Saturday, June 28, 2008


Things are growing at The Graphic Classroom. Comics as graphic novels are becoming more and more popular in classrooms, and the demand for help finding quality comic literature is expanding.

We are looking for a writer to help us review comics. We are especially looking for teachers or librarians in middle school and high school to write reviews appropriate for those age groups. We do not pay, but those "hired" will get to keep the books reviewed for inclusion in their classroom. That's a nice perk! To be a published writer for the field of education is a great thing on a resumé.

Specifics are negotiable, but we would like reviewers who can write a minimum of one review per month, but we would like more. Obviously, we are looking for writers who are open to comics as an important medium in the classroom, even if they have not used them yet.

Interested candidates should email Chris at Please include:

  • Basic info on you and your teaching experience
  • A review of a comic/graphic novel of your choice (appropriate for middle or high school)
  • How often you can write a review
  • Contact information
(You do not have to use my review format. You may use one of your own choosing. However, we do feel that the information included in our format is very important.)

Friday, June 27, 2008


Comic movies on the brain? Consider the Indiana Jones Adventures series from Dark Horse. We received volume one this week and it looks good. New girl, new story and lots of action. This version is meant for all ages, although Dark Horse also has an Indy title for the older audience.

In other comic offerings, we received two other titles of real interest to high school (and older) aged readers. The first is a set of Shakespeare comics from Classical Comics. Take note: these are significant to the literati. Classical Comics sent me three different volumes of Macbeth. Yes, three.

  1. The first volume is the full and unabridged play in graphic novel format. This is the whole enchilada, the full monty, the kit and the caboodle. Nothing changed.
  2. The second volume is the complete play translated into plain English.
  3. Volume three is the full story, but with less dialogue. This is the most English accessible translation.

Each volume has a different cover and details the version. This has real implications for the high school literature class, where different reading levels and abilities can be considered and accommodated. By the way, the art is exactly the same in all three versions.

Also of note is the graphic adaptation of the children’s book, Coraline, Neil Gaiman’s bestselling novel. Hardbound and well-regarded, this looks promising.

Enough of the intro. Here is the list of all the books that came in this week:


(NOTE: Highly Recommended, but with Reservations.)

Darwyn Cooke
COLORS: Dave Stewart
LETTERING: Jared K. Fletcher
GENRE: Superhero

FORMAT: Two soft cover volumes
VOLUME: 1 & 2
PAGES (vol. 1): 208
PAGES (vol. 2): 208
COLOR: Full color
ISBN-13 (vol. 1): 978-1-4012-0350-4
ISBN-13 (vol. 2): 978-1-4012-0461-7

It is the 1950’s, the world of the Cold War. Communism is the great enemy and the superheroes of the Golden Age are not seen with sparkling eyes of yesteryear, but rather are met with disdain and contempt. Some supers (Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman) have survived the anti-superhero sentiment, working for the government to crush Communism and establish a democracy throughout the continents. Other superheroes are in the wings, some just young and others just unaware.

The world is full of change: racial divides, civil rights, the space race, the Korean Conflict, communism, McCarthyism, and politics all intertwine in this boiling maelstrom called DC: THE NEW FRONTIER. Other forces are also at work. The mysterious Center is wreaking havoc and old and new heroes must form alliances to save all from this otherworldly creature bent on destruction.

Cooke carefully weaves an episodic yarn full of character back-story and motivation, giving us a heavy dose of human and superhuman inadequacies, self-doubt, anger, confusion and ultimately heroism. It’s brutal at times, seeing how our society has acted, and yet the ideal of the hero comes through proudly, confidently, ending with a sense of understanding, calmness and great change.

Cooke’s highly stylized, square-fingered art is reminiscent of many old school comic creators, in an obvious hat tip to these greats. It works; it works very well. This story has been called cinematic due mostly to his use of three horizontal panels on most pages, a technique that is very effective.

Flash is forced to don the red and run to save his girl.

Cooke uses his art to address hard-hitting themes.

Cooke shows the role of government in the superhero story.

My Rating: High School

There is cursing and blood, smoking and drinking, and all kinds of political nightmares going on. All of it is appropriate to the story and seems natural, but it is heavy and best suited for high school aged students.

Cursing, smoking, drinking, war and death are all a part of our history and that of the superheroes. All are part of the story. The cursing occurs but only these few times in the 416-page story:

“What the Hell was that thing?”
“And I’ll be damned if that isn’t a North Korean soldier.”
“Crazy bastard.”
“Now get your asses down there!”
“Hot damn, big daddy!”
“You’ll get this shot or I’ll throw you off the goddamned chopper!”
“Hal Jordan, you low-down son-of-a-bitch!”

The heavy racial and political themes expressed in THE NEW FRONTIER are obviously important to our history and our current cultural identity. The tumultuous times changed our lives forever. High school students react well to authenticity and real life and they would respond well to an exploration of those times through the use of this comic. There are problems, however, what with the cursing, smoking and whatnot. The teacher must consider his or her school board, school culture, and the larger community before introducing THE NEW FRONTIER.

Consider President John F. Kennedy’s historic speech, quoted in THE NEW FRONTIER: “Can a nation organized and governed such as our endure? That is the real question. Have we the nerve and the will? Can we carry through in an age where we will witness not only new breakthroughs in weapons of destruction – but also a race for mastery of the sky and the rain, the ocean and the tides, the far side of space and the inside of men’s minds? That is the question of the New Frontier. That is the choice our nation must make – between the public interest and private comfort. – between national greatness and national decline – between the fresh air of progress and the stale, dank atmosphere of ‘normalcy’ – between determined dedication and creeping mediocrity. All mankind waits upon our decision. A whole world looks to see what we will do. We cannot fail their trust, we cannot fail to try.”

(According to Wikipedia)
2007 Eisner Award: Best Graphic Album (reprint)
2007 Harvey Award: Best Graphic Album of Previously Published Work
2005 Eisner Award: Best Limited Series, Best Coloring and Best Publication Design.
2005 Harvey Award: Best Artist, Best Colorist, and Best Continuing or Limited Series.
2005 Shuster Award: Outstanding Canadian Comic Book Cartoonist

The series is also available in a 464-page, oversized hardcover, which sells for $75.

Highly Recommended with Reservations
This is not an official designation of mine. Typically, a “Recommended with Reservations” would be enough. However, Cooke’s work is important and beautiful and worthy of study. So I melded two recommendations into one in hopes that teachers would consider the work and determine if it is right for their high school or college classroom.

I have reservations because DC: THE NEW FRONTIER is not for every class, not for every school. It might be scary, even controversial for some communities to look at the world in such a way.

My reservations, however, are not based on the literary value of the work. That is, in my opinion, stable. It is the secondary issues that give rise to concern. This story is important to history and to our understanding of ourselves. It is about human nature, fear, patriotism, advocacy, and change. DC: THE NEW FRONTIER cuts to the chase, sometimes to the quick, and then dresses the wound with a good, old-fashioned hero bandage. I loved it.


I know. It’s only June, but the trick-or-treat season is coming and you want to be prepared. Rather than rotting kids’ teeth and adding to the obesity epidemic, you can choose to stop the madness and increase literacy all at the same time.

You can buy 25 mini comics in a bundle for the low-low price of $3 per bundle. This year they offer five titles. From Previews:

by Jeff Smith

As Fone Bone, Gran’ma and Thorn make their journey to Atheia, they have an unexpected encounter with the two stupid Rat Creatures – and a bloody battle ensures! Things are bound to get worse as the might Kingdok arrives on the scene, ready to shred Gran’ma to bits. This is an excerpt from Bone #21, which appears in full in the color graphic novel: The Dragonslayer from Scholastic/Graphix.

by Akira Toriyama

From the creator of Dragonball and Dragonball Z! Paifu, a half-vampire/half-werekoala, is always getting into trouble with his best buddy, José the ghost. But when the Monster Flu sweeps through town, the fun and games are over! If the sick monsters don’t get the medicine they need in a month, everyone will die. With all the adults sick, it’s up to the boys to get the medicine and save the say! Paifu and José are off on a big adventure, but will they get the medicine in time … or will they become victims themselves?

Archie: The Mystery of the Museum Sleep-In
by George Gladir & Bob Bollng

The museum is a scream for Archie and Jughead when, inspired by a favorite film, they decide to spend a night at the museum to experience maximum spookage! And experience it they do, as statues suddenly come toward them! Are these artifacts coming to life for real, or is somebody playing the ultimate Halloween “trick” on our unsuspecting teens? The answer will leave you scared silly!

A Peanuts Halloween
by Charles Schulz

This special promotional mini-comic features close to two dozen vintage Peanuts strips from the classic late 196’s period (including five full-color Sundays!), focusing mostly on Linus Van Petl’s eternally hopeful vigil for the “Great Pumplin”, with guest appearances by Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Lucy, and a hippie bird? This nifty little giveaway will remind trick-or-treaters (and their folks) of Fantagraphic’s award-winning Complete Peanuts series … and of greatness of Peanuts in general.

Donald Duck: Halloween Hucksters
by Marco Rota

Boo! N Marco Rota’s brand-new “Halloween Hucksters”, a spooky “scare expert” invties Donald to help him paint the town orange – and haunt the dickens out of Uncle Scrooge, Gyro Gearloose, and Daisy! But too much fright proves no delight … and what happens when Donald learns his host is a g-g-ghost?

You can purchase these by going to your local comic book store and placing an order, citing the Previews Issue: June 2008, page 21. Easy as pie. Order them now or they might not be in stock come October.

Our family did this last year and it was a hit. The kids were very excited about getting comics and so were the parents. We allowed each child to choose his or her own book (and only one book) and they seemed to delight in that. (Children having choice of reading in the classroom, true choice, is strongly supported by research.)

Mini-Comics are also a great addition to a n existing classroom library or as a first purchase for your classroom. These make great gifts for the kids in your elementary classroom, too.

Friday, June 20, 2008


AUTHOR: Paul Storrie
PENCILS: Steve Kurth
INKS: Barbara Schulz
COLORS: Hi-Fi Design
LETTERING: Bill Hauser
PUBLISHER: Lerner Publishing Group
GENRE: Mythology (Greek)

FORMAT: Library binding
COLOR: Full Color
ISBN-10: 0-8225-3084-8
ISBN-13: 978-0-8225-3084-8

From the website:

“Famous for his superhuman strength, Hercules is the most popular hero in Greek mythology. The son of Zeus — king of the gods — and a mortal mother, Hercules faces the wrath of Zeus’s wife Hera, who resents her illegitimate stepson and vows to bring him misery. With her magical powers, she tricks Hercules into performing a series of twelve seemingly impossible labors, each one a test of his strength, courage, cunning, and fighting skill. Is Hercules strong enough to foil her scheme? For this exciting retelling of the twelve labors, author Paul Storrie consulted the classic work The Age of Fable (1859), by American Thomas Bulfinch, and Edith Hamilton’s Mythology (1942), both of which are considered the best resources about on ancient myths and legends. Artist Steve Kurth also relied on historical research to accurately bring to life the world of ancient Greece.”

This graphic adaptation of HERCULES is a quick, action-oriented tale of strength and cleverness. Hercules moves from task to task, defeating his foe, much to the chagrin of Eurystheus. The pacing makes this story easy for a wide range of readers and builds interest in Greek mythology and also in reading. What I appreciate in the story design is the desire I feel to learn more – more about Hercules and Greek myth. Motivation and inspiration are keys to children reading.

The writer carefully edited the story of Hercules’ descent into madness, killing his wife and children. In this adaptation, Hercules simply goes to the oracle for some unknown reason. Most likely, this edit was made in order to make the book more suitable for children, but it certainly leaves some questions, which are not necessarily a bad thing.

The art in HERCULES: THE TWELVE LABORS, like the other titles in the series, are realistic. The inks and colors are rendered to look real rather than cartoony, which helps with older readers.

My Rating: Ages 9 and older
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 9-14
Publisher’s Reading Level: Grade 4
Publisher’s Interest Level: Grades 4-8

ATOS: 3.6
AR QUIZ NO.: 107488

Like many titles, I offer an age recommendation, but that is just a recommendation. If a child shows interest I recommend allowing them to explore it. Myth is one of those subjects that fascinate some children and that interest should be nurtured and encouraged, regardless of Lexile ratings or age levels.

It’s Greek mythology, so there are gods and goddesses, mysticism, magic, and the like.

So many uses in the elementary and middle school classroom, it’s boggling. My friend, Paul Epps, created a lesson plan (as part of a unit) comparing and contrasting myth with science. He used HERCULES as part of that lesson, which will be published in a textbook on literacy Spring 2009. The students analyze the purpose of myth and science to a culture and the differing roles each play within that society. Can a human being really do the things that Hercules did? What is the science behind the twelve labors?

Myth strikes interest in children, especially boys. Students are drawn to the mythological creatures and characters, which makes this book (and the others in the series) important. Not only are communication arts lessons a plenty with this title, but history, politics, sports, and science.

Included is a synopsis of the mythos of Hercules, a glossary, index, resources for further study, and background information on creating the graphic novel, and information about the creators.

Other titles in the Myth and Legend series include these Greek, English, Chinese, African, Norse, Arabian, Egyptian, and Japanese tales:


Highly Recommended
For the target audience, this book is a perfect addition to the classroom.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Comics are in the mainstream and that could be to your advantage. We know kids are interested in comic literature. They will read it when they will not read anything else. Comic-related movies have really gained steam the past few years. This year is especially big for comic movies. Undoubtedly, you’ve heard of Spider-Man, both the comic and the movie. That should be no surprise. Here are some comic-related movies that may very well spur more interest in your students. Perhaps, some of these movies will spur enough interest that you may want to include them in your classroom comic book library.

  • Iron Man (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hulk (Marvel)
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth (Stone Arch Press)
  • Persepolis (Pantheon)
  • Batman: The Dark Knight (DC)
  • Speed Racer (IDW)
  • Indiana Jones (There are all kinds of Indiana Jones comics at Dark Horse)
  • The Tale of Despereaux (That’s right. Despereaux will be a movie and a comic by the end of this year.)
You can obtain copies of these comics at your local comic book store. Some may or may not be appropriate for your classroom.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Shaun Tan
PUBLISHER: Arthur A. Levine Books (An imprint of Scholastic)
GENRE: Fantasy

FORMAT: Hardcover
PAGES: 128
COLOR: Sepia and white
ISBN-10: 0-439-89529-4
ISBN-13: 978-0-439-89529-3

Our unnamed protagonist packs his bags and sets off in search of a new land and a new life for his family. Some unknown evil of dragon descent is wreaking havoc on his homeland and the family must leave. The man – the husband and father – takes off across the sea to a land where he does not speak the language in hopes of finding work and shelter so he can bring his family to safety and opportunity.

From cover to cover, THE ARRIVAL is a striking piece of comic literature, profound and beautiful, complex and introspective. Every page, every panel, every stroke of the pen evokes a deep sense of connection with the character, and our own history, as he moves from his comfortable yet dangerous life to the new world. The tribulations of the immigrant family have never been so clear, so common, so close, as it is in THE ARRIVAL.

The hyper-stylized story is told without word one, and is drenched in sepia tones giving the book authenticity, history and fantasy, all at the same time. While beasts and creatures run wild in Shaun Tan’s world, they are somehow commonplace and ordinary, so much so that the reader nearly forgets it is fantasy, which is a nice touch.

Seemingly evil or destructive forces, depicted as dragons,
force the family from their home.

The paperwork and processes of the
are articulated beautifully,
as the man tries to enter the new country.

The art is breathtaking and powerful, evoking emotion
without a single word.

My Rating: Ages 10 and older
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 12 and older

The publisher’s recommended age may begin at 12, but I feel this book is accessible for younger children as well. Some of the complexities and subtleties of the story may be lost on younger children, but we underestimate them sometimes and I think children deserve a chance to experience THE ARRIVAL.

A wordless comic is not easy to read. In many ways, it is more difficult and is much slower. Take your time when reading THE ARRIVAL. Study the faces, the background, and the expressions of the characters. Encourage your students to do the same, or all will be lost.

Above all else, this is the story of the immigrant – of leaving one’s home out of panic and necessity due to some unseen forces, and searching for safer ground, a secure home, a new life. This story is becoming more important every day as the global community collides. Helping students understand the struggles of the immigrant family – the fears, language barriers, and culture shock – is important in the multicultural classroom. Younger children may need some assistance with the story, help making sense of the struggle, but when they do they will be able to make connections with the real world, with our world, with our contemporary struggles.

Click here to watch this video with creator Shaun Tan.

Highly Recommended
THE ARRIVAL is a beautiful and poignant story, brilliant in its breadth and depth; it is art and literature worthy of any library. It is a must for the classroom.

Saturday, June 7, 2008


Issue #1

Issue #2

Issue #3

Issue #4

AUTHOR: Art Baltazar and Franco
PUBLISHER: Johnny DC (DC Comics’ children’s division)
GENRE: Superhero

ISSUE: 1-4
PAGES: 32 pages each

From the DC website:

Issue #1
Awwww yeah, Titans! See what life is like at Sidekick Elementary and meet the new staff! Follow the madness that ensues when Beast Boy gets a puppy friend! Witness what happens when the girls meet a pink stranger with a melted ice cream cone! Find out what makes Cassie such a trendsetter! All your favorite Titans, in their cutest possible form, are here and waiting for you!

Issue #2
The Fearsome Five have arrived, and they have their eyes set on the Tiny Titans playground! Plus, Beast Boy has a crush on a rock-throwing lass and Cyborg helps bake a cake. All this and more in our second all-ages, all-fun issue!

Issue #3
More zany Tiny Titans adventures! Alfred lets the boys spend an afternoon in the Batcave, a high-spirited debate occurs when the Tiny Titans try to figure out the difference between a superhero and a sidekick, Show-and-Tell day at Sidekick Elementary has hilarious results, and see how Beast Boy tackles science class.

Issue #4
Find out what happens when Robin's life goes to the birds! Meet the Little Tiny Titans as they show Wonder Girl just how tough babysitting can be! See why being Beast Boy's dentist isn't all it's cracked up to be!

The TINY TITANS title is exactly what kids’ superhero comics should be: fun, smart and meant for kids. The story lines are not complicated or heavy handed, didactic or overly simplistic, hyper-sexualized or violent. Rather, the plot focuses on the daily grind of the typical kid: teachers, parents, principals, homework, puppy love, school-yard bullies, and fights over rights to the swing sets.

For the lover of the teenaged Titans, there is plenty to draw upon what with all the future enemies of the Titans smack dab in the lives of the TINY variety: Deathstroke, the Penguin’s penguins, and of course the Fearsome Five. Deathstroke, who chooses his given moniker of Mr. Slade, is the school principal. The Fearsome Five are the recess bullies trying to take over the playground. As kids gets older and move into the TEEN TITANS they will appreciate the inventiveness of TINY TITANS and the incorporation of TEEN TITAN mythos into the younger title.

TINY TITANS is clever and cute. If I were going to the comic book store to pick out one title for a young elementary child’s first superhero comic this title would be it. Come to think of it, I have just done that very thing today, and my daughter and I cannot wait for the 8-year-old twin boys to get their first taste of the TITANS. Awww, yeah.

When I introduced TINY TITANS to the fifth graders, they read they quick-as-you-please, laughing at their desks and sharing the short stories with their friends. TT is unlike most mainstream comics in that it offers a vignette style comic, full of short stories. Perfect for an elementary classroom and for struggling readers, and one of my top favorites for kids.

Baltazar has an unmistakable artistic signature. It is iconic and accessible to children without being foolish or inane. Unlike his other popular book, PATRICK THE WOLF BOY, which is black and white, TINY TITANS is colorful, something the children love. The art is perfect for its audience.

My Rating: All Ages
Publisher’s Rating: All Ages

While aimed squarely at soon-to-be comic fans, there is nostalgia, excitement and laughs to be had, especially from the adult who gives TINY TITANS as a gift.

I introduced TINY TITANS to a class of fifth graders, while I was completing a student teaching experience. It was a title that was routinely checked out and read between assignments. I have also used it in a formal lesson plan to primary students to teach story basics: beginning, middle and end. The vignette style of 1- to 4-page stories allows a teacher to do a quick read aloud on the document camera and study the story. It would also be helpful when exploring the five elements of fiction: setting, plot, character, style and theme.

TINY TITANS is a current title offered by DC Comics. The individual comics are all available and a trade paperback is soon to come. This is a perfect time to get on board with a new comic from the first issue.

This title is from the creators who brought you the very entertaining comic, PATRICK THE WOLF BOY.

Highly Recommended
I love the TINY TITANS, especially for youngsters new to comics. It introduces children to a rich mythos on their level. I have the individual comics, but I am keeping an eye out for the trade paperbacks (several issues are bound together in one volume). I will buy those for the classroom too. TINY TITANS is a must-have for the elementary comic library.

Friday, June 6, 2008


I’ve tried and tried to write as many reviews as possible to carry me through the summer semester. It’s been a lot of work, but has been a pleasure to read and review so many great things for the classroom. I hope to write more during the semester.

I have ordered a birthday present for two, 8-year-old twin boys. We go way back with the parents. The gifts include TINY TITANS #1-#4 and Super Friends #1-#3. We cannot wait to give them these titles; I think they will love them. Like many boys, they are not big readers. We are in hopes that these titles will cultivate an interest in reading. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Titles in this week:

  1. Bionicle Vol. 1: Rise of the Toa Nuva
  2. Deepak Chopra’s Buddha: A Story of Enlightenment #3
  3. Igor #2
  4. Kingdom of Hearts Vol. 1-2
  5. Marvel Adventures Hulk Vol. 1: Misunderstood Monster
  6. Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man #40
  7. Super Friends #2-#3
  8. Thor #6