Tuesday, December 29, 2009


By Chris Wilson

I've been eyeballing R. Crumb's THE BOOK OF GENESIS for months now, thumbing through it every time I go to my local book store where it is prominently displayed in the graphic novel section. Something about that bright yellow block, depictions of real humans and the warning about supervising minors sucks me in. "Nothing Left Out" the dust jacket proclaims. What would one be tempted to leave out? That makes me want to read it more. (I am assuming the nakedness of Adam and Eve is what the scroll refers to, but who really knows until you read it.) Marketing is a powerful thing.

My sister and her family gave it to me as a Christmas present this year. I'm going to read it every morning between 5:30-6 a.m. while on the treadmill. The text is large enough to be read effectively while moving and shaking. I'm in no hurry to finish the 224-page beast, so I'll take my time.

My wife bought me a graphic novel, one she researched and picked out herself. "I thought you needed a grown-up book," she said as I unwrapped STUFFED! True, my life centers around reading and reviewing titles for students. She wanted me to enjoy reading a comic just for sheer pleasure of reading. So I sat down without any intent of writing a review.

While she and my daughter were out shopping and getting a hair cut I sat down in the quiet house with the dog on my lap and read … just for me. That was a few hours ago. If it's okay with you, I'll admit that I laughed at the neurosis of the estranged family. Both adult sons separated from their father as well as each other.

One is an insurance benefits worker – a stuffed shirt and tie man whose job it is to deny, deny, deny. He's a good guy, married with a child, and pretty well adjusted except for the fact that he has purged his childhood family from his life.

The other brother is a free spirit who changed his name from Oliver to Red Wolf and finally to Free. That's enough to tell you about his philosophy: pot smoking, wandering, and self-mutilation.

The Dad ... well it's no wonder his wives and sons left him. He's not much of a father, husband and I cannot image him as much of a friend either. Unless, of course, you find solace in sadistic troglodyte. When Dad dies and leaves his boys nothing but the only thing that mattered to him – an apartment filled with curiosities and oddball nothings that he called his museum, they are forced to deal with dear old dad. He did leave them one particular piece of historical significance. I won't spoil it for you, but the item in question is not easy to dispose of and even harder to keep.

If you enjoy books of intense family dysfunction, comedic neuroses, and character then STUFFED! is right up your alley. It was a great Christmas break, grown-up, self-indulgent read. I loved it. You'll get nothing more out of me. No official review. No recommendations. I gave you a synopsis and that's it. After all, I was given specific instructions to read just for myself.

What comics did you get for Christmas? Were they for you, friends, family or the classroom? Share your bounty with us all by leaving comments.

Monday, December 28, 2009


The HALL OF HEROES comic book club, of which I am a co-sponsor, made headlines recently when the students connected their comic literature to their eal lives. That part was our idea. The kids decided how they would act as super heroes in their community:

Create their own comics and give them away to families
Donate toys, clothes, food and other goods to families

For several weeks the kids collected the goods and worked on their homemade comics. Some worked in groups while others worked individually. When they were done we collected, copied and stapled the first issue. A week later we created issue #2.

The fourth graders were given special permission to dress up as their own super heroes the day the donations were given to the school for distribution. We had a great time with it. Yes, I dressed up as well. 

A local newspaper and radio station covered the event. You can follow those links here:


By Chris Wilson

Comics can be hard to read.

After I typed the sentence above, I sat at my computer for several minutes contemplating the ramifications of such a statement. I got up, poured a cold drink of water, rummaged about the house, watched some television and later sat back down in front of the Mac and stared at these six words.

Comics can be hard to read.

I have spent a great deal of time making the case for comic literature in education. While I don’t think I have ever made a generalization stating comics are easy to read, I have at least implied that the format is a simpler form of communication due in part because of the duality of image and text. Perhaps, this “simpler form of communication” idea is a lingering effect of the comics-are-just-kid-stuff mentality that I subscribed to in my own childhood. Never the less, it is an erroneous one, or at the very least a partial truth. To be more accurate, I think I should state that comics is a different form of literary communication.

For my daughter, reading came quickly and easily. We all know those students, the ones who take to reading as if it is an instinctive process. While that seemed true for my progeny it is not the case for many (dare I say most) of the students in my school, nor I suspect in your school.

Recently, I was Skyping with some curriculum directors in a school district in Illinois. They were very interested in comic literature as a part of curriculum. One member asked a very pointed and appropriate question, one in which I had previously given little thought. She stated that she has tried to read graphic novels and has a very hard time. The process is slow and cumbersome for her, a person who – by her own admission – is a prolific and fast reader of traditional texts.

Instantly, I thought of my friend from college who was one of the brightest among our group of friends. An avid reader herself – one who can read quickly and also comprehend and analyze minute details – she made a very similar comment to me several years ago. She just didn’t like comics. They were hard to read – slow – and she didn’t get it.

It finally occurred to me that I have neglected to contemplate the roadblocks that highly accomplished, traditional readers encounter. It has been my observation that a great many teachers were also adept students, and many of us may not be able to truly empathize with struggling students. These two ladies were experiencing what many of my students experience: frustration with reading and comprehension. It’s just that in this case, the reading was in the form of comics and the frustration was with avid, adult prose readers.

Here were my off-the-cuff suggestions during our Skype:

  • Comics are not meant to be read quickly. Give yourself permission to read slowly.
  • Reading comics is like reading a book and going to an art museum at the same time. We are supposed to treat the images as vital, integral components to the reading process, not as a tertiary element added at the end to make things look pretty.
  • Many avid readers are tempted to only read the text, or to give the images a cursory look. That is a grave mistake and will leave the reader with only half or less of the intended story.
  • “Read the Pictures!” This is my mantra when I discuss comics with anyone.
  • Reading comics takes practice.

J.R.R. Tolkien (THE HOBBIT and THE LORD OF THE RINGS) is well known for his pages-long descriptive narratives, especially in RINGS. He spends paragraph after paragraph describing the landscape. His detail is such that I have often heard complaints from newcomers that the book is boring and slow.

In comics those descriptive passages are translated into images. Oftentimes, there are subtle clues hidden in the art that requires careful study. How is a character standing? Look at his body language? What are her facial features telling us about what she thinks or how she feels? Why is that picture in the background hanging on the wall? What is the artist telling us by placing that vase on the table?

It can be true that for some comics those details are less important and may even be haphazard. The same is true in traditional texts as not every detail in every traditional novel is there for a specific reason. For others, however, every single detail on every single page tells the reader something about the larger narrative. WATCHMEN (our articles/reviews here, here here, and here) is a perfect example of how details are everything. Every clock, every poster, every single detail is illustrated for a reason and serves a specific purpose in the story. As I stated in my bullet list above: Read The Pictures!

A picture walk can be an exemplary reading strategy when teaching comics. A picture walk is a reading technique used with young students. It describes the act when the reader flips through a book and makes predictions and inferences based on the art. Then the reader goes back and reads the story. Typically, this is taught to a child reading a picture book, but the same principal also applies to grown-ups and to comics. I often do a picture walk before reading a comic to help me 1) slow down and 2) get a feeling for the setting, style, and even the theme. There are times when I do a picture walk page-by-page, or chapter-by-chapter, or sometimes even as a whole book although I do that less often.

I did have one practical solution for this teacher in Illinois: Read THE ARRIVAL, a brilliant and beautiful wordless comic by Shaun Tan. THE ARRIVAL is a classic immigrant story but it is told in a fantasy setting. Whenever one of my students checks it out, we have a talk about reading slowly. I have observed more than one student sit down with THE ARRIVAL and flip through it within minutes, calling the book “done”.

I always smile when this happens and ask them about the story. They will, inevitably, tell me it was a cool story. When I ask them what it was about they will tell me it was about a little white creature and a guy. Students often miss the actual immigrant story, the key component.

That’s when I offer some scaffolding and explain that the story is about an immigrant, a guy who leaves his country to live somewhere else. We then look at the pictures together and I ask probing questions about what is going on. Why does he look confused? How does he communicate? When we read THE ARRIVAL we are also immigrants. We cannot make out the signage in the streets and we cannot understand the words of the people in the new world. Like the main character, we must also do our best and figure out what is happening using drawings and impromptu sign language.

It is my belief that if a successful traditional reader engage in THE ARRIVAL, the importance of the images in comics becomes glaringly clear, allowing the traditionalist to break down the barriers that may prevent them from understanding the comics process.

Another concern for this educator was that if she struggled with reading comics, how are her students – especially those who struggle with reading – going to fare? Children are digital natives and are more proficient at interpreting visual stimuli than adults, especially those over the age of 30, otherwise known as digital immigrants. Digital natives have very little trouble, in my experience, at discerning panel sequence (the order in which to read the various panels on a comic page). This includes students at all levels of reading comprehension.

I often find that struggling and reluctant readers take to reading after discovering comics. Unlike the two ladies I have discussed who find comics difficult, students, especially reluctant and struggling readers, tend to find comics more accessible than traditional texts. It is also my experience that comics aficionados are often very well-read when it comes to traditional novels. Many of them will attribute their love of reading all materials to comics.

Taking this into account, what do we do to encourage students to move beyond comics? A large majority of the students in my comic book club are great readers. They check out comics from me and then go to the school library and check out chapter books. They read both. My school librarian has also noticed this trend and is very encouraged by the excitement with which our comic book kids check out traditional books from the school library.

I have always maintained that students should not be singular readers. That is to say, they should not just read novels, or magazines, or newspapers or comics. Rather, a proper and comprehensive education in the 21st century makes use of various reading materials in order to engage students in the process of reading. We should embrace many forms of communication. If students hate reading, they will never become readers. Period.

In fact, a staunch adherence to traditional literature-only could (suggested by some research) lead some students to abandon reading altogether. It all comes back to choice. Choice has been shown to be a significant determinant in reading motivation. Studies have clearly shown that comics are a top choice for students and lead to reading of other forms.

Sometimes reading comics is not easy, but the same can be true with traditional novels. Some are harder than others. There are some we need to take a class to understand and others we can rip through.

Comics can be hard, but just as we tell our students to stick with it and practice their traditional reading, so too, I offer that same advice to those who find the comics format awkward. If we use good reading strategies, no matter what format we are reading, and we practice, we will develop the skills we need to interpret all manner of data.



By Chris Wilson

Original Author: Homer
Author: Roy Thomas
Pencils: Greg Tocchini
Inkers: Roland Paris, Normal Lee and Terry Pallot

Colors: Arthur Fujita
Lettering: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover Art: Greg Tocchini
Publisher: Marvel
Genre: Greek mythology, Traditional Literature in Comic Format

Format: Hardcover
Issues: Covering comic issues #1 - #8
Pages: 192
Color: Color
ISBN-13: 978-0-7851-1908-1

“Sing, O Muse, of that ingenious hero Odysseus who traveled so far and wide after he had sacked the sacred citadel of Troy. Many were the wonders he saw, and much did he suffer by sea, while striving to bring himself and his men safely home to wives and families.

First hounded by Poseidon, god of the sea…then detained by the amorous goddess Calypso in her hollow caves…Odysseus was the only one of Troy’s conquerors still alive who had not yet reached his homeland after twenty years away.”

From the first narration box to the last, Roy Thomas’ faithful adaptation of another of Homer’s epic poem rings clear and true to the source material. Unlike other works (The Iliad), or other adaptations (ODYSSEUS: ESCAPING POSEIDON’S CURSE) Homer’s tale of Odysseus and his family (both the original and this adaptation) is told, not in linear fashion, but mostly in a series of flashbacks – retellings.

Thomas mentions this in his introduction, lamenting the fact that in most comic or movie versions Penelope (Odysseus’ wife) and Telemachus (his son) are all but forgotten. However, these two characters play an important role in the overarching narrative and it is the “balance” between all three that Thomas worked to restore. He did it with expertise.

The reason THE ODYSSEY works – and works so well – is because of the interplay between the writing and the art. I often stopped and scanned a page or multiple pages before ever reading a single word, deciphering what I remember of Homer’s poem from my Freshmen Studies literature class in 1991 and subsequent readings of comic adaptations. Then I went through and read the words, building connections and forming the story in my mind. I even went back and reread pages that enamored me, stopped me, confused me, or surprised me. I love being surprised.

The act of reading THE ODYSSEY was more than a classroom review, more than a get-through-it act of necessity. I experienced the adaptation because of the importance of the story on Western civilization and I was filled with romantic ideals of beauty and loyalty, and I was reminded of the importance of intellect over force, cunning over rage. Of course, the story also cautioned me about the dangers of falling prey to temptation and impulsivity.

Thomas was only one piece of the important duo. Artist Greg Tocchini superbly crafted his art bringing to life not only the beauty of the human body but the imagery of Homer’s story. There were pages that stopped me dead and forced me to bath in the art-story. The second page of the Cyclops story had a splash page that mesmerized me.

I’ve seen other renditions of Polyphemus and none have come close to capturing my vision of Poseidon’s son. Tocchini created a Cyclops who was terrifying and menacing without being grotesque or deformed. Polyphemus is likely a handsome creature as far as Cyclopes are concerned and his tattoos and necklace give him personality and depth.

Odysseus’s venture into Hades to speak to the Thebian prophet Teiresias was especially harrowing. There he dug a trench a cubit in length, width and depth, and into which he poured honey, milk, wine, white barley meal, and goat’s blood. Any ghost who drank from the pit could hold counsel with Odysseus, and the rich blood poured from many a damaged soul, dripping and spilling from the green-hued phantasms and onto the ground.

When Odysseus is done hearing the prophesying of Teiresias, he seeks out his mother and entices her to drink, asking her about his father and son. The scene is painful and poignant when she vaporizes as he tries to embrace his mother one last time. The visuals are captivating.

There were a few pages – half a dozen – there were not only sketchy and overly inked but surprisingly out-of-style with the rest of the book, giving the appearance of a different artist (either penciler, inker or both) and pulling the reader out of the story.

With that exception, the writing and illustrations are breathtaking and fluid, giving the reader a beautiful narrative to experience and treasure.

Chris’ Rating:
High School
Publisher’s Recommendation: Parental Advisory

THE ODYSSEY is a bloodthirsty tale filled with politics, plots, wine, death and sex. The goddesses are gorgeous and sometimes buxom. The men are well sculpted. The characters – male and female – are, in Greek tradition, loosely clothed. Furthermore, Thomas did not cleanse the story of the bedding of Circe, Calypso, or the wedding chamber of Odysseus and Penelope. Neither did he scrub the death, backstabbing and wicked nature of humankind from the narrative.

I am glad that Thomas and Tocchini created a true adaptation of the ancient story. The nakedness and violence is tasteful and appropriate for the story. It does, however, give pause to the use in classrooms.

I have often promoted the idea of teaching twin texts in the classroom. In my case, I am specifically referring to the teaching of an original text in tandem with a comic adaptation. I cannot stress the importance of this more than with THE ODYSSEY. This graphic novel is outstanding and would, undoubtedly, give rise to authentic connections between students and story.

My experience in speaking with comic lovers has given me a strong connection between reading motivation and the discovery of above-grade-level or even inappropriate comics. That is to say, I have, many times, heard comics lovers remember a beloved comic that significantly impacted their life. Often, that comic would be considered inappropriate for them at the age they read it. There is something to reading inappropriate material that sparks the imagination and spurs further exploration.

I am not suggesting that we give elementary students unfettered access to Marvel Illustrated’s THE ODYSSEY. I am suggesting, however, that a very few young students – gifted, bored, heretofore unconnected and disengaged with education – may be reached by giving them works that would otherwise be considered too old or inappropriate for the grade level. Of course, any such attempt would need to be approved and signed off by parents/guardians and the principal.

As studies are beginning to show that thoughts of drop-out may begin as early as fourth grade, we should keep our options open and be thoughtful when it comes to educating students who might be at risk for abandoning education.

Highly Recommend with Reservations
Together, Thomas and Tocchini sculpted a beautiful piece of art and literature, which readers may study for years to come.

It is my opinion that Marvel’s adaptation is important to the understanding and appreciation of the classic text and it should be used in schools; however, I understand that it did receive a Parental Advisory from the publisher and should be carefully scrutinized before giving it to students.



By Chris Wilson

Author: Chris Wooding
Illustrator: Dan Chernett
Publisher: Scholastic
Genre: Fantasy, Thriller

Format: Hardcover
Pages: 384
Color: Black and white
ISBN-10: 0-545-16043-X
ISBN-13: 978-0-545-16043-8

The malevolent and vile world of Malice is haphazardly captured in the pages of a comic by the same name. That comic is only known within the whispered rumors of teen circles, and it is only available from one hard-to-find comic shop in London. Only the craftiest of adolescents are able to obtain it. Those that dare will find the world of Malice is much more than a comic, much more than a rumor. It is a baleful existence that once the right words uttered and rites performed there is no escape from the tribulation of Tall Jake and Malice.

I stood in a dark bathroom with my best friend Charlie – in the basement of my home church during a lock-in no less – and I chanted thrice the name of Bloody Mary. We didn’t wait for her appearance. No sooner had the words dribbled from my 12-year-old quivering lips that we switched the light on and bailed from the room back into the sanctuary of church. We didn’t use that bathroom for the rest of the night.

The very idea that we had the courage to do such a thing was electrifying and man-reinforcing. Forget the fact that we bolted like cowards. In our minds (and in our stories to friends) we stood and laughed at the beast’s face. We lived to tell the tale.

Ghost stories, legends and folklore attract many a kid to embark on silly errands of bravado. It is exciting and scary and it makes kids feel strong and grown up even when they are nothing more than terrified children.

MALICE brilliantly taps into this universal passage from childhood to grown-up-ness, at least in the eyes of kids, by forming a story around a comic book, which acts as the gateway to the world of Malice. Instinctively, our logical sides tell us these stories are probably not real, but our mythological side still believes and that is what makes MALICE so terrifying and addictive. We want to believe this story, or one like it, is real – really real. I mean like-it-could-really-happen-dude kind of feeling.

Before you ever pick up a copy of MALICE you need to understand one thing: It is not a graphic novel. It is traditional prose with segments of comic chapters interspersed within – six comic chapters by my count, some of which last almost 20 pages.

Nonetheless, MALICE deserves its place in the ranks of comicdom because of its comic chapters and its heavy reliance on comics as a literary device. I loved this story and will be seeking out volume two when it is released, which will not be soon enough for me.

The art is purposefully and rightfully dark. Malice itself is a shadowy domain and a large portion of the book takes place at night. The inking and shading are so precise and the contrast so keen that the comic chapters are easy to make out and understand.

Chris’ Rating: Middle School
Publisher’s Rating: Grade 7 and older

Lexile: 650L
Guided Reading Level: 3.7

This book is intimidating. Kids (not main characters) die in the book. Others experience permanent and profound emotional disturbances. Teens are kidnapped and brought to the world of Malice to live a pitiful and painful existence with virtually no hope of escape from the constant barrage of mechanical creatures that hunt and kill the humans for their souls.

Because the reading level is lower but the interest level is high (although I’d call it intense), MALICE would be an excellent book for any reader, especially reluctant ones or those who struggle to find works edgy enough for them to engage in and still be appropriate, but easy enough to understand.

HAVOC, the second in the series, is coming soon.

Highly Recommended


Our holiday contest is over and the winners chosen. Each of the four individuals below will receive a complimentary copy of Scholastic’s new comic-infused prose novel, MALICE, by Chris Wooding (author) and Dan Chernett (illustrator).

As promised, the winners’ entries proclaiming their favorite comic or comic-related movie are also published for your enjoyment.

Diane from Minnesota

My favorite comic related movie is, without a doubt, UNBREAKABLE. This movie summarizes all the superhero tropes in one film, is reminiscent of Philip Wylie's GLADIATOR and the pre-code SUPERMAN stories, has a classic villain, and is a delight to watch. It stands up to repeated screenings.

The framing of certain sequences, especially the color-coded scenes near the end at the train station, echo compositions of Steranko. I had a student storyboard the Silver Gun With a Black Grip scene, and the result was the most successful comic narrative I've seen in storyboard form. Simply put, the film looks and feels like a smart, heartfelt comic.

More importantly, the film does not demean comics as an art form. Unfortunately, the camp aspect of superheroes still dominates Hollywood's dialogue with comics, and it's refreshing to see a more respectful conversation taking place between my two favorite at forms.

UNBREAKABLE is as exciting and intelligent as SANDMAN, STARMAN or EX MACHINA. Please take a moment to view my burgeoning blog of student work, The Art of Learning of Art.

Scott from Maryland

My favorite graphic novel is NAUSICCA OF THE VALLEY OF THE WIND. I own the original 4-volume collection, the re-release in 7 larger-image and original right-to-left format volumes, as well as the watercolor art book. I truly believe this is Hayao Miyazaki’s greatest work.

The main character is a passionate, unwavering woman who gives herself completely to the task of seeking the heart of what most of humanity regards as a corrupted forest that exhales poisonous miasma and threatens to consume what’s left of the planet, all while striving to make peace between two great nations at war. She fights ferociously to preserve life of all kinds, majestically rides the wind, and befriends fantastic creatures, including the giant insects of the forest.

From clunky bumblecrows to the valley’s swift gunship, airships fill the sky in gritty dogfights and across wonderful landscapes. Miyazaki’s style is unique and compelling; the pages are dense with action, detail, and dialogue, but at the same time orderly and easy to follow. Entering his imagination may seem daunting at first, but if you can immerse yourself in his world, you too will feel that tugging wanderlust and longing for other-worldly adventure.

James from North Carolina

BONE is my favorite comic or graphic novel. It starts off light and picks up with a great storyline. The topics you can cover in a classroom are endless. I am saving up to buy the color version now.

Gretchen from Pennsylvania
My personal favorite graphic novel is CASTLE WAITING. The combination of classic fairy tale characters with a twist and the extraordinary art work make it a winner in my book, and like any great literature, it appeals to people of different ages at different levels, so it is enjoyable for all.


By Chris Wilson

Original Authors: Brothers Grimm
Retold By: Stephanie Peters
Illustrator: Jeffrey Stewart Timmins
Publisher: Stone Arch Press
Genre: Fairy Tale

Format: Reinforced Library Binding
Pages: 40
Color: Color
ISBN-13: 978-1-4342-1194-1

If only the wife had not longed for the beautiful rampions so much during her pregnancy, the story of Rapunzel would have turned out differently. As it stands, the German adaptation of RAPUNZEL, as recorded by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm and adapted by Stephanie Peters, is a tragic fairy tale that ends with the redheaded maiden saving the prince.

The unnamed husband and wife were expecting a child when the mom-to-be coveted the rampions at the neighboring witch’s home. So the man stole some for his wife to eat, but her appetite was not satisfied. The second time the man was caught and forced to give up his first born to the witch.

When the child disobeys her magical mother, the witch banishes the youngster to the tip-top of a doorless tower to stay forever. As we all we know, a prince rides by and makes his way up the tower by climbing Rapunzel’s long hair. The witch eventually discovers the girl’s second disobedient act and transport her to a desert, then tosses the prince from the tower. He falls into a thicket below blinding him forever.

I didn’t remember this part of the fairy tale. I recalled the prince coming along and asking Rapunzel to let down her hair (which I remembered as being golden, although I thought the red hair added a nice visual element to the illustrations). My recollection was that the prince saved her and they rode off into the sunset. To my surprise the story continued.

The persistent Rapunzel made another new life after wandering in the desert and coming upon a stream. There she built her home and had the princes’ twins. The children grew and Rapunzel wowed them with tales of their beloved father. Amazingly, he stumbled through the world and happens upon the trio, recognizing Rapunzel’s beautiful singing.

Crying ensues and without explanation, Rapunzel’s tears magically heal the prince of his blindness and the family live out their lives happily and without witchly incident.

The day I got this book – with a stack of others – I instantly singled out RAPUNZEL: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL because of the art. I sat all the others books down and admired the book. Something about the muted color pallet combined with the striking red hair and vibrancy of Rapunzel made me stare at the cover endlessly.

The style is obviously German, down to the clothes and facial characteristics of the characters. Every element of the art screams read me, experience me, enjoy me. I did.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 6 and older
Publisher’s Recommended Reading Level: Grades 1-3
Publisher’s Recommended Interest Level: Grades 3-8

Guided Reading Level: L
Lexile: GN 360L
ATOS: 2.5
AR Quiz No.: 127546
Dewey: 741.5

Rapunzel and the prince did have babies, yet they did not get married, at least not in any official manner. It is clear they loved one another and were meant to be together. That might bother some folks even though some version of the story has been around since the 1600s.

Fairy tales have been a part of our literary tradition hundreds of years. They are great yarns and kids can still enjoy these very old stories from long ago and do so in modern and interesting ways.

The book offers the history of Rapunzel, discussion questions, a glossary, and writing prompts. Personally, I think it would be fun for kids to create their own fairy tales (in traditional or comic format) and utilize those writing techniques we promote. I also think it would be fun to read different versions of the story.

Highly Recommended

Monday, December 21, 2009


From the Editor

Actually, the comics for this week are the comics of last week. Christmas started early at my house and I am just now getting to last week’s reviews. I will likely be a smidge late on this week’s reviews as well. But you won’t hold that against me, will you?

If you want to get in on our MALICE give-a-way, then you better get to emailing me. The deadline quickly approaches. Enjoy the comics this week:

The Complete Alice in Wonderland #1
Marvelous Land of Oz #2 (of 8)
Super Hero Squad #4


By Chris Wilson

Created by: Jordan Mechner
Author: A.B. Soma
Illustrator: LeUyen ham and Alex Puvilland
Colors: Hilary Sycamore
Publisher: First Second
Genre: Fantasy

Format: Softcover
Pages: 208
Color: Full color
ISBN-10: 1-59643-602-6
ISBN-13: 978-1-59643-602-2

From the website: “Long ago in Persia, there lived a Prince – a man of honor, of valor, and full of strength – a man for his people, who lived with them and took on their trials and hardships. And he was loved.

His name is no longer remembered. When people speak of him, they call him merely, 'The Prince of Persia,' as if there have been no others, and his descendants are enjoined to live like him, to be like him, to the ends of their days.

Long ago in Persia, there were many princes, one following another, sometimes quick, sometimes slow, sometimes fat, clever, joyous, and all more or less honorable. And in some of those princes there shone the spirit of The Prince of Persia, for in Persia time spins like a wheel, and what is to come has already happened, and then happens again, year in and year out.

This is the story of two of those princes, and of the destiny that threads their lives together.”

A comic conceived from a video game seems as droll and trite as a movie filmed from the foundations of a theme park ride. I wondered about the PRINCE OF PERSIA after I procured it, as I did not realize the fact that it was first a video game when I chose it.

Luckily the good PRINCE surprised me with its complexity of intertwined story lines and princely theme of time threading through its people.

The story of our two princes – one from the 9th century and the other from the 13th – is brilliant and engaging. I was captivated by the art and felt the warmth of the sands on my face as I turned the pages. The story felt heroic and although the culture of the people is far removed from my own experiences in Missouri, I felt connected to the two princes (and the courageous princess), and I shared their disdain for the politics that withheld water from the people and spread disharmony in the region.

The PRINCE OF PERSIA caught me a bit off guard because after I learned it was the story of a video game I discounted it. I continued to pick it up and put it back down. Finally, this Thanksgiving, I decided to make my way through it.

Then the story hit me with depth and I was confused at first – shame on me for judging a book by its video game. I wasn’t really expecting see-sawing storylines, so it took a few pages to get the pacing, but once I did I looked forward to the switches.

I think the PRINCE OF PERSIA is a story that deserves a second reading. It is beautiful and metaphorical, speaking to me and my culture and my own politics in ways that were unexpected but prodigious.

Chris’ Rating: High School
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 12 and older

The publisher and I disagree about the most appropriate age for this title. I tend to think the themes and literary worth is best suited for high school aged students. The text is not overly complex or challenging; in fact, the text is rather sparse in many places, allowing the art to take over. I find the themes to be deeper than most middle school students are prepared for.

The text has more than one full-frontal infant boy nude scene, and one tasteful after-sex cuddling scene. There are also a couple of times when we see a prince on the commode.

Aside from the brief infant nudity and the implied sexual contact, THE PRINCE OF PERSIA has real literary worth in the classroom. First of all, students will make connections because of the video game notoriety. (I’ve never played the video game and cannot vouch for its appropriateness.)

I think students may be more likely to buy into the book based on the instant gaming connection and the upcoming movie, the trailer of which didn’t impress me a lot. I think the theme of time and the repetitive nature of human history is intriguing and embarks upon ideas in social studies, psychology, philosophy and mathematics. THE PRINCE OF PERSIA can help students parse out those broad strokes.





By Larry Litle
Contributing Writer

The New Teen Titans hit the newsstands in 1980 and made a huge splash with comic book fans over the world. At 10 years of age, I found myself drawn to this group of teenage heroes who had their own set of issues along with powers and abilities. The great art of George Perez and the awesome writing of Marv Wolfman brought this group of sidekicks and adolescents to life for not only me but also my father. Even after 25 years, these stories are some of the most memorable and vivid in my mind, and my father and I still talk about them.

The Cartoon Network’s TEEN TITANS GO! took the heart of several of the great stories of the Teen Titans and brought them to another generation. They did adapt the stories and some of the characters but kept the spirit of the strongly written stories which I fondly remember. These tales contain Robin, the Boy Wonder and sidekick to Batman; Cyborg, the half man/half robot technical genius and muscle of the team; Beast Boy, the green skinned youth who can change into any animal (while keeping his green pigment); Raven, the child of a demon with black force and empathy powers; and Starfire, the alien with flight and energy beam powers.

DC brought the adoption back to comics in their Johnny DC comic book TEEN TITANS GO! I examined the bound edition which contains five issues of the monthly comic. Volume 2 contains the stories from issues 6-10 and volume 3 contains stories from issue 11-15.

The stories are geared down for younger readers but some of the vocabulary is beyond the youngest. These stories are usually fairly light hearted and focused on the action.

TEEN TITANS GO! is drawn in a manga style that fits with the anime of the cartoon. Manga is not one of my favorite styles for comics. The illustration style typically used when the characters show emotion is distracting because the characters are drawn like small children with big heads and huge eyes. With that said the art is decent.

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

The youngest of kids will not be able to read all the words but should be able to follow the story with the pictures.

There is traditional superhero action and mild violence.


Author: J. Torres, Adam Beechen (volume 2 only)
Illustrated: Todd Nauck, Lary Stucker, Erik Vedder (volume 2 only)
Color: Phil Good (volume 2 only), Heroic Age
Letter: Phil Balsman, Jared K. Fletcher, Pat Brosseau (volume 2 only)
Publisher: DC Comics (Vol. 2 and Vol. 3)
Genre: Superhero

Format: Digest
Volumes: 2-3
Pages: 100+

Sunday, December 13, 2009


From the Editor

Don’t forget about our holiday contest. We are giving away five copies of the prose-comic hybrid, MALICE, published by Scholastic. Click here to find out more. Then email those entries to us at abikerbard@mac.com

Enjoy the comics this week:
  1. Marvel Adventures Superheroes #18
  2. Muppet Show #0
  3. Spider-Man: Secret Wars #1
  4. Super Friends #22 

Saturday, December 12, 2009


By Chris Wilson

Carol L. Tilley, a professor of library and information science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne recently conducted a study on comic literature, determining that comics are a legitimate and sophisticated form of literature on par with other types of literature.

You can read the article here.

The story does identify a trait that we at The Graphic Classroom have also noticed: Books that take on comic-like aspects. Where we would disagree is that the adoption of speech bubbles, narration bubbles, motion lines and panels does not qualify a book as a comic, although the story implies such. Several books have crossed our desk that were marketed as comics. However, they were nothing more than children's picture books that used a speech bubble here and there, a framed image, and they called it a comic.

The definition of comics as researched and written about by people smarter than we, have conclusively demonstrated that the complexity of the comic is much more than a few mere aesthetic features. A text bubble does not a comic make. To assume otherwise is to continue the comics-are-not-real-literature stereotypes. We have discussed this issue with our colleague, Dr. James Bucky Carter, over at ENSANE. He has plenty to say on the subject.

It is Carter who first proposed the idea to us that the argument over whether or not comics are legitimate has been won. I agree with him. The research is clear. The field has a significant academic backbone and it is time to move on toward more substantial research into how we can best use comics in the classroom to support our educational goals.

That leads me to another point of concern in the article, as the writer implied that comics are being left out of curricula because the format does not really support the state or national standards. There is no foundation for any such view as comics are literature and literature is a strong foundation for our educational goals.

I use comics to support my state standards for all grades K-4. I often tie my lesson plans in the Technology Lab to align with the concepts being taught in the grade level classrooms. I have said repeatedly that comics cover every genre traditional books cover. The content can be used to achieve the goals set by our state and national government. Comics often do so while keeping children interested and engaged.

I reject any notion that comics are anything but a unique and complex form of literature. My experience working directly with elementary students is that comics are a strong catalyst for increasing reading motivation and comprehension. Comics can be used in the classroom to meet any state or national standard that traditional books are used for. It's simply a different format.

I am thankful for any research done on the subject; however, I am concerned that too much emphasis is being placed on the antiquated argument of comics as legitimate rather than focusing on the higher order skills inherent in comics.

Part of any movement is the change from the basic foundation to those higher ideals. We've all been there, at the bottom of the movement I mean, and it takes time to establish one's feet firmly. We all go through some shedding of old ideas and stereotypes in our journey. I'm glad to see that the comics movement is gaining more steam everyday, with newcomers emerging and talking and sharing. So it's good to have articles like this, even if they may accidentally promote or insinuate old stereotypes. It is a slow process, that change business.


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

I wish we had this graphic novel for young readers in the time leading up to our family trip to Japan last year. My four year old son would have learned a lot about airports and airplanes from this book.

AIRPLANE ADVENTURE, which is part of a series of books under the auspices of Stone Arch Books' My 1st Graphic Novel, is a gentle story about two young siblings, Juan and Anna, who are traveling to Mexico to visit their grandmother. The story –written by Cari Meister and illustrated by Marilyn Janovitz – follows their adventures going through security in the airport, passing the time on the airplane and then meeting their grandmother in Mexico. It's a wonderful story that is as informative for young eyes as it is interesting. My son, now five years old, listened closely and viewed the pictures with great interest as I read it to him just this morning.

The illustrations are simple and just right for young eyes. The two characters have nice large faces, with warm eyes, and even the visit through security at the airport is non-threatening. Marilyn Janovitz uses basic colors and lots of white space in the backgrounds. The art nicely compliments the simple story told here.


Reading level: Ages 4-8
Format: Reinforced Library Binding:
Pages: 25
Publisher: Stone Arch Books
ISBN-10: 1434216187
ISBN-13: 978-1434216182

This book is geared towards emerging readers and it fits the bill nicely. With simple text and complementary illustrations, AIRPLANE ADVENTURE is an engaging story. One thing that I really liked is that the first two pages of the book are a tutorial on how to read a graphic novel. The pages show sample frames from a graphic novel and go through how to progress (left to right, top to bottom) and how to read the onomatopoeic words for sound effects. It ends with the sentence, "The pictures and the words work together to tell the whole story." I like that. In fact, I might even use this page with my sixth graders as we look at the concept of graphic novels.

Highly Recommended
For young readers, or even for read-aloud, this book is perfect. The simplicity of the story, of the images and of the design of the graphic novel makes this a welcome addition for teachers of young children. Most readers above basic reading skills would likely be bored by this book, although it might be a great resource for those older students who are either ESL or struggling readers.


By Chris Wilson

(EDITOR'S NOTE: This review originally carried a Highly Recommended with Reservations rating because of some language. In the second edition, Chris Giarrusso took out the language to make the comic more child-friendly. We changed our review and recommendation accordingly.)

Author & Illustrator: Chris Giarrusso
Publisher: Image
Genre: Superhero

Format: Trade Paperback
Pages: 96
Color: Full color
ISBN (10): 1-58240-431-3

Chris Giarrusso’s G-MAN is the stuff of typical – if not hysterical and awkward – childhood: bullies, pushy fathers, mean older siblings, fights over incidental things, and just figuring out life. I laughed my way through the pages and nodded my head remembering similar instances in my own life.

Kids can relate. That is a good thing and a bad thing as far as literature for the classroom goes. Oh, there’s nothing really bothersome in G-Man except the occasional word like “sucks” or “sucker” or a good character dressed in green and black tights with green horns, called Demon.

Kids will, indeed, relate to and enjoy G-MAN. It tells a universal truth about growing up even when one is later meant for greatness. I howled at parts and loved every page-turn. The main story is about G-MAN’s attempt at flight and his subsequent run-in with the kid-bully of the most famous superhero in the city. The kids stand up to the super bully and eventually win him over, but not after a bit of a scuffle.

Students will also connect with young G-Man and his brother, Great Man, and the fact that superheroes though they be, the lawn must be mowed, food must be finished, summer camp must be attended and mistakes must be made. It’s a tough life, to be sure, even for the masked and caped.

No doubt students will have a riotous time reading G-MAN.

This book screams for kids to read it. The art is comic, young, and just begs to be devoured.

My Rating: Ages 10 and older

Real life is masked behind a superhero story, but make no mistake: This book is all about the life and times of kids and students will have so much fun reading their own lives through the lens of G-MAN. All those wonderful character qualities that schools love to promote are sprinkled throughout giving the teacher an opportunity to access those morals and civic engagement.

Higly Recommended

Saturday, December 5, 2009


From the Editor

It spit snow in Missouri this week. Not enough to stick, but enough to make the kids all giddy. It’s hard to teach when snowflakes are coming down. Please take note of our holiday contest this year. It should be fun and hopefully people will come up with creative ways to respond, although that is not a requirement. We will give away five copies of the new comic-prose book, MALICE, from Scholastic.

No links to the books this week. Time is just getting away from me. You can quickly Google any of these titles to check them out.

  • Batman: Brave and the Bold #11
  • Billy Batson and the Magic of Shazam! #10
  • The Dark Tower: Fall of Gilead #6 (of 6)
  • The Dark Tower: Battle of Jericho Hill #1 (of 5)
  • Female Force: Barbara Walters
  • Free Realms #3-#4
  • The Incredibles #3
  • Marvel Adventures Spider-Man #57
  • The Mice Templar #5: Destiny
  • Muppet Peter Pan #3 (of 4)
  • Previews #255
  • Sky Pirates of Neo Terra #3 (of 5)
  • Trojan War
  • Usagi Yojimbo #124
  • X-Babies #3 (of 4) 


The Graphic Classroom is happy to participate in a holiday contest to give away five copies of the new comic-prose hybrid, MALICE, from Scholastic. I’m reading an advance copy now and hope to have the review done very soon. So far, the book is pretty scary. Here’s a tidbit:


Everyone’s heard the rumors. Call on Tall Jake and he’ll take you to Malice, a world that exists inside a terrifying comic book. A place most kids never leave.

Seth and Kady think it’s all a silly myth. But then their friend disappears, and suddenly the rumors don’t seem so silly anymore…

Part thriller, part ground-breaking graphic novel … get into this story, and you may never get out!

The contest is simple to enter and five winners will be picked randomly. All you have to do is email your answer to one question and give us your name, address and age. We will publish your responses to the question on our site, but we will ONLY include your first name and state in order to protect your privacy. The contest is open to all persons of any age, not just students. Email your response to: abikerbard@mac.com

The five winners chosen will receive a complimentary copy of MALICE.

What is your favorite comic, graphic novel or comic-book related movie and explain why it is your favorite.

The contest ends at midnight on Christmas Day, so be sure to get your entries by the deadline.

Scholastic has the book listed for grade 7 and older.

This could be an excellent opportunity for students to answer a writing prompt. Students could construct a persuasive essay, poem, news article, glog, animoto, PowerPoint, podcast or vodcast answering the above question and submit it to The Graphic Classroom. Teachers could run their own contests and submit five students, or they could choose to submit all students.

We will keep your privacy confidential. We will email the winners’ name and address to the company so books can be shipped directly to that individual. We will publish responses along with the person’s first name and state, but nothing else in order to protect privacy.



By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer


THE STORM IN THE BARN is a dustbowl fable by Matt Phelan set in Kansas and told more in illustration than in text. This graphic novel contains historical highlights but also is infused with a creepy ghost story in which the main character – 11-year-old Jack Clark – must overcome his fears of an abandoned barn in order to confront the powerful spirit known as Storm that controls the rains.

This was one of those books that, once I began, I had trouble putting down. I cared about Jack, who is bullied by other kids in town and whose family struggles to survive the drought of 1937. Jack feels protective of his sisters – one of whom is very sick with a coughing illness that has her bedridden, and the younger one who wanders off into trouble. Jack is also accused of having something called "dust dementia" and he needs to find his way back to some sanity through his adventures.

By the end of the story, when the rains finally arrive thanks to the bravery of Jack, the scene in town is one of jubilation and Jack's very complex relationship with his father finally reaches a satisfying end with the simple act of a hug between them. (One scene where Jack watches the men of town -- including his emotionally distant father – massacre a herd of Jackrabbits who have been destroying crops is particularly intense as the men's violence against the defenseless animals turns to pity on the men's faces in the aftermath of the event.) And the rains mean that Jack's family will stay on their farm and try to make it for another year instead of packing up and moving out.

Phelan expertly captures the open plans of Kansas and the despair of the farming families with his washed out water colors in this fantastic book. His use of pacing with the story and opening up the world with the art (perspectives play a big role in the illustrations here) perfectly capture the time period and the eeriness of the Storm spirit that Jack finally encounters and confronts on behalf of his family and community. The Storm is a huge, swirling, dark form of a thing and certainly will creep out the reader as much as it creeps out Jack.

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 208
Publisher: Candlewick Press
ISBN-10: 0763636185
ISBN-13: 978-0763636180

You can also watch the book trailer video on YouTube.

THE STORM IN THE BARN is a fantastic example of historical fiction within the graphic novel genre, tapping into the setting of the Dust Bowl days to tell the fable of why the rains have not arrived. The book could have a place in the study of the Dust Bowl or, as writers, students could create their own magical fable set in some other time period of the United States.

I think an interesting discussion with this particular book is how large a role the illustrations play in the story. The book may be almost 200 pages long but I expect all of the text would fit on one piece of paper. The intersection of art and writing might make for a deep conversation about the production of such a book. In addition, an extensive note from Matt Phelan at the end of the book explains the genesis of the novel and how he came to be inspired to tell the tale of Jack and the Dust Bowl community. I like how Phelan brings us into the mind of the writer on a journey to story creation.

I highly recommend this book as both an historical document and as an exemplary work of graphic fiction. There is nothing inappropriate in this novel although the killing of the jackrabbits is a tender point for sensitive readers. The book would be right at home in a middle or high school classroom. It might be suitable for an elementary classroom, too, for more advanced readers.



By Chris Wilson

Author: Jay Lynch
Illustrator: Dean Haspiel
Publisher: Toon Books
Genre: Superhero

Format: Hardcover
Pages: 40
Color: Color
ISBN-13: 978-0-9799238-5-2
ISBN-10: 0-9799238-5-9

When my sister and I were kids we fought, and I don’t mean tiny tiffs or bits of scuttlebutt. We had a fight once over a gallon of milk. Half a jug and a large red smack across my face was all that was left by the end of it. My sister, seven years my senior, had won. She was right but I would never admit it.

Like Mona and Joey, my sister and I loved one another but we approached the world very differently. Too bad we did not have our own town’s version of the Mighty Mojo superhero extraordinaire who needed to pass his powerful legacy to us. That would have been so cool.

Mona and Joey, on the other hand, did have a town hero and he did give the two his super suit, which contained might powers. Unfortunately for the brother-sister duo, there was only one suit for two kids. What to do, what to do?

Right from the beginning our heroes are faced with the dilemma of having to get along [gasp] in order to make a difference and solve the problem. Their problem happened to be the sinister Saw-Jaw, but we all know he is simply a metaphor for any obstacle that stands in the way of goodness, truth and justice.

It takes time for Mo and Jo to figure it out, but they do, eventually, and they become a fabulous fighting team, throwing wrenches in the mechanics of evildoers everywhere.

Toon Books is dedicated to providing primary students with high quality, engaging comic literature and so far every book I have read with kids or to kids, has been well received. It can be hard to find comics for the very young, but Toon Books continues to craft solid stories for the very young. That is where the love of and the confidence in reading begins.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 4 and older
Publisher’s Recommendation: Ages 4 and older
Guided Reading Level: L
Lexile: GN 290
Reading Recovery Level: 17

I have used several Toon Books with Kindergartener, first and second graders, including MO AND JO. The students loved how the two siblings fight, fight, fight, but then come together in the end. Such experiences resonate with children who have brothers or sisters. They understand and can relate and it is that relevance and attachment to literature that helps build strong ties to literature.

Do not be afraid to put kids in groups of two or three and have them do a shared reading. The students can each pick a character (which can include a narrator, human characters, creatures, animals, or inanimate objects) and read the book aloud, each reading his or her part at the appropriate time. It builds a sense of community – a shared literature experience – that is unique to comic literature.

I used MO AND JO this week with my 100 first graders. We have been discussing character, setting and plot in the Technology Lab. We then read stories online and discuss these elements of fiction. I used MO AND JO to talk about plot. The book can be found online for free at professorgarfield.com. The site allows the students to have the books read to them, allowing me to use higher level books with lower level students. They can all read the book at their own pace at their own computer. This allows me to meet my technology standards while still promote the curricular needs of the grade level classroom.


MO AND JO is a Junior Library Guild Selection. Lesson plans are also available from Toon Books.

Highly Recommended
I simply cannot recommend MO AND MO and the other Toon Books enough for the primary grades. If you interact with K-3 students, you should not be without this book in your library.