Saturday, June 27, 2009

Recommended for High School -- Astro City

A book I tend to see quite frequently in school and public libraries in the YA section is Astro City, Volume 1 -- Life in the Big City. It's a superhero tale, and though I've only read the first issue, it seems to be quite a unique take on the genre. From what I've read so far, co-creators Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson, and Alex Ross do a good job of deconstructing the superhero archetype without turning him/her into an ultra-violent nihilist.

The guys at iFanboy do a much better job of singing the book's praises below. Take a look!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Marjane Satrapi on Iran

As reported by Comic Book Resources, Marjane Satrapi, writer/artist of Persepolis, is asking people to sign a petition to stop the violence in her native Iran.

For any high schools currently using Persepolis in their curriculum, this presents an awesome opportunity for debate and/or for students to make 'real world' connections to the literature they read in school.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Better Comics for Kids -- The Batman Question

Michael Chabon and A Call for Better Kids' Comics
I recently re-read Michael Chabon's fantastic essay entitled "Kids' Stuff" from his recent collection entitled Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands. In this essay, which is basically a reprint of his 2004 Eisner Awards Keynote Speech (available for free here), Chabon bluntly takes the comics industry to task for not focusing its energy on creating high quality kids comics. If you haven't read it, I suggest checking it out. I'll give you a few minutes...

Personally, I couldn't agree more. Heck, the whole reason I started this blog was because I was having great difficulty finding age-appropriate titles for junior high students. The majority of American superhero comics tend to be either too overtly violent or, on the other end of the spectrum, talk down to students who can handle more mature issues. For an example of the difficulty I face in providing truly appropriate superhero comics for my kids, let's take a look at Batman.

The Batman Question
My students already love Batman, and they want to read more great Batman stories They love Batman, of course, because they've seen "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight" (though, being "R" rated movies, the students shouldn't have been allowed to do so). These films, of course, were rooted quite heavily in the fantastic Batman: Year One and Batman: The Long Halloween, respectively, which also are better suited to more mature audiences. The question then becomes what exactly it is that my students admire in the character of Batman. Is it that Batman attempts to bring wrongdoers to justice (vigilante justice, but justice nonetheless), a quality they find admirable in policemen and soldiers as well? Is it that rather than succumbing to depression or rage or self-medication, Batman uses the tragedy of his parents' death as a catalyst to make the world a better place? I hope it's both. I fear that it is neither.

I have a sneaking suspicion that if my students are anything like me, they like Batman because of the dark side of his nature. He is compulsive about avenging his parents' death, sometimes inflicting ultra-violent punishment on those who break the law. Which brings us to the lawbreakers themselves. I also have a suspicion that my students, who have admitted to being horror movie fans, are somehow attracted to the seedy, brutal, demented villains they've seen in the movies. As a twelve year-old, I can understand this. But as their teacher, by acknowledging this affinity for The Caped Crusader, am I validating 'inappropriate' behavior?

Possible Solution
Next school year, I'll be putting copies of Batman: The Brave and the Bold in front of my students as a possible solution. This comic, a tie-in to the Cartoon Network series, contains no objectionable content (check out some clips from the television series here). I'm hoping that by at least acknowledging that the students have seen the Batman films, they'll carry their previous knowledge into this age-appropriate title, and both parties will be happy. Does this title 'talk down' to my students? Maybe. But I guess given the limits of what materials I'm permitted to present in my classroom, it will have to do.

That is, until more writers heed Michael Chabon's call for better comics for kids.

Oh, and for a great 'adult' read about the (fictional) creation of superheroes and comics, check out Chabon's Pulitzer Prize-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. A wonderful summer read.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Runaways -- Great for the Classroom!

Runaways, a Marvel series that is perfect for middle and high schoolers, has always been one of my favorite series. With the upcoming change in writer and artist, Marvel has released the following music video. Thanks to MTV Splash Page for the hookup!

Runaways is the story of a group of Los Angeles teenagers who find out that their parents are actually supervillians. They set out to learn just why their parents have chosen evil, and along the way discover their own powers. Brian K. Vaughn, who along with artist Adrian Alphona created this series, peppers his stories with pop culture references, never seeming to 'force' his young protagonists' dialogue.

I highly recommend picking up the digests of Runaways for you classroom or library. Not only are they cheap, but any 'objectionable' content is removed without butchering the story.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

New Kid-Friendly Comics, 6/24/09

Since new comics are released every Wednesday here in the States, I thought I'd organize a list of the kid-friendly comics available this week. Check out the hyperlinks to find previews of the comics if they are available. Thanks to Comic Book Resources for the majority of the previews!


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Excerpt -- "Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work"

Below is a hefty excerpt of Douglas Wolk's fantastic Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean. A fantastic read for anyone unfamiliar with the genre. I'm reading through it for the first time myself, and I'd love to have some conversations about its application to classroom instruction. Please comment below!

Friday, June 19, 2009

from MTV Spash Page -- "Persepolis" Author on Iran Elections

A recent read of mine that is appropriate for the classroom (though probably high school rather than middle school) that I must mention is Marjane Satrapi's fantastic Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. In this 2003 self-drawn and written graphic novel, Satrapi boldy details her experiences growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. Recently, Satrapi spoke out about the hotly-contested elections in Iran. MTV's Splash Page has the article.

Many high school libraries own a copy of this fantastic graphic novel, and should it be used in the classroom, this interview (along with the above article) would be great fodder for a current events discussion in a Language Arts or Social Studies class.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

New Kid-Friendly Comics, 6/17/09

Since new comics are released every Wednesday here in the States, I thought I'd organize a list of the kid-friendly comics available this week. This week, I'm adding hyperlinks to previews of the comics if they are available. Thanks to Comic Book Resources for the majority of the previews!

Sorry it's late this week! Enjoy!

Monday, June 8, 2009

New Kid-Friendly Comics, 6/10/09

Since new comics are released every Wednesday here in the States, I thought I'd organize a list of the kid-friendly comics available this week. Enjoy!

  • Amazing Spider-Man #597 (Though you may want to read my post below first.)
  • Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! #5
  • Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers #2
  • Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #12
  • Miss America Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1
  • Runaways, Vol. 8: Dead End Kids (Digest)
  • SuperFriends #16

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Survey: Single-Issue Comics or Collections

I recently added a survey to my course Moodle page asking students about their comics reading preferences. With half of my students' votes in, it seems to be neck and neck. Here are the results so far:

"I like reading comics in single issues (around 22 pages)"
-- 16 students

"I like reading comics as a whole story of 6-12 issues or more."
-- 18 students

Not answered yet
-- 34 students

I love the opportunity that Moodle's survey tool gives me to check the pulse of my students without putting them on the spot by having them raise their hands in class. This tool is particularly useful right now, as I'm deciding whether I should use my classroom budget to order single-issue subscriptions from Discount Comic Book Service or to buy collected editions or stand-alone books like these from Amazon.

I hope to be updating soon once all students have voted.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Rated "A"? C'mon, Spidey!

For the past few months, I've had a blast reading Amazing Spider-Man, and so have my students. Each time I finish a new issue (which come out three times a month!), I bring it to school for my students to read. It's full of action, comedy, and doesn't speak down to kids, while at the same time staying away from objectionable content. In fact, Marvel, which voluntarily rates its books, labels The Amazing Spider-Man with an "A" for "Appropriate for ages 9 and up," which makes it safe for the classroom. And until very recently, I'd recommend this book to any one of my students. Then I saw the panels to the right in issue #596.

Now, I'm not necessarily an advocate for censorship, but if Marvel is going to voluntarily rate their comics, how are they to explain the panels to the right?

I may spend more time on the other objectionable material that makes its way into 'kid-friendly' comics (e.g. gunplay, women with ridiculous physical proportions), but the dialogue in these panels alone makes me hesitate to bring this issue into the classroom.

Marvel has every right to, without notice, change the tone of this (or any other) book, but that doesn't mean I have to be okay with it. I'm afraid my students will feel like they've been let down if it comes to the point that I can no longer share this (once) consistently fantastic age-appropriate book with them.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Kids Really Do Love Comics!

As the school year wraps up, my students are busy creating multimedia posters using Glogster. The title of their project is "My Year in Language Arts", and I am asking them to reflect on their favorite activities of the year. Of 63 students, every single one mentioned reading Jeff Smith's Bone Volume 1: Out From Boneville as one of their favorite activities. I couldn't be happier.

Though they mostly remembered the study of the medium (page and panel layouts, other various jargon), their positive comments help me to remember just how much fun they had reading the book. They really laughed at loud at times!

It sounds like I'm gushing, and maybe I am. It's just been so rare in my career that students have reacted so positively to something I hold so dear.

Now the question is: how do I top it next year?