As comics reach an ever-growing audience—and as styles from around the world, like manga and manhua, permeate the American marketplace and help shatter cultural boundaries—it seemed like an important time to look at where comics have come from and where they’re going, in terms of diversity. It seemed a perfect time to open a dialogue, even a small one, dealing with issues related to race in comics, specifically how comics appealed, portrayed, and were created by the black community.
It’s been 30 years since the Los Angeles Times began hosting their own set of awards, and 14 since the advent of the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books. This year, both take an important step forward in terms of comics and graphic-novel coverage.
Lisa Coxson is a ninth-grade English teacher at Bronx School of Law and Finance in Bronx, New York. Her favorite members of the Justice League were the Wonder Twins. Her favorite cartoon is a tie between Pinky and the Brain and the Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy. Her favorite graphic novel is currently American Born Chinese.
Rich Young Do you remember your first comic book or graphic novel? If so, what was it? It was probably an old Disney Uncle Scrooge. I had an uncle who had a bunch of those I remember reading. I was also always into the Sunday funnies…so Peanuts was big for me. Those were some of the earliest memories. What do you love about the graphic novel as a format for storytelling?
Our good friend Peter Gutierrez, writer and reviewer and graphic novel columnist, is putting on a great new panel this coming Tuesday, March 9, for the New York Center for Independent Publishing. The panel, "New York, the Super City," will focus on how New York City inspired some of the greatest comics writers and artists in their efforts to create some of the best comics characters of all time. That includes Batman's hometown of Gotham City, Superman's Metropolis, Will Eisner's take on The Spirit, the web-swinging adventures of Spider-Man.
Nonprofit group Reading With Pictures is going to be raising some funds for its charitable endeavours through the release of an exciting new comics anthology. The anthology will feature stories from 50 top comics creators (some of the names involved include Jim Gownley, Eric Wight, Fred Van Lente, and Jill Thompson, who drew the cover) and all the stories will be education-themed. Reading With Pictures uses comics as educational tools and partners with educational facilities to accomplish their mission.
The marrying of comics and mass media continues, and right now, it's a good time to be a comics fan, it seems. It's obvious in movies, of course, that comics are being mined for their storylines and characters. But the television world is getting more and more into the act. For a decade now, that's included Smallville, and a few years ago came the introduction of Heroes.
Every year, the Los Angeles Times holds its Los Angeles Times Festival of Books celebration, a weekend devoted to great books and the people who make them possible. When I lived in San Diego, I used to attend as often as possible, given that the festival has one major drawback (for me, anyway): It always falls on or around my birthday. This year, I've already made separate travel plans for the weekend of April 24th and 25th, but I wish I could be attending (GNR president and publisher Carol Fitzgerald will be there, though).
When I was growing up, certain truths were just absolute. When it came to comics, Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman, which came out in 1938, was the most valuable comic book in the world. Period. And there weren't that many of them.
Unlikely Superheroes I detested math! Perhaps even hated would better fit how I viewed any math class. It was the summer before my senior year in high school. My friends were splashing around in the cool water at the city pool, baking in the summer sun, while I trudged off, books in hand, to Mrs. Parker’s, my tutor’s, home. I was a very studious individual. I never earned grades as far into the alphabet as in math. I would not say that I did not put effort into math classes; really, I lacked only one thing: confidence. Graphic novels give my struggling readers the superpower confidence in reading in which they do not have. The images interest students with passions for art. They also provide a concrete visualization for a student that leads to comprehension of the text. Not only do the pictures draw in unlikely readers, but so does the text. It is broken up in a way that seems manageable to those who panic at the sight of entire pages filled with letters—symbols with little or no meaning to their kind: a reader who lacks the decoding skills necessary to attack the text with ease. I can remember my first day of tutoring vividly. Mrs. Parker was not what I would have expected. I would have never guessed she’d be the hero I’d need (or wanted) to save me from the deep depths of frustration in math and distrust of teachers in general. Capeless, her stern voice spoke the words that would echo throughout the next 23 sessions that I had with her. “We will not use calculators in my home,” she bellowed as I quickly stuffed the “Superhero of Algebra” back into my book bag. She drew me in somehow. Her craft was masked cleverly. Was the reason I continued to come back to her home, filled with a typical hoarder mess, the thing that created an environment I desired to observe? Was it the fact she believed in me and found things that were of interest to me? Slowly, I learned that she was a really wonderful teacher. Her warm smile provided encouragement and pushed me to successfully complete each session. She copied and gave me motivational cartoons. She calmed my nerves and settled my frustrated mind. Just like a struggling math student, struggling readers are often frustrated, overwhelmed, and lack the basic skills needed to read in the first place. I have found that pairing full-text novels, such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, with an “illustrated” graphic text, such as Classics Illustrated Deluxe #4: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Classics Illustrated Deluxe Graphic Novels), or the Seekers and Warriors series (both in regular text and graphic novel versions) help to fuse teaching and learning relationships between readers above grade level, at grade level, and those who are at risk of failure. In my classroom, literature circles combining these related texts allow for all types and levels of learners to be instructed and learn at their own pace and in their own style without feeling they are not getting their individual learning needs met. I have also used graphic novels to teach and encourage writing. Students can create or retell text by using technology available to them, such as making a simple PowerPoint presentation or creating more developed projects using applications like Scratch, in which they can animate. I have recently found a leveled reader series called Phonics Comics, which I am currently using to support phonics instruction and writing skills. Written by a reading specialist, they encompass a large array of standards and skills necessary for success such as basic sight words, spelling conventions, and sentence structure. Graphic novels become weapons to fight the battles of “hating reading” and the “issues” that there is “nothing good to read” or that the book is “required.” As I teach online, there is limited digital graphica available. The more teachers, librarians, and other educational professionals add comics and graphic novels into their classrooms and libraries; I believe more resources will be available to use digitally. Currently, I am a frequent user of Marvel.com. I have also found a great digital version about Smokey the Bear that I have used in online instruction. The Hero Factory online takes you through a program in which you can create your very own superhero by choosing physical features, powers, costume, and names (see mine to the right). I love using this site for infusing writing into a lesson. Students are thrilled for the opportunity to create a story using their personal hero or villain. My online library also extends to the programs that I use on a daily basis as a teacher. Within the last year, Study Island has launched The Timbertoes, an online program geared for older students who are below grade level in reading. Tumblebooks, digital books online accessed through local libraries, are frequently adding graphic novel titles to their virtual bookshelves. I have also found that children’s magazines like Lego, Jr. include a monthly comic in which I can quickly scan and read with my students. I also am a huge fan of Dav Pilkey, creator of the Captain Underpants series (Pilkey.com)! Readers are pulled in by getting the chance to hear me read or to get to read aloud words like wedgies, toilet, or underpants! Mr. Pilkey’s personal story of teachers and principals often being the villains in his school experience makes me question why teachers so often “shut their doors” to opportunities of reading the graphic novel genre and allowing for students to develop comprehension through mentally visualizing and physically drawing illustrations for what they read and author themselves. One day, I was asked to complete a few problems for her. I happily and mentally computed each of them and waited patiently for her to review them. “I didn’t tell you, but this was a test” she spoke casually. I was horrified in thinking that maybe I rushed or maybe I did not do something right, or maybe… Instantly, she added, “You got a B.” “A B!” I exclaimed in disbelief. “I have not seen a grade like that since elementary school in math! I am dumb in math!” I thought to myself excitedly. Graphic novels have brought my struggling middle schoolers who HATE reading and books in general to a world they have never known. Many—especially boys—read avidly now and can independently choose books for personal enjoyment. Last year, I witnessed two of my male students who both were reading below grade level gain 2+ grades by reading and creating graphic novels. It is amazing to allow a struggling reading student who is talented in art unleash new strengths—illustrating and writing! What else do graphic novels bring to my classroom? They teach dialog. They teach sequential order. They teach vocabulary. The teach onomatopoeia. They teach retell and summarizing. They teach story elements. They teach students that it is OK to be good at art—that they can be illustrators. They teach those who hate reading to have confidence to do so—what may be the only chance to spark imagination in a child who is disinterested! In my classroom, graphic novels are the Sidekicks of the Love of Reading. Mrs. Parker showed me how to have confidence. She helped confirm my long desire to become a teacher in her shadow. I want to influence a middle school–aged reader’s life in the same way she did mine, by teaching to the individual, accepting and acknowledging that nontraditional texts belong in the classroom—that reading graphic novels is really reading, by teaching each individual to be confident, life-long self-learners. This one is for you Mrs. Parker! About the Author Frances Jagielski is a Title I middle school reading teacher at the Ohio Virtual Academy. She teaches via computer from her home office in Toledo, Ohio. She holds a B.S. in middle childhood education, grades 4-9, with a reading specialist certification from Bowling Green State University, along with a master’s of education in educational technology from Lourdes College. Thanks to her personal superhero, Buzz Lightyear, she has adopted and teaches to the motto “To infinity and beyond!”