Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Comics Creator Calls for Better Kids Comics

Lockjaw and the Pet AvengersRecently posted over at iFanboy, accomplished writer/artist Chris Eliopolous (Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius, Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers) makes a plea to the comics industry to produce better content (including digital) for kids.  He's right, you know.  Check it out by clicking on the link below.

"The Kids Are All Right" by Chris Eliopoulos

Michael Chabon, Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (currently my favorite novel of all time, by the way), made a similar plea at Comic Con International in 2004.  You can read that speech here, and it has also been collected in his book of essays entitled Maps and Legends

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Review -- "Brain Camp"

Brain CampBrain Camp
Susan Kim, Laurence Klavan, Faith Erin Hicks
First Second, 2010

The creative team that brought the excellent City of Spies is back with their second graphic novel, this time with the talented Faith Erin Hicks (whose War at Ellsmere I previously reviewed on this blog) handling the art duties.  From the jacket design to the wonderfully creepy story, Brain Camp is a another wonderfully unique work of comics that belongs in your school's library.

Immediately appealing to students is the setting of Brain Camp; a summer camp for the gifted.  Protagonists Jenna and Lucas endure all of the usual calamities that befall adolescents while away at summer camp, including cliques, weird food, and out-of-touch camp counselors.  Jenna and Lucas are in for a surprise though, as it is clear that their are some dark secrets that the camp leaders are concealing -- strange, mystical secrets...

Brain Camp should appeal to middle school readers who've been devouring traditional novels of vampires, werewolves, and the like.  In fact, Brain Camp might be a perfect entrance point to the world of comics and graphic novels; the panel layouts are very clear and easy to follow, and Hicks has a way of blending both realistic and cartoonish rendering of characters and settings.  First Second is really leading the way in graphic novel publishing aimed at kids, and Brain Camp might be their best contribution to the medium yet.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

ALA names most banned graphic novels

[via newsarama]

ALA names most banned graphic novels

Time to celebrate Banned Books Week, since the ALA (American Library Association) has put out the list of the most challenged graphic novels. Some were understandable, others, I’m scratching my head here. Example: Maus has been challenged as being “Anti-Ethnic”. I don’t get where that’s coming from since it teaches of the horrors of the Holocaust. Now, Sandman, I understand, it’s not age-appropriate, but why would that be in a school anyways? Or Watchmen, which was “unsuited to age group”? What age are we talking about here?

“Not every book is right for each reader, but we should have the right to think for ourselves and allow others to do the same,” said ALA President Roberta Stevens. “How can we live in a free society and develop our own opinions if our right to choose reading materials for ourselves and our families is taken away? We must remain diligent and protect our freedom to read.”

Again, I think it’s silly for other people (read: strangers) to decide what is suitable for other people to read. Other than the fact it’s cost people their librarian positions for making that decision, it’s just morally wrong.

So go out there and enjoy these fine, banned books.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Review -- "Batgirl: Batgirl Rising"

Batgirl: Batgirl Rising
Batgirl Vol. 1: Batgirl RisingBryan Q. Miller, Lee Garbett, Tim Levins, et. al.
DC Comics, 2010

Ever since I began using comics in the classroom, I've bemoaned the lack of strong, intelligent, un-objectified (if that's a word) female protagonists in the comics medium.  A few years ago, with DC's now-defunct Minx line, I was given a brief reprieve from my complaining.  Titles like The Plain Janes (and its sequel Janes in Love), Re-Gifters, Good as Lily, and the oft-overlooked The New York Four all featured women that the female readership could be proud of.  Now that those comics are gone, there's been scant few comics to fill the gap in the strong female protagonist department.  Enter Batgirl.

Batgirl is an important addition to a school comics library because it is not only respectful of women, but of all readers in general.  Telling the story of Stephanie Brown's first few adventures in the Batgirl costume, Batgirl Rising weaves together action movie elements, teenage drama, (elementary) philosophical debates, and years of Bat-continuity in one fun, easy-to-access package. 

After a bumpy start in which perspective is shifted too often and the action isn't terribly clear, the art services the story well in that it gives us (what I believe to be) accurate insight both into the seemingly-normal world of a college freshman as well as the danger that same freshman faces on the streets of Gotham.  Particularly, I am impressed by the artists' rendering of Stephanie's wardrobe; rather than wearing mini-skirts with a thong poking out of the top (yes, that's how many -- if not most -- comic book artists still draw women), Stephanie dresses how women actually dress.  Her proportions are modest and underplayed, which I believe is an important factor in any comic that enters the classroom.

The flaws I found in this collection (these seven 'chapters' were originally published as individual issues of the ongoing Batgirl title) were few.  The Bat-novice may not know, for instance, quite what many of the characters' backstories are; though this isn't essential to enjoying the plot, it might take away some of its richness.  There is a curse-word or two ("dammit" and "hell"), and there is quite a bit of violence.  But in all, this is a story of a young woman making the right choices, and with its blend of action, humor, and theme, I think that Batgirl: Batgirl Rising would make a great addition to a classroom or school library.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Review -- "Bone: Tall Tales"

Tall Tales (Bone Prequel)Jeff Smith -- creator of the epically fantastical, kid-friendly Bone series -- is back.  Well...sort of.  Tall Tales collects some previously published stories along with some new collaborations with Tom Sniegoski, providing some rounding-out of backstories only hinted at in the original Bone books.  Is it mandatory reading for Bone fans?  Can someone other than Smith (namely Sniegoski) carry the weight of such beloved characters?  Is the name "Big Johnson Bone" supposed to be funny?  Let's explore (some of) the answers...

First off, it should be restated that I used the first story arc of Bone (later collected as "Out From Boneville") in my seventh grade Language Arts classes for two years, with amazing results.  From a sheer engagement perspective, my students couldn't get enough of this universe.  Struggling and successful readers alike loved the humor, the adventure, and the danger that run throughout "Out From Boneville".  My school library quickly stocked the entire series and a prequel, and had difficulty keeping them on the shelves.  Though not written for children, there's something about the off-color humor combined with the fantastic setting (which, as evidenced by the popularity of series like Harry Potter, Artemis Fowl, et. al., is for some reason appealing to adolescents) that grabs young readers and leaves them wanting more.  With Tall Tales, these readers should find some, if not all, of those appealing factors.

Simply but beautifully illustrated by Smith, Tall Tales focuses on the ancestor of our heroes from the original series, one Big Johnson Bone.  Smiley Bone -- the fun-loving if daft Bone cousin -- and an orphaned Rat Creature named Barnaby tell a pack of young Bone Scouts about the adventures of the most famous Bone of all, Big Johnson Bone.  These adventures consist of typical Smith plot devices -- run-ins with cruel-yet-hapless Rat Creatures, help from friendly woodland creatures, and tons of action.  The larger, more intricate fantasy narrative that runs throughout the original series is abandoned here for more of an innocent romp, with mixed results.

Though so action-packed it was a really quick read, I found myself frequently looking to the back of the book to check how many pages were left.  This was especially the case during the Sniegoski-penned "The Lost Tale of Big Johnson Bone", which occupies more than half of this collection.  The same gags repeat themselves over and over, and the conclusion of the story is far too predictable.  Sniegoski does, I'll admit, continue Smith's admirable practice of not patronizing young readers.  The vocabulary used here is elevated, and includes some idioms particular to either days gone by or to the Bone world itself.  This could potentially alienate a struggling reader, but the nature of the comics medium -- as well as Smith's expert cartooning, particularly in his ability to accurately capture a wide range of facial expressions -- fills in the gaps in the reader's knowledge.  I was quite happy to see this practice carried over.

As far as appropriateness for the classroom, there is only a couple of instances of questionable language here (the word 'damn'), and I think that names like "Big Johnson Bone" and "The Cobbler Gobbler" will go over most students' heads.  Unfortunately, the narrative here is just too thematically thin to be appropriate for whole-class study.  Tall Tales would be a better fit in a classroom or school library, guaranteed to be checked out by students who can't get enough of the universe.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Back to Work -- Sort of...

Well, I've been away for awhile, but I'll be back posting shortly.  Stay tuned for new release news, lesson plan ideas, and graphic novel reviews.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

New Kid-Friendly Comics, 4/21/10

Here's this week's list of the kid-friendly comics available for teachers to pick up for their classrooms.  I've included links to previews (courtesy of Comic Book Resources) where available.  As always, thanks to iFanboy for the list of new releases.

It's another great week, so get to your local comic shop!  High school teachers will definitely want to check out The Beats: A Graphic History, and with the Green Lantern movie in production, DC has re-released a great primer for those new to the mythos -- Green Lantern: Rebirth.  I read the entire series in one sitting at the Lake Orion Public Library while on holiday break a few years ago.

Don't forget to click on the links of the Collected Editions to purchase these titles at the Amazon store at huge discounts!

Single Issues:   
Collected Editions:

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

New Kid-Friendly Comics, 4/14/10

I thought I'd organize a list of the kid-friendly comics available this week for teachers to pick up for their classrooms.  I've included links to previews (courtesy of Comic Book Resources) where available.  As always, thanks to iFanboy for the list of new releases.

It's a really big week, so get to your local comic shop!  A quick apology to anyone who picked up last week's issue of Invincible: I had been reading the collections that my school library purchased, and last week's issue was supposed to be 'new-reader friendly'.  Apparently that wasn't the case at all.  My bad!

Don't forget to click on the links of the Collected Editions to purchase these titles at the Amazon store at huge discounts!

Single Issues:   
Collected Editions: