
It's always great when you can get a look into the mind of a genius, regardless of what genre you happen to be exploring. This is what happens in Comics and Sequential Art by the late Will Eisner. Taking us through the principles of graphic storytelling by drawing upon his own work, Eisner not only reveals essential principles of the genre, but at the same time shows us the peerless talent that would give us works like The Spirit and A Contract with God. There's a reason why the most esteemed awards in the field of visual narrative are called the Eisner's, and this insightful look at comics helps in no small measure to show why this is.
The Comic Book History of Comics, by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey
Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey tell the remarkable history of graphic novels in comic book form. With an introduction by Tom Spurgeon, The Comic Book History of Comics looks at the work of some of the quintessential figures in the history of visual narrative, including Jack Kirby, R. Crumb, Harvey Kurtzman, Alan Moore, Stan Lee, Will Eisner, Fredric Wertham, Roy Lichtenstein, Art Spiegelman, Herge, and Osamu Tezuka. The authors cover a wide range of topics, but the strength of the book is its ability to provide a comprehensive overview with engaging details in an economy of space. Reviewers have noted that both the concept and execution of what Van Lente and Dunlavey undertake are nothing short of remarkable.
Graphic Novels: Everything You Need to Know, by Paul Gravett
This reader-friendly, highly visual history of graphic novels by Paul Gravett does a great job of looking at the language of the comics medium, the history of the form, and the work of some of its greatest practitioners. The book also looks at the impact of Japanese manga on North American comics, as well as the influence of European comics in translation. Of special interest to educators will be Gravett's examination of the wealth of themes explored in contemporary graphic novels and the trials the genre has had to undergo in achieving recognition.
Making Comics, by Scott McCloud
In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud opens up the reader's eyes to the world of visual narrative, but in Making Comics he focuses on writing and illustrating--everything from the broadest conceptual considerations needed in planning a visual narrative to the finest details. Indeed, McCloud's explorations include not just the necessary tools of the trade, but an examination of the various ways in which people become involved in the comics industry. Once again, McCloud returns as his cartoon self and uses his wonderful sense of humour and genuine insight into the medium to show readers how they might undertake to become a maker of comics. All in all, it is a more than worthy successor to both Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics.
We're Blushing for Goodness Sake...
We wanted to take a moment to thank you once again for your support of this site. We have only been in operation for a very short time, but we've already made connections with some wonderful educators out there. Receiving 50,000 visits in little more than two weeks is very flattering, but here at Comics in Education we'd like to think it has to do with one basic idea.
We want to foster and develop a love and appreciation for visual narrative in the K-12 classroom. We want educators--all educators--to see that comics and graphic novels represent a genre worthy of study, that they have a tradition, and that they can open up a young person's mind to different ways of seeing and interpreting the world around them. They can encourage a reluctant reader to read. They can encourage a second language learner to acquire a new understanding of the language they are learning. And they can help students to make connections among a wide variety of texts, whether literary, artistic, or cultural.
So many of you out there are doing wonderful things in comics and in education. We can't wait to see what you do next!
A Great List for Teachers
If you're interested in comics, graphic novels, and visual narrative in general, and are equally as interested in their implications for classroom teaching, you should certainly consider following as many of the accounts below as you can. These are folks whose tweets frequently focus on the comics industry, comics in K-12 education, or academic scholarship related to comics.
A great strategy for those new to Twitter--like educators wanting to learn more about individuals and organizations involved in either comics and education or the wider comics industry--is to follow the people that the folks above are following. After all, they must have a pretty good reason to be doing so!
What's Out There...
There is considerably more scholarship in the area of visual narrative than most educators or, indeed, most outside the areas of comics publishing and production are aware. Here is a starting point for your investigations. If you find others that you think should be represented here, just let me know and we can add them to the Scholarship tab under Graphica.
Filmic language allows us to talk about key elements of the visual in graphic storytelling. However, it is useful to draw upon critical, theoretical approaches like "The Gaze" that allow us to talk with greater sophistication and insight about what is happening in a visual narrative. Gaze theory is a theory about how men and women look at one another and what the implications of this looking are in visual culture. The theory examines subject/object relations and sexual politics, but of special interest to us are its insights into how visual media is composed.
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.