Friday, July 27, 2007


Not too much came in this week. Just a few mismatched pieces. In non-comic news, I had a copy of JHEREG by Steven Brust, come into the classroom this week. This is a piece of fictional fantasy prose suggested by my friend who is also the regional manager of my local comic book store. Since it is not sequential art, I won't be posting a review here, but I am excited to have some prose to read. I finished the last HARRY POTTER book on Monday morning. Back to the rack:

  1. Star Wars Clone Wars Adventures: Volume 1
  2. Getting Graphic!


Rod Espinosa
PUBLISHER: Dark Horse Books
GENRE: Modern Fantasy

FORMAT: Trade Paperback
PAGES: 240 pages
COLOR: Full Color
ISBN 10: 1-59307-719-X
ISBN 13: 978-1-59307-719-8

Race Relations

Princess Mabelrose was born into a utopian society. Her father and mother ruled the land with love, fairness and justice. One day an evil Dragon, whose name is too long to reproduce here, swoops in and using some form of magic kidnaps Mabelrose, locking her away in the dragon’s fortress. In this case the dragon makes a habit out of stealing young aristocratic girls and keeping them hostage. As any young princess does, Mabelrose waits for some prince to come and save her.

After some time, she realizes that if she is to escape, then she must muster the strength to do it herself. She tricks the dragon, using his greed and suspicious nature against him. On the way out she steals gold and some magic accessories: boots, a bag and a rope. Along her journey she makes friends with one of the lands talking beasts, a porcupine. Her troubles are not over. All of the dragon’s evil minions are after her, including the evil and the tyrannical Tiger-King.

Espinosa loves setting up the traditional utopian fairy tale and then assigning non-traditional roles to the characters, especially the women. This makes for an interesting modern story that makes use of some old story telling techniques. He pulls off the difficult task of creating a story that does not sound like it has been scrubbed or written out of a need for political correctness.

Like many fairy tales, the characters tend to be flat, with the exception of Mabelrose and she doesn’t really change or develop an extraordinary amount. This is not a problem or even a criticism. Fairy tales are some of the best-loved children’s stories. While he does keep to some traditions, he abandons others. I think children will love the fact that Mabelrose finds her own courageous to free herself and eventually free all of the people and creatures in the land.

There are a couple of things that I found particularly enjoyable in the book. There is a cast system within the cultures of the animals. Some animals speak and others do not. Even among those who speak there is a cast system and those talking animals who live in the forest and eat meat are looked down upon by those who live in the city. I also liked the introduction of the magic, living rope. While the rope does not talk, it seems to have a life of it’s own. It transitions from being an inanimate object to becoming a character within the story.

I was troubled by a couple of things. Espinosa misuses some pieces of grammar and it becomes distracting. In most cases he uses the ellipsis incorrectly. The ellipsis is made up of three periods (…) not four or five or nine or however many a writer chooses to use. I understand that this may be inconsequential to some comic readers and I may be too picky. However, I argue that it is important for writers, especially comic writers, to use good grammar and spelling in order to be taken seriously. Comic or not, there is never an incident when it is necessary to use multiple exclamation points or question marks. One exclamation point (!) or one question mark (?) is enough to inform the reader of the intentions. We would not use two commas nor should use five periods.

The other issue involves the story itself. Toward the end of the book Mabelrose steals a magical flute from the Tiger-King and plays it. The playing of this flute conveniently kills the dragon and unites the people against the tyranny of the Tiger-King. There is little known of the flute. It seems to just appear and fix everything. I would have preferred a little more surrounding the flute and some discovery about it. Knowing how to use the flute, why didn’t the Tiger-King just use it against the dragon years ago and take over the entire nation?

THE COURAGEOUS PRINCESS is a full color manga graphic novel. That is a rare thing, but it is beautiful. Espinosa has a knack for creating great looking manga-styled images.

My Rating: All Ages
All Ages Reads: No rating
Comics in the Classroom: No rating

This book is one way to introduce race relations with the children without actually addressing white/black or other racial tensions outright, at least at first. Students can explore how some talking animals treat other talking animals based solely on their location and culture. Through this discussion, current racial tensions can also be explored.

My problems with the appearance of the magical fix-all flute can have some advantages in the classroom. Good readers may question the flute and find fault. This could make for good discussion about the art of writing and plot development. More than that, what I label as a weakness in the writing could turn into a fun writing assignment. The students could write their own story about how the flute came into being and from where it derives its power. Kids could really have a fun time making up their own origin stories.

Spirituality is an integral part of the life and culture of Princess Mabelrose. The book never states the name of the religion, but she is often seen praying for herself and others. This could be a problem for some teachers or some areas. I do not see it as a problem for my community and in fact, I found it to be one of my favorite features of the story.

Espinosa’s THE COURAGEOUS PRINCESS was nominated for an Eisner Award for “Best Title for Younger Readers” in 2002. This title is also available in hardback.

Other Espinosa titles reviewed by THE GRAPHIC CLASSROOM: Neotopia.

This is a great book to have in the classroom or school library.

Friday, July 20, 2007


I had five titles make their way into the classroom this week. Interestingly enough, it is all non-fiction. You will find the titles in the sidebar along with links to the sites.

  1. The Shocking World of Electricity (with MaxAxiom Super Scientist)
  2. History Dudes: Ancient Egyptians
  3. History Dudes: Vikings
  4. Ciphers: How to Create a Budget for an Event
  5. Out of This World (issues 1-4)


PUBLISHER: Viper Comics
GENRE: Modern Fantasy

ISSUE: Covering issues 1-7
FORMAT: Trade Paperback
PAGES: 112 pages
COLOR: Full Color
ISBN: 0-9777883-0-X

Good versus Evil
History repeating itself
Cultural norms
Racial tensions
Literary devices

Oddly is a girl who stands out in a crowd, especially at school. Green hair and eccentric parents tend to do that. Every kid, preteen or teen, eventually hopes that his or her parents would just go away, disappear, drop off the face of the earth. When this half-witch makes the same wish on tenth birthday she finds her parents and her home gone. Luckily for Oddly, her aunt was late to Oddly’s birthday party and is able to whisk poor Oddly to the magical world of Fignation until everything could be sorted out.

This half-witch is no more accepted in Fignation as she is on Earth. She is sent to school and makes some friends, but she also makes some enemies out of students and teachers. With the help of her friends and her aunt, Oddly Normal is determined to find her parents.

I love the character, Oddly Normal. Her life is not perfect and it only gets worse, but she perseveres, pushing ahead and pursuing the mystery surrounding her parents’ disappearance. It is a beautiful mystery full of all kinds of references and goodies beneath the story. There is so much to ODDLY NORMAL and yet the child who simply wants to superficially read for enjoyment can do so. There is enough meat that the child who enjoys a deeper understanding of the literature can do so and love every minute of it.

The art is as deep as the writing. Frampton does a fantastic job using his art to support the writing and to help the reader discover the clues surrounding Oddly’s parents’ disappearance. I am especially impressed with Frampton’s use of color and his arrangement of panels to tell the story. Some kids will get it and others will not, but that is what makes this book so wonderful. It is not too easy and it is not too hard.

My Rating: All Ages (8 and older preferred)
All Ages Reads: All Ages
Comics in the Classroom: All Ages (8 and older preferred)

ODDLY NORMAL is a book that can be enjoyed on several layers. One could read the book through, paying little attention to the mystery itself or understanding the all the dialogue and enjoy the book on a superficial level. What fun would that be when there is so much more to be thought about and discussed and enjoyed? ODDLY NORMAL is not just an entertaining book, but it is one that explores some serious subjects and lends itself to further discussion.

A thoughtful teacher could use ODDLY NORMAL as a way to study the cultural divide that affects those who are bi-racial and feel that they may not fit nicely into any culture. The effective teacher could use the classic motif of good-versus-evil (or in this case evil-versus-good). There is also a strong link between the tragedies of life and those who repeat that history. So far, this motif is not fully explored, but I expect that it will be. There was a reference to that guy from Austria who was such a good orator. Hitler’s name is never mentioned, but if a teacher were so inclined, she could help her students discover who the book was talking about and even present a unit on the German invasion of Europe.

The use of color is also very particular in this book and the teacher could help students make sense of color and how that device may be used to make predictions. Oh, predictions. ODDLY NORMAL is a perfect book to help young students cut their teeth on making predictions and using evidence from the book to make those predictions.

There are some large vocabulary words in the book, which would be perfect for a word wall or other vocabulary-building strategy. Some examples of vocabulary include: blasphemy, oxymoron, droll, detention, hallowed, kindred, acquaintance, laboratory, hooligans, culture, corporeal, artificial, imprinted, and several others. This book would be good for introducing the students to using semantic and syntactic cues.

There is also mention of some of the literary devices used by good writers: puns, palindromes, alliteration, malapropisms, repetition, and anagrams. Not only could these devices be discussed and vocabulary increased but students could practice using these literary devices in their own writing. It would also be fun to discover when Frampton uses those devices in this book.

Volume 1 made Booklists’ Top 10 Graphic Novels for Youth. Volume 2, ODDLY NORMAL: FAMILY REUNION is already on shelves. A preview is available on the website.

Highly Recommended
This is great book to have in a school or classroom library. It is rich and beautiful and can be used to teach writing and reading to students all the while they think they are simply reading for fun. In this case, the exploration and discussion only adds to the book and will increase the student’s enjoyment, not take away from it.

Friday, July 13, 2007


I know it is early to talk about Halloween. Too early really, but comics must be ordered ahead of time, so I am giving you ample warning to head to your comic book shop and order this year’s hot Halloween treat.

If you love comics and want to promote literacy, then Diamond Comic Distributors has a deal for you. In conjunction with Archie Comics, Gemstone Publishing, and Marvel, Diamond is putting together a Halloween comic deal. Click here for the press release.

Rather than Butterfingers, Tootsie Rolls, and popcorn balls you can give the gift of literacy in the form of mini-comics. That’s right. You can be the coolest house on the block, and the healthiest for that matter, by giving out comics on Halloween night rather than the traditional sugary fare. These will be smaller comics designed to fit in most trick-or-treat buckets and bags and each will be 16 pages.

There will be three different comics, one from each of the three publishers. They will be available in packs of 25 and are supposed to ship on September 27. No word yet on how much the bundles will cost and if the bundles will include all three titles or just one title per bundle. The titles available are listed below:

Marvel Adventures: Iron Man
From Marvel Comics
(cover not yet available)
B Fred Van Lente and Michael Golden

Little Archie Halloween
From Archie Comics
(cover not yet available)
By Dexter Taylor and Bob Bolling

Uncle Scrooge: The Hound of the Whiskervilles
From Gemstone Publishing
By Carl Barks


Linda Medley
PUBLISHER: Fantagraphics Books
GENRE: Modern Fairy Tale

FORMAT: Hardback
PAGES: 457 pages
COLOR: Black and White
ISBN-10: 1-56097-747-7
ISBN-13: 978-1-56097-747-6

The journey
Spousal abuse
Controversial pregnancy

Creator Linda Medley takes the story of Sleeping Beauty and intertwines her own yarn of strength and endurance, eventually leaving the old folktale behind. CASTLE WAITING is sophisticated, beautiful and courageous. It is an uncluttered graphic novel for today’s youth, a piece of traditional storytelling with the power of a modern worldview and an absence of old stereotypes.

I enjoyed the book a great deal, but because the focus of the book is on relationships rather than adventure, I suspect the book may tend to appeal to more girls than boys. For those girls and boys who do pick up CASTLE WAITING they will find a plethora of strong women and honorable men to admire. No heroes, really, just regular people who are good and kind and worth knowing.

CASTLE WAITING has its harsh characters as well. Today’s children will not be newcomers to the men who choose to abuse their wives or girlfriends or those who prey on the unsuspecting through thieving and trickery. Tough stuff, but it is what makes good literature.

I am sure that CASTLE WAITING will have its detractors. Medley pulls no punches in her story, choosing to show the harsh realities of life. Good children’s literature has done that for many years. More sensitive parents may object to the fact that there is a woman who leaves the confines of her violent husband’s castle to seek refuge for herself and her unborn baby (by another man). The message is that all who seek refuge will find love and kindness – a worthy message by anyone’s standards – unfortunately that message may be overshadowed by those who may be overly offended by Lady Jain’s unfortunate circumstances being portrayed in a book. There are also several instances of cursing. It consists mostly of “damn” and “hell” and even a “#@*&%”. On page 210 we see a hanged thief dangling from the gallows. To some, those are issues that are too strong for a children’s book.

I do find this an interesting piece of children’s literature, as there are virtually no children in the book. One typically defining characteristic of children’s literature is the fact that it features children or child-like characters as the protagonists. Not so with CASTLE WAITING, but the story is not finished and we have witnessed the birth of Lady Jain’s baby. So things may change.

Medley is not only a talented writer, but an accomplished illustrator as well. Her clear lines and unfettered style lend perfectly to the story. While I do protest the choice of black and white, a 457-page full color novel would probably be too cost prohibitive to produce in a single book.

Here we see Lady Jain leaving
her home, pregnant and abused.

Here is an example of the language.

My Rating: Ages 10 and older
Publisher’s Recommended Age: All Ages
All Ages Reads: All Ages
Comics in the Classroom: Grade 4 and older

I can recommend the book for children ages 10 and older. This age of child is becoming aware of the world and of tragedies and should be emotionally able to read the book with no problems. However, because of the language and mature situations, I can see where some would prefer their child be older (say middle school) before reading.

This is an appropriate book to use in a social studies class, as modern issues of spousal abuse and a controversial pregnancy are areas that affect teens. Many teens can relate to running away from an abusive home situation and seeking refuge in a non-judgmental environment. Students can write or discuss persons in their lives who act as a refuge, a person who gives comfort and peace, in a time when students’ lives can feel out of control. They can explore how this person helps them and guides them.

So many children and adults can relate to a time when they felt the world was working against them, that forces beyond their control were pushing them to make poor choices. In CASTLE WAITING these invisible forces are manifested as a mischievous little devil-sprite, and is a perfect backdrop from which to discuss the pressures of the world.

Overall, CASTLE WAITING is about tolerance and diversity in a world that is full of hatred and discontent. Certainly, the greater good is at work in this graphic novel and is ripe for classroom discussion.

Recommended with Reservations
Despite the wonderful nature of the book, I hesitate to recommend it for the classroom, especially an elementary classroom. I think the cursing and the strong content may land this book in the hot seat with parents of young children. It would be more acceptable in a middle school classroom and fine for a high school classroom. I say all of this, yet I will be offering it to my daughter as soon as her reading level is such that she can read the book on her own. That will certainly be before she reaches age 10.

If you want to stock this book in an elementary classroom or library, then I recommend you consider your community. My community is a very conservative one in which Harry Potter is not read in the classrooms because of the magic involved, which is why I recommended CASTLE WAITING with reservations. Your community may be very different and much more accepting of all types of literature.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


I have a whole set of books to add to my COMICS TO BE REVIEWED list (in the sidebar) and more are on the way. You can find hyperlinks in the sidebar.

Buzzboy: Trouble in Paradise
Spider-Man Fairy Tales
Franklin Richards: Son of a Genius
Little Lulu
Marvel Adventures: Fantastic Four
Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man
Action Philosopher’s Volume 2


[Press Release]

Learn Well Graphics has released two more issues in The Ciphers Series. These are short graphic booklets that use colorful drawings and adventure/mystery stories to promote financial literacy concepts in a user-friendly format that kids ages 11-17 will easily understand. They also help improve the student's reading skills at the same time. Interestingly, these products are not being created in order to sell to schools.

Financial organizations across the country are sponsoring financial literacy programs in many middle schools and high schools. These organizations recognize the urgent need for young students to learn basic concepts about math and finance. "The Ciphers Series offers these companies a very cost effective and efficient way of reaching the students they really want to help by supplying them with products that kids will enjoy reading and understand." says Richard Keaton, Project Director for Learn Well Graphics. "We can private label the booklets for the sponsors to use in their own Financial Literacy Programs. These are self-contained lessons that need no special expertise to administer. But the major point is that they increase the chances of getting the kids to actively participate in these programs."

"If 'poor reading skills' is the number one problem in schools, then 'poor math and finance skills' is a close number two." adds Keaton. "But in many ways they're connected. If a kid doesn't read well, then it's a lot tougher to really understand math and basic finance." The Ciphers Series is designed to help students learn important math and finance principles while practicing reading and developing vocabulary at the same time.

"Our goal is to get kids reading and show them how math and finance concepts will benefit them in real life. Why not use a format that they are already receptive to? " explains Keaton.

Comic books have been popular with young readers for over 100 years. The Ciphers Series employs the techniques that are used in comic books to show students what fractions are; how to use percents; what banks do; what is a savings account; and much more.

The two latest released Ciphers stories show students how to create a budget for a fund raising event; and why knowing how to handle a checking account is important." We're teaching important financial concepts, but we like to add a little 'edge' and humor to our stories so that the kids won't think they're 'totally lame and boring'."says Keaton.

Learn Well Graphics produces user-friendly multimedia learning programs designed to help middle school students read better and learn faster. To read more about The Ciphers Series, and other graphics-based, multi-sensory learning programs, please visit their website:

Friday, July 6, 2007


I recently posted my review of ACTION PHILOSOPHERS – a great book, but not one that I recommend for a classroom – and Illustrator Ryan Dunlavey asked me why I did not recommend it for high school students. I was not clear about my reasoning for only recommending the book for college-aged students, to which I offer my apologies. I’m glad he asked and I offer my response here. I will also post a clarification to the original review so my recommendations will be clear.

What’s the deal? It comes down to the makeup of the book. What makes the book funny is also what makes it inappropriate for the classroom: It is too racy. I stated in my original review that as a teacher I would recommend this series to those high school students who thrive on and learn from irreverence. There are so many high school students who would do well to know that many of society’s great brains had their own problems. But to keep the book on hand in a school library or in the classroom is to ask for trouble. Teaching about the toils and troubles of the great thinkers is one thing. Illustrating them in compromising adult situations is quite another and is likely to raise the ire of many of parent.

Take the St. Augustine storyline as only one example. In the first panel he is portrayed in bed with a lady on each side, getting drunk. Throughout the story he is exposed as a womanizer. True though it may be, having the knowledge and seeing it illustrated in a comedic fashion are two different things. I howled at that particular story. I thought it was great. I learned more about philosophy in the one trade paperback of ACTION PHILOSOPHERS than I ever did in my undergraduate years at college. Van Lente and Dunlavey deserve lots of praise for bringing this to us. I would give ACTION PHILOSOPHERS to my daughter when she is in high school, but considering the adult situations in the book I would not keep it on a shelf in the classroom or the high school library.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


School is all about learning, and as mature and thoughtful as I might consider myself to be, I can still go to school and feel the fool. I had my own d’oh moment today while in my Economics for the Elementary Teacher class.

The assignment was to choose an economics-based field trip for your students. With comics on the brain I thought it would be fun to go to the local comic book store and examine what it takes to run a small business. There are tons of economic concepts to apply: unlimited wants, opportunity cost, goods and services, and resources (human, natural and capital) and I thought it would be fun.

Toward the end of my 10-minute presentation I saw the looks of my peers and I knew something was wrong. Ever so delicately, my instructor mentioned that he clued into some possible red flags. Two other students, who are currently teaching, agreed.

The issues were simple enough, but they managed to escape me during the planning process. Comic books shops sell role-playing games (dungeons and dragons) and kids card games (Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon.) Because adult men are also a target audience for these games, this was deemed as unacceptable.

The rationale here – and remember this has come from seasoned teachers and a very well seasoned male professor who taught elementary for many years – was that many parents object to things of this nature. Some of the comments based on previous knowledge:

One teacher mentioned that she read a piece of children’s literature once that had some mention of magic in it. Parents complained.

The professor stated the he had a teacher friend who got in trouble for having the students use a pair of dice in a game. The parents complained, and the teacher was reprimanded, because dice are kin to gambling. Even though the game itself was not gambling there were dice and that was a problem.

It was agreed that the trip to the comic shop would more than likely raise the ire of several parents and it would be advisable for me to reconsider this as a field trip choice. Thankfully, I was not asked to redo the assignment. I was just warned about the potential dangers.

I certainly do not think that mention of magical powers in a book is any kind of problem; however, I respect the fact that other people feel that way. I happen to think it is an abomination to pitch such a fit over the Harry Potter books, but parents do and I respect their right to have an opinion. My goal is not to create problems with myself or to try to change the opinions of the parents. Rather I am there to help my students become discerning citizens who can and will think. If that means that I need to find an alternate field trip then I can easily think of a substitute.

I guess the issue has more to do with the fact that I did not consider such a trip to be a problem to begin with. Now that I have been alerted to the potential pitfalls, I can understand why such a trip could be controversial, especially for this area. Maybe we could go to Bass Pro Shops, which is headquartered here, unless all the dead animals would pose a problem for anyone.

I'm just glad that I found out now, while I'm still in school. It’s hard to think out of the box when you are confined to one.

Monday, July 2, 2007


AUTHOR: Fred Van Lente
ILLUSTRATOR: Ryan Dunlavey
PUBLISHER: Evil Twin Comics
GENRE: Philosophy

ISSUE: Covering issues 1-3
FORMAT: Trade Paperback
PAGES: 96 pages
COLOR: Black and White
ISBN-10: 0-9778329-0-2
ISBN-13: 978-0-9778329-0-3


This book takes a very humorous look at the great thinkers of the world – Plato, Bodhidharma, Friedrich Nietzsche, Thomas Jefferson, St. Augustine, Ayn Rand, Sigmund Freud, C.G. Jung, and Joseph Campbell – and makes them accessible and interesting to the common folk.

This is not your college professor’s philosophy textbook. Maybe that is a problem for some, but not for writer Van Lente and it shouldn’t be for us either. Often academia takes subjects too seriously, leather patches imparting their knowledge with a heavy-handed authority and religious reverence for their particular field. Influential thinkers all, but Plato, Jung and the rest were people just the same, and Van Lente approaches the subject from a youthful standpoint, looking for a way to impart knowledge in a contemporary manner, allowing the people behind the theories show through, complete with scars and human qualities. He’s done it well.

The pages are packed with panels and dense with information, which is a necessity as each character only gets between six and 13 pages. The paper is newsprint and the art is black and white, which is too bad because better paper and the addition of color would have been more in keeping with the quality of the story.

My Rating: College
Comics in the Classroom: College

It’s been said already and I will reaffirm the sentiments: This is not a comic to be used in any classroom except those on the college level. There are high school students who could really benefit from reading this, and they may need a good teacher to recommend it. As for keeping a copy in the classroom, I would refrain.

A creative college professor could make his or her class the talk of the philosophy department, and I suspect classes would fill up with the addition of these books to the required reading list. Not a traditional text, ACTION PHILOSOPHERS would be that great introduction to philosophy that would help all kinds of students really understand and remember the information rather than cramming theories into the brain on a temporary basis in order to attain a passing grade.

ACTION PHILOSOPHERS: Volume 2 is also available ($9 plus $3 s/h) and it covers: Karl Marx, Machiavelli, The Kabbalah, Descartes, Sartre, Derrida, Wittgenstein, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Kierkegaard. The ACTION PHILOSOPHERS’ website also offers a list of recommended reading for those looking for more information on his or her favorite philosopher. Digital versions of the individual comics can be purchased for $1.99 per issue on the website.

Not Recommended
That is to say, this is not recommended for the elementary or secondary classroom. I would highly recommend this book for the college philosophy classroom. The primary reason is because the comic has too many adult sexual situations that would prevent it from being offered in a high school classroom. Teaching about the toils and troubles of the great thinkers is one thing. Illustrating them in compromising adult situations is quite another and is likely to raise the ire of many of parent.

Take the St. Augustine storyline as only one example. In the first panel he is portrayed in bed with a lady on each side, getting drunk. Throughout the story he is exposed as a womanizer. True though it may be, having the knowledge and seeing it illustrated in a comedic fashion are two different things. I howled at that particular story. I thought it was great. I learned more about philosophy in the one trade paperback of ACTION PHILOSOPHERS than I ever did in my undergraduate years at college. Van Lente and Dunlavey deserve lots of praise for bringing this to us. I would give ACTION PHILOSOPHERS to my daughter when she is in high school, but considering the adult situations in the book, I would not keep it on a shelf in the classroom or the high school library.

Sunday, July 1, 2007


Sorry for not posting a review this week. Graduate school has managed to get in the way. I have been managing to read bits and pieces here and there.

Action Philosophers
Oddly Normal
Castle Waiting
Understanding Comics
Marvel Adventures: Avengers (some)
Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century.
(links to these comics are in the sidebar.)

Most of this I read during my break between Spring and Summer semesters. I just haven’t been able to write any reviews. Things will be back to normal very soon.