Sunday, September 27, 2009


From the Editor

Life is good. Students are reading because they want to not because they have to and I could not be happier as an educator or a parent. Studies clearly show that when students have choice in reading, several things happen:

They are motivated to read.

They excitedly and openly share what they are reading.

They enjoy the art of sitting down and engaging in story.

Studies also show that comic literature is in the top three choices for students. All we have to do now is provide students access to high quality comics, and use those comics in the classroom in order to achieve our state and national standards.

Following are the comics that came into the classroom this week:

Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! #8
G.I. Joe #9
G.I. Joe: Origins #7
Muppet Peter Pan #1 (of 4)
The Muppet Show: Treasure of Peg Leg Wilson #3 (of 4)
Sonic Universe #8
Super Friends #19


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

This is one graphic novel with a message that seeks to dispel the myth of the subversive computer hacker out to cripple the world, although whether the target audience is the child growing up in the age of technology or their parents is not always clear. HACKERTEEN: INTERNET BLACKOUT centers on a main character, Yago, who is first seen cloistered as a 12-year-old in a room lit up by the computer screen. His worried parents shout for him to get off the computer, to little avail. Yago skips school so that he can play computer games and lies about what he is doing. Finally, Yago's parents bring him to a fictional organization called Hackerteen, where martial-arts-style instructors teach the young boy the ethics of using his skills for good, and not for evil. But evil lurks anyway, and as he grows up, Yago is caught up in conflict between using technology skills for nefarious reasons or for improving life. This dilemma comes to a head as the government releases a computerized balloting system for elections that requires voters to submit a genetic sample for verification.

HACKERTEEN: INTERNET BLACKOUT is told at a brisk pace – almost too brisk. The plot can be confusing to follow, as Yago uses his considerable abilities to help his father's bakery business survive in the face of corporate expansion, a blackmail plot is launched against a girl with a webcam, a new law sends an adult hacker into jail, Yago's friends compete to solve a hacking code in a contest, and Yago's freelancing for customers seeking to catch others in cyber-lies leads to a fateful turn of events that pushes the entire network of the Internet into the brink of collapse. The story would have benefited from a narrowing of the story lines.

The story is published by O'Reilly Media, which has long been at the forefront of the open source movement and the ethical use of technology. So the overarching theme of the book is no surprise and it is an interesting one to explore. As this is the first in a series of HACKERTEEN: INTERNET BLACKOUT, perhaps Marcelo Marques, the author, wanted to create a web of plot lines that could be followed in later books. It also should be noted that the Hackerteen concept is also a web-based education site for parents and kids to learn more about ethical use of computers, and it sometimes seems as if the book is an advertising supplement for the website.

The illustrations work in tandem with the story and are expressive in colors and design. The characters are drawn somewhat stereotypically. For example, one of the bad guys looks quite odd and scary, with a too-short t-shirt that rides up his belly in a disconcerting way. The teenage heroes are dressed in cool, techie clothes, with Star Trek-like glasses. Yago and his friends are the stereotypical geeks in all ways, which is not a bad thing in a graphic novel like this.


HACKERTEEN: INTERNET BLACKOUT explores important issues, such as the dangers of online information and the exploitation of data. It also delves deeply into government intervention (or interference) and the spirit of the Open Source developers. These are important issues and the graphic novel would provide a good source for discussions, particularly for high school students. One thing that O'Reilly Media has done is also to provide website references for various terms cited within the book. This allows readers to investigate further the concepts being explored (such as the reference to DNS.)


Author & Illustrator: Marcelo Marques
Publisher: O’Reilly Media
Pages: 108
ISBN 13: 9780596516475


I would recommend this for middle school and high school students. The book provides a good rationale for ethical use of technology. There is no profanity or violence in this book.


By Kevin Hodgson

Staff Writer


Capstone Press has created its own brand of superhero – Max Axiom, Super Scientist – whose exploits uncover the mysteries of the scientific world. Max Axiom, who sports a bald head and cool glasses, dives into many adventures in the series, exploring such concepts as sound, energy, ecosystems, and others.

With INVESTIGATING THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD WITH MAX AXIOM, the reader goes through the steps of the process of scientific discovery in a very meaningful way. The story doesn't skimp on explanations and the writer (Donald B. Lemke) and illustrators (Tod Smith and Al Migrom) use the graphics inherent in this form to its advantages, showing detailed illustrations that reinforce the story and explanations.

Since I am not a science teacher, I passed on INVESTIGATING THE SCIENTIFIC METHOD WITH MAX AXIOM to my sixth grade teaching colleague, Lisa Rice, and I asked for her impressions. (A side note: it is heartening to see that Max Axiom is a scientist of color as it breaks down the stereotypes of white, geeky nerd scientists tinkering around with chemicals in the lab. Max is not only cool, but he is smart, intuitive and light on his feet).

Here is my podcast interview with Lisa in which she talks about her impressions of the book and also the possibilities for the classroom:

Click here for an alternate podcast link.

More Information

  • Reading level: Ages 9-12
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 32
  • Publisher: Capstone Press
  • ISBN-10: 1429617608
  • ISBN-13: 978-1429617604

This title is also available in an interactive CD format (motion comic). You can click here to read our story of that format.

My Recommendation
I would highly recommend
this book for the middle school classroom. It is informative and lively and engages students on a variety of levels.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


It has been a habit of this geek to order Halloween mini-comics for trick-or-treaters over the past few years. The mini-comics are perfectly suited for little hands and they are nearly as cheap as candy. They come in bundles of 25 and are a much better choice than tooth-rot. I ordered several bundles last month, but if you hurry you will still have time to order yours from your local comic book shop. You can also order most of the mini-comics online at Badger Comics. Here's what I bought:

  • Betty Cooper Confidential (Archie Comics)
  • Casper/Little Lulu (Dark Horse)
  • Domo: The Manga (TokyoPop)
  • Popeye: Popeye vs. The "Ghosk" (King Features)
  • Star Wars (Dark Horse)
I have left0vers from previous years and I plan on giving these out to the students in the HALL OF HEROES comic book club at school. Incidentally, the comics make for good classroom rewards and can also be part of a classroom economy.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


By Chris Wilson

Author & Illustrator: Stan Sakai
Publisher: Dark Horse
Genre: Animal Fantasy

Miyamoto Usagi is a ronin – a masterless samurai – wandering the world on a warrior’s path. Usagi’s story takes place in the early 17th century, known as the Edo Period of Feudal Japan. It is a tumultuous time in Japan’s history. The Tokugawa Shogunate has prevailed in the civil war and taken control over the empire, establishing a time of peace. Now the skills of the samurai, the aristocratic warrior class, are outmoded leaving them to fend for themselves. Many ronin lose their sense of honor and duty becoming hired thugs for new lords while others choose thievery. Some, though, continue the path of the warrior cultivating their spirits and skills, keeping the old ways, maintaining Japanese chivalry, and remaining bound to their oath to serve only one lord. This is the way of Miyamoto Usagi.

Stan Sakai’s anthropomorphic samurai tale is an epic quest of a hero who remains good and chivalrous despite a world that has abandoned his kind. I started the series late (issue 102) and have fallen in love with the story. The 19 issues I have read have done nothing but pique my intrigue for what I suspect has been an incredible journey leading up to my entrance into the mythos.

The Usagi I have seen is kind hearted and empathetic to the plight of others, inserting himself into the business of others in order to help or guide them. The reactions of others lead me toward the observation that this behavior is typical of USAGI YOJIMBO (transliterated as “rabbit bodyguard”).

Sakai brilliantly immerses his stories in Japanese culture and mythology until they drip with authenticity and accuracy. The swords, the regalia, the monsters and demons, armor, attitudes, language, culture, religion, and architecture are all so meticulous one cannot help but feel deeply connected to the time period, the people, and their stories.

Beyond the attention to detail, Sakai has studied the art of storytelling, taking his time to develop characters we can love and hate and question and care about. He does something that so many comic creators and publishers cannot seem to master or allow: He takes his time.

While taking his time, Sakai also gives the reader the action that we expect in a samurai tale. There are swords and sword fights, one-on-one duels and monumental battles between armies. Even with the impalings and beheadings, the violence is cartoonesque and secondary to the overall storytelling. It is not macabre or shocking; in fact I would say the sword violence is unbelievably non-gory and the blood is often hidden or nonexistent. It is merely a detail of the time period. The fact that the characters are animals and the art is black and white also lends to the lessoned effect of the violence.

USAGI YOJIMBO is undoubtedly one of the greatest ongoing comics I have read. I lament the fact that I did not discover the rabbit bodyguard until 100 issues had gone by as I have missed out on an incredible journey. It is now time to go back and purchase some back issues or trade paperbacks.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 10 and older
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 10 and older

It is a samurai tale and there is cartoon violence. As discussed earlier, the violence is fitting the historical context and appropriate to the subject. The black and white art and the anthropomorphic characters make for a less violent and more appropriate title. The title does deal with Japanese culture, including mythological creatures and demons. The characters are mostly Buddhist.

USAGI YOJIMBO is educational in its ability to weave an honorable warrior’s tale with overtones of empathy and kindness. Usagi is a quality military character whose traits children could learn to emulate. He represents several modern ideals from many camps of thought.

The vastness of the storyline also gives students a chance to understand Japanese culture and history from a viewpoint not likely accessible or otherwise interesting to most students. The cast system, code of conduct, chivalry, and strong mythology give rise to so many aspects within the classroom, is hardly possible to write about it briefly.

USAGI YOJIMBO is loosely based upon the famous samurai, Miyamoto Musashi. Sakai’s influences include the resplendent filmmaker, Akira Kurosawa; LONE WOLF AND CUB; and GROO THE WANDERER.

Awards for USAGI include:
  • Parents Choice Award for Children Ages 7 and Older, 1990
  • Inkpot Award, 1991
  • Eisner Award for Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition, 1996
  • Eisner Award for Best Letterer, 1996
  • Haxtur Award for Best Short Story, 1999
  • Eisner Award for Best Serialized Story, 1999
  • Haxtur Award for Best Script, 2000

Highly Recommended
USAGI YOJIMBO offers something entirely different to students. The historical and cultural benefits alone make the story worthwhile in the classroom. The character study and the forces of good and evil make for a story that will grab students and not let go. There’s no more violence in this than in any STAR WARS yarn.


By Nate Stearns
Staff Writer

As a High School English teacher I have a number of go-to moves, party tricks, techniques that have been honed through years of practice and zen-like study. You might, if you're feeling uncharitable, also call these ruts – stolid, unimaginative ways of looking at literature and writing that have become ossified and boring. That is one of the reasons that including graphic novels in the high school classroom has been so useful to me. All of a sudden, expectations about what is English and what is something else get blown up. There is art to contend with as well as words. Dialog is more common than either exposition or description. Even the spaces beween panels can be as important as the panels themselves, and OMG, the main character is a mouse that smokes!

My first attempt at teaching graphic novels involved combining two classic works: Scott McCloud's UNDERSTANDING COMICS and the big 1000-pound gorilla of the graphic novel world Art Spiegelman's MAUS. Students can and do tackle Maus on their own without McCloud's exhaustive analysis of how a comic page is put together, because Spiegelman's work does a masterful job of teaching you how to read it as it goes, even for students who have little experience with graphic novels or comic books.

For a teacher, though, it's very helpful to have someone else parse the elements of grammar in a graphic novel. It's difficult to suddenly confront a puzzle-like page of cartoon characters grappling with the enormity of the Holocaust and its effect on the author's father when your training (and all of your free time?) involves pages and pages of text. How do I diagram a speech bubble?

English teachers will often look to find entry points in text along common literary terms. We teach concepts like theme, characterization, and symbolism as a way of making sense of large narratives, to begin to see beyond our emotional reactions to a story and to analyze what an author is trying to accomplish. Graphic novels play with the same tools, but how we analyze them needs to change with the medium.

For instance, when we discuss theme in a piece of literature, we're often looking for conflicts of ideas, how a writer is using the literary work to make sense of big abstractions in the personal lives of the characters depicted. Sometimes it is overt and didactic: Upton Sinclair's THE JUNGLE wants you to know that capitalism is bad news when it comes to making sausage. A book like Maus is more circumspect. Does the horrific experince that Spiegelman's father experiences in the Holocaust justify his less-than-stellar actions as a father? Are we captives to history? The artist's decision to render his father as a mouse, along with other mice being savaged by Nazi cats suggests powerlessness. But the narrative constantly references his father's ability to use his wits to survive; he doesn't seem powerless in the story he tells.

Or if, as is an English teacher's wont, we try to construct how an author develops a character (characterization) and we use a short list of characterization methods such as: actions, thoughts, description, reaction to a character, and dialog. In this way, Maus is like a novel in that we seem to be getting a classic depiction of a complex character. We see Vladek conduct himself in the most difficult of situations with courage and compassion; we also see him in the present day, consumed by racism and petty jealousy. One subtle aspect of this is facial expression. Of course, a novelist might describe a facial expression, but the power of an excellent artist in using the face can transcend words; people are well-trained to extract meaning quickly from faces and McCloud spends whole chapters unpacking how artists can mix, match, and combine facial expressions for complex effects.

Again, any English teacher with a modicum of self-respect will at some time ask students to look at the scrambled eggs, the plum tree, or the haunting eyeglasses of TJ Eckleburg and connect it to something larger. Symbolism is our super power, but graphic novels introduce another layer of complexity. As McCloud notes, graphic novelists use a spectrum of realism in their art (from smiley face to photo realistic portraiture) to invoke increasing or decreasing levels of particularity or universality. In MAUS, though the story is about the author's father, he seems physically indistinguishable from his fellow Jews. Is that a commentary on the Nazi tendency to see all Jews through the same lens or of Spiegeleman's attempt to connect Vladek's story to a larger narrative? Is it about the artist's ability to depict something or a conscious choice meant to evoke a more primal emotion?

As McCloud explains (more graphically and more eloquently than here) comics require a new set of both grammar, vocabulary, and an understanding of time than we are used to in our study of literary works. For instance, he notes that almost all of the action in a graphic novel has to come from how a reader fills in the connecting movement between panels. If panel one shows an innocent face, panel two a face with a pie attached, and panel three a smirking face, readers quickly connect these isolated moments into complete story. That insight is particularly helpful in a conflicted narrative such as MAUS where the author is never sure whether he is capable (or even if it is possible) to capture the enormity of the Holocaust in pictures/words.

When we do return to the world of words, it's helpful to remember that words themselves often teach us more in what they suggest and fail to say as much as they do in what they spell out.

Some Resources:

UNDERSTANDING COMICS summary in Wikibooks
Browse UNDERSTANDING COMICS at HarperCollins

Browse MAUS at Google Books
Teacher's guide to MAUS by Random House
Robert S. Leventhal's analysis of the structure of MAUS


From the Editor

The HALL OF HEROES comic book club started this week and almost all the students checked out comics and took them home – because they wanted to read. Some shared their comics and stories while others found a quiet spot in the corner and read. Score one for reading motivation.
We plan on doing some shared readings, story sharing, maybe some reviews, and thinking about reading and how these stories connect to our lives. All week, I’ve had teachers and parents tell me how excited their kids were to read comics. The trend shall continue.

Following are the comics that came into the classroom this week:
  1. Batgirl #2
  2. Lone Rangers #18
  3. Thor: Annual #1
  4. Tiny Titans #20

Sunday, September 13, 2009


One week after the news that Disney bought Marvel, we find out that Warner Bros. is taking over the reins at DC Comics. The comics publisher will report directly to Warner Pictures. Said former Warner Premiere prez and now president of DC Entertainment Diane Nelson:

“The founding of DC Entertainment fully recognizes our desire to provide both the DC properties and fans the type of content that is only possible through a concerted cross-company, multi-platform effort. DC Entertainment will help us to formally take the great working relationships between DC Comics and various Warner Bros. businesses to the next level in order to maximize every opportunity to bring DC’s unrivalled collection of titles and characters to life."

There you have it. Both major comics publishers purchased by Hollywood conglomerates. Comic lovers pause waiting to see how it all plays out. Comic characters in theme parks? More comic-based movies? What of the monthly magazines and the mythos therein?


By Chris Wilson

Author & Illustrator: David Peteren
Publisher: Archaia
Genre: Fantasy
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 192 Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-1-932386-74-5

It is winter and the Mouse Guard has been betrayed. Now the defenders of the community must unite the people under one banner and defeat the mice who seek to destroy the culture from the inside.

Volume two in the MOUSE GUARD series is as exemplary as any piece of literature today – be it comic or traditional. Petersen’s storytelling is not only compelling in it’s ability to bring the reader into the wee squeakers’ world, but his character development and willingness to allow a character to die for the good of the tale is beyond the norm for most books, comics or otherwise.

Petersen takes his time – a characteristic I cannot stress enough in literature, television or movies. There is plenty of intrigue and medieval swordplay to satisfy the action-adventure soul, but the characters are also dimensional with faults, complexities and potential for growth. The ramifications of the death of one of the culture’s greats is yet to be seen, but we feel for the civilization’s loss and for Lieam who must silently carry the black mantle of the fallen hero and become more than he is.

MOUSE GUARD is not a story but a rich mythos. Powerful. Addictive. Enthralling. Rich. None of these words do justice to Petersen’s rodent civilization. It is one of my all-time favorite pieces of comic literature and I cannot wait for the next season to begin.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 10 and older
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 10 and older

Mice with swords battle birds and snakes and opossums in order to keep their realm safe. That means there is mild fantasy cartoon violence afoot.

Petersen does something I do not recall seeing in any other piece of comic literature. At the end of each chapter, he provides a two-page artistic rendering foreshadowing an important aspect that will occur in the following chapter.

This is the perfect way to 1) keep children interested in reading and 2) a way to teach students to predict, which is an important reading strategy. Children can look at the wordless image and predict what will occur in the next chapter based on the available information. Then they can read to find out if their prediction was correct or not.

From an artistic perspective, this is a way to enhance the beauty of the book and further engross the reader into the mythos. From a reading comprehension point of view, these end-of-chapter illustrations are a brilliant way to help readers engage in research-based reading strategies whether they know it or not.

Read our review of MOUSE GUARD: FALL 1152.

Highly Recommended


From the Editor

The list of comics for the week took a hiatus this summer as my student income dwindled. With gainful employment in a school district and a consistent paycheck, things are looking up. I picked up a few comics this week – more about those in a moment.

The HALL OF HEROES comic book club starts tomorrow and I cannot wait. Everyday I have a student tell me how excited they are for our club. The librarian is now co-sponsoring the club with me, so we were able to accept more students. We took 26, which is approximately 25 percent of the fourth grade class. Not for bad for a first year club that begins at 7:50 a.m. every week.

I’ll keep you updated on the goings-on of the club. This comics this week include:

  1. Adventure Comics featuring Superboy #2
  2. Astro Boy The Movie #4
  3. G-Man #2 (of 5)
  4. Super Hero Squad #1
  5. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Saturday, September 5, 2009


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

Moondog, aka Farley, is on a mission to discover some strange events taking place inside his new school. Armed with a skateboard, some GPS trackers, an infrared detector and few other pieces of equipment that might make Inspector Gadget proud, Moondog is determined to emerge as a teenage superhero in a webcomic called HERO HIGH.

The comic (by Jason Dylan Edwards and Diego Simone and published by Zeroes 2 Heroes: The People's Publisher) is found only on the web and the creators of HERO HIGH have set up a pseudo-social networking site in order to gauge support for their comic. It's a bit odd to find that a note to readers explains how this just might be the first and last HERO HIGH comic to be published, although the creators make no bones about their desire to continue working with their character and story. (And, this note to readers is also the result of the interesting way in which the comic has become published. See below for more information on the Comic Creation Nation campaign).

The continuation of HERO HIGH certainly has potential. Farley is a high school student whose family is moving from a city known as Dominion that is strewn with superheroes to a fairly quiet (all right, boring) town called Meekton. After watching his old school get attacked by the evil Hellion and then defended by the courageous Black Shadow, Farley has decided to transform himself into Moondog, a skateboard-riding avenging angel. In his new town, he meets a possible sidekick in need of some schooling in the art of cool (which is Farley all over) and he is brought into the middle of two girls who are sworn enemies of each other. The two girls even face off in a basketball dunking contest, which impresses Farley.

It's not quite clear what the plot of this comic book series might be, although the writers put Moondog into danger as he follows some sneaky business involving the school janitor, an ice cream truck and a secret hatchway leading down into a laboratory beneath his new high school. The comic ends on a classic cliffhanger, as we see a villain informing his cronies that Moondog must be stopped at all costs. There are many familiar plot devices at work in HERO HIGH, although that is not a bad thing as the writers have concentrated on character development. It will be interesting to see where Moondog goes, if this comic continues.

The illustrations in HERO HIGH seem traditional and comfortable as a hero-driving comic strip. Farley (aka Moondog) is all gangly limbs and goofy smiles. His new friend, Dwayne, is a nerd in the most stereotypical fashion, with geeky glasses and a robust knowledge of math. The girls are drawn as pretty high schoolers, but they are not necessarily inaccessibly beautiful. Although this is a web-only comic, the artists have not necessarily taken advantage of the medium, and the comic seems like a regular book that you would find on a rack in a store. The only difference is that the reading interface comes with a navigation system, allowing the reader to "flip" the pages in a virtual reading experience.

Anyone who has read a superhero comic book should recognize some of the writing devices on display in HERO HIGH. Echoes of Spiderman, the X-Men and others abound here. So, it might be interesting for readers to do some comparing and contrasting of known characters with these new ones. Also, since this first edition has a number of possible plot lines in development, a young writer might even use the comic as a writing prompt to determine what happens next to Moondog, his friends and the school that seems to also contain the laboratory of some villains. Students could even look around the room and imagine who is the superhero among them and how their own school could become the setting for a comic book.

Creators: Jason Dylan Edwards and Diego Simone
Publisher: Zero 2 Heroes: People's Publisher

(NOTE: HERO HIGH has been published through an intriguing use of the Web community, as viewers in the Comic Creation Nation Campaign by Zeroes 2 Heroes led to the production of this webcomic. This is a fascinating use of the collective viewing public to help aspiring comic writers and illustrators emerge into the public view. Another round of the campaign is set to begin, creating a possible outlet for bedroom comic book creators everywhere. Click here for more information.)

I would recommend this webcomic for elementary students and possibly middle school readers. High schoolers might recognize some of their lives in the frames, but I am not sure it would hold their interest. There is no profanity and the violence is not graphic (just some fighting between villians and heroes) or overt.


By Chris Wilson

Author & Illustrator: Kazu Kibuishi
Publisher: Graphix (an imprint of Scholastic)
Genre: Fantasy and Science Fiction

Format: Hardcover
Volume: Book 2
Pages: 224
Color: Color
ISBN-10: 0-439-84683-8
ISBN-13: 978-0-439-84682-0

After reading the first installment of the series, I knew that kids would devour AMULET. I was right. I no more than introduced the book to elementary students that they began asking when the next one was due out. They were hooked. Who wouldn’t be? The story is strong and exciting, scary and inviting, and an all around good book for boys and girls.

In my first review, I stated that AMULET was a keeper and I still feel that holds true. The second in the series continues the pace and intensity, and continues to develop the characters. I am especially happy to see more time being spent on Navin and his maturity. Slowly but surely these children are turning into heroes.

The fantasy story with dollops of science fiction is a nice blend, and the female protagonist is nicely complimented with the strong mentor of Leon the fox-guide and Emily’s hero-to-be younger brother.

AMULETE BOOK 2: THE STONEKEEPER’S CURSE is a astonishingly complex and intense storyline for children, one that I have no trouble getting kids to read and fall in love with. I’m ready for the next book and volume two has not yet hit shelves. I know the kids will clamor for more once they read this installment.

The overarching theme of control is aptly written with the amulet itself as a metaphor for our base human instincts. In book two, Emily is in a constant struggle to suppress the power-hungry amulet, which is trying to persuade her to give in to the power and let it roll through her. Teachers with a flair for geekness, should guide students to create a text-to-text (text-to-film) connection with Star Wars and the push for the Skywalker boys (Anakin first and Luke later) to give in to the dark side of the force. We can later connect those feelings to ethical dilemmas and the choice to do right in spite of our feelings of anxiety, anger or pain.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 9 and older
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 9-12

The concerns are the same as in the first book: magic, monsters and swordplay.

Highly Recommended