Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Middle school and high school literature teachers have a real opportunity ahead of them. There are lots of good titles being offered on Free Comic Book Day, but there is one in particular that these teachers must get their hands on: GRAPHIC CLASSICS – FCBD SPECIAL EDITION. Stories included in this special edition are:

  • Edgar Allen Poe’s The Black Cat
  • Ambrose Bierce’s Diagnosis
  • Arthur Conan Doyle’s John Barrington Cowles
  • Mary Shelley’s The Dream
  • Lord Dunsany’s A Narrow Escape

Editor Tom Pomplun sent me an advance copy and his book hits the mark. It is a wonderful representation of the others in the series. The art of The Black Cat, in particular, was outstanding – spooky and outstanding. As always, Pomplun uses different artists for different pieces, giving the entire book an eclectic feel. We like that. We have reviewed MARK TWAIN and BRAM STOKER, both from the same series, and they are top notch.

This month, Pomplun put out another book in the series titled FANTASY CLASSICS, which includes such writers as Mary Shelley, Nathaniel Hawthorne, L. Frank Baum, H.P. Lovecraft, Lord Dunsany and Clark Ashton Smith.

Go early to your comic books stores and grab up a copy for your middle school or high school classroom. Be warned: if you get this special edition, you will surely want more for your classroom and your students. That’s a great thing, isn’t it?

You can read a good interview with Tom over at Comics in the Classroom.

Friday, April 25, 2008


It is exactly what it sounds like. Launched six years ago, Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) was a way to promote comics among non-comic readers and help support the local comic shops. Thousands of comic book stores throughout the nation will participate, giving away certain comics designated and printed especially for FCBD. Those comics will have the FCBD logo on them.

Different comic shops run their day differently. Some only allow you to pick up a certain number of comics, while others let you pick up one copy of any designated title.

Teachers and librarians, this is your chance to pick up some comics for free and see what it is all about. Call your local comic books stores, see if they are participating, go early and pick up some free comic books. There are plenty of comics for children, teens and adults, so you should have no problem finding appropriate books. I would, however, suggest going early so you have plenty to choose from.

What comics will be available? You can click on the links below to see what is being offered to the stores. Each store may or may not have all titles. Not all titles are appropriate for children. There are a lot of titles this year that are geared for kids or all ages.

FCBD Gold Sponsors
FCBD Silver Sponsors

Free Comic Book Day

May 3, 2008

Saturday, April 19, 2008


Comic book conventions are cavernous pits of geek-filled adventure overloaded with all manner of artists, writers, exhibitors and costumed fans. Most importantly, though, a con is teeming with excited, rabid readers. At their core, comic fans are people who have a profound love affair with literature.

The stacks of comics carried in arms, boxes and backpacks are a testament to the dedication the readers have to their favorite characters, titles, and to reading itself. Comic literature is no cheap hobby so there must be some kind of payoff for the genre to continue. Comic readers have known for a long time what the general public is just now realizing: Comic literature is a real form of literature worth of scholarly study. The blending of text and images allows for a special experience that is profound and lifelong.

I stopped and took a picture of two boys sitting in the hallway outside the convention floor, pilfering through their plunder. Unable to wait until they got home, these boys sat on the floor for the better part of an hour devouring their comics and playing with comic-related toys. They were experiencing the story.

The same is true for the adult fans in costumes, whose love of story transfers into hand crafted threads and the constant posing for pictures. One fan came in full Iron Man glory. He stood an impressive 7 feet tall and the crowd split as he walked down the rows.

The thirty-some members of the Star Wars costuming organization, 501st Legion70th Explorers Garrison, was on hand for the event. The members came from all over the state to participate in the comicon. According to member Gary Schaeperkoetter, who also shared his photos with us, any money the group receives is donated to charity.

Fans stood in long lines, sometimes for hours, just to have their comics and pictures signed by their favorite writers and illustrators. All of it – the long lines, the costumes, the discussions, the hours spent reading and studying characters – is done in the name of literature. To have this kind of passion for reading in our classrooms would give comfort to teachers and parents. Yet there is still resistance as old stereotypes creep in.

Interestingly enough, I find a deep passion for reading when I introduce comics to my fifth graders. I have one girl who wrote her first piece of fan mail after reading volumes 1 and 2 of MAIL ORDER NINJA by Josh Elder. She just about passed out when she found out that I know him. Everyday I line my guided reading table with comics and the kids stand in lines to pick up titles. Many have a hard time doing their morning work (before school really begins) for the urge to read is too strong. When they finish assignments, the kids pick up comics and read. It is amazing. It has been so significant that my cooperating teacher has requested that I design a lesson plan centered around comics.

Time and again I run into people who stop to tell me their hidden stories of comics. These people relate to me that reading comics was the catalyst that got them interested in reading. They hid them behind textbooks and under mattresses. They read them at recess and after school. Some parents would buy them while others scorned them. Yet the children continued to read well into adulthood. Many of these folks end up being the ones who dress up as their favorite comic book or movie character.

It is a strange beast, comic literature, holding power over its readers. The con experience reinforces that love of reading.

(Thanks to Gary Schaeperkoetter who gave us permission to use his con photos.)

Friday, April 18, 2008


Issue #1 cover

Issue #2 cover

Issue #3 cover

AUTHOR: Matt Anders & Eric Hutchins
ILLUSTRATOR: Micah Farritor
LETTERING: David Hedgecock
PUBLISHER: Ape Entertainment
GENRE: Science Fiction

ISSUES: 1-3 (of 3)
PAGES: 32 pages each
COLOR: Full color

Charlie and his friends are living their happy lives by playing war, while their families are preparing the emergency bomb shelters for the shadow that is the “red scare.” In this LEAVE IT TO BEAVER world, the danger is not from a communist country, but from a red-skinned, yellow-blooded alien race of beings.

A deal was struck and treaties signed. The good guys were supposed to destroy the alien technology in their possession, and in trade for doing so the aliens agreed not to invade the blue planet. The great government did not hold up its bargain, choosing instead to hide the alien weapon in a barn in the Midwest. The barn was supposed to be haunted, said the locals.

Telling kids to stay away from a building because it is haunted never works. Eventually, some daredevil kid makes his or her way inside. Charlie did just that, but when he accidentally found the technology, he made off with it, setting off alarms with the Army and the aliens. Now Charlie and his friends must find a way to give the bomb back and stop the destruction of the entire planet.

I am not the first to see the LEAVE IT TO BEAVER connection here. If the writing did not give that away the art surely would. WHITE PICKET FENCES has a retro feel that is reminiscent of early American comics … well in a manner of speaking. It is the art, and not the story, that gives this title its unique appeal. With a white washed feeling, subdued colors and pencil work, WHITE PICKET FENCES stands out among other titles. The writing certainly accentuates this by creating a 1950’s apocalyptic world.

At one point in issue #1, Charlie lies to his father and says he and his friends are going to city hall to see what is going on. His father replies: “That’s great, son. I’m happy that you are taking an interest in what’s going on in your town.” This ideology goes back to early America. Schools were originally designed to create civically minded citizens, a goal that has continued to present day. We could see Charlie having a Huckleberry Finn transition from seeing the world as a boy, to becoming a symbol of strength and courage.

WHITE PICKET FENCES views the world from a certain political perspective. When the device is stolen by Charlie, the weapon is activated and destroys a satellite in space. This alerts the aliens and the army, who in turn invades and occupies the town with tanks and armed soldiers. The people are terrified. Even Charlie’s next door neighbor who saluted the soldiers as they came into town ended up hiding in his bomb shelter.

The army and the government are portrayed as corrupt on an administrative level, but the boys on the ground, the soldiers, are seen as kind but incompetent. An 11-year-old boy is able to make his way into the barn where it all began by simply distracting the soldiers guarding it.

So is WHITE PICKET FENCES a metaphor for the Iraq War and the occupation therein? I do not know. Certainly a teacher could use this comic as a way to talk about current events, but I would be cautious about somehow presenting the war from a particular political viewpoint, unless the opposite view is also represented. Teachers are facilitators of learning and should encourage children to discover truth on their own.

If a teacher were to use WHITE PICKET FENCES in the classroom, then he or she would want to consider some other issues as well. There are several incomplete sentences with implied cursing such as “you son of a …”. The alien uses a translator that, in a very obscure way, also implies cursing.

The 1950s culture is also appropriately portrayed. The adults smoke and the role of men and women in this period is shown. Women were treated very differently and this book portrays that. Nothing wrong with showing history, but it can offend the sensibilities of some. It would warrant discussion in the classroom.

At the end of each issue is the story of Captain Odyssey, the boys’ comic book hero. It is cute, and adds to the tone of the book, but it could have been written better to tie in to the overarching theme that the writers were attempting. Be that as it may, the female character that appears in issue #3 is nearly naked – Britney Spears kind of naked – and it does not play well for a title that is labeled by the publisher as All Ages. That certainly would hamper a teacher’s ability to use the book in the classroom.

Issue #1, page 4

Issue #1, page 7

Issue #1, page 9

My Rating: Ages 12 and older
Publisher’s Recommendation: All Ages

Overall, this book is fine for kids. Many a child has played army and can relate to the pretend play going on. However, the near nudity at the end of issue #3 is very problematic.

Recommended with Strong Reservations
I have strong reservations because of the hyper-sexualization of women portrayed in the Captain Odyssey section at the end of issue #3. It is too bad, really, because WHITE PICKET FENCES offers an interesting look into our past, present and future all at the same time, making way for good discussions about current political events.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


Good news this week. TGC has teamed up with a fifth grade class, and I am helping them create their own comics. The top three will be published at The Graphic Classroom. More details to follow.

Here is the list this week:
  1. The Batman Strikes! #44
  2. The Goblin Chronicles #2
  3. Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #13
  4. Marvel Adventures: The Avengers #23

Saturday, April 12, 2008


ORIGINAL AUTHOR: William Shakespeare
ADAPTED BY: Adam Sexton
PUBLISHER: Wiley Publishing, Inc.
GENRE: Traditional literature in graphic format

FORMAT: Paperback (pocket-sized)
PAGES: 185
COLOR: Black and white
ISBN-13: 978-0-470-09758-8

It is likely you know the story of the “star-crossed lovers” well enough and there is nothing surprising or out of the ordinary here with this adaptation: no spaceships or six shooters. The first question anyone is apt to ask is about the language. Sexton may have adapted the story, editing some lines or scenes out, but the language is wholly Shakespearean: beautiful, poetic and most importantly it remains intact.

“See what a scourge is laid upon your hate, that heaven finds means to kill your joys with love. And I, for winking at your discords too, have lost a brace of kinsmen. All are punished.” (Page 183)

Lovers of tradition can rest peacefully.

The manga is clean and the illustrations create nice movement through the story. Many of the backgrounds are nicely detailed. The scene that comes to mind is the famous one where Romeo goes to Juliet’s window. From time to time, I found it a bit difficult to discern – visually – between the many teenaged characters, as their facial features are nearly identical. Although color would have helped that issue, it is problematic as manga is traditionally black and white.

My Rating: Ages 13 and older
Publisher’s Rating: Teen (Ages 13 and older)

How can we limit access to the greatest literature to anyone who can and will read it? Yet, without significant assistance, the language is far and above the reading level of most. So, I echo the recommended rating of the publisher only because of the difficulty of language and not because of content. If I had a student younger than 13 who wanted to read it, I would let them.

According to the introduction, the writers and editors of this series of books have “cut words, lines, speeches, even entire scenes” in order to meet the 200 page limit. However, they “never paraphrased the playwright’s language” nor did they “summarize action.” For the purists, those edits may feel inappropriate.

Reading a comic adaptation of Shakespeare offers students an opportunity to make sense of the rich language using the illustrations. Shakespeare, after all, was meant to be seen not read. Experiencing Shakespeare as a comic is the best substitute to watching the play itself.



ROMEO & JULIET is also available in Adobe e-Book format from the publisher.

Highly Recommended
ROMEO & JULIET: THE MANGA EDITION is an excellent adaptation of the original work and may very well be the better way to study Shakespeare in the classroom, than just reading the play.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


The comic book convention season is gearing up. It is a real geek treat and I highly recommend taking a kid or three and watch them go nuts over reading. Good stuff. Two things came in that I was not expecting: HALO AND SPROCKET and then THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER.

Enjoy this list:
  1. Avengers Fairy Tales #2 (of 4)
  2. The Batman Strikes #28-#29, #32-#33
  3. The Clockwork Girl
  4. Halo and Sprocket
  5. Marvel Adventures: Hulk #10
  6. The Prince & The Pauper (full color manga)
  7. Spider-Man: The Ultimate Guide
  8. Tiny Titans #3
  9. Thor #2
  10. X-Men: The Ultimate Guide


A Day Dedicated to Kids, All Ages Comics

(New York, NY) Jim Hanley's Universe cordially invites you to join us on Saturday, April 12, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. for an extravaganza of comics, cookies, and creativity.

With special guests Nick Bertozzi, Frank Cammuso, George O'Connor, Kevin Pyle, Aaron Renier, Misako Rocks!, Dave Roman, Raina Telgemeier, Sara Varon, Fred Van Lente, and MC, Josh Elder, Jim Hanley's Universe invites you to a day of celebration and creative comics creation at their Manhattan location (4 West 33rd Street). With live drawing, readings, activities, and the world premier of the Scooby Doo Opera, there's something for kids of every age, and a cookie to finish the day off with. Helping oversee the event will be Josh Elder, creator of the graphic novel series and nationally syndicated comic strip Mail Order Ninja, writer for The Batman Strikes and Chief Awesomeness Officer of the American Awesomeness Association.

"Comic books are enjoying a renaissance right now, and it seems that now, after so many years, kids are interested again in comics," said Vito Delsante, the Events Coordinator at Jim Hanley's Universe. "We thought that with this new popularity, the fact that librarians and teachers are looking to comics as teaching tools and the timing of the New York Comic Con, the time was right to dedicate an entire day to the kids and their love of comics."

Creator Schedule:
10 – 12: Sara Varon (Sweater Weather, Robot Dreams), Geoffrey Hayes (Benny and Penny in Just Pretend), and Aaron Renier (Spiral Bound)
12 – 2: Misako Rocks! (Biker Girl, Rock and Roll Love) and Kevin Pyle (Blindspot) and Fred Van Lente (Marvel Kids)
2 - 4: Dave Roman (Nickelodeon, Astronaut Elementary), Raina Telgemeier (The Baby-Sitters Club), Frank Cammuso and Jay Lynch (Otto's Orange Day)
4 – 6: George O'Connor (Journey Into Mohawk Country) and Nick Bertozzi (Houdini: The Handcuff King) and Matt Manning (Legion of Super Heroes in the 31st Century)
All day: Josh Elder (Mail Order Ninja)

About Jim Hanley's Universe:
Jim Hanley's Universe has been New York's premier comic book retailer for over 20 years. With locations in Manhattan and Staten Island, we have catered to the needs of comic fans in the Tri-State Area and the world over. We pride our self on being the place, "Where Art and Literature Meet," carrying a varied assortment of old comics, new comics, independently published comics and graphic novels, art books, and books covering all aspects of popular culture as well as other comic book related merchandise. For more information, call 212-268-7088 or 718-351-6299 or on the internet, visit www.jhuniverse.com.

Friday, April 4, 2008


Page 1

Page 2

Page 3

Fifth grader, Breanne, sent in this impromptu comic that she wrote after taking the Missouri state assessment test (MAP). It is a perfect example of how children can learn to tell stories and relate information in a very natural visual process. Utilizing few words, Breanne tells her story mostly through facial expression.

This comic could be used as a stand-alone piece, as it was here. It was completed for fun, just to pass the time, and that is perfectly acceptable. However, this same piece could also be used to craft a more detailed story, in either a comic or a prose format. I am particularly fond of storyboarding as it helps students define a strong beginning, middle and end. It is a typical format used by moviemakers, but it is not limited to them. Many writers and painters think in terms of images. That is to say, they experience a woman walking a baby, or an old man playing checkers in front of the barbershop, and that image invokes emotion and passion, from which a greater piece of art comes forth. This can be true for children as well. Many see, feel and experience their world as a scene from a movie or a photograph. For these children, being taught to storyboard can tap into their creativity.

Encouraging young writers to record a story in a visual outline – the storyboard – allows them to then focus on the details while still staying on track. It should be noted that great literature sometimes takes a different path than the author originally planned and that should be allowed as well, assuming the child remains committed to the craft of good writing.

Breanne’s story relates a common experience, a universal truth, for preteen girls. It begins with a relationship, a romance. Jealousy plays a large part in the story. The story takes a magical turn as a character is then turned into a fly. Notice the manga influence on the last panel of page 2. The panel is split in half, showing expression from two different characters. Using this as a storyboard, Breanne could expand her story, perhaps as a comic. She could then play around with the transition to the magical scene to make it clearer to the reader.

Breanne, who happens to be a very bright child in the classroom where I am assigned as a practicum student, did much more than just doodle. She wrote about experiences and explored those feelings through comic literature. The most exciting part is that she did so naturally, without a prompt or assignment.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


The last two weeks have been chocked full of comics. This week … not so much. We have plenty to review, though, and lots planned for you in the upcoming weeks. I have 11 reviews and two articles written and sitting in the pipe. I’ve read three titles in the past week and need to write those reviews.

The title for the the week:

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


After finishing their MAP test (Missouri’s standardized exam), the fifth grade students were given about 20 minutes for a brain breather and allowed to socialize with their friends. I scanned the room and saw boys and girls chit chatting, laughing and milling about. I looked down at the paperwork I had and when I looked back up, I had a knot of students surrounding me.

They wanted to know if I brought them comic books.

As part of my certification and graduate degree, I am completing a practicum in a fifth grade classroom. I had been out of the classroom for two weeks: one week for their Spring break and one week for mine. As soon as I get back I notice that there are comics, mostly manga, all over the room. My cooperating teacher informs me that the kids have been checking out manga from the library (school and county).

Children surrounded me, each with his or her own comic request:
When my supervisor from the university dropped by, the classroom teacher informed her that I had to do at least one lesson using comics. It was apparent to the classroom teacher that the kids are interested and excited.


I am gearing up for this Planet Comicon, Kansas City’s comic book shindig, this weekend. I’ve been going for several years and it is the best local comicon I’ve been to. Typically there are lots of costumed characters walking around, plenty of booths to pick up merchandise, and the back issues! Oh there are plenty of boxes of back issues to thumb through.

We're taking a van load of folks (adults, teens and kids) to the event and we are going to have a blast. I hope I don't bust my budget, my classroom budget that is.

Saturday, April 5, 10 am to 5 pm
Sunday, April 6, 10 am to 4 pm

115th & Metcalf
Overland Park, KS

Admission $15 for an Adult Weekend Pass
$6 Ages 7 to 14 for a Child Weekend Pass
Under 7 FREE

Look for some pictures here after the event. Click here for last year's coverage.