A Public Service Announcement! ;)

A Public Service Announcement! ;)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Mouly & Spiegelman Announce Toon Books

Just months ago I was using Art Spiegelman as an example of an artist who should produce his art without having to feel like he had to offer pedagogical potential. Finding teaching opportunities in the work of artists was the job of educators, I claimed. Now Spiegelman, and more specifically his wife Francoise Mouly, are getting into the kids comics game like never before, and they're using pedagogy research to help them build upon their already respectable repuations for producing high-quality comics for youth.

They've been producing the excellent Little Lit series for younger readers for years now, but their newest project, Toon Books, extends those efforts.

With the goal of "Bringing new readers to the pleasures of comics," Toon Books is seriously considering pedagogy as part of its marketing. From the website:

"TOON Books are the first high-quality comics designed for children ages four and up. Each book in the collection is just right for reading to the youngest but, perhaps most remarkable: this is the first collection ever designed to offer newly-emerging readers comics they can read themselves. Each TOON book has been vetted by educators to ensure that the language and the narratives will nurture young minds. Our books feature original stories and characters created by veteran children’s book authors, renowned cartoonists and new talents, all applying their extraordinary skills to fascinate young children with clearly told tales that will welcome them to the magic of reading...."

"Comics have always had a unique ability to draw young readers into a story through the drawings. Visual narrative helps kids crack the code that allows literacy to flourish, teaching them how to read from left to right, from top to bottom. Speech balloons facilitate a child’s understanding of written dialogue as a transcription of spoken language. Many of the issues that emerging readers have traditionally struggled with are instantly clarified by comics’ simple and inviting format. As a matter of fact, Maryland State Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Nancy Grasmick, is planning to use the TOON Books in K-3 classrooms as part of the Maryland Comic Book Initiative.

As one of our advisors, Barbara Tversky, professor of Psychology at Stanford University, explains: 'Comics use a broad range of sophisticated devices for communication. They are similar to face-to-face interactions, in which meaning is derived not solely from words, but also from gestures, intonation, facial expressions and props. Comics are more than just illustrated books, but rather make use of a multi-modal language that blends words, pictures, facial expressions, panel-to-panel progression, color, sound effects and more to engage readers in a compelling narrative.'”

Those quotes show a pretty strong commitment to making sure potential buyers know their purchases are beneficial to the children in their lives. The Toon Books blog, a fun and interesting resource, continues this sort of pedagogy-pinching by referencing intriguing studies on comprehension and visual development.

Whether done singularly for marketing purposes or with an altruistic aim of proving sequential art's pedagogical potential, I find it exciting that such high-quality creative minds are making a serious effort to produce excellent comics for kids. And make no mistake -- they are focusing on the young ones. Not teens, not tweens: kids. They even end the introductory piece from which I quoted above by saying "Comics -- they're not just for grown-ups anymore," a wink and a nod to all of us who are sick of articles wanting to extol the virtue of sequential art by saying things like "comics have grown up" and "they're not just for kids anymore."

More power to Mouly and Spiegelman. I hope Toon Books is a great success. Am I worried about artists using educators to help sell their products? Maybe just a little, but having seen the quality work that Mouly and Spiegelman have put together in the Little Lit series, I can't help but be excited.
And, heck, if experts in education help sell books that help kids develop both a love of reading and their appreciation/awareness for visual conventions of communication, isn't that the type of synergy we should celebrate? So often folks ignore what education research says about things. If a savvy publisher has decided to build ethos while also letting folks know that certain companies are paying attention to what education researchers have to say in their independent research, I know I'll take note of it -- with a critical eye, of course -- but I'll still note the effort and the names and studies mentioned.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

21st Century Literacy Skills & the Contemporary College Student

If this doesn't get you thinking about the need for educators to realize the changing nature of literacy, living, and thinking, I don't know what will.

I love the opening McLuhan quote about 19th century pedagogy. I've seen it with my own eyes: administrators, veteran teachers and newbies alike resorting to what they feel are "tried and true" methods of toe-the-line literacy instruction. I remember learning that my former school district received a $1,000,000 technology grant. I was happy that the school was getting smart boards, etc., but I couldn't help thinking, "What good is 21st century technology if it encounters 19th century pedagogy?"

And pay attention to the "I'm one of the lucky ones" sign, too. This deals with college kids -- those fortunate enough to make it past secondary ed. And here's hoping some test-makers in high positions read that scantron note!

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Difference Between Graphic Novels and Comic Books

The Simpsons does it again. Alan Moore, Art Spiegelman, and Dan Clowes join Bart, Lisa, and Comic Book Guy in illuminating the differences and intersections among mainstream comics, super-hero comics, the indies, and those considered graphic novels.

*embedded via Youtube embed function; all rights reserved by the proper authorities/owners; buy The Simpsons DVDs and The Simpsons Movie;watch the show; visit the Quick -E- Mart. Invest in Youtube.*

Comics and Social Issues Site

The sequential art format has long been used to examine social issues and to promote social standards in health and living. Sometimes this happens in the context of on-going series; sometimes "special issues on special issues" are published. Adam C sent me this great link to a site that has a collection of such special issues.

All are meant to be serious efforts at combating social ills or educating the public. Taken out of context, they can seem tongue-in-cheek and certainly more than a little lame. But, with a little respect for making an effort and an eye on history, we see that comics and graphic novels have a distinguished history of grappling with hot-button topics.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Graphics Classics & The Inscrutable Mark Twain!

Just got this press release from the company that markets its graphic novel adaptations of canonical literature as "Classics You'll Want to Read!"


Eureka Productions is pleased to announce the publication of the revised second edition of the long-out-of-print GRAPHIC CLASSICS: MARK TWAIN, the eighth volume in the GRAPHIC CLASSICS series of comics adaptations of great literature. This edition contains 38 pages of new material, including a never-done-before comics presentation of “Tom Sawyer Abroad,” Mark Twain’s little-known sequel to “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” with adaptation by Tom Pomplun and George Sellas. Returning from the first edition are “The Mysterious Stranger” by Rick Geary, “A Dog’s Tale” by Lance Tooks, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog” by Kevin Atkinson, and “The Carnival of Crime in Connecticut” by Antonella Caputo and Nick Miller. Also “Is He Living or Is He Dead?” “A Curious Pleasure Excursion,” and eight women artists interpret Mark Twain’s “Advice to Little Girls.” With a dramatic cover painting by George Sellas.

GRAPHIC CLASSICS: MARK TWAIN is available for schools and libraries from Diamond Distributors, Baker & Taylor, Ingram and other distributors, in bookstores, or direct from the publisher at http://www.graphicclassics.com./

“Many of the stories contain some of Twain’s most cynical, acidic works of satire. Even the adaptation of the little-read “Tom Sawyer Abroad,” written from Huck Finn’s simple-but-secretly-sophisticated point of view, contains a number of digs at religion, science, and imperialism. George Sellascartoony style is a nice match for what is also a rip-roaring adventure story... there’s a propulsive quality in both prose and art that leaves the reader breathless as they flip from page to page.”— Rob Clough, SEQUART.

GRAPHIC CLASSICS: MARK TWAIN(Second Edition) Edited by Tom Pomplun. Published December 2007, Eureka Productions. Distributed by Diamond Book Distributors(ISBN 978-0-9787919-2-6)144 pgs, 7 x 10", paperback, b&w, 4c cover, $11.95

The Graphic Classics series:GRAPHIC CLASSICS: EDGAR ALLAN POE (978-0-9746648-7-3)GRAPHIC CLASSICS: ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE (978-0-9746648-5-9)GRAPHIC CLASSICS: H.G. WELLS (978-0-9746648-3-5)GRAPHIC CLASSICS: H.P. LOVECRAFT (978-0-9746648-9-7)GRAPHIC CLASSICS: JACK LONDON (978-0-9746648-8-0)GRAPHIC CLASSICS: AMBROSE BIERCE (978-0-9712464-6-1)GRAPHIC CLASSICS: BRAM STOKER (978-0-9787919-1-9)GRAPHIC CLASSICS: MARK TWAIN (978-0-9787919-2-6)GRAPHIC CLASSICS: ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON (978-0-9746648-0-4)HORROR CLASSICS: Graphic Classics Volume Ten (978-0-9746648-1-1)GRAPHIC CLASSICS: O. HENRY (978-0-9746648-2-8)ADVENTURE CLASSICS: Graphic Classics Volume Twelve (978-0-9746648-4-2)GRAPHIC CLASSICS: RAFAEL SABATINI (978-0-9746648-6-6)GOTHIC CLASSICS: Graphic Classics Volume Fourteen (978-0-9787919-0-2)

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Transforming English Education with Graphic Novels

I'm pleased to announce that my article, "Transforming English with Graphic Novels: Moving toward Our “Optimus Prime,” has been published in this month's English Journal (97.2). Here's how NCTE describes the article:

James Bucky Carter argues for the transformative potential of graphic novels in the English classroom. He advises teachers to be actively aware of the newer and lesser-known graphic novels and suggests approaches for examining the complex social issues the novels address.

EJ has a circulation of around 25,000 and an acceptance rate, if I remember correctly, of around 10%. So, I'm very happy to be included in this issue on "Transforming English Education."

Friday, November 02, 2007

Norman Rockwell Museum Rocking the Graphic Novel!

Oh, to live in Stockbridge, MA! The museum is actively promoting its LitGraphic: The World of the Graphic Novel exhibition to educators! "Hey, why not an invite for your ol' pal Bucky, Normie?"

Click the title of this post to read about the direct marketing being done for the 11/09/07 and 01/12/08 activities.
Looks like more and more folks are noticing how graphic novels and education can work together!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Not Hatin' on NHCTE!

A second state branch of NCTE has asked me to be a special speaker at their state conference. Iowa contacted me about being a keynote speaker a few weeks ago. Now representatives of New Hampshire's affiliate, NHCTE, have asked me to present two sessions at their Spring get-together held in Manchester, NH. As I have friends who are into the comic book scene in New Hampshire and had my edited collection mentioned in a recent policy document from the NH Department of Education, I am very excited about this trip. Plus, I've always wanted to visit the state. Heck, I wouldn't mind living there, if any New England colleges or universities are reading! ;)

New Comic Accentuates Diversity/Multicultural Teamwork

Comic Book Resources has posted an interview with Bill Galvin,the creator of "The Scrapyard Detectives," a comic created with the support of The Diversity Foundation to explicitly illustrate examples of ethnic diversity and community teamwork. Here's CBR staffer Rick Offenberger's hook:

Everyone wants to change the world. However, few of us do anything about it. Bill Galvan is trying; he joined the non-profit organization The Diversity Foundation to do just that. Bill has created his own group of teen adventures in the comics "The Scrapyard Detectives," a group who solve mysteries while demonstrating the value of accepting ethnic and cultural differences. But this isn't a comic you'll likely see in your local comic shop. Galvan's creation is given out free to schools and libraries and so far this effort has topped 70,000 copies... Read more here.
Diversity in comics is nothing new. Pick up any copy of X-Men from Giant-Sized #1 on and you'll see a multicultural group of heroes trying to make things work. They're led by a man in a wheelchair. They come from different countries and represent various ethnicities. However, Galvin's comic seems to make the message of cooperation much more overt, which might be what some readers need, so more power to him and his cast of characters. Plus, the series actually has an education professor on board as an active advisor and comes with lesson plans focusing on vocabulary and comprehension.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Testify Project

I'm herein officially starting something I'm calling "The Testify Project." I'd like to invite you to reply to this posting by testifying to how comics influenced you as a reader when you were in your formative or school-age years. Was the first book you read a graphic novel? Did Crisis on Infinite Earths make you a lifelong reader?
I've posted a couple of my own testimonial-type stories, and I invite you to help me show the world the power of sequential art by posting yours too as a comment to this thread !

New "Classics" Imprint

Thanks to M. Hollman for sending me this link to another graphic novel publishing company putting its own spin on the "classics illustrated" approach to sequential art. Self Made Hero publishes Manga versions of Shakespeare plays and also has some other literary adaptions lined up. Guess who is on the list? Poe and his "nevermore-ing" raven, of course! With the likes of Graphix and Marvel and :01 (First Second) and others tapping into the educational graphic novel market, surely more and more teachers will take note of the resources becoming "ever-more" available to them.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Excellent Manga Primer from Wired Magazine

Many adults and educators, myself included, are a little wary of Manga, Japanese import comics or graphic novels or those works of sequential art done in the Japanese style. But, young people in America are devouring them, it seems, boys and girls, so it behooves print literacy traditionalists and American comics traditionalists to learn about them.

Wired Magazine has offered up an excellent primer on Manga's definition, history, formal properties, and popularity. Just click the title of this post before Astro Boy (or should I call him "Mighty Atom?") flies off the page, and you can read and download a Manga primer written in a Manga style!
**Thanks to Adam C. for sending me the link!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Frey and Fisher Visual Literacy Collection Cover

Corwin Press has posted a cover image for the upcoming collection Teaching Visual Literacy Using Comic Books, Graphic Novels, Anime, Cartoons, and More to Develop Comprehension and Thinking Skills! Edited by Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher and including an essay by yours truly, this book is going to be a great addition to the field once it hits the shelves in early 2008. I'll post a larger cover image when I can get one.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Nate Fisher Speaks Out

Suggesting that his school administration completely sold him out while also saying that he made an honest mistake in giving a student Daniel Clowes' Eightball #22 to read, former Guilford High School (Connecticut) English Teacher Nate Fisher is finally speaking about the incident that garnered national attention.

He says he remembered reading the book in a graphic novel class taken at UConn. As someone who teaches both "graphic novels as literature" and "graphic novels as Young Adult literature" courses, my guess is that he took a course more similar to the former than the latter.

I can't help but think what graphic novels might be in his class if he had been able to take a pedagogically-centered graphic novel course in college, though. If he'd been a student in my class, he probably wouldn't have read Eightball, but he would have read Will Eisner's A Contract With God and Brian K. Vaughn's Pride of Baghdad. He would have learned not to shy away from challenging material and how to protect himself and his students' intellectual freedoms as well.

Perhaps teacher educators need to give the graphic novel more attention in their methods and YA lit classes. I know of many college-level graphic novel classes, but I know of no graphic novel-themed education classes besides the one I taught last summer and may teach again this summer. I wonder if Mr. Fisher would have taken such a class, and if he had, if he would have still included the Clowes book in his classroom...

At any rate, here's hoping that Mr. Fisher is able to find employment as a teacher once again and also that his experience with overzealous parents and sadly typical administrators and central office personnel hasn't turned him off of graphic novels for good.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Me, Iowa, October 2008!

The Iowa Council of Teachers of English has asked me to be a keynote speaker at their 2008 convention! Wow! It's a real honor, especially since John Golden will be another keynote presenter. ICTE and I are in talks right now, so I'll post more later, but how fun to have this to look forward to, and how exciting that ICTE is this interested in using sequential art narratives in the classroom!!!! Having spent so much time in Mississippi lately, it was refreshing to see folks receptive to my work and ideas.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

NCTE Calls it as it Sees it

This week's NCTE Inbox links to a follow-up article from the rag that broke the Guilford High School (Connecticut)/Eightball story in which a popular new teacher allowed a young female student to read the 22nd issue from Dan Clowes indy comic series Eightball.

NCTE placed it in a "Censorship" section of the weekly e-mail newsletter, and I was glad to see them do so. I probably wouldn't have offered the student Eightball #22, but no one is talking about what Mr. Fisher might have done right, i.e. offering the student a choice of reading materials (as some have reported he did) and telling the student up-front that the book she decided on had mature themes. And the whole idea that the book is being censored is an accurate one, but not much attention is being placed on that, either.

So, kudos to NCTE for calling it like they see it! The story was very poorly covered from the original source, so it was good to see an organization able to cut through the crap and get to one of the hearts of the matter concerning this bewildering beast of a happening!

The NCTE Inbox can be accessed by clicking here.

For more info on censorship and Sequential Art in Education, click here.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

My E-mail to Guilford High School

Since the recent story about a Connecticut teacher resigning after parental complaints concerning his asking a student to read Daniel Clowes' Eightball #22 corresponds so well with one of the talks I'll be giving at this year's NCTE convention, I decided to offer my services to the high school where the action took place. Here's my letter to the principal at Guilford HS:

"Hello, I am James Bucky Carter. I recently edited a book entitled _Building Literacy Connections with Graphic Novels_. Published by the National Council of Teachers of English, the book offers suggestions on how to use graphic novels in the 6-12 classroom.I know you all recently had an event that may have some of your teachers resistant to using GN's in their classrooms. Indeed, at this year's NCTE in NYC, I will be leading a roundtable discussion on how to avoid the pitfalls and roadblocks associated with using graphic novels. I just wanted to bring that to your attention.

As a sort of preview, in my reaction to the Eightball incident on my blog, I list 2-3 suggestions for teachers who want to consider GN's but might now be afraid to. My blog is http://www.ensaneworld.blogspot.com/.Trolling the archives will also reveal many legitimate resources for using sequential art in the classroom.

Also, if you think your school community would like to hear me speak on the subject of graphic novels, I'm a member of NCTE's cosponsored speaker program.Best to you and your school (and to Mr. Fisher too) as you all seek a return to normal.

James B. Carter"

So far, I've not had a response, but the New Haven Register has printed a follow-up story with more info on graphic novels and which also states that higher-level personnel have deemed the material inappropriate, so maybe the system is just trying to put it behind them. Still, I hope their remaining teachers aren't afraid to use sequential art in their classrooms now.....

I felt I should do something proactive about the situation, something that took the emphasis off the past and focused on the future and also tried to preserve a place for sequential art narratives in the classroom. It wasn't much, but at least I offered.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

To Be or Not to Be.. Behind the Eightball #22

The New Haven Register is reporting that a popular high school teacher has resigned his position after complaints stemming from the teacher assigning Daniel Clowes' Eightball #22 to a 9th grade female student.

Clowes' stories are known -- to those of us in the know on today's comics scene, anyway -- for their offbeat, insightful look at the sides of life that permeate our worlds but that we often fail to consider or brush off because of what they might illuminate about ourselves and our society. His work pays attention to the things we often don't want to admit about our cosy little towns and their inhabitants. A work like Ghost World or his Eightball series is a lot like Spoon River Anthology or Our Town, only in comics format.

But, as Stephen Cary has pointed out, it's one thing to write about nudity, rape, and other "unmentionables" that happen; it's another to see them depicted in a visual form. Americans seem to fear the visual. We want our drawings safe and cartoony. Anything else, we're suspicious of, it seems. Cary refers to this phenomenon as the "naked buns effect."

I have not read the issue that English teacher Nate Fisher asked the female adolescent to read. My general impression of the Eightball series is that it is probably best for older high school students and does contain Clowes-style quirkiness, meaning it does not shy away from topics of sexuality, perversion, etc. One blog poster on another site said that a respected school library magazine suggested it for 10th grade and higher. I'll have to check my own sources..

This November I will be leading a roundtable discussion at NCTE that will help teachers learn how to navigate their way through the pitfalls and bumpy roads that come with the territory of trying to integrate graphic novels into the classroom. Though I do not want to give too much away here, two bits of advice could help others who might want to use graphic novels in the classroom but are now more afraid to do so:

1. READ it! Don't take a review's word for it or a friend's. Read a graphic novel fully before you bring it into your classroom or assign it or even suggest it to a student. Everyone's community has different standards. Don't get caught without considering those in relation to every panel on every page.

2. Write a rationale for why you want the book in your classroom library, reading list, etc, that explains to administrators, students, and parents why the book is an essential part of your literate environment. Explain the "pedagogical worthiness" of the text in the rationale and be upfront about any issues that might cause some students or parents to blanch. Attach this rationale to the book's cover.

2b.Even better, write the rationale as a contract between student, parent, and teacher such that all parties agree that if the student wants to read the book, all parties are aware of the possible hot spots of the text. Signatures offer a great record, and this means a student who brings the book home to mom or dad is doing so with the explicit and teacher-directed mission of considering the book with his or her parents before the text is read.

Apparently Fisher is a new teacher, and a popular one,which makes it all the more tragic that he's ran into such resistance for what could have been an honest mistake. Since we lose so many new teachers within the first five years anyway, it might have been nice to see the administration at least try to back their new hire. An administration with spine.... Ah, to dream. Surely there are some out there....

I was also disappointed that someone found issue with Fisher asking the student "how did the book make you feel?" I twinged when I considered the possible ramifications: will the school over-react and restrict the use of all text-to-self connection questions?

And let's not get too out of sorts because the book in question is a graphic novel. Plenty of traditional print-based novels have caused folks to react or over-react as well.

I'm not sure if more info will come to light about this teacher or about this story in general. I feel for all involved and hope that there's no reason for me not to hope that Mr. Fisher can and will find employment as a teacher elsewhere.

At the very least, hopefully the two bits of advice above will help others from finding themselves behind the eightball when it comes to using graphic novels in their classrooms.

Friday, August 31, 2007

New Book on Visual Literacy Forthcoming!

My friends and colleagues Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey have an edited collection coming out soon, and it is all about Visual Literacy!

Teaching Visual Literacy :Using Comic Books, Graphic Novels, Anime, Cartoons, and More to Develop Comprehension and Thinking Skills is currently in the copy editing stage and is set for an early 2008 release from Corwin Press. Here's how Corwin describes the aims of the project:

"Educators today understand that literacy involves at least five processes: reading, writing, speaking, listening, and viewing. This thoughtful and practical book by a team of literacy experts offers classroom teachers a guide to using visual forms of information as tools for literacy development. Teaching Visual Literacy offers strategies for fostering visual and critical literacy competencies and increasing student engagement through the use of picture books, comic books, graphic novels, traditional films, anime, and other visual sources of information. Each chapter examines relevant research and theory, and presents practical applications for the classroom."

Among the chapters is an essay I wrote that details one possibility for why sequential art narratives are still struggling for legitimacy in the classroom and how teachers seeing themselves as active policy makers can change that.

Here's the full table of contents. Lots of great work on sequential art in there!

About the Editors
About the Contributors
1. Visual Literacy: What You Get Is What You See
(Lynell Burmark)
2. Graphic Novels: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
(Jacquelyn McTaggart)
3. Comics, The Canon, and the Classroom
(James Bucky Carter)
4. Seeing the World Through a Stranger’s Eyes: Exploring the Potential of Anime in Literacy Classrooms
(Kelly Chandler-Olcott)
5. “Literary Literacy” and the Role of the Comic Book Or, “You Teach a Class on What?”
(Rocco Versaci)
6. That’s Funny: Political Cartoons in the Classroom
(Thomas DeVere Wolsey)
7. Learning from Illustrations in Picturebooks
(Lawrence Sipe)
8. An Irrecusable Offer: Film in the K-12 Classroom
(Lawrence Baines)
9. "It Was Always the Pictures…": Creating Visual Literacy Supports For Students With Disabilities
(Paula Kluth)

I'm very excited about this project and to have been a part of it! Look for this book from Corwin Press soon.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Bloomberg News Article on Graphic Novels and Education

Bloomberg News just (8.28.07) published an article on comics/graphic novels and vocabulary, discussing Kaplan's SAT prep graphic novels in light of the recent news that SAT scores are down. It is a good article, and I'm quoted in it, but there are a few statements that might need some clarification.

What the article does well is examine the financial aspects of graphic novels publishing, and it reveals why companies like Kaplan and Scholastic might see the format as a viable economic investment. It is always nice when concepts of capitalism and better education for all (a free market ideal???) work together. It also mentions the important role that librarians have taken in advocating for adolescents' literary interests and thereby advocating their literacy development. I'm not sure about the Library-GN-NCLB connection that is made, though.

As for other elements of the story:

1. The article says comics were once considered "trash literature." Though this is largley true, and I can think of many who probably still hold this point if view, it gets a little tedious for me to keep reading this sort of thing in a news article. Not to blame anyone here, but maybe one day sequential art will be so accepted in education that no one even considers the word "trash" when thinking about it.

2. "Literary skills" vs. "Literacy skills." I'm quoted as saying the "literary demands" are greater for students now than they were. I wonder if this is a slip of my tongue or a misedit. I usually say "literacy demands" or "literacy skills." It's a rather small change to some; a big one to me. I recently had an academic essay edited such that "literacy" was changed to "literary" and it really bothered me. This usually happens when someone outside of the field of English Education or Literacy sees the word. The one good thing, though? If we accept a new or expanded definition of literacy, we are most probably also expanding a definition of literary. So, though this little "c" vs "r" thing is becoming a pet peeve of mine, it might not be such a bad little mistake. It actually politically charges the word "literary" in ways that really appeal to me.

3. The article states, "Because students spend so much time with television, video games and comics, teachers should use visuals to win attention, Carter says. He edited Building Literacy Connections With Graphic Novels: Page by Page, Panel By Panels, published by the National Council of Teachers of English, in Urbana, Illinois." -- This is somewhat of a simplified summary of our interview. Though I certainly mentioned that using visuals can help grab the attention of students who might otherwise be hesitant to read or be interested in other texts, I sort of feel like this reduction of my overall statement reduces the use of sequential art to a gimmick. That's certainly not what I want it to be used as. I want it seen as a viable format from which teachers and students can sharpen multiple literacy (and sure, literary) skills.

4. The article also mentions that many graphic novels are under $10. This reminds me of a situation in which a peer summarized a comic strip he had read. "What's the difference in a comic and a graphic novel?" one character asks. "About $15," another responds. The Manga she refers to are indeed often under $10, but GN's considered more literary (yes, the "r" is intentionally used there), and even many of the super-hero trade paperback GN's, often run more along the $15-20 range.

But, overall, a solid article from Bloomberg. Please do listen to the radio interview that accompanies the link. I'm able to get much more involved in my statements and you can also compare how the print article summarizes/condenses and how the streaming audio portrays much of the same information in a different manner. By doing so, you're helping hone your critical, multimodal literacy skills as well! :)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


Comicbookresources.com reports that this year's San Diego Comic-Con, the nation's largest comic book convention, drew over 125,000 unique visitors this summer!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Let's Talk about Sequential Art at NCTE 2007!

Hi, all! Just a word to let you know that I am scheduled to be at this year's National Council of Teachers of English conference in New York City. It's my first trip to the Big Apple, so I'm excited and nervous. But, what will I be doing at NCTE? Discussing comics and graphic novels, of course!

On Thursday I'm giving a presentation at the ReadWriteThink booth over near the NCTE books secton. I'll be discussing some sequential art-related lesson plans that I've created for ReadWriteThink, previewing my other engagements, offering some additional lenses by which to view and thereby teach graphic novels, and feilding questions and generally chatting it up about comics.

On Friday I'm leading a roundtable devoted entirely to teaching graphic novels. Some of my former students and a contributor to my recent edited collection will help the participants gain a full understanding of the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to navigating comics through the English language arts curriculum.

Finally, on Saturday, I'm once again hooking up with my friends from San Diego State, Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, and I can't wait! Doug and Nancy always "bring it!" This year we'll be joined by Dianne Lapp, and we'll be exploring how we use comics to get our students writing and use writing strategies to get our students creating their own comics. I'll be focusing on how I got pre-service teachers writing their own comics and exploring the processes involved in making sequential art. The other excellent presenters will be focusing directly on adolescents' use of sequential art to express themselves and to increase their literacy skills.

Stop by and see us, and if you happen to see me walking around the convention grounds (just look for the name tag) and want some ENSANE conversation, don't hesitate to wave me over!!

New Semester Starting 8/22/07!

On August 22 I start my second year as a visiting instructor at the University of Southern Mississippi. This coming semester, I'll finally actually be teaching a majority of English Education classes instead of being a general education filler. I'm excited to finally be working with pre-service teachers, aka "my peeps!"

This semester will also mark my 4th -- that's right -- FOURTH time teaching a graphic novels-related course. ENG 311, the department's variable content course, allows me to teach a "Contemporary Trends and Issues in Graphic Novels" class. This will be the third time I've taught it, and I'm happy to see some former students of mine signed up to take another course with me. I also taught a "GN's as YA Lit" course this summer that went pretty well. I've added a few titles, such as American Born Chinese and the 9/11 Report. I wanted to add Pride of Baghdad and something from Craig Thompson , but maybe next semester. Students will have to read one GN of their choice beyond the syllabus listings, so maybe I'll turn them towards those...

In other news, Building Literacy Connections with Graphic Novels: Page by Page, Panel by Panel continues to do well. I just saw that it was in the top 70,000 in sales at amazon.com. It reached the top 12,000 at one time and had been lingering around the 250,000 ranking, so hopefully some libraries or college classes are picking it up. It's a great read, if I do say so myself (and on behalf of my contributors). If you're a future or current English teacher who wants to use sequential art in the classroom, I think you'd be happy with a copy. ;)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

NCTE Focuses on Visual Literacy

This week's NCTE INBOX features an article on visual literacy from the Washington Post. As well, they're discussing NCTE's long advocacy and acceptance of visual and media literacy at the NCTE INBOX blog.

Graphic novels aren't explicitly mentioned in either, but it is good to see visual literacy getting attention. Graphic novels are obviously visual, and I think they can act as a good "middle-ground medium" between those who see ELA with traditional lenses and those who think we're at the point where English classrooms aren't really about the same skills that comprised the term "English" for a century or so.

Graphic novels offer conglomerate layers of text, images and words with meanings that aren't complete without both elements. In graphic novels, we see traditional print literacy preserved and a nod to the increasing visually oriented ways of knowing.

The important thing is to make sure that students have the skills to critique and examine both traditional text and pictures, moving or sequential or still or otherwise. My hope is that traditionalists might accept graphic novels and sequential art narratives into their classrooms without feeling like they've let go of their standards and also that those who have moved "beyond English" might respect the format for its strengths instead of coming to see it as a format or medium that only goes "half-way" when it comes to making full use of visual techniques.

My thoughts? Teachers and students should move in and out of various modes in their lessons. Within thematic units, they should examine novels, poems, songs, movie clips, comics -- any and all mediums and formats that deal with the theme at hand. I firmly believe that learning how to examine one form of media can help give students prior knowledge and skill bases for examining other forms. Furthermore, I believe that doing so helps us see how process affects everything. Movies aren't magic; comic books don't draw and write themselves, and news doesn't just "happen." It all has a process.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Graphic Classics

I just got a press release from a company called Eureka Productions, which publishes a series of graphic novels under the Graphic Classics title. It's like Illustrated Classics or the new Marvel Classics we talked about in an earlier post, but the company seems to have a strong taste for the gothic. This is no surprise. Comics scholar M. Thomas Inge once said that Edgar Allen Poe is the literary author most often adapted in comics.

Eureka's newest graphic novel, volume 14 of the series, is an anthology of gothic adaptations of stories from authors like Ann Radcliffe, Jane Austin, and, of course, Poe.
I have to admit that before getting this release, I had no idea this company existed, but since so many of our students share a love of all things spooky, I think this series might be worth checking out!

From the press release: "GOTHIC CLASSICS: Graphic Classics Volume Fourteen is available for schoolsand libraries from Diamond Distributors, Baker & Taylor, Ingram, GumdropBooks and other distributors, in bookstores, or direct from the publisher at http://www.graphicclassics.com."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Deaf Characters in Comics and Graphic Novels

Straight from the blog of current Gallaudet professor and former UVa doc student comes a burgeoning list of deaf characters on comics and graphic novels. Dr. Pajka-West, whom I've known for a few years, is great at gathering literacy resources that intersect with deaf culture and deaf studies, so I hope you'll take a look at her blog and maybe even help her add to her list of characters by visiting http://www.pajka.blogspot.com. Or, go directly to the specific post here.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Classics Illustrated Redux: The Marvel Way!

Recent Marvel comics have told the stories of Edgar Allen Poe, and now Marvel is delving deeper into the literary canon by marketing a line of Classics Illustrated-inspired comics. Read a press release here. You might be surprised to learn that I never read many Classics Illustrated titles, though I certainly support their inclusion in a classroom.

Now, should they be used in place of the actual novel or story?

There are some who would see themselves as "purists" who would say no. There are many who want students exposed to the classics.

I say there are many different ways to "expose" someone to the classics. And, I hold to this core belief: a student who is being asked to read something well beyond his or her reading level, thereby being asked to "read" at the frustration level, is asked to accomplish an impossible task.

So, "exposure" is right! That's the very best you can hope for if you're asking students to read a novel that is beyond their reading level.

If a graphic novel/comic book adaptation can expose a student to the story in a more accessible format (note I don't say "easier." The interplay of word and image, the conglomerate layers of text inherent in sequential art, take some skill to read and examine fully), why not have it at least available for student perusal? Read the classic to the class aloud, if it's that important to you.

Of course, some studies have shown that comic books have a pretty sophisticated vocabulary too, so here's more evidence to suggest that it might not be as easy a read as some might think. Best to read the adaptation yourself before placing it in your school library, so you know what you're dealing with, then accept it into your room with confidence.

All in all, I favor other graphic novels over Classics Illustrated-type books, but I fully support the inclusion of these in the classroom as well. If they help teachers accept sequential art, and their students show them how much they enjoy the format, maybe it'll lead to a desire to include original graphic novels in the classroom as well!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

May 5th was Free Comic Book Day!

So, if Free Comic Book Day, the annual event during which comic shops give away tons of freebies and sell many of their items for vastly reduced prices, was THIS weekend, why am I telling you about it now that it is over?

It's simple really. I know a little secret! See, during Free Comic Book Day, your lovable local retailer can only let you pick up one of each free title on display. And why not? He or she has to make sure there's enough to go around, and these events just seem to draw more and more people every year.

That means that the odds of your retailer ordering more stock than he or she can get rid of is very high. You might have only been able to pick up a copy of that great Spidey comic for yourself on Saturday, but if you act quick, you might be able to pick up a class set or two on Monday!

Retailers will be eager to get rid of their Free Comic Book Day backstock if they ordered too much, so take advantage of that. Just ask if they have anything left. I've gotten hundreds of free comics this way.

And, since they've just spent a whole day trying to get rid of some of their other backstock at cheap prices, you may find them willing to negotiate some great deals on other comics they have in bulk as well. They might even get a tax write-off for giving you a deep discount.

It never hurts to ask, so contact your local retailer and see if you can't get a few class sets of some of those freebies, and maybe see if he or she can't help you get some good deals on other comics for your classrooms as well!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

NCTE Releases Book on Teaching Graphic Novels!

NCTE has just released Building Literacy Connections With Graphic Novels: Page by Page, Panel by Panel.

I was the general editor for this collection of essays and had the distinct privilege of working with very motivated, knowledgeable contributors who made the editing process a very pleasant experience. As well, the folks at NCTE could not have treated us and the project any better.

In fact, they are about to feature the book in their weekly e-mail newsletter, NCTE INBOX! And, they'll be talking about graphic novels in k-12 education on their blog (see topic posted April 9)!

The book features information on the current state of graphic novel research and how educators and the popular media are taking note of the format. It also features practical ideas for pairing graphic novels with more traditional texts, and all the lessons have a basis in Multimodal Literacy.

Please follow the links provided above, and do not hesitate to leave a comment. And notice that NCTE is offering a sample chapter for free download!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

ENSANE in the Membrane, INSANE in the Brain!: Censorship and Sequential Art

Some people think it is crazy to allow comics and graphic novels in the classroom, but this site is dedicated to proving that it is a SANE venture. Sequential Art Narratives in Education are gaining more ground, but censorship has long been a problem for many school texts, and sequential art narratives are no exception.

Here I'll post some links about censorship and sequential art. For an excellent primer on recognizing censorship, what to do about it and how to prevent it as best one can, I recommend chapter 12 of Kenneth L. Donelson and Alleen Pace Nilsen's Literature for Today's Young Adults, 7th edition.

NCTE also has a number of great censorship-related materials, including a couple of CD-ROMS of excellently written rationales for teaching oft-challenged texts.

Libraries pull graphic novels Fun Home and Blankets until new plan is enacted:

(thanks to James Lowder for sharing these links with the comics scholars listserve)

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund: Yup, the industry has its own non-profit group. Since 1986, it has fought for first amendment rights for comics creators. The "resources" tab at the right hand top of the page is of particular interest, especially the comics censorship timeline. It starts in the 18th century, for goodness sakes!

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Scott McCloud visits Hattiesburg!

I teach a "Contemporary Trends and Issues in Graphic Novels" course at the University of Southern Mississippi. Here are a few of my former and current students posing with comics scholar, creator, and all-around nice guy Scott McCloud.

He was in town doing signings of his new book, Making Comics, and took the time to chat with these very impressed folks. Since we read Understanding Comics in my class as an introduction to the form, they were eager to meet him. Now that they know how warm and friendly he is, they're even more ready to spread the message that Sequential Art Narratives are Literature!

Thank you, Mr. McCloud, and you're welcome in Hattiesburg and USM anytime!