Thursday, July 31, 2008


by Michael Schofield
Staff Writer

AUTHORS: Cecil Castellucci, Jim Rugg
LETTERING: Jared K. Fletcher
COVER: Jim Rugg
Minx (an imprint of DC Comics)

GENRE: Adventure, Horror & Mystery
FORMAT: Softcover
EDITION: First Edition
PAGES: 176 Pages
COLOR: Black and White
ISBN-10: 1-4012-1115-1
ISBN-13: 978-1-4012-1115-8

Chicks dig graphic novels — or, I suppose I mean girls. Young ones. Teens – the can’t-drive-yet kind. There was something of a scuffle the other day over a copy of Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg’s THE PLAIN JANES. No foolin’: a library-round of fisticuffs that sounded a lot like –

“I checked this out last week and I would like to renew it, please.”
“But I’ve been waiting and waiting!”

Believe you me it was riddled with adolescent angst. So I did the sensible thing and, first chance I got, I checked it out for myself.

In 2007, DC Comics launched MINX Books exclusively for girls.
MINX graphic novels contain smart, original stories about real girls in the real world. From risk takers to troublemakers, these protagonists don’t just play by their own rules, they make them up as they go along resulting in unexpected adventures.

I think the summary apt, but when I nabbed THE PLAIN JANES from my Young Adult section, never did I expect such poignant storytelling about the transition between city-life and suburbia of which I read on the back-cover. For in Metro City (strikingly similar skyline) something went … well, real wrong. There is wreckage and harm, and Jane’s family does not simply move to the ‘burbs, they escape there.

The otherwise sometimes trivial hullabaloo that comes and goes with high-school melodrama is contextualized in a post-nine/eleven-like atmosphere on-edge. And although the suburbs are still malls and mown lawns and nice cars, they most importantly are safe and isolated from that sort of big-civilization that makes a good capitalist target. (I don’t think there is anything particularly coincidental between the similarities of Castellucci’s Metro City and our own New York, regardless of the publisher’s disclaimer. But let’s not get too big here.)

I was on the ground. And there was noise. So much noise. And right there, right among the madness, right in the pavement — was this tiny dandelion. Somehow none of those feet stepped on it. Not a one. I knew that if that dandelion could survive – so could I. But everything would have to be different. I would have to be different. – Main Jane

Jane cuts her hair and gets some new digs and goes to a new school, fully intending to be “the Rebel” and avoiding those sorts with whom she used to hang – with all good intentions, of course. But her strain of Loner-dom passes in a page when she makes friends with the rest of the Janes (three of them, in fact) who kind of makeup an adolescent motley Spice Girls (there’s the sporty one, the artsy one, the brainy one …). Loners unite!: with their alternately nerdish, tomboyish, dramatic, and — well, whatever Main Jane is — powers combined, they participate in their own extracurricular called P.L.A.I.N. (People Loving Art in Neighborhoods). It’s fuzzy street art: stuffed animals in the lawn of the animal shelter, snowcaps on fire hydrants, garden gnomes amassing.

The endearing between-the-lines of it all is a story of interconnectedness, of support and friendship – and protest, when the adults of the town misconstrue the above as “attacks.” A sign in the construction zone where rubble was reorganized into three pyramids reads: “The Pyramids lasted for thousands of years. Do you think this Strip Mall will? Art Saves. Think Big. Think P.L.A.I.N.,” wherein the general act is one to simply inspire discussion among people who don’t usually get together. Good, insulting – whichever; at least people are chatting. The adults, however, condemn these actions, imposing curfews and fines.

What was intended to open people up to the beauty and fun that can be had in “art sabotage” results in a sort of microcosmic martial law. This isn’t ill-natured and it doesn’t necessarily condemn those who overreact, but it is born from the fear that if a bunch of kids can get around watchmen, so can anyone who wants to do real harm. “I remember when my mom and I would lie on the ground in the park in Metro City and stare up at the clouds,” Jane writes (to a hospitalized John Doe injured in the real attack), “We’d find all kinds of animals, castles, and magical things up there. Mom doesn’t see the beauty in anything anymore. She only sees danger. I want her to stop worrying and love the world again. Because if she can, then I can. Help me show her hope, John. Wake up soon.” John Doe represents this sort of stagnant world

Jim Rugg’s paneling is attractive and clean. While uncluttered and anatomical and with a degree of welcome detail (like a consistent newspaper layout maintained through several images as seen at different angles: its writing is never just squiggles, and the photograph on the front page is always discernible), Rugg’s artwork doesn’t so much inspire the sort of praise I gave Bong Dazo, but it is easy on the eyes and “complete” without being busy. The black and white option is appropriate for communicating all the shades of gray, but that’s all I got to say about the art this time around.

It is easy to understand The Plain Janes appeal, and if MINX’s other titles are of the same caliber then they have nailed their market. Concerned with many of the problems with cliquing, High School relationships, the gulf between the teens and the parents and even other teens, they want to be liked and included but valued as an individual – this stuff chalked up all too often as trivial is in no way trivialized by the Ms. Castellucci; rather, teenagerdom is integral to her much broader questions of security, mistrust, and the steps one takes to alleviate that stress. And given a couple statements like “I’m in Hell,” the language and the here-and-there flirting is all-age appropriate and really rather uplifting. For someone who just came back from a Jane Austen Society lecture,

The Plain Janes
washed my brains.

(I felt it necessary to poeticize that.)

Cecil Castelluci offers a free, downloadable discussion guide for THE PLAIN JANES and other novels for use in the classroom or a book club. 

While completely appropriate from grades six and up, The Plain Janes deals with the fear of contemporary terrorism, what stringent regulation and isolation and unhappiness results from said fear, and the young adults’ role in so big a societal quandary. As many are on the brink of leaving their homes for colleges, for exercising their independence, such reading probably inspires at least some thought about one’s place in the bigger picture.

RECOMMENDATION Highly Recommended
Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg’s The Plain Janes was — I swear — my predecessor’s enlightened addition to our YA library! Clever and charming, smart, and nicely styled, it is easy to read multiple times (and it’s just right in length). Plus, it’s a great way to indoctrinate future Liberal Arts majors with the much welcomed reassurance that “Art Saves”! Oh, and it’s cheap too. THE PLAIN JANES is available almost everywhere for under $10.


AUTHOR: Scott Lobdell
ILLUSTRATORS: Paulo Henrique and Marcel Zero
PUBLISHER: Papercutz
GENRE: Mystery

FORMAT: Paperback digest
COLOR: Full color
ISBN 10: 1-59707-070-X
ISBN 13: 978-1-59707-070-6

Frank and Joe Hardy are part of an elite team of teenage crime fighters known as A.T.A.C. (American Teens Against Crime). They are unwittingly lured into an ambush by someone they know, someone close, only to find out they must fake their own deaths and rescue a kidnapped boy.

I remember reading teenage mystery books when I was a kid. For some reason I was into the ENCYCLOPEDIA BROWN series more than the HARDY BOYS, but the idea is the same. I never solved the mystery before Brown and there were times that I did not understand how he solved it, despite the fact he told us at the end. I enjoyed the mystery of it all.

THE HARDY BOYS: A HARDY DAY’S NIGHT is more action-oriented than mystery driven. I enjoyed it and so will children, but I was a bit disappointed that there was not more of a mystery to the whole experience. As an action story, it works well and will keep kids reading.

Manga is all the rage and kids will take up instantly with this clean, colorful American manga.

My Rating: Ages 9 and older
Publisher’s Recommended Age: Ages 10 and older
I think as long as a student can read the words, then he or she can have at it. It has danger and intrigue and is a lot of fun.

They fight crime so there are guns and bombs in the story.

THE HARDY BOYS is a perfect fit for the classroom. It is interesting, fun and not too long.

It is a good book for kids, despite its lack of deep mystery. Kids love action and they will get it with THE HARDY BOYS.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

They Like What We Do

These teachers love reading and their blog was honored with an Arte y Pico Award. Then they turned around and passed that honor on to The Graphic Classroom as well as four other literature-based blogs.

It is heartening to find dedicated teachers who work beyond their own classroom. Everyone at The Graphic Classroom volunteers in order to make a difference in the world of education. There are so many fantastic and dedicated educators who care.

Thank you very much. We appreciate the accolades.

Comics and Political Fundraising: An Introduction to Democracy and Patriotism in the Classroom

The Wall Street Journal has a story about Sean Tevis who is running for office in Kansas against a three-term incumbent. The first-time wanna-be legislator has amassed a war chest larger than his opponent and he did it using an online comic strip and embedded computer code. This politician raised more than $95,000, which came from donors outside of his state of Kansas.

Click here to see more of Tevis' campaign comics.

The power of comics and technology at its best.

How can classroom teachers use similar technology and approaches? I advocate for students creating their own comics demonstrating their knowledge of any particular subject or issue. For the upcoming political season, students could have mock elections and collect data on their classroom, grade and school presidential and local electoral preferences and then compare and contrast that data to the state and national data.

Students could create comics that demonstrate a particular position of a candidate or issue. At the same time civil discourse, scholarly debate, and unemotional reflection can be emphasized with the students. Rather than a lecture about controlling their emotions and behaviors, the students can actively practice such behaviors with an authentic debate of issues that impact those students and their family lives.

Not to mention, the students can learn about democracy as the unifying concept of a diverse society, and patriotism beyond flag waving and recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance. Not that flag waving or recitations are bad or negative things, unless they are the sole component of a patriotic curriculum.

Our classrooms and our communities are full of clashing cultures and incompatible mini-societies centered on race, gender, sexual orientation, culture and religion. These divisive issues are used as tools for discrimination against groups, and they have significant implications in the classroom. If unity is to be achieved, it will not occur on the foundation of one of these contentious issues. If we are to create civil societies, then we must unit students on common belief in democracy. Comics are already a part of that democratic literary tradition.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Politics, Comics, and the Classroom

Notice McCain is looking to the right
and Obama to the left.

It is the responsibility of classroom teachers to instruct students on democracy and patriotism, yet that typically manifests itself in the form of daily recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance and a civics examination. Not that either are bad, but there are other ways, more engaging ways, to facilitate learning. Mock elections, historical studies of the founding fathers, creating a classroom constitution, all of these are ways great teachers help kids understand democracy.
After all, our country was founded on democratic principles and it is this democracy that unites us, not culture, race or religion.

Come October 8, IDW Publishing is putting out two full-color, 28-page comic book biographies, one on John McCain and the other on Barack Obama. Each will sell for $3.99 or a flip-book version will also be available, where both are published in one book, for $7.99. Scoop has the … well scoop:

Depicting the presidential nominees’ life, Presidential Material: John McCain, focuses on Senator McCain’s Navy tour, including his time spent as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, and his memorable tenure as an Arizona senator. This flag waving graphic novel is written by Andy Helfer, who also authored other graphic novel biographies including Ronald Reagan and Malcolm X, and is illustrated by Stephen Thompson.

Writer Jeff Mariotte, who wrote River Runs Red, portrays Barack Obama’s rise through the Democratic Party in Presidential Material: Barack Obama. Winning the surprising upset victory over Senator Hilary Clinton in the primaries, this event is illustrated by Ted Morgan.

The comics will also be available for download to mobile phones from GoComics. You can order your copies from your local comic book store or from Presidential Comics.

Friday, July 25, 2008

DefCon 7 Approaches

We are excited to present at DefCon 7, Oklahoma’s largest entertainment expo. From today till next week we will be working on our presentation in hopes to really help creators and publishers engage the educational market. There is money, a lot of money, to be made. We’ve written before about the issues we are considering.

DefCon 7
August 1-3

Tulsa Convention Center

Tulsa, OK

Open 24 Hours

70,000 square feet of con craziness

The con purports to be more than just comics and that is fine with us as we are taking our daughter, nieces, nephew, cousin, cousin’s girlfriend, cousin’s friend, and a few of our adult buddies to the event. In fact, the youngin’s are going to dress up in costume and also participate with me in the presentation.

Yes, yes. There were be photos a plenty. If you are going, please look us up. We will be the big, bald guy with a herd of kids and teens with him. You will be able to spot us with our Superman T-shirt on. Like there won’t be plenty of those.

  • Vendors
  • 2 Anime Rooms
  • 2 Movie Rooms
  • Live Bands
  • Dance/Rave/Karaoke
  • Art Classes and Portfolio Reviews
  • Art Contest
  • Charity Auctions
  • Video Games
  • Card Games
  • RPGs
  • Bishi Auction
  • Costume Contest
  • Ms. Sci-Fi Contest
  • Casino Night
  • Live Action Cosplay Chess
  • Various Contests
  • Autographs
  • Panel Discussion
Just so happens that this is the weekend my sister, who lives in Tulsa, takes her oldest daughter to college. The house will be filled with two van loads of people. It should be some kind of crazy fun.

Thursday, July 24, 2008


By Nate Stearns
Staff Writer

Watchmen is where it all started; it's the hulking gorilla doppelganger to Art Spiegelman's MAUS. Both graphic novels took the form into places where adult themes and complexity were welcome. Still, where MAUS was personal and rooted in memoir, Watchmen is a superhero comic in which all of the conventions of the genre have bent, twisted, and spindled to the point of unrecognizability. Nominally, the main story follows the search for a killer of "masked avengers." Someone, somehow has broken into the Comedian's (a sort of anti-hero hero who enjoys death, destruction, and furthering US Department of Defense war aims) apartment and thrown him out the window. As other attempts on costumed heroes continue, Rorshach – a bitterly misanthropic vigilante with an ever shifting mask – attempts to find who is behind the killings and why.

The story careens down an ever shifting landscape of betrayal and human weakness. Events of our own time are altered to react to a what-if world of masked, betighted superheroes who fight crime while wearing tights. The US wins the Vietnam War. Richard Nixon escapes Watergate and rewrites the Constitution to re-elect himself several times. Interestingly, only one of the heroes actually has a superpower. Dr. Manhattan has the ability to bend matter to his will after being obliterated by an atomic test and gradually figuring out how to recreate himself into a semblance of his original form. Unfortunately for Dr. Manhattan, with great power has come overwhelming ennui and disinterest in humanity.

Alan Moore is a clever, complex writer who delights in paranoia and a sense of impending collapse. He mixes perspective, time, genre, and theme nimbly and finds ever more ingenious ways to combine storylines. Sections of the main story are layered with selections from memoir excerpts, magazine articles, pirate comics, academic journals, police reports, and magazine interview profiles. The sense that the magazine occupies an entire alternate universe is painstakingly constructed throughout.

However, just as in HUCK FINN, students might have a hard time recognizing that the thoughts of the characters don't necessarily represent the ideas of the writer. For instance, Rorschach has the bulk of the voiceovers and he is constantly obsessing over the moral decay of society--to the point that he comes off as racist, sexist, and any other ist you might think of. There is even a copy of the right wing periodical The New Frontiersman, which gives a taste of the xenophobic ramblings he obsesses over ("I've had it up to hear with those coked-out commie cowards..."). Teachers would need to directly remind students that the opinions of the characters might not be opinions the writer is advocating. Still, this technique neatly subverts traditional comic conventions as none of the heroes occupy the moral high ground, but neither do they lack at least some measure of sympathy.

The art has a classic comic book style with 3-panel formats predominating. Gibbons mixes perspectives and angles well in telling the story, but there isn't the innovative, impressionistic style that came later in graphic novels such as THE KILLING JOKE or THE DARK KNIGHT. For students, the style's clarity and simplicity helps tell the story and create a sense of paranoia without adding extra difficulties in comprehension.

Highly Recommended with Reservations

This is clearly a book for high schoolers and perhaps upperclassmen as well. Undoubtedly, Watchmen is a classic of the form and excellent in its sophisticated exploration of power, authority, history, and the human condition. However, it's also filled with graphic violence, sexual themes, controversial politics, homosexuality, and unreliable narrators. A teacher would need to be careful to explain the use of irony and to allow students to question Moore's perspective on American history and politics. Parents should probably be asked to sign off on using it in a classroom setting.

AUTHOR: Alan Moore
COLORS: John Higgins
LETTERING: Dave Gibbons
GENRE: Adventure/Drama

FORMAT: Softcover Digest
ISSUE: Issues 1-12
EDITION: Second edition
PAGES: 416
COLOR: Full color
ISBN-10: 0930289234
ISBN-13: 978-0930289232


Nate Stearns has been teaching high school English and Writing in the Shoreline school district for about 5 years and before that he engaged in slightly irresponsible ESL teaching/wanderjahren throughout South America and Asia. He was born in the geek manner – programming in BASIC and playing D&D before becoming enthralled by literature (Heller, Vonnegut, Ellison, Faulkner) and forgetting his geek roots.

Only as he became an English teacher and impressed by the new tools available to a writer has the techy re-emerged ... stronger than ever. He also blogs at lazyteacher.


Last week I was on vacation – a motorcycle rally in Sturgis, KY. A nice break from the grind stone. I came back to a pack of comics and graphic novels. Some good stuff. Do notice that Batgirl #1 hit shelves this week and it may behoove us all to take a gander as there could always be more female superheroes.

Enjoy the list:
  1. Batgirl #1
  2. DC Super Friends #5
  3. Deepak Chopra’s Buddha: A Story of Enlightenment #4
  4. Joker’s Asylum: Poison Ivy
  5. Joker’s Asylum: Scarecorw
  6. The Helm #1
  7. The Lost Books of Eve Volume 1
  8. Marvel Adventures Avengers #26
  9. Marvel Adventures Superheroes #1
  10. The Mice Templar #5
  11. The Rabid
  12. Tiny Titans #6
  13. Usagi Yojimbo #113
  14. Voltron: Defender of the Universe #1
  15. War Heroes #1 (of 6)
  16. Wulf and Batsy
  17. ZOT! The Complete Black and White Collection

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


By Chris Wilson

I set out last weekend to read the preeminent Batman book of all time, THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS (DKR), by comic great Frank Miller. I thought two things about DKR: (1) I really need to read this book myself if I am to claim that I love comics, and (2) this would be an excellent review to coincide with the release of the new Batman movie.

I buried myself in my plush, diamond-tuck easy chair to read about the psychologically damaged super hero and his inclusion into the classroom. Chapter one told me a lot of what I needed to know. Between the smoking, broken bones, drug references, pornography references, and the profound use of goddamn, Jesus Christ, bitch, hell and damn, I came to the notion that DKR is not meant for most classrooms in K-12 education. The story is dark, brooding, gritty and worthy of exploration of the dark side of goodness and the psychological trauma that drives humanity toward certain pathways.

None but the bravest of teachers in high school would dare use it. Although I am thinking that there are classes out there, maybe ones with kids who are so disillusioned with education, that DKR could be a piece of comic greatness that could reach those students and bring them to a place where education, discussion, and literature are considered good things. DKR could well be a book that could be read in alternative schools, where traditional rules and regs are tossed out.

It is there, my friends: the politics, the psychology, death and rebirth, living as one’s true self, the grey lines of good and evil, religion, war, politics, media, and many great literature themes. But with that is also a fair amount of dialogue that makes the DKR problematic for the high school classroom.

Batman comes out of retirement to take on the Joker and the mutants. This time, Batman finds himself in a quandary. To stop the death toll of the Joker, Batman must cross his own line and take a life. His decisions also land him at odds with the police. Is justice served when one takes the law into his own hands? Outside the struggle with the Joker and the mutants, the Russians also pose a significant nuclear threat to the US and the world.

There is so much meat in DKR, the lessons could go on and on. A feminist perspective adds a new level of inquiry. Robin is a girl, an agile and brave 13-year-old who adds a lot to the success of Batman, and Commissioner Gordon is replaced by a female, much to the chagrin of some of the in-power males.

The art is scratchy, sketchy and strangely brightly colored for such a dark tale. The characters reflect the style of the 1980’s – the hair, clothes and dialogue of the teens. The art is not overly appealing to me, but the story makes up for the illustrations.

There is hope for the typical classroom, for the teachers who wish to cash in on the success of the new Batman movie by securing some Batman titles for the classroom. Elementary teachers will likely want to pick up the trade paperbacks of THE BATMAN STRIKES. There are three volumes currently in print: CRIME TIME (vol. 1), IN DARKEST KNIGHT (vol. 2), and DUTY CALLS (vol. 3). As for middle school or high school, there are so many Batman trade paperbacks in print it boggles the mind. Any class on feminist literature could make use of the Batgirl titles.

My hope was that DKR would be one that I could easily suggest for any classroom. Not so much, as it turns out, at least for the typical high school classroom. DKR could be used, or portions of it anyway, but one must take great care in choosing this title for the classroom. The language, topics, and the violence, while appropriate to the story, are very harsh.

As for movies, Batman: Gotham Knight (animated DVD) is now available and is rated PG-13, but it is dark as well. The much anticipated Batman: The Dark Knight hits theaters this Friday. Early buzz indicates this movie will be top notch.

Enjoy the Batman, relish in the darkness and turmoil that haunts our Dark Knight. Find a way to include Batman, in one of his various incarnations, into your classroom.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


By Michael Schofield
Staff Writer

AUTHORS: Steven-Elliot Altman, Michael Reaves
ILLUSTRATOR: Angelo Ty “Bong” Dazo
LETTERING: Simon Bowland
COVER: Ben Templesmith
PUBLISHER: Dark Horse Books

GENRE: Adventure, Horror & Mystery
FORMAT: Softcover
EDITION: First Edition
PAGES: 128 Pages
COLOR: Black and White
ISBN-10: 1-59307-303-8
ISBN-13: 978-1593073039

It ain’t quite elementary, my dear Wiggins. What we all pretty much associate with the deer-hatted sleuth shan’t ever ‘gain be taken for granted, ay guv’nor? Rather, Reaves and Altman’s bizartistry designates all that logic stuff to the dull sepia tones of adulthood. The world of these colorful bunch of kids is ironically just black and white, which — if you’re so inclined to read too deeply into stuff — portends bleak things for their comings-of-age. It’s Whitechapel 1888, after all.

This is dark even for Sherlock Holmes, but it’s the Victorian London underworld to a T and thick with fallen women and cockney foulmouthery and, to wit, a murder.

“A killer stalks the streets of London’s Whitechapel slum, leaving a trail of grisly murders in his wake. The police have only one suspect. The master detective Sherlock Holmes, in order to solve the most fantastic mystery of his career and save his greatest friend from the gallows, employs a band of young street urchins to infiltrate the alleys of Whitechapel. They can go everywhere, see everything, overhear everyone. They are the Baker Street Irregulars!”

Of course Inspector Lestrade and the Professor James Moriarty play their alternately agitating and malevolent roles, but the real gems are a gang of six and their dog Toby. Led by Wiggins (who is packing heat), Molly, Patch the Pickpocket, James, Burke, and Puck descend into a Lovecraftian tale of black wizardry and dreams and helpful talking birds. There are giant carnivorous worms and swords in stones and Egyptian armies and mute violinists from the future.

And there is a lot to make parents cringe. While the adventure is pretty far-fetched, the social context is a stark portrayal of the nineteenth-century English lower class: Wiggins and Puck were violently orphaned, and the former — to protect his troupe — is carrying a six-shooter; Molly is an adolescent accosted by the real possibility that she’ll soon be forced to support herself through prostitution, and in a fever-dream she believes she is physically assaulted by Holmes himself. The dialogue is well done and dialectal and charming, but it isn’t totally youth appropriate. Then, of course, there is the whole dallying with demons thing.

I reckon the story a tad busy, multi-themed and multi-referenced (Edmund Burke, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Candyland, late nineteenth-century occult fads, Jack the Ripper), but the characterization among the kids is superb and the art is, if not breath-taking, certainly eye-catching. Pages are just full of highly detailed and contrasted and sometimes-schizophrenic images. Bong Dazo puts plenty of effort in making London jive with Puck’s bizarre imagination, capable of warping cobble into ice-cream and gingerbreading perfectly bleary brownstones.

I’m sure I didn’t make it clear—it would be hard to without spoiling the story — but the plot is actually successful: it rounds out, everything jives, all loose-ends are satisfied save the distant observation that none of the children went insane. In fact, THE IRREGULARS are completely charming.

That said, I have reservations keeping this in the Young Adult section of the library. Albeit the adventure of a bunch of tweens, their world is in fact very adult. It is a perfectly pleasant concept matured by a Barker-like supernatural and an all-too-natural lesson in history. Especially if read against Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock and backed by a lecture on Whitechapel and Jack (and maybe some HP Lovecraft, and oh, I digress), your class or book club could dissect THE IRREGULARS for hours. While not the focus, there is enough poignant truth in their situation to drain the color out of anyone’s pages.

Michael's Recommended Age: High School
High School is a school of … hmm ... clever rhetoric, and I am sure the happenstance language and dialect will only make the story that much more enjoyable. Still, the violence and sexual undertones warrant caution, but read in the proper context could make light reading a highly educational thing. Subsequently,

Recommended with Strong Reservations
There is so much charming about THE IRREGULARS with room for so much discussion that it is hard for me not to recommend it. But, with all of the above in mind, keep a weathered eye.


Another writer has donned the cape of educational comic book reviews much to the delight of the editorial staff. Here's a hint of what Michael is all about, in his own words:

I am recently moved from Kalamazoo, Michigan (where I was an assistant curator to the university's archives) to Lake Butler, Florida – a serious culture shock! – to take post at the Bradford County Public Library where, among other things, I am overseeing the community's teen programs and integrating graphic novels, current-issue comics, and video games into our collection. For gas-money I am a freelance editor and tutor-in-English to middle- through high-school students and those from the local community college. I also have a temporary teacher's certificate that is collecting dust!

This week I ordered $300 worth of material for the graphic novel collection, and I am in the process of working a deal with the nearest comic book shop for current issue comic donations in return for organizing a Magic: the Gathering tournament every couple of weeks. The feedback from the teens (and a surprising amount of adults) has been outstanding.

I am a writer and a gardener, a life-time member of the Jane Austen Society of North America, a fan of the Detroit Lions and Dog Fish Pale Ale; I want my PhD in Victorian Literature, a new car, a grant to do away with student debt, and to be three inches taller.

I maintain a semi-regular reading and writing blog called Daybookery where I try to address obstacles in writing fiction – but I tend to digress.

Friday, July 11, 2008

OWLY: Volumes 1-4

Volume 1

Volume 2

Volume 3

Volume 4

Andy Runton
PUBLISHER: Top Shelf Productions
GENRE: Animal Fantasy
FORMAT: Softcover
PAGES (vol. 1): 160
PAGES (vol. 2): 128
PAGES (vol. 3): 144
PAGES (vol. 4): 128

COLOR: Black and white
ISBN-13 (vol. 1): 978-1-891830-62-4
ISBN-13 (vol. 2): 978-1-891830-64-8
ISBN-13 (vol. 3): 978-1-891830-76-1
ISBN-13 (vol. 4): 978-1-891830-89-1

OWLY is an extraordinary little nature lover: kind, gentle, generous, soft, and compassionate – not what one would expect from an owl. The forest creatures have a hard time believing in Owly’s sweeter side, choosing to be wary of him. It just breaks his heart, and he does his best to change their perspectives and make new friends. Owly’s day consists of tending his garden, loving his friends, and taking care of the woodland creatures in need.

For the reader who is looking for a tenderhearted, character driven, sweet story about animals that don’t eat one another, it gets no better. Runton’s work is most unusual in its definition of “text”. That is to say, OWLY is a wordless (or near wordless) graphic novel. Runton uses his artistic prowess to create expressive characters and iconography to illustrate a most charming yarn. His unique work opens the story to a wide range of reading and age levels.

Runton uses icons and body language to illustrate
the feelings and thoughts of the
woodland creatures.
Notice the expressions
on Owly and his friends.

This is the extend of the words used in the series. It is rare.

Runton does a great job portraying the emotional
state of the characters and
the tone of the story.

My Rating: All ages
Publisher’s Rating: All ages

OWLY is a book enjoyed by young and old, good readers and struggling readers. It is a true all-ages book.

Do not assume for one minute that OWLY is a simplistic read because it is wordless. The truth of the matter is that OWLY takes time to understand as the reader must “read” slowly and carve out the meanings behind the facial expressions and icons in the dialogue balloons. Which brings me to an interesting thought: Could OWLY be extraordinarily good at helping children learn to decipher and decode those complex and hidden social queues? I am thinking specifically about children with Autism who struggle to understand the social rules of school and society. Many children struggle to understand facial expressions and body language. I suspect that OWLY could be one way to help teach those intricate rules.

As if that was not enough, Top Shelf has put together lesson plans for OWLY. You can download them as a pdf for free.

The fourth volume of OWLY is printed on recycled paper.
  • Awards (according to the Runton website):
  • Eisner Award for Best Publication for a Younger Audience
  • Harvey Award for Best New Talent
  • Ignatz Award for Outstanding Series
  • Ignatz Award for Promising New Talent
  • Howard Eugene Day Memorial Prize

Highly Recommended
OWLY is an iris in the garden of classroom comics: beautiful and delicate.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Female superheroes abound this week. Originally, it was a search for strong female characters that brought me to comics in the first place. That’s when I discovered SOJOURN, published by the now defunct CrossGen Comics. I fell in love with Arwyn's beauty, strength, intelligence and perseverance. I have loved comics ever since. I was very pleased to have three different female focused titles hit my bookshelf this week.

Here is the list of comics that made it in my hot hands this week:

  1. The Amazing Spider-Girl #14
  2. American Dream #2, #3, #4, #5 (of 5)
  3. The Batman Strikes #47
  4. I Kill Giants #1
  5. Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century #16
  6. Jokers Asylum Penguin #1
  7. Magic Trixie
  8. Marvel Adventures Hulk #13

Sunday, July 6, 2008


AUTHOR: Philip Gelatt
ILLUSTRATOR: Ethen Beavers
COLORS: Ronda Pattison
LETTERING: Michael Heisler
PUBLISHER: Dark Horse Books
GENRE: Adventure

FORMAT: Paperback digest
COLOR: Full color
ISBN-10: 1-59307-905-2
ISBN-13: 978-1-59307-905-5

From the website:
“In the deep winter of Northern Europe, Dr. Henry Jones Jr. is about to undergo one of the most harrowing archaeological digs of his career! Amidst a deadly blizzard, he must find an ancient monument and unlock its secrets before someone with much darker intentions gets there first! Yet there are trials awaiting any who would lay claim to the artifacts of mysterious warriors from long ago.”

This Indy book is for kids and it is a wonderful rendition of the popular story. It may be for children, but it is not overly simplified and it does not strip away the things that make Indy great, just because it is for children. Oh no, we have fight scenes, and Nazis, and philosophical debates about archaeological ethics. The story moves fast, but takes small breaks to address the history, the culture, and the reason behind the interest in the particular find. This time, the story centers on Nordic war culture and the god, Odin.

The art is brilliant. Indy does not look exactly like Harrison Ford, which is a good thing. Instead, Beavers’ Indiana Jones has an iconic feel representative of the soul of Indy, giving our imagination a bit of freedom. When I first saw the book, I immediately pictured throngs of kids sitting around reading about the adventures of everyone’s favorite archaeologist. Honestly, I could not stand it. I had to sit down and read it right away, all because the art made me feel like a kid again.

Page 1

Page 2

Page 3

My Rating: Ages 8 and older
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 8 and older

Any kid interested in Indy will love these books.

Besides the fight scenes and the dancing girls, I cannot imagine anything that would bother anyone.

Think about connections and the broadening of interests. That is to say, children who find myth interesting will find the story of Odin and the Nordic cultures engaging and may lead children to look for new material on the subject.

Of course, the interest will really be there, considering the movie, INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL came out earlier this summer. This coming school year would be the perfect time to introduce it to a classroom.

Dark Horse Books has an entire line of Indiana Jones comics. They also have an omnibus series that collects all the Indy stories.

Highly Recommended
INDIANA JONES ADVENTURES volume 1 is an exciting, fun, and historically interesting story that is suitable for kids. It is not too long, but is full of action and facts. I cannot wait to introduce it to my students.


What to say, what to say?

The Graphic Classroom is presenting at DefCon 7, the comics, anime, video game, sci-fi, fantasy, rpg game convention. We’ve been thinking about the audience and toying around with what, exactly, to present. There may be teachers there, as the local community college is also involved, but the majority of the audience will be writers, illustrators, publishers, and typical con-goers.

Then it hit us. Why not ask the intended audience what they want. Novel idea, isn’t it? What kinds of information would you most like to hear us present? Email us or drop notes in the comments section. If you are going to DefCon, please drop us a line. We would love to meet our readers in person. Here are some of the ideas we considering (feel free to suggest topics):

  • The need for kid’s comics in and out of school
  • The importance of deep, powerful story lines for kids
  • Would you like to hear from some kids, themselves?
  • What writers & illustrators need to consider when creating comics for schools
  • What research suggests about comics and reading motivation

DefCon 7
August 1-3
Tulsa Convention Center
Tulsa, OK
Open 24 hours
70,000 square feet of con goodness

DefCon 7 Webiste

DefCon 7 on MySpace

Friday, July 4, 2008


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

What if you lost your sense of adventure? What if you stopped dreaming and your imagination was left to wither away?

In THE DREAMLAND CHRONICLES, writer and artist Scott Christian Sava introduces us to a character who must dream in order to enter into and become part of an alternative world. Drawn in computerized 3D imagery with computer graphics, Sava elaborately creates a place of the imagination where creatures both big and small, kind and deadly, are on the loose.

Originally a web-based comic (which has been offered as a free e-book via WOWIO or can be viewed at The Dreamland Chronicles weblog) launched in 2006, THE DREAMLAND CHRONICLES has recently made its way to the printed page in book form. It's clear that Sava works hard to reach out to his audience, asking advice for characters and for his illustrations as the stories develop. This connection with his readers brings an interesting twist to THE DREAMLAND CHRONICLES and demonstrates Sava's understanding of audience. According to Wikipedia, Sava's story series has been nominated for numerous awards and won Best Graphic Novel of 2006 in Comics Buyer's Guide's 25th Annual Fan Awards.

The plot revolves around a main character, Alex, who grew up entering Dreamland as he slept at night, and then relaying his tales of adventure to his twin brother, Daniel. On his 12th birthday, while in Dreamland, Alex finds a sword inside a tomb. And there is a fierce dragon guarding the tomb. In danger from the dragon, sword in hand, Alex suddenly comes out of his dream and never dreams again for the next eight years, when THE DREAMLAND CHRONICLES picks up the story.

The story opens with Alex and Daniel as college roommates. Alex no longer believes that Dreamland was ever a real place, and he lost the ability to dream, and his twin brother is disheartened by the change he sees in his sibling. But then, Alex is brought back to Dreamland and the story unfolds as Alex is called on to help solve the mystery of the disappearance of the parents of one of his Dreamland friend and he must help save this world inside of his imagination.

THE DREAMLAND CHRONICLES is rich with characters – from Nastajia, the elf princess, to Paddington, the rock giant – and Sava has done well with developing their personalities from the start. Not everyone in these stories likes Alex and Alex himself comes across as a mixed character – full of flaws and yet full of potential, too. Alex's brother, for example, sees both the elf-centered side of Alex and wishes that he were the one to enter Dreamland, and not Alex. But he also is in awe of Alex's abilities and yearns to hear more of the stories of adventure that Alex tells. There are some subtle, yet truthful, sibling dynamics at work between these two brothers. Sava also wisely creates both strong female and male characters, allowing girls as well as boys to enter the story with a sense of identity.

The 3d computer illustrations grow on the reader. Without the use of a pen and ink, the pictures can seem a bit distant and cold to the eyes at first, particularly if you are not attuned to computer graphics. Sava wisely uses a full color palate afforded to him by the computer software and he taps the ability to create different views of the scene to immerse the reader into the wide expanses of Dreamland. By using an imaginary place, Sava can create a vision of this world in full display with the technology available to him.

My Rating: All Ages
This series of comic books is suitable for all ages, with no profanity or inappropriate violence. But the story may be more engaging for upper elementary through high school readers.

For the classroom, THE DREAMLAND CHRONICLES provides ample opportunity for teachers and students to discuss character development, the importance of setting, and the use of multiple narratives (the story inside of Dreamland and the story outside of Dreamland).

In addition, Sava has created a series of web-based comics that bring the reader inside the creation of the comic itself (available as a free e-book downloads through WOWIO ). Sava has embedded video into these tutorials, and he talks to the reader about the use of software to create a graphic story. These behind-the-scenes comics allow young writers and artists to watch the creation of characters and story on their screens, with Sava talking them through his process and thinking. The reader can literally watch the mouse clicks that Sava makes to change a view or character. This alone makes THE DREAMLAND CHRONICLES a must-read for the classroom of young writers and creators. My sixth grade students were completely engaged in Sava's explanation behind the creation of his comic books and they had more questions than I had answers about how technology can be used for writing and illustrating a book. Next year, I may just direct them to Sava's blog, where he takes the time to answer questions from his readers and engage them in conversations about the story.


Click here to read the review of Sava's other title, ED'S TERRESTRIALS.

AUTHOR & ILLUSTRATOR: Scott Christian Sava
PUBLISHER: Blue Dream Studios
GENRE: Fantasy
FORMAT: Paperback
EDITION: First (November 1, 2006)
PAGES: 300
COLOR: Full color
ISBN-10: 0978916808
ISBN-13: 978-0978916800


As you may know, The Graphic Classroom has been growing. The request for reviews is enormous and I need help if I am to keep up with the demand. The request for reviewers was quickly answered by sixth grade teacher, Kevin Hodgson.

Kevin comes to TGC from Western Massachusetts, where he teaches writing to sixth graders. He is also the technology liaison for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project. Kevin introduced the idea of graphic novels into the classroom in 2007 as part of a digital picture book project where his students created mathematics-themed picture books, using technology as means to create and publish, and he wanted them to think about the use of graphic art and story coming together. Kevin's hope is to find a good platform for students to create their own graphic novels and he is exploring this world of literature with an aim of gathering ideas for the classroom setting.

A writer and poet, Kevin also plays saxophone, keyboards, sings and is the main songwriter for the rock and roll band, The Sofa Kings. Kevin blogs regularly at Kevin's Meandering Mind and periodically at TeachEng.Us.

Welcome aboard, Kevin. We look forward to your reviews, the first of which is on its way. Thank you for contributing your time and talents to do what teachers do: help students succeed. Your work, time and energy is very appreciated.

TGC is still looking for other reviewers, both staff writers and contributing writers. Email inquiries to Chris Wilson at

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


One TGC reader recently asked us to review more high school titles. He’s right. We have not done enough for the older teens. We started looking around for some good titles and a few came in this week.

So dear reader thank you for your request. We are happy to oblige. Give us time. We are in graduate school and statistics is kicking our tail. Most of what you read this summer was written during Spring break so we could concentrate on school during school. Keep in mine, we are actively looking for volunteer reviewers (read that as unpaid). There are so many great teachers out there who are using comics with their students and we hope they will lend a hand to the movement and add to the collective education by writing stories as a staff writer (regular reviews) or as a contributing writer (occasional review).

I considered writing about a few noteworthy books this week, but how can I? This is an incredible list of great comic literature, ladies and gents. Peruse and enjoy.

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! #1
Igor #3
Joker’s Asylum: The Joker #1
La Perdida
Marvel Adventures Spider-Man #41
Notes for a War Story
Steel Fist Riku
Stephen Colbert’s Tek Jansen #2 (of 5)
Storming Paradise #1
Toe Jam and the Toenail Fairies: Toe to Toe with the Tooth Fairy
Vix! #1