Friday, March 27, 2009


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

Never let an opportunity pass you by, right? When I learned (through my RSS feeds and not through my local newspapers, by the way) that the New England Webcomics Weekend Convention would be held in the town right next door to where I live, how could I pass it up? I produce my own webcomic (Boolean Squared), encourage the reading and writing of comics in my sixth grade classroom, and write reviews with an eye towards learning for this site.

So, on Saturday, I made my way over to the convention being held in an old converted mill building. The organizers expected about 700 people, I think, and the day they opened online registration it was filled up within the day and they were sending out warnings to folks that there was not enough space for the numbers of people wanting to attend. I got my name on the list early, but I think the number of people interested in this world of webcomics is an indication of the passion that people have for the convergence of writing and art. The range of work was pretty fascinating, too, although much of the comics on display were for adults and mature audiences. And it is interesting how webcomic folks move rather seamlessly from publishing to the web to self-publishing in book form. There were a lot of books being bought as I milled about.

I got there early on Saturday because I was on a mission that went beyond just checking out what other folks were up to, however. I was armed with a small Flip video camera, with the intent of interviewing a few of the artists about what inspired them to get into comics, what kind of support they may have received from teachers and any advice they might have for young writers. The artists I talked to were open and eager to share their thoughts, for which I was grateful.

I intend to show this video to my students and to use it again this summer when I teach a webcomic camp for middle school students. The more they can see and hear real webcomic artists, the more they can imagine that what they are doing is valued, has meaning and is part of a much larger world of artists and writers, and yes ... a few geeks like me.

Featured in this video are:
• Chris Hallbeck – The Book of Biff
• Spike – Templar, Arizona
• Renee Engstrom – Anders Loves Maria
• David Willis – Shortpacked!

Click here for the Publisher's Weekly story on the convention.

New England Webcomic Convention: advice and inspiration from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.


The Smithsonian has created a scientific webcomic perfect for the science classroom. THE SECRET IN THE CELLAR is “based on an authentic forensic case of a recently discovered 17th Century body. Using graphics, photos, and online activities, the webcomic unravels a mystery of historica, and scientific importance. Online sleuths can analyze artifacts and examine the skeleton for the telltale forensic clues that bring the deceased to life and establish the cause of death."

There are so many resources available from this site, they are too numerous to list here. It would be well worth your time to click and move through the webcomic and see if it can fit into your science curriculum.

Thanks to Bart Collart, illustrator and Flash developer on the project for sending the information to me. The Booz Allen Hamilton team are responsible for the writing.


Another online comic-creation site has popped up. Pixton allows creators to design every aspect of a charcter. The site requires a sign-in to design free comics. It also gives unfettered access to others' comics, which may make teachers nervous.

Good news. There is also a private, virtual classroom for schools, although that costs money. The Pixton school site is both SMART and Promethean accredited, which will really appeal to technology-based classrooms that use an interactive white board.

It is just one more way to infuse curriculum and technology into the classroom. The Pixton school site is now linked in the sidebar.


Low and behold tis the time for another announcement of winners. It was some time ago, December actually, that Nick Magazine announced it’s first annual Comic Awards. An amazing number of fans, 17,000, voted for their favorite comics. Like it or not, kids read comics and for many it is their first foray into the world of reading for enjoyment.

And the winners are …

Favorite Graphic Novel
Diary of a Wimpy Kid (series), by Jeff Kinney, Amulet Books/Harry Abrams

Favorite Comic Book Series
Simpsons comics, Bongo Comics

Cutest Comic Character
Snoopy – from Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz (United Feature Syndicate)

Favorite Comic Strip
Garfield by Jim Davis (Universal Press Syndicate)

Best Hair in Comics
Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson (Universal Press Syndicate)
Favorite Manga Series
Best of Pokémon Adventures, by Hidenori Kusaka and Mato (Viz)

Grossest Thing in Comics
The Cheese from Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney (Amulet Books/Abrams)

Favorite Fantasy Graphic Novel
Bone (series), by Jeff Smith

“Our readers have spoken, and thousands have cast their votes," said Laura Galen, Editorial Director of Nick Magazine. "This contest presented us with a great opportunity to engage our readers and make them a part of the editorial process. We hope they'll enjoy seeing their favorites in print."


A few weeks back we ran an article about the FIND A HERO contest by Stone Arch Press, which was inspired by DC’s SUPER HEROES book series.

Hakeem Bennet from The Nathanael Greene School (P.S. 6K) in Brooklyn, NY is the first place winner. As offered, Bennet will star next to Superman in the upcoming book, THE KID WHO SAVED SUPERMAN available June 15, 2009. The coolness doesn’t end there. Bennet’s teacher, Mr. Brown, and Principal Schneider will find themselves in the plot as well.

According to Stone Arch, there were more than 230 entries from the U.S. and Canada. What did the kids write about? Teachers, P.E. teachers, librarians, principals, custodians, classmates, friends and service animals were the most popular subjects.

Young Bennet chose his teacher, Mr. Brown who is visually impaired. As Bennet put it, he didn’t chose his teacher because of his disability but because he takes public transportation. “To ride the train to East NY in Brooklyn is chaotic and not the safest even for people who do not have a disability,” said Bennet. “He could serve as a superhero for all.”

“We were amazed at how well young kids could articulate the ‘super powers’ of the real heroes in their lives,” said Joan Berge, President of Capstone Publishers, Fiction. “While it was extremely difficult to choose just one first place winner, Hakeem’s touching story about his teacher Mr. Brown stood out from the rest. We’re so excited to feature him as the hero in our book and can’t wait for him to see the finished product. He’s a very excited kid to be starring alongside SUPERMAN in a book!”

The DC SUPER HEROES series debuted in January with 12 titles. The books pair new stories by Stone Arch Books authors with original art by DC Comics illustrators. The full-color chapter books feature contemporary adventure and crime fighting tales with appropriate language and content for students in elementary grades. The series will include a total of 48 titles published over a two-year span.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


From the Editor

I’ve rested up some over Spring Break, watched plenty of movies and played with my with and daughter. It’s time to read some comics and graphic novels and write some reviews for the upcoming weeks. It’s all good, my friends.

In other news, we were featured in the Spring 2009 cover issue of School & Community, a publication by the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA). The story and cover are not yet available from the MSTA website, but you can bet your bottom dollar I will post it when it is.

Enjoy the reading list for this week:

  1. Batman: The Brave and the Bold
  2. Dungeon Zenith: Back in Style (Vol 3)
  3. The Incredibles #1
  4. Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four #46
  5. The Muppet Show #1
  6. The Raven and Other Poems by Edgar Allan Poe
  7. Sonic Universe #2
  8. Usagi Yojimbo #119


When I went to the Graphica In Education (GIE) Conference earlier this year, I ran into Bill Zimmerman of MakeBeliefsComix. Thankfully, I impressed upon him the need to keep in contact with me, as he provides a wonderful online resource that teachers could use in the classroom.

MakeBeliefsComix is an online comic generator, allowing students to create their own comic stories. How can a teacher use this resource to support curriculum and assessment? It's amazingly easy. Here's one example of how I did it in a fifth grade class.

I developed a science Web Quest on biomes, which you are welcome to use assuming you give me the appropriate credit. The students were charged with acting as a consultant to Larry (of Larry's Lawn Chairs), by providing him with recommendations on where to move his business. Their recommendation and presentation is that on which they were assessed.

During communication arts, I transfered that information over and asked the students to create their very own comics. The connection to curriculum: the students had to include information about one of the biomes they studied, and demonstrate that learning into any of the five elements of fiction (character, setting, plot, theme and style). For instance, a student could not write about a butterfly in the tundra, but she could write about a caterpillar in the deciduous forrest. The student had to draw the proper flora and fauna that would appear in that biome.

This brings us back to MakeBeliefsComix. While this Web Quest did take place in an technology-based classroom (eMINTS) not all classrooms have this available; however, most schools do a have a computer lab that can be checked out. Thus, making it possible to incorporate technology into a traditional classroom and use Zimmerman's site to create those comics while connecting it all to curriculum and assessment.

Another wonderful component that Zimmerman just added includes printables, whereby comic pages are already pre-designed. Teachers can print the templates and students can fill in the dialogue/thought bubbles in class. This is especially handy for classrooms that are not technology-based. Teachers will undoubtedly find his 21 Ways to Use MakeBeliefsComix in the Classroom quite handy.

I'm creating a new heading in the sidebar to include sites where students can create their own comics. Click, read, design, and insert into your classroom.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


By Nate Stearns
Staff Writer

I am, I have to confess, a bit skeptical of graphic novels that try to teach you something. It might be because of all those after school specials where Eric Stoltz's descent into iniquity as a result of inadequate flossing left me wary of adults and their attempts to tell me what to do, or the right way to act, eat, drink, breathe, and conduct dental hygiene. Of course, now I am one of those adults. So, when I read THE MURDER OF LINCOLN I was ready for someone to try and Make Reading Fun™. Someone was going to dress up school for the young’uns: flashy, cloying, shallow.

And it's really not like that. MURDER tells the story of Lincoln's assassination at the hand of the racist, foppish, arrogant John Wilkes Booth with energy and a thick sheath of context. I guess that everyone knows the basic outline of the story of Lincoln's death at Ford Theater, but I didn't realize that Booth and his conspirators were terrorists. Their original plan was to kidnap Lincoln on the road, spirit him away to the Confederacy, and bargain his freedom with the release of thousands of rebel prisoners. After too much delaying, it soon became clear that the Secession was finally going to end in failure, especially when Robert E. Lee surrendered in Vicksburg. Instead of dissuading Booth, this turn of events enraged him and caused him to concoct a new plan that involved assassinating Lincoln, Vice President Johnson, and the Secretary of State William H. Seward in one coordinated attack.

Geary deftly takes us through the 62 days leading up to the assassination, both by detailing the unraveling conspiracy (early members of the cabal left when it became clear that Lincoln was to be killed and not kidnapped) and by exploring Lincoln's relationship with his wife (Mary Lincoln's unreasonable rage towards General Grant's wife is the reason he isn't in the theater box during the killing). Throughout there are strange mysteries and coincidences, tragedies and missed opportunities. Even a few are bleakly funny such as conspirator George Atzerodt's abandonment of the attempt to kill Johnson in favor of drunken wanderings through the city. Or of Lincoln's refusal to make even the slightest attempt to protect his own life, even though an entire Confederacy had reason to wish him ill. In fact, Booth is able to get into Lincoln's theater box, merely by presenting his card to the attendant outside.

If there is a criticism to be leveled at the book it is that it, at times, concentrates on almost mystical, prophetic moments (Lincoln tells his driver good bye instead of good night; the Secretary of War refuses to release a bodyguard for the President) in a sort of History Channel hokum kind of way, though of course, we're spared the whole Lincoln-had-a-Secretary-named-Kennedy American History Paul Harvey claptrap.

The black-and-white art is easy to understand and contains an understated sense of horror throughout. There aren't a large number of design innovations; usually we march through the story in 6-panel pages, but certain scenes – such as the actual moment of Lincoln's death or of his being laid out in his deathbed – employ a larger canvas. Geary does an impressive job of integrating a large number of facts and contextual information without seeming as if he was shoehorning stuff onto the page.

More importantly, a book like this suggests how History could be taught: as a series of riveting narratives that bubble up through the messy stew of human nature and historical events. There are loads of factual information in the book, but being tied up in the suspenseful story of Lincoln's assassination they come alive instead of laying inert. The President's death was more than one crazy man's attempt at payback; it's tied up in the currents of 19th century America. Comicslit has a series of these books (LIZZIE BORDEN, JACK THE RIPPER), although they seem concentrated on salacious murders during the Victorian era. Still, the book does make you imagine what American History would like as a series of short graphic novels that encapsulate important movements, ideas, and figures in exciting narratives instead of as a Bataan Death march from President to President.

Click here for a preview of the book.

Author & Illustrator: Rick Geary
Lettering: Rick Geary
Publisher: Comicslit
Genre: True Crime/History

Format: Softcover digest
Edition: First edition
Volume: 7
Pages: 80
Color: Black & white
ISBN-11: 1561634263
ISBN-13: 978-1561634262

Recommended for High School students.


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer


We don't often associate graphic novels with collaboration but THE LOST ONES pushes that envelope in interesting ways. Author Steve Niles, who has written many creepy books in the horror genre, switches gears here and invites four teams of illustrators to create the artwork for four parts of a story of four friends who invent a time machine and land on different versions of Earth as they try to get back "home" to their own Earth reality. The tale could have been stronger, I think, but Niles does a nice job of playing with our perceptions of time and also, with our love of comics. On one Earth, for example, the entire culture has been created around a supply of comic books that were found and become almost like the written history of the world. The development of the four main characters was also a bit weak, although Niles tries to show some of the budding relationships between the four explorers. THE LOST ONES has potential but never quite gets off the ground, from the story standpoint. Still, if you like toying with time travel and science fiction (laced with humor), this story might fit the bill.

This graphic novel is an interesting montage of illustrators. While Niles wrote the story, he passed off the illustrations to four teams – including Morning Breath, Dr. Revolt, Gary Panther, and Kime Buzzelli. Each has a very unique style and the shift from one section of the story to another is a bit jarring and unsettling. I don't say this in a negative way, as the artwork is engaging on different levels. From the graffiti styles of Dr. Revolt to the retro-vibe of Morning Breath, the expanse of the art in THE LOST ONES allows the reader to experience the shift in time zones and versions of Earth. In this way, the change of illustrators works in tandem with the story.

I am not sure how this book would have a place in the reading curriculum, other than for pleasure reading (which should always be encouraged, right?), but I can see how THE LOST ONES might be used effectively for an art class. Students could discuss and think about how the different styles of illustrations work or don't work for various points of the storyline. And they could illustrate their own scene in various styles, reflecting on how a piece of writing shifts with the artistic element. From a writing standpoint, this book might be a good model for collaboration for a graphic novel project, showing how a writer hands off control to an illustrator.

You can get a digital version of the novel from Zune Arts. There were just a limited number of hard-copy books published by Zune, so your best bet might be the free digital version (which I imagine might make it even more interesting for students). Click here to read the Newsarama interview with Steve Niles.

Publisher: Zune Arts
Author: Steve Niles
Illustrators: Morning Breath, Dr. Revolt, Gary Panther, and Kime Buzzelli
Format: Softcover and PDF
Color: Full color
Pages: 43

I would recommend this book for the classroom, particularly for those students with an interest in art and in science fiction. There is nothing inappropriate in here (surprising, given Niles' other work as a writer) and the book would be of interest to middle school and high school readers, I think.


From the Editor

Oh man! Ever since I went to the GIE Conference in New York, I have been waiting for, salivating over, anticipating ADVENTURES IN CARTOONING. Why do I mention it specifically? Because … it is a comic story about how to draw comics. That’s all I will say until I review this puppy. If you want to teach young students about how to make comics, you should really check it out.

In other news, the WONDER WOMAN animated DVD came out a couple weeks ago. For those of us who are always on the lookout for strong female protagonists to support a diverse and gender-sensitive classroom this one caught my eye. I went out last night and picked it up for my 8-year-old. Besides, if it is good enough (and appropriate) I might use it in my future elementary classroom to support our communication arts curriculum. While I was out, I also picked up the WATCHMEN motion comic. Why not?

Here is a list of the goodies this week:

Adventures in Cartooning
The Boxcar Children Vol. 1
The Boxcar Children Vol. 2: Surprise Island
The Boxcar Children Vol. 3: The Yellow House Mystery
The Boxcar Children Vol. 4: Mystery Ranch
The Boxcar Children Vol. 5: Mike’s Mystery
The Boxcar Children Vol. 6: Blue Bay Mystery
Joey Fly Private Eye: In Creepy Crawly Crime
Marvel Adventures Avengers #34
Super Friends #13
Tiny Titans #14
Tiny Tyrant Volume 1: The Ethelbertosaurus

Saturday, March 14, 2009


Take notice, dear educators. This week we have our first ever student review of a comic. Christian has picked a good one, choosing a Mayan myth for his first venture. I'm thinking a review of a comic, and not just a book report, would make a fun and interesting culminating activity to demonstrate one's learning. Don't you think?

We could encourage our students to pose and answer big questions and contemplate how the comic of their choice relates to real life or connects to other things they know or have experienced. There is ample opportunity for students to really connect the dots and use those higher order thinking skills.

I'm hoping this isn't our last student review. I'd love to see more. If you don't mind, leave a positive little note for Christian in the comments section. I'm sure he would appreciate it.


By Christian Hodgson
Student Reviewer, Third Grade

(NOTE FROM KEVIN (DAD): My sons love graphic novels as much as I do, and when a delivery comes, they are as apt to open the box as I am. They are always interested to see what has arrived and I know a book has reached its audience when the book has disappeared into their room. I am hoping to get them to do a few reviews of books from their viewpoint, to give you a young reader's impression of a graphic novel. I hope you enjoy Christian's review of THE HERO TWINS AGAINST THE LORDS OF DEATH. He dictated his review to me and I became his secretary/typist)

Two twins – Hunahpu and Xbalanque – who were blessed by Mayan gods and figured out that their dad's uncle was a great ball player (the Mayan sport of Pok-Ta-Pok), so the boys decide to play the sport. The Lords of Xibalba (rulers of the underworld for Mayan culture) call the boys down to play Pok-Ta-Pok against players from the underworld. The players are not alive. They are dead. The boys accept the challenge. But they have to pass through various tests in order to play the game, such as getting past several "houses" or challenges (such as the Razor House, the Cold House and more). They pass all of the tests. In the final game against the players representing the Lords of Xibalba, the boys win and get sent back up to the regular world.

The illustrations were interesting and cool. The images are dark and help tell the story set in the Underworld. If the pictures had been bright, it might have told a story of the normal world.

Students could learn some basics of the Mayan game of Pok-Ta-Pok. It might help kids want to know more about who the Mayans were. Kids would not be scared by this story. Kids might get grossed out by the scene when the twins go into the River of Pus. Yuck!

Genre: Mythology (Mayan)
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Format: Library binding
Color: Full color
Pages: 48
Publisher: Graphic Universe (Lerner Publishing)
ISBN-10: 0822574950
ISBN-13: 978-0822574958

I would recommend this book for other kids. It's a good story and other kids will probably enjoy it.

Christian is a third grader in Massachusetts who loves to play basketball and baseball. He is an excellent reader, and is a member of a community boys-parent book group which has tackled such books as DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, the THE LANDRY NEWS and BUD, NOT BUDDY. He has a huge collection of sports trading cards. Christian is also the biggest fan of the Boston Red Sox that you have ever encountered, while his father is a passionate fan of the New York Yankees. There is some dispute in the house over the best baseball team to ever play, as you can imagine. But both agree that graphic novels are cool.


By Chris Wilson

AUTHOR: Paul Benjamin
PENCILS: David Nakayama (with Juan Santacruz on #2)
INKS: Gary Martin (with Raul Fernandez on #2)
COLORS: Wil Quintana, Michelle Madson & A. Street
LETTERING: Dave Sharpe and Chris Eliopoulos
GENRE: Superhero

FORMAT: Digest
COLOR: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-0-7851-3040-6

You know the basic history with the gamma rays and all. Benjamin spins it like this: Rick the dillweed, a laboratory assistant, runs out on the field to save a monkey from the impending gamma blanket. Dr. Bruce Banner dashes after, pushing Rick into the iron bunker in the nick of time. Rick is saved but Bruce is not, getting a heavy dose of green gamma goodness. Before the dust settles, Bruce is all Hulked out and smashing things to bits. He finally tires out and transforms back into his original self. With the experiment gone awry and the General wanting to experiment on the Hulk himself, Banner flies the coop, with the eternally grateful Rick right behind. Now the two circle the globe looking for a cure and saving people in the meantime.

I do not find the Hulk a particularly interesting character. I do enjoy the complexities of Banner-Hulk, and the philosophical implications of humans letting our animalistic nature make its way to the surface. Once that overarching theme is essentially stripped away for a kids’ book, we are left with nothing more than action sequences of flip flopping white-coated academics and green smashing. MARVEL ADVENTURES HULK is my least favorite of the MA series mostly because the story is all action and no guts – no complexity.

The problem is that I am looking at a kids’ book from an adult perspective. It is entirely possible that students will enjoy HULK for the exact reason I did not. They may find that the non-stop action is exactly what stimulates them, motivates them to read. Enjoyment of reading is the main goal. So while I did not particularly enjoy HULK, I cannot say that children, boys specifically, will have the same reaction I did. That’s perfectly fine. Don’t expect high art, but do expect kids to read it for the action.

I did enjoy the art. It was very colorful and realistic. There is a lot of detail and the panels are sequenced well.

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

It is the Hulk, so there is plenty of smashing, ripping, and the tearing of things.

For those who are looking for non-stop smashing action, then the HULK provides a heavy dose. And the Hulk is portrayed with differing degrees of intellectual understanding. In some scenes he is no more than a muscle-bound bear. In others, he carries on conversations and thinks through actions. Because of the pace, this book may be just what young boys are looking for.

Not particularly artistic or complex, MARVEL ADVENTURES HULK does provide a series of crushing-smashing-ripping-tearing scenes. It just seems to me there could be more, that in an attempt to make a story child-friendly, they stripped it of everything that makes literature great. Perhaps, I have done just what the title states and misunderstood the monster.

Friday, March 13, 2009


From the Editor

Next week I begin a four-week rotation. In my program, we student teach in one room for 12 weeks, then spend the next four weeks rotating to different grades. I will spend next week in a fifth grade classroom. After that, I have no idea, but I have been told that I will eventually rotate into a kindergarten classroom. Quite a change, eh? Once I finish my rotation, I move back into my homeroom and then I take over the classroom for the remaining three weeks.

I will tell you that my homeroom kids were sorely disappointed to see me go especially when I told them the comics were coming with me. I actually had some kids hide books. I love it. When students are upset about losing their books, then we know we have hit upon something special.

Today I offer a list of books that came into the Classroom this week. Click and investigate.

  1. Ali Baby: Fooling the Forty Thieves
  2. G.I. Joe #3
  3. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (Official Movie Prequel) #1
  4. Guan Yu: Blood Brothers to the End
  5. Marvel Adventures Spider-Man #49
  6. Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #9
  7. Perseus: The Hunt for Medusa’s Head
  8. The Stand: American Nightmares #1 (of 5)
  9. Sunjata: Warrior King of Mali
  10. Tristan & Isolde: The Warrior and the Princess
  11. Twisted Journeys #9: Agent Mongoose & the Hypno-Beam Scheme
  12. Twisted Journeys #10: The Goblin King
  13. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz #4 (of 6)

Sunday, March 8, 2009


By Chris Wilson

Book review by Kevin Hodgson
Book review by Nate Stearns
Book review by Chris Wilson

I’ve heard it said that everyone relates to WATCHMEN differently.

The manager of my local comic shop dropped this doosey one day while we were talking about my first read of the book. I commented that the book didn’t really hook me until we got to Rorschach in chapter 6. That was the point when I became fully invested in the entire mythos. For him it was a different chapter. For others he knew, it was another scene entirely.

The same has proven true with the movie. I have read several reviews from long time comic fans and none of them seem to see the movie in the same way. One says that the first 75 percent of the movie was dead on and the last bit was just plain wrong and disconnected. Another seems to say that it is the beginning that rolls in the stink. Yet another finds the adaptation leaves out too many nuances, but is pretty good overall.

All of this banter seems to support, at least in my mind, the intimate and individual relationships that people develop with WATCHMEN. We each have our own take, our own special scenes that speak to us in delicate ways.

My experience is different than all of them in that I have not dog-earned my copy of the graphic novel after decades of repeated readings; I have not had an illicit affair with the comics since the 1980s. I have not sat in the backrooms of comic shops and fought over the allegory of THE BLACK FREIGHTER or debated the adulation of Ozymandias with Alexander the Great. I have participated in a podcast after seeing the movie.

I come to WATCHMEN as a new comic lover and teacher. I find I am able to assimilate the comic and the movie more easily than some others, although even that is not entirely accurate, as I know a couple of comic veterans who were rather pleased. Go figure.

Still, I see the movie as a shell of the deeper nuances and thick themes of the original source. It serves as a good companion to the book but can never take the place. Isn’t that always the case? Those of us who read (be they comics or traditional literature) always know that the movie should never stand alone.

Did I like it? Yeah. I sure did, but I did so knowing that I have a copy of the book at home and I can go to bed tonight knowing that I can pick up that book anytime and relieve a truly remarkable story. Truth be told, I haven’t read it enough times yet, to really call myself a fan, but I plan to rectify that. I have developed a love and appreciation for a mythos that I will treasure for a lifetime and I am anxious to debate the merits of the book, the intricacies of the art, and the more hidden themes nestled deep inside.

I know why the book is one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Best Novels. To watch the movie and skip the book – and I say this as someone who was at first turned off by the graphic novel – is to pimp your soul for a ride on the pop culture bandwagon. Don’t do it. And remember to make up your own mind when it comes to the movie, but please read the source material first.


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

"Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you." – Frederick Wilhelm Nietzsche


Book review by Kevin Hodgson
Book review by Nate Stearns
Book review by Chris Wilson

Honestly, it is a bit intimidating to try to craft a review out of a comic book and series that almost (with help from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight) changed the world of comics almost completely. And now, it is a movie? Good lord. Suffice it to say that WATCHMEN is a dark, literary gem by writer Alan Moore that deserves its place on Time Magazine's list of Top 100 Novels. Smoldering with menace, intrigue and deep character development, WATCHMEN is an acquired taste, I think, but one worth chewing on. The story itself comes across on the surface as a murder mystery, but that concise explanation does not do WATCHMEN justice. It's more of an allegory of an alternative world where the Cold War has reached new heights, Nixon is still president and anyone trying to be a superhero has been banned from action by a law of Congress. The most powerful hero of all? A naked, blue demi-god known as Dr. Manhattan, whose power knows no bounds and who has come to care so little for the inhumanity of humanity that he begins to construct his own Eden on the planet Mars without humans to mess it up.

When one retired hero from the old days gets murdered, and mysterious things begin to happen to others, a shadowy figure with a moral universe all of his own – a clandestine character named Rorschach – hunts for clues. The story unfolds in so many ways, pushing the reader to recalculate what they have read and forcing the reader to reposition themselves any number of times. The writers assume you know how to "read" beyond just the words and that you are invested with them. This is not a story for the casual reader or the feint of heart. The movie may generate some new fans, but I think a quote I read somewhere about why even bother making WATCHMEN into a movie since it was conceived as a comic book is on the mark. It's difficult to believe that this book, in particular, can successfully translate onto the big screen. Time sequences that juxtaposition different events, shifting narratives that layer story on top of story, and grand gestures of symbolism are hallmarks of WATCHMEN and I wonder how a movie can stay true to such an ambitious book. Or maybe, it won't.

Truly, the artwork by Dave Gibbons lives up to the writing, as each frame forces the reader's perspectives on different elements of the narrative. Gibbons pulls out all the stops and the mood of the art here is dreariness, weariness and you sense the world waiting for World War 3 to begin at any moment. Which it is. There is also the fatigue of former heroes, trying to live their lives normally but unable to, and the artwork captures this fatigue on their faces. The violence, too, is not glorified, but it is deadly, and the reader winces when it comes. This is a testament to the illustrations as much as anything. The frames are also crowded with information, giving the entire story a real sense of claustrophobia. In some cases, a character is telling a story with text boxes while a seemingly unrelated story unfolds as a visual in the frame. This design, as much as the art, really contributes to the "feel" of the book.

This is not a book for young readers. In fact, this is the type of comic that many teachers will probably keep off their shelves. I don't blame them. There is violence; there is some nudity; there is some sexual material, including elements of rape (in the back story of at least one of the main characters). If you can get beyond that, you will realize that the richness of this storytelling by Moore and Gibbons in WATCHMEN and treat it as a solid piece of literature. Like some novels, WATCHMEN deconstructs our idea of a "civilized society" and inserts a big, bold gray area right smack dab in between the black and white of most people's vision of good and evil in the world. You could write whole essays on the character development here. Or develop a thesis on what power really is. Or consider the Cold War and what started and ended it, and what kept the so-called balance between USSR and the USA during that time. A writer could take WATCHMEN as a model and construct their own vision of alternative dystopian landscape and develop their own moral codes. The trick is to recognize the book as piece of literature, and not as simply a comic book.

Format: Paperback
Pages: 416
Color: Full color
Publisher: DC Comics
ISBN-10: 0930289234
ISBN-13: 978-0930289232

I'll repeat myself: I don't believe this book is for younger readers. Not for middle school. Not even for young high school students. It contains much violence and plenty of sexual material and some naked bodies. It may be more appropriate for upper high school readers and those at the college level (although I wonder if any professor would dare?). That said, WATCHMEN is a tour de force in the literary world and deserves all of the accolades that it has received over the years. I highly recommend it with strong reservations.


By Chris Wilson

Book review by Kevin Hodgson
Book review by Nate Stearns
Book review by Chris Wilson

Author: Alan Moore
Illustrator: Dave Gibbons
Colors: John Higgins
Lettering: Dave Gibbons
Cover: Dave Gibbons
Publisher: DC Comics
Genre: Superhero

Format: Hardcover
Pages: 436
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-1-4012-1926-0

When I originally picked up WATCHMEN in the late 1990s, I was brand new to comics. At that time, I had just discovered the powerful nature of comic literature and I was buying titles left and right, devouring all kinds of tales – mostly non-superhero stories from independent publishers. My appreciation for story and art was very limited and specific. When I thumbed through Alan Moore’s groundbreaking graphic novel and saw the strange color palette, I handed it back to the friend who loaned it to me, despite hearing the accolades. Thanks but no thanks. I’ll stick to ….

Now for those of you who have nurtured a long, deep love affair with WATCHMEN, please be patient. I did – a few years later – buy my own copy and read it, but only after I was able to expand my definition of comic art. I now hold WATCHMEN in the highest regard.

The time between handing the book back to my friend and the time I picked it up again was well spent. WATCHMEN is not really a neophyte’s friend, at least in most cases it is better to work one’s way up to WATCHMEN. The nuances of the story and art are so complex, so deep, so rich in detail that a new comic reader will undoubtedly miss too much. It’s easy to do. WATCHMEN is not a book to be read only once. Doing so would render the experience too superficial to be considered an authentic experience in the first place. That fact is one thing that makes WATCHMEN the valued tale it is.

Chris’ Rating: College

Moore threw the kitchen sink at the book when it came to controversy. Sex, rape, nudity, murder, graphic violence, homosexuality, prostitution, animal cruelty: it is all there and more. WATCHMEN is not for the sensitive, not for the meek, and not for children.

I’ve heard rumors of high school teachers using WATCHMEN in the classroom, but I can tell you that I do not think that would be appropriate in most classrooms or communities. Certainly it should be reserved only for advanced students. I agree with TGC Staff Writer Nate Stearns when he suggests that parents give written consent in order for high school students to study WATCHMEN. For the most part, this book is school appropriate only with college students.

Moving beyond the debate of how old one should be to study WATCHMEN in school, there is the issue of what to teach. My first thought is that a teacher would want to take his time guiding students in studying the story and the art. At every turn, Moore and Gibbons throw so much into every panel that the reader must move slowly and cautiously to avoid missing too much. Even then, there are things to be lost. I also think we need to be comfortable with absorbing WATCHMEN in smaller chunks.

As a teacher, I think I would spend a significant amount of time helping students make sense of the allegory of the TALES OF THE BLACK FREIGHTER. This is a comic-within-a-comic, that is read by the teen who sits next to the street-side newspaper salesman.

The tale is one of a shipmate who is the lone survivor of a pirate attack by the Black Freighter and her crew. He decides he must warn his family and community of the impending doom sailing their way, and so he fashions a raft from the corpses of his dead mates. His trek requires him to continue to compromise himself and commit unspeakable acts in order to save the life of his family.

At first, THE BLACK FREIGHTER interrupted the flow of the main story and was problematic to me, which is why I suspect they may have left it out of the movie. Be that as it may, THE BLACK FREIGHTER is an important allegory to Moore’s overarching theme and should be read and studied. I think that knowledge will help students accept the minor interruptions to the main plot and view the FREIGHTER as another depth to which Moore will go to create levels in his works.

I wonder if students would gain more from WATCHMEN if they first read, studied and understood FREIGHTER, then went back to read the entire story? I suspect it might head off some complaints that FREIGHTER was confusing, strange, or unconnected to the rest of the story. It is not, but I have heard many a comic fan pan the allegory. Perhaps, it might help them make sense of WATCHMEN and even make predictions to the ending.

I suggest that the teacher help students study each scene and panel, reading each newspaper, flier, billboard, and protest sign. There are many hidden treasures stuffed in the panels that a first time reader will easily miss.

It might also be helpful, before ever starting WATCHMEN, to lead students in a quick lesson or two on the politics of the time, the people in power, and the impact of the Cold War on every citizen. To understand the time period is to understand the drive of the book and the alternate reality that Moore has created. The politics is what drives the characters to do what they do.

There is so much to teach and study in the WATCHMEN. It is brilliant and contemporary, difficult and surprising, stunning and brutal. It gives the reader plenty to think and talk about.

WATCHMEN won an Eisner Award, a Hugo Award, and is now a major motion picture. This version of the book was recolored. Click here to read the first chapter.

Highly Recommended
WATCHMEN was not an instant love of mine. It has taken time for the appreciation, admiration, and love to grow, but prosper it has. This is a book that is worthy of the praise it has received.


From the Editor

Read WATCHMEN in January and saw the movie Friday night. I am still processing what I’ve read, what I’ve watched, and what I think. On our site this week, you can expect all kinds of info on this powerful and deeply nuanced graphic novel – one that many consider to be the coup de grace of comics. Stay tuned and feel free to chime in.

And now to the comics that came into the Classroom this week:
  1. Mad Kids #14
  2. Preview
  3. Supergirl #4 (of 6)

Thursday, March 5, 2009


The NY Times is now offering an on-going list of the best selling graphic novels, split into three categories: hardcover, softcover and manga.

A tip of the hat to EN/SANE World for the heads up. You might also notice that I've added the good doctor to the sidebar as well. Not sure why it took me so long to do that, but I've rectified that problem. 

Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Bucky C of the EN/SANE fame wrote a dandy of a piece on 21st Century literacy skills and the backlash therein. It involves comic literature in the classroom and is worth your time.

In paragraph six, Dr. Carter nails the proverbial documents to the door when he writes: "Literacy is a continuum." Simple. Succinct. Perfect. He goes on to say:

"That's why I am so keen on focusing on how comics can help students develop functional literacies, cultural literacies, critical literacies, and certainly New/Multimodal/21st century literacies. Getting at one literacy skill doesn't and shouldn't mean ignoring others."

I'm all in on that one, but how do we help others see our comic literature efforts – not as "either/or" works set on kicking all classic (non-comic) literature to the door – but as one piece of the larger literacy puzzle?

Thoughts, anyone?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Kathy Ishizuka wrote a quick feature of The Graphic Classroom in the newest March edition of the School Library Journal. Click here for the article.

Thanks for the plug, Kathy. We really appreciate the coverage.