Thursday, May 28, 2009


By Chris Wilson

I’ve had many educational experiences with children, but one of the most influential came when I enrolled in my graduate level reading class in Fall 2008. Brett (not his real name) was my first real student. I was in charge of every lesson every week for 12 weeks; I was this fifth grader’s after-school reading teacher. My work with him really focused my work in comics and reading and I venture to say my involvement influenced him as well.

I completed a reading inventory and discovered that he really didn’t enjoy reading. He only did it when his mother made him. There was, however, one series he liked: PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS.

It was music to my ears because that series is full of Greek mythology and I had an arsenal of comic adaptations of those ancient stories from Lerner Publishing. After we spent some time completing his IRI (we determined he was reading above grade level, which surprised everyone including his mother) and building relationships he and I started on a journey of our own. I intended for this boy to discover that he loved reading. It was already in there; he just did not know it.

Brett did not struggle in reading. He was reluctant to read and it affected everyone’s perceptions about his reading ability. He was one of those kids who would only read what he wanted to read. Period. The forced compliance toward books he cared nothing about made him reject reading entirely. We educators are, in my humble opinion, pretty good at educating the love of reading right out of kids.

I told him we would only read books he was interested in and that I was going to find some great books like PERCY JACKSON. I asked him if he would try reading comics. Brett trusted me, because of the time spent in the beginning building a relationship, and he agreed.

We started with ODYSSEUS: ESCAPING POSEIDON’S CURSE, which was written by Dan Jolley and illustrated by Thomas Yeates. It is a 48-page, full color adaptation of the story of Odysseus’ journey home, complete with a map, a glossary, a pronunciation guide and suggestions for further reading.

Every meeting began with a bit of chitchat, an integral part of our relationship building. We talked about his weekend and how he was feeling, things he was interested in. Then, I pre-taught vocabulary to him. I built a list of words from the comic that I thought he would not know or be able to pronounce.

The week 8 vocabulary words I pre-taught were as follows:

  • Pleaded
  • Argued
  • Ashore
  • Tension
  • Prevented
  • Rations
  • Grazed
  • Temptation
  • Meditate
  • Treachery
  • Reared
  • Betrayed
  • Therefore
  • Hurriedly
  • Determined
  • Advantage
  • Forgiveness
  • Willingly
  • Obliged
  • Survivor
  • Slamming
  • Currents
  • Wreckage
  • Spewed
  • Regained
  • Drift
  • Consciousness
  • Paradise
  • Wanderer
  • Nymph
  • Immediately
  • Physical
  • Revealed
  • Enchantment
  • Calypso
  • Homesick
  • Anguish
  • Athena
  • Suffered
  • Bitterly
  • Raft
  • Oath
  • Toiled
  • Fashioned
  • Unused
  • Provisions
  • Heartache
  • Encountered
  • Ithaca
  • Suitors
  • Telemachus
  • Wrath
  • Conquered
  • Brutal
  • Mortals
  • Foul

I list all the words to make a point. Comics are often filled with rich vocabulary. This comprised the tough vocabulary in just one section of the book. Although Brett did not understand all these words, we looked at them, pronounced them, and used syntactic and semantic strategies to decode them when we ran across them in the story.

We then read aloud. Comics are prime for a shared read-aloud experience. Giving Brett control over the reading, we did a picture walk through the day’s selection. Brett then picked the character or characters he would read that day. I agreed to read the rest. (This book was split into chapters and we drew the 48-page book out over several weeks.)

At first, I allowed him to choose only one character if reading one character satisfied him. After time, I could give him a wry smile and he would then volunteer to read more. I didn’t force him, but I encouraged him. Because of our relationship, he understood what I was asking and he agreed. Toward the end, he was choosing to read multiple characters. It was his idea, his choice, not mine. Once he discovered that our time together was for him not aimed at him (meaning he maintained significant amounts of control over the experience), he opened up to the experience of reading for enjoyment.

I stopped Brett often and he would retell the story so far and answer questions:

  • “Why did the men disobey Odysseus? (lower order thinking skill)
  • Is it wrong for the men to kill some cattle so they would not starve? Why?” (higher order thinking skill)
  • “Predict what will happen next?” (higher order thinking skill)

After reading, we took a break and he got a snack and we talked more. I often had to test him to track progress, which was done after the break. I then gave him a persuasive writing exercise (100-200 words) where he tried to persuade me to read his book, PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS: THE TITAN’S CURSE.

I purchased his book from the bookstore and made sure he knew it. That act alone, reinforced our relationship and signified the importance of his opinion to me. It also built trust. I encouraged Brett to use a graphic organizer to write his article and gave him the choice to craft it on paper or on the computer. There were a couple of times when he dictated to me and I wrote. He really struggled with writing and I modeled proper writing for him. It also demonstrated that I was willing to do the activity I was asking of him.

I could have used the data to demonstrate his increase in reading levels. I wasn’t as concerned about that as I was his increase in reading motivation. He was, after all, reading above grade level to begin with.

On our last evening together, I bought Brett the book of his choice. His mother looked at me and said:

“I can’t get him to close a book and stop reading. You’ve created a monster!”

She went on to ask me if I was tutoring again next semester. I was not. To which she responded that Brett would not be back. He didn’t need the tutoring anymore and if I was not going to be there, then he didn’t want to come.

Brett did not need assistance in reading; he needed guidance in discovering the power of literature and he needed the opportunity to choose his own genres and books. Having choice, reading comic adaptations in his interest area, and having a relationship with his teacher created an environment where Brett became a life-long lover of reading. His mother has since reported that he reads a novel every week or two.

If I were a betting man, I would wager that he might go on to read The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Aeneid, and other great canonical works.


By Chris Wilson


Authors & Illustrators: James Sturm, Alexis Frederick-Frost, & Andrew Arnold
Publisher: First Second Books
Genre: Humor

Format: Softcover
Pages: 112
Color: Full color
ISBN-10: 1-59643-369-8
ISBN-13: 978-1-59643-369-4

“Once upon a time … a princess tried to make a comic…” and her efforts were cleverly captured by Sturm, Frederick-Frost and Arnold and put to page. Thanks to an elf – a magic cartooning elf, that is – the young princess embarked on her own journey to learn how to draw the story stuck in her mind.

What an adorable story it is. A princess is spirited away from her tower, captured by the dread dragon. It is the honorable and armored knight who must track them down, slay the dragon and save the princess. Along the way, the elf tells the comic-creating princess the about panels, backgrounds, movement, motion lines, gutters, tiers, thought bubbles, word balloons, and some advanced cartooning techniques.

It is all there – everything a kid needs to create his or her own comic, and it is beautifully designed for kids with cartoon art that kids can mimic. There’s even a fabulous example of a kid’s comic strip in the back of the book, thanks to a girl named Eva. Students will delight in the stick-like characters of the book and not feel overwhelmed in their own abilities to draw.

Just in case you are at all concerned about the misogynistic story of the damsel in distress, fret not dear friend. ADVENTURES IN CARTOONING is not the same antiquated story of yore.

The beauty of ADVENTURES IN CARTOONING is it eases the tension of the students. Many kids can be uncomfortable with their art abilities, seeing stick or basic figures as primary or only for babies. ADVENTURES IN CARTOONING makes it clear that great comic art begins with primary shapes and teaches students how to create expression and movement with basic lines.

The pages teach the student about role of panels.

The page above demonstrates movement through the changing of background.
Notice the character's pose never changes.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 6 and older
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 6-10

I think many teachers are fearful of cartooning and comics because they, frankly, have no idea how to teach a child to create his or her own comics. Some feel inadequate or incapable of modeling the art skills to children. That is perfectly understandable; however, a teacher need not be able to draw in order to teach children the basics of cartooning, especially with this book around.

If the fear persists or is a stumbling block then I suggest a simple remedy: the art teacher. In my experience art teachers are more than willing to collaborate with a classroom teacher. This allows the classroom teacher to teach the writing and the art teacher to teach the illustrations. It also frees up time in the classroom to focus on the communication arts side of the storytelling.

Do not be fooled. This book is not just for elementary students. I used this book in a middle school classroom. I did not have time to read it cover-to-cover with them (as I did with the fourth graders) but I used pieces and parts to demonstrate the basics of comics.

Highly Recommended
From head to toe, beginning to end, this book is a must have for any teacher who wants to help students create their own comics.


From the Editor

On the advice of a comic teacher, I ordered (and this week received) THE SYSTEM OF COMICS by Thierry Groensteen. The book is hailed as “an authoritative exploration of how comics achieve meaning, form and function.” I am specifically interested in the segments where comics and picture books are compared and contrasted. I find comic theory pretty interesting. So look for a review of THE SYSTEM OF COMICS to come along one of these days (hopefully at the end of the summer, but I promise nothing).

These comics came into the Classroom this week:
  1. Batman: The Brave and the Bold #5
  2. Previews #249
  3. Graphic Classics Vol. 17: Science Fiction Classics (now in color)
  4. Sonic Universe: The Shadow Saga #4 (of 4)
  5. The Stand: American Nightmares #3 (of 5)
  6. The System of Comics
  7. Usagi Yojimbo #120
  8. Wolverine: Old Man Logan #72

Sunday, May 24, 2009


John C. Weaver is an English teacher at Williamsport Area High School in Williamsport, PA. He has written two articles at the Graphic Novel Reporter about the use of the WATCHMEN in a high school English classroom. They are both worth your time.

Who Teaches the Watchmen
Reteaching the Watchmen (A reflection on the experience)

Thursday, May 21, 2009


By Kevin Hodgson

Staff Writer

Sometimes a trip to the library can yield such wonderful results. Such was the case one wintry day as I took my sons to our local library and found among the stacks of new books an over-sized tome entitled ARCHIE'S WAR: MY SCRAPBOOK OF THE FIRST WORLD WAR by Marcia Williams. I admit that it was the dark mahogany cover that first drew my attention. But turning to the inside of the book I was hooked. Building on the model of the DRAGONOLOGY and MONSTEROLOGY books that use fictional documents, fake archeological finds and other tidbits to tell a tale, ARCHIE'S WAR uses the hand-drawn comics of a fictionalized 10-year-old Archie Albright to tell the story of living in England during World War I from 1914-1918.

It's difficult to explain the set-up (this is one of those books that you have to read to experience), but the mixture of comic strips, notes in the margins, letters from relatives on the front lines, photographs and hilarious comic-book-like characters that inhabit this book draws the reader into the experience of a country under siege from the German airplanes. It is a story about loss and perseverance, and also, of growing up.

Archie has a lot to learn about life and he records these moments, as best as he can, with a graphic interpretation of the world crumbling around him. He loses an uncle, has his older brother severely injured, and doesn't hear from his father for months at a time while he is stationed on the front. His friend, Tom, has his house and neighborhood bombed, and Archie rushes there to find and help his friend and his family as they wander about shell-shocked after the explosion. At one point, Archie writes, "At first, being at war was like being in a comic strip. It ain't like that now – it's REAL." Making it even more real is the timeline of the entire war that Archie scribbles in the margins as history marches onward while Archie and his family try to survive. The scrapbook format with comics works so well here that you forget that Archie is a fictionalized character. That is the beauty of this gem of a book.

The art is a mishmash of scrapbook images and comic strips that reflect the style of a 10-year-old artist. The art allows the reader to view this chaotic world through the eyes of a child, and the adolescent humor is evident in so many of the pictures. Essentially, this book is a feast for the eyes and one could read this book on many levels, thanks in part to the art.

With so much attention paid to World War II in our culture, the grim realities of the first World War often get lost, but this book brings it all into focus through the eyes of a child. As a companion to textbooks in history classes, this book could be a fictional archive of that time period and show what life was like in a country moving into and experiencing the tumult of war.

From a reading and writing perspective, this book just screams "point of view" and could provide a wonderful platform for examining character development. We watch Archie move away from his innocent beginnings and he is guilty of bad judgment, too, such as the time he shouts down and excludes a former friend whose family is from Germany. It would be well worth examining the parallels between that experience and the internment of the Japanese in the United States during World War II and the treatment of Arabic/Middle Eastern citizens in the aftermath of 9/11.

The scrapbook technique for telling a story might also open up some creative doors for young writers, who could piece together a story narrative in a less linear form than prose writing. The addition of comics also opens up the door for artwork, too.

Publisher’s Reading level: Ages 9-12
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 48 pages
Publisher: Candlewick
ISBN-10: 0763635324
ISBN-13: 978-0763635329

I would highly recommend this book for middle and high school classrooms, as well as upper elementary. It is an engaging fictionalized historical piece of work that uses the comic strip art to full effect. There is no profanity or objectionable material in this book.


By Chris Wilson

Author & Illustrator: Alexis E. Fajardo
Publisher: Bowler Hat Comics
Genre: Mythological Fiction

Format: Softcover
Pages: 208
Color: Black and white
ISBN-10: 978-0-9801419-1-7

What I did not realize when I first read this book (and initially wrote this review) was the depth and complexity of Fajardo’s universe. After having an impromptu online dialogue with him I decided to rework the review and up the recommendation. I also pledged to myself to get my hands on every … single … volume of the 12-part series for my classroom.

KID BEOWULF AND THE BLOOD-BOUND OATH is not just a fictionalized what-if account of Beowulf. Volume one asks the reader: What if the story we knew and treasured was not the truth? What if Beowulf and Grendel were brothers? Fajardo goes on to create a back-story of Beowulf and Grendel, of Hrothgar and the Dragon.

In this tale, Beowulf and Grendel were born twin brothers from Gertrude the half-breed beast. All three are tragically linked to the blood of the dragon and Hrothgar. The ancient tale of heroic tragedy – that of bloodshed, monsters, treachery and rejection – is the perfect concoction to get kids, mainly boys, to read.

The sweet scent of epical heroism is entrenched with diversity and multicultural mythos. At the end of book one the two boys, Beowulf and Grendel, set off on a quest to discover themselves and their destinies. In future installments, the twins will travel the continents interacting with numerous cultural mythologies and heroes. As the boys grow into men they will, ultimately, come to the place where the great Beowulf poem comes to fruition. For most of us, we already know what awaits the boys. It is their youthful, and fictional, journey to manhood that we will experience and appreciate.

Not only will we join the twins, but we will experience many of the world’s mythologies. I am ready for the experience; excited about the journey. Bring it on, Fajardo.

Fajardo gives us a kid friendly book. The art reminds me of the original BONE series: black and white line art with little shading. It makes the book clean for young students. Fajardo also inserts a lot of humor in the illustrations.

He does draw different distinctions between the prologue and the rest of the book. The prologue offers shading and more details, which helps readers make sense of the time line.

Prologue page 1.

Sample from the story.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 8 and older
Publisher’s Recommendation: All Ages

My experience leads me to believe that fictionalized stories with strong mythological themes and characters bring students, including elementary kids, to our most ancient of stories. Modern retellings have a knack of driving young male readers mad with excitement. It is my opinion that the KID BEOWULF series is just such a tale.

The story is a bit intricate especially for elementary students. There are a lot of characters and nationalities to remember, which gives teachers an excellent opportunity to promote the habits of reading slowly, reading in chunks, retelling, and re-reading. I often find that kids balk when asked to do this with an assigned reading, but I think students will be more than willing to exercise their good reading habits with KID BEOWULF. I also find that teachers can be reluctant to recommend tough books to kids thinking the Lexile is too high. I find that when kids are interested in reading, they will often attempt and succeed with books written at a higher level than the students are used to.

Naturally, mythological fiction is the perfect trajectory toward reading more about ancient mythology. There are various comic incarnations of the original Beowulf story, depending on the students’ age. You can read reviews of those stories here, here and here.

The next book in the series is KID BEOWULF AND THE SONG OF ROLAND. The title is intended to be a 12-part series. The twins will interact with mythology stories and heroes from various cultures and countries throughout the series, which is one more reason to stock it in your library.

Highly Recommended
I cannot wait to introduce my students to KID BEOWULF and then lead them toward comic adaptations of other mythologies, eventually steering them toward the original source material.


From the Editor

I’m still in a mythology mood this week, but this time we will delve a bit into the British legend of Beowulf and a fictionalized what-if account of that story. Why? Because these kinds of action-adventure-mythology-battle stories are the stuff that boys dream of, and we want that population to become better readers, engaged readers, lifelong readers.

What about a more modern history? Kevin Hodgson gives us a review that jigsaws perfectly into the suggestions we offer for connecting mythology to today's students.

Now to the list of comics that came into the classroom this week:

  1. King Lear: A Graphic Novel
  2. G.I. Joe #5
  3. Marvel Adventures Avengers #36
  4. Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood
  5. The Prince of Heroes #1 - #3 (chapter 1)
  6. Robot City Adventures: City in Peril!
  7. Stephen Colbert’s Tek Jansen #5 (of 5)
  8. The Storm in the Barn
  9. Tiny Titans #16
  10. Tiny Titans Vol 2: Adventures in Awesomeness

Thursday, May 14, 2009


By Chris Wilson

Just like Staff Writer Kevin Hodgson combined comic adaptations of Greek myth with the very popular traditional children’s book, PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF, I did the same with the fourth grade students during my student teaching. Be sure to read Hodgson’s fascinating review complete with graphs. I introduced my comics to the students in my student teaching class early in the semester. I had an entire box filled with Greek mythology from Lerner Publishing.

At first, only one fourth grade student – a boy in the gifted program – picked them up. It was on my recommendation and I thought he would enjoy them. I was right and he was quickly taking them home at night. It is a scary proposition to let students take your books home, but I wanted to encourage his interests so I allowed it. It was not long until I had a group of nearly 10 boys reading Greek myth. The girls, except one, were uninterested.

When we finished our daily read-aloud book, I introduced THE LIGHTNING THIEF to the class. Instantly, the boys became so excited when the story mentioned Perseus, the Minotaur, Medusa, Zeus and other Greek characters. So excited in fact, that they would often interrupt the read-aloud to share what they knew about the characters. There were times when they would stand up and shout and flap their hands.

Fourth grade boys
About literature

I could not keep my Greek myth comics in stock. They were in backpacks and on desks and in hands, some even read during recess.

I soon left the classroom to begin my rotations. When I came back four weeks later, I discovered the kids had finished THE LIGHTNING THIEF. Many of the boys had gone on to check out the next book from the library or purchased it from the Scholastic book fair.

I sat down with the students and asked them about it. The boys were almost uncontrollable in their excitement over both the comics and the novel. The girls, on the other hand, were not. I asked them about it.

They were confused.

The girls, you see, had not picked up the comics so they were very unfamiliar with the characters or the back-story. Thus, they were so-so on the book. One female, who was a HARRY POTTER fangirl, was enamored with THE LIGHTNING THIEF and she made that clear, protesting that it was not a boy book.

The girls expressed that they wished the boys and I had helped them understand the characters more before reading THE LIGHTNING THIEF and that we spent a little more time restating what was had happened after the read-aloud. The girls did say that they book was exciting, but was simply hard to understand.

This should not signify that Greek mythology is only for boys. However, I think it has an instant appeal to many boys whereas some girls need more scaffolding in order to connect with the story. Were I to do it over again, I would encourage more girls to read the comic adaptations of Greek myth (including those about the females) and also take time during and after THE LIGHTNING THIEF read-aloud to help scaffold the girls more.

In the end, I would recommend a dual-text reading of comic adaptations of Greek myth with THE PERCY JACKSON series of mythology-related books. The excitement generated, especially for the boys who tend to be reluctant readers, is paramount and should be cultivated and nurtured.

I currently have the following pieces of Greek mythology in my collection:

Jason: Quest for the Golden Fleece
Odysseus: Escaping Poseidon’s Curse
Perseus: The Hunt for Medusa’s Head
Psyche & Eros: The Lady and the Monster
The Trojan Horse: The Fall of Troy
Theseus: Battling the Minotaur
Hercules: The Twelve Labors
Demeter & Persephone: Spring Held Hostage

Lerner has done a good job providing stories with male and female protagonists. They also offer other types of mythology: Egyptian, Japanese, Chinese, Mayan, Arabian, Aztec, Swiss, Korean, African, English and Norse.


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

Original Author: Terry Pratchett
Adaptation: Scott Rockwell
Illustrations: Steven Ross
Lettering: Vickie Williams

THE DISCWORLD collection – which combines in graphic novel form two previous stories by novelist Terry Pratchett – is an odd book with an even odder tale and yet, Pratchett and the writers who have adapted his stories mostly pull it off. The hardcover collected edition of two stories – THE COLOUR OF MAGIC and THE LIGHT FANTASTIC – is set on world traveling through time and space that is balanced atop four elephants, who themselves are standing on a massive turtle pushing its way through the universe.

Pause your thought there for a moment. A world moving through space atop elephants and a turtle. Well, after a few pages of DISCWORLD, the reader who comes to accept this oddity as a truth is fully immersed in a place where a mysterious traveler from another place, accompanied by a magical luggage trunk that will follow its owner anywhere, (and I mean anywhere) is met by a failed wizard who has one of DISCWORLD's eight most powerful magical spells lodged somewhere in the deep recesses of his brain.

These two miscreants meet any number of strange characters on their travels – a legendary hero who is now pushing 90 years old, trolls who are the size of mountains, trees that can talk, dragons that are created from one's imagination – as they push into the boundaries of Discworld in hopes of saving the place from impending disaster. The plot arcs across both of these stories (which were first published in the 1980s and republished this year in this beautifully bound edition) and just when all seems lost to the inhabitants of Discworld, Rincewind the failed wizard finds the source of magic inside himself for the very first time and unknowingly puts the world back on the right track. Even the great turtle, A'Tuin, finds solace at the end of the book, as what seemed like signs of a certain disaster were really signs of a magical rebirth.

The DISCWORLD stories have their strong points, although there are times when the plot meanders off in unexpected directions (Rincewind, for example, has a habit of suddenly moving into different worlds with scant notice to the reader. One frame you are here, the next frame, you're not). While graphic novels and comics often use the space between frames for inferential reading, Scott Rockwell, the adaptor of Pratchett's books for this series, could have used more focus at times to keep the reader on track with what is going on in the story. That said, Pratchett's visionary world is a fully informed one, with just enough similarities to our own to make it feel as if it were taking place in some dark, backroom alley in a rundown city somewhere, with just a whiff of magical surprise in the air to make you expect the unexpected.

For the most part, the artwork is rich and luminous, but as with the writing, it can also be inconsistent in tone, depth and quality. Perhaps, if a reader were to view the story segments separately, over time, as in a monthly comic book, the disparity would not be so obvious. But in a collection of this size, with one story chapter moving right into the next, the shift in illustrations is very obvious, particularly in THE LIGHT FANTASTIC. It can take time to adjust to the different styles that veer from the serious and detailed to a more traditional comic book style of murky expressions on faces. Even so, the visual rendering of DISCWORLD, and the giant turtle hurtling through space, is quite a sight. In one particular scene, where the characters stand literally on the edge of the world, the artist has done a fantastic job of forcing the reader to hold their breath as we peer down into the abyss below.

This book collection is clearly aimed at young adults, with big themes on the meaning of life, good and evil and other mature material. There are flashes of violence, with some blood as a result of fights, and the female characters are (stereotypically) dressed in almost nothing. There is no overt profanity or inappropriate language.

DISCWORLD offers some possibilities for philosophical discussions among high school students regarding the nature of our perception of existence (how do we know our world is not balanced on the back of a giant turtle?). The books also twist the concept of a traditional hero. For example, the most esteemed hero in DISCWORLD itself is not some young strapping man with huge muscles, but a withered 90-year-old named Cohen the Barbarian who is missing his teeth and speaks with a lisp. Another main character, Ringwind, is a wizard who has no magical abilities and is considered a failure by all who know him. These characters provide ample opportunity for teachers and students to discuss the virtue of creating a character outside of normal expectations with plenty of flaws on which to build a plot.

Recommended, with some reservations, for high school students.

Format: Hardcover
Pages: 272
Publisher: HarperCollins
ISBN-10: 0061685968
ISBN-13: 978-0061685965

Browse inside the book. Find out more at Wikipedia.


From the Editor

You might have noticed that we took a bit of a Greek mythology turn last week. We are going to continue in that vein, at least in part, this week. We have observed Greek myth transform reluctant male readers into avid page-turners and connection-makers (all those text-to connections that we teachers are so fond of).

That’s not all that is out there, of course. There are so many genres of interest that are important to the diverse population that is the schoolroom. I love many of them; it’s just that I’m particularly fond of how Greek mythology connects to children, especially boys.

Now to the list of comics that came into the classroom this week:
  1. Binky the Space Cat
  2. The Dark Tower: Fall of Gilead #1 (of 6)
  3. G.I. Joe: Cobra #3
  4. Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers #1 (of 4)
  5. Marvel Adventures Spider-Man #51
  6. Marvel Adventures Superheroes #11
  7. The Prince of Heroes Chapter II #1 - #2
  8. Storming Paradise #5
  9. Super Friends #15
  10. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz #6 (of 6)

Friday, May 8, 2009


By Chris Wilson

It is amazing that a tale over 3,000 years old is still one of the greatest war stories ever told, even more amazing is the fact that it is an epic poem. THE ILIAD (and THE ODYSSEY) has greatly influenced Western philosophy and literature and despite the age of this great work, it is very relevant to today’s youth, that is, if those youth will bother to access it.

Considering Homer’s epic poem spans over 15,000 lines of poetry – the brunt of which has more archaic language than the typical 21st century student, child or adult, can muster – it’s no wonder that the only students who read THE ILIAD are those required to do so for a literature class. That’s a sad commentary, I must say, and while I disagree philosophically with the idea of only reading great works when one is forced, I understand completely. It takes great commitment and fortitude to work through that many lines of epic Greek verse, decoding difficult text, making sense of the imagery, and understanding the themes and motifs. Thus the point of having a literature class: to help us understand and appreciate great works and how they still apply to our lives, as that is what great literature continues to do, but only if the populous will actually read and make sense of it.

Even after such an academic exercise as the deconstruction of great literature, does the average student leave the schoolhouse with a deeper understanding and appreciation of THE ILIAD? Do they get it? Do they want to get it? Well, that all depends on the student, and the teacher, and in some cases the translation.

Before embarking on Marvel Illustrated’s tale myself – having read the original for my required Freshman Studies class during my bachelor’s degree in 1995 at a private liberal arts college – I turned to scribe Roy Thomas’ introduction to this comic adaptation. Thomas’ first encounter of THE ILIAD was not of the dactylic hexameter in a specialized literature classroom, but of the Classics Illustrated comic adaptation from 1950 when he was only 10 years old.

“It filled me with what the editors of the CI series claimed they wanted to instill in me: a desire to read the original. I worked my way up to that goal, first through a YOUNG PEOPLE’S ILLIAD by A.J. Church … graduating to Samuel Butler’s late-19th-century translation…. In high school (or was it college?) I found the time on my own to read Alexander Pope’s poetic translation….”

From Thomas’ own story we can peel back the purpose of comic adaptations of traditional literature: reading motivation. Comic adaptations of traditional literature introduce old stories in new ways for contemporary readers and give them access to a story that would likely go unread. Just as Thomas discovered, reading those adaptations – presented on his level – allowed him a foundation from which to embark on a journey to read the original.

Despite the dogma of some academic circles, there are no rules governing when or how a reader engages a text. Certainly, an intellectual purist may choose only to read the original on his or her own, but most likely the average reader will only read classic stories when an instructor requires it. And he or she may or may not succeed beyond reading words, listening to lecture and passing an essay test. Those exercises do not necessarily guarantee connection or appreciation of the text. Furthermore, lectures and exams are not how literature is engaged in the real world. Just as with HARRY POTTER or the TWILIGHT series, real readers – engaged readers, passionate lovers of literature – stand in lines, recite quotes, and reflect upon their connection to their beloved stories. They care. Real reading is about love and motivation, excitement and engagement, passion and connectivity.

Unlike the typical college student, Thomas read THE ILIAD because he wanted to, because he needed to, because his first exposure to the classic tale gave him a reason to read. Certainly things were left out. Absolutely, the story was abbreviated and condensed. Equally indisputable is the fact that it was the comic adaptation that first brought Thomas to THE ILIAD; it is that adaptation that instilled reading motivation and the urge to tackle Pope’s translation.

So when I tell my friend that I just read THE ILIAD and he responds with “Why is Marvel doing that? What’s the point?” I can confidently explain to him the purpose of comic adaptations. It is my belief – supported by anecdotal experiences such as Thomas’ – that contemporary translations and adaptations of classic works build the foundation upon which more students can ultimately read, understand, connect with, and enjoy the original texts or classic translations.

When Thomas writes, “Every generation should have its own translations of THE ILIAD, one that speaks to it in its own special way” he taps into something profound and brings a modern connection to a classic works. Why do we insist on forcing students to come to literature, rather than bringing the literature to the students? Perhaps more comic adaptations will lead to a revitalization and appreciation of classic literature. If Thomas’ experience can be applied to a larger population, that revitalization and appreciation will occur.

Using comic adaptations of classic literature allows the educator to bring stories to students when they are young, building a solid literary foundation upon which students can use to help them understand and relate to the world around them and the world that came before them.

Literature – be it comic or prose, classic or modern, original or adapted – creates a powerful emotional response in the reader. We should expand our modes of thoughts and our arguments for “canon” to include all types of written word. Otherwise, we run the risk of relegating those beautiful old works to the dusty shelves of academia.

We can bring old and new together to form a new, rich, literary tradition where comics and prose and poetry, where original works and adaptations can be read simultaneously, appropriately and deeply.


By Chris Wilson


ADAPTED BY: Roy Thomas
ILLUSTRATOR: Miguel Angel Sepulveda
INKS: Sandu Florea
COLORS: Nathan Fairbairn
LETTERING: Joe Caramagna
COVER ARTIST: Paolo Rivera
PUBLISHER: Marvel Illustrated (an imprint of Marvel Comics)
GENRE: Traditional literature in comic format

FORMAT: Hardcover
COLOR: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-0-7851-2383-5

During a trip, the Trojan Prince Paris made off with Helen, the wife of Menelaus a Greek. Menelaus turned to his brother Agamemnon the King of Mycenae to enact retribution against the City of Troy and regain Helen. What transpired was a 10-year war, a small portion of which is detailed in The ILIAD. A war with kings and princes is enough, but when the gods and goddess join the fray, the bloodletting and the treachery is wet and red.

Who knew that a 3,000-year-old epic poem supposedly by a blind Greek poet would have such standing and influence on Western literature and philosophy? THE ILIAD has withstood the years, enduring numerous translations and adaptations, giving way to its title as the greatest war story ever told. The 15,000 lines of poetic verse have been a staple of the literary canon for years and its description of the human condition is as relevant now as it was it was written.

Roy Thomas’ adaptation is just one more incarnation of the great war story, one that presents itself to the 21st century student in a way that makes sense to the reader and revitalizes the old verse. Thomas chose to keep the archaic feel of the language intact to preserve the richness of the original and to set the tone. While that language is a bit tedious and confusing at times, it maintains the ancient and authentic feel of the story. The read is not easy and requires some dedication on the part of the reader, but the result is worth it.

Marvel Illustrated helps the reader by providing explanations in the text and a glossary in the back. The gods and goddesses and their words are colorized and textually different from the rest of the story, allowing the reader to discern the immortals from the mortals. The author’s word choice is more in line with the setting and the story, but it does cause above-average difficulty. From the dialogue, to the narration, to the guttural screams and war cries, the authenticity of the adaptation was strong beginning to end.

The only exception was the “Hii-Yaaaaaa” by Idomeneus, King of Crete, when he brought down his wrath against the Trojans. That brief diversion from the tone of the rest of the book was distracting and pulled the reader from the story; however, that detail is minor and rather insignificant.

The depiction of the armor alone is distinct and worthwhile your time. So many groups are in battle, yet Sepulveda takes time with each handcrafted piece. The artist is not afraid of battle scenes, giving us a sometimes disgusting but accurate view of the brutality and burning. The infusion of gods and goddess can be distracting, but Sepulveda finds a way to incorporate their characters and dialogue bubbles so that the reader can easily discern between mortal and god.

Chris’ Rating: High school
Publisher’s Rating: Parental Advisory, Ages 15 to adult

THE ILIAD is a classic tale full of dread, death, war, and love. There are blood-drenched epic battles, treachery, and abandonment. The complexity of the story is best for high school students, but that should not be interpreted to preclude younger students. Great caution must be exercised when presenting this story to younger persons as it is difficult and will likely require scaffolding. It could be that some younger but gifted students may do well with such a tale. Those kinds of decisions should be taken on a case-by-case basis.

It’s the greatest war story ever told. Swords are wielded; gods and goddesses are prayed to; death is dealt; blood flows freely; and love and abandonment are central to the story.

Using a comic adaptation of a traditional work in an English classroom is not a popular choice and upsets many educators. While I argue that the comic adaptation may be very appropriate depending on the class and the students, it is important to note that an educator need not choose one over the other, when using both is a legitimate and contemporary option.

The combination of studying the original and the adaptation may be a powerful way to engage students and increase reading motivation. The original text could be used to develop appreciation for the beauty of the original verse and the epic nature of the work, as well as to fill in gaps left out of the adaptation. The comic version can be used for comprehension and visualization of the story; it can build the foundation from which the original text can be studied and really enjoyed. Together, I believe that the two works will create a unique and contemporary literature class that can emphasize understanding and appreciation and bring the literature to the students.

I offer several suggestions the reader may find helpful:
  • Read slowly
  • Take time to read the beautiful illustrations
  • Do not hesitate to re-read
  • Read in sections and not in one sitting, unless you are very familiar with the story
  • The Greeks go by several names in the story, which can be confusing at first: Greeks, Achaeans, and Argives.
  • Consider dramatic readings where different parts are read aloud by different students.

While THE ILIAD and THE ODYSSEY are generally cited as the works of a blind poet named Homer, scholars are unsure if Homer was a real person, or an amalgam of multiple writers.

Highly Recommended
Be it classic interpretation or graphic adaptation, THE ILIAD is one of our oldest and most influential works. It is a classic regardless of the format. Marvel Illustrated’s comic adaptation is a must-have.


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

The hero of all heroes gets the full graphic novel treatment in ODYSSEUS: ESCAPING POSEIDON'S CURSE, adapted in terrific style by Dan Jolley and illustrated by Thomas Yeates. Monsters, gods, the flaws of human nature, and the loss and celebration of life are all on dazzling display in this beautifully crafted book by Lerner Publishing (under its Graphic Universe umbrella).

The reader is first presented with a tantalizing cover of Odysseus fighting off the many-headed Scylla (who waits for ships at sea, with devastating results) and then the reader is introduced to the Greek legend of The Odyssey with a map that shows the journey that the King of Ithaca will take to get back home from the Trojan War to his beloved wife, Penelope. It's a voyage that will take him many years, in part due to his own character flaw of pride. (Hint: never reveal your true name to a Cyclops whom you have blinded with a burning spear).

The epic, originally crafted by Homer, obviously had to be narrowed in focus, but Jolley does a commendable job of keeping the action of the story, and the actions of the characters, at the very center of this graphic novel. We see the follies of the gods as well as their desire to tinker with the lives of humans, for both good and ill. The book ends rather abruptly, with Odysseus all alone (his crew all dead) and finally heading home. The foreshadowing of the text and the look on the face of Odysseus lets the reader know that the men who have taken over his home in Ithaca and who seek to wed his wife and become king will be no match for the hero who has faced and survived so many showdowns with monsters and gods. The rest of the story will have to be left to our imagination (although readers of the Homer text know all to well what is to come).

The illustrations and artwork in ODYSSEUS: ESCAPING POSEIDON'S CURSE is fantastic. With great detail and use of colors (contrasting light and darkness), Yeates does a wonderful job of pulling the reader into the story. The monsters spring from the page. The looks on the face of Odysseus and his men, in both terror and in triumph, are a perfect tandem to Jolley's version of The Odyssey.

There are so many ways this book can find a place in any classroom, but the target audience is middle school and high school. As part of a unit on Greek Mythology, this graphic novel would provide an engaging narrative of the classic tale of the Greek Hero and the whims of the gods. In my case, I convinced the other members of my sixth grade team to purchase a class set of ODYSSEUS: ESCAPING POSEIDON'S CURSE and use it as a companion text for our reading of the book, The Lightning Thief by Rick Reardon (which uses Greek mythology for the basis of the tale). As a final project, we looked at the map of Odysseus’ journey and then my students created their own Imaginary heroic journey, using Google Maps and Google Earth, and the Picasa image sharing platform, to make their own way back home, encountering monsters and obstacles along the way. (see the Heroic Journey site for samples and more information)

As part of a final reflection on reading the graphic novel, I had my students take an online survey (using Google Documents/Forms) to answer some questions about graphic novels and the Odyssey. I found the results interesting and share them here with you:

First, I wondered if they had ever been assigned to read a graphic novel by a teacher. No surprises here.

Next, I wondered if I gave them a choice between reading a story that was in traditional novel form or graphic novel form, which would they choose. I was surprised by this one, as I expected more to choose a graphic novel.

Then, I asked about the book itself. I wanted to know if they enjoyed the story and if they thought reading it as a graphic novel helped them to understand the narrative.

And finally, I asked them to briefly tell me how they would define what a graphic novel is. Here are some of their answers:
  • It is different because it has pictures and it is easy to understand.
  • A graphic novel is different then a regular novel because a regular novel usually doesn't have that many pictures and graphic novels has mostly every page full of pictures.
  • It is a lot smaller then a regular novel and it has pitchers.
  • It has pictures and helps you better understand what is happening in my opinion. It also makes it more interesting. The thing I don't like about it is it is shorter.
  • Well, it gives a more visual complement to the book, but unfortunately, by doing that, it decreases the imagination of the descriptions, making you envision things in a different way than you might have if you were just reading the story. Also, it is a bit hard to follow the story at some points because of the way that the captions and pictures are placed … but over-all, it was a good summary of the Odyssey. :-D
  • I think it's different because it has more pictures and there's less writing and less details. It's like a comic book except that all the pictures are jumbled on the page instead of in a row...It can get kind of confusing. I would've like to just learn a little bit more about how to read a graphic novel. I did figure out how to read the book though, so it's OK.

  • Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group
  • Format: Paperback:
  • Pages: 48
  • Color: Full color
  • ISBN-10: 0822585154
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822585152
  • Publisher's Reading level: Grade 4
  • Publisher's Interest level: Grades 4-8
  • ATOS: 4.5
  • Lexile: 640

ODYSSEUS: ESCAPING POSEIDON'S CURSE gets high marks across the board: the writing is engaging and crisp, the artwork is detailed, and the story, of course, is a classic. This book is highly recommended for middle and high school readers, and perhaps for some advanced readers in the upper elementary grades, too. It should be noted that there is death and violence in here, but not the gratuitous kind. Men die at the hands of monsters and nature, and every decision by Odysseus has a price. It reminds us that we have a responsibility when it comes to our actions.


The election, the inauguration and President Obama’s first 100 days in office are the next set of comics planned by IDW. The comic publisher was the first to comicize Obama and presidential contender John McCain during the 2008 election although others have since followed suit. Newsarama conducted an interview with writer Jeff Mariotte.

Read our previous coverage of the presidential comics here and here.


From the Editor

Yesterday was my last day of student teaching. It is less bitter and more sweet for me than others because I am returning to the same district and school this fall as a card-carrying, full fledged, certificated, licensed teacher. Oh, the sweet sound of it all. I will see my students – all 500+ of them – very soon. I am the computer teacher and I serve all K-4 students.

I am looking forward to a summer spent with my daughter. She and my wife have given up a lot to put me through school for the last three and a half years. They have gone without things and often gone without me, but we have persevered and came through the other side strong and happy.

This is the summer of daddy and daughter. We will read comics, build a trebuchet, travel, play, and spend quality time with one another. Sure, I have lesson plans to design, supplies to purchase, procedures to design, a room to set-up and, of course, comic reviews to write. She and I will play and enjoy and learn and grow and love.

I’m looking forward to nights and weekends with my wife. She’s quite bummed that she left working while we play, but finally my nights and weekends will be free to support her.

I’m happy to have time to read and review more comics and graphic novels this summer. I hope our summer line-up fulfills your needs. If you have the chance, drop us a comment or a private note ( We love to hear from our readers.

And now to the list:
  1. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra #3
  2. Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade #6 (of 6)
  3. Voltron: Defender of the Universe #5 (of 5)

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Comics in the Classroom

Saturday, May 2, 2009


The argument over classics or modern literature, and more recently comics as part of the canon, consistently come up. I take the simple stance, the one adopted by Dr. Carter, that the literature taught need not be an either/or concept. We can teach both, or all, depending on how you look at it.

Dr. Carter writes about these issues more eloquently than I could. So I suggest you take a look at his most recent article. He is at the top of my list of coolies (that's a good thing).


By Nate Stearns
Staff Writer

When I was a kid – languishing in antiseptic, monotonous, monocultural, suburban Lilburn, GA – I wanted my life to be more real, even if that meant I went a little crazy. Books like CATCH-22 or ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST convinced me that the only way out of modern anomie was to basically become utterly and completely bonkers. And I wasn't. I was disappointingly sane. Still, literature does give you a bit of a crazy contact high; you can play along with neurosis and hallucination, obsession and disassociation. Sometimes mental illness is linked to an artistic escape from the stultifying boundaries of conformity (Poe) or to the perception of a better cooler reality then the humdrum one we are forced to schlump along in (DON QUIXOTE).

Nate Powell's SWALLOW ME WHOLE plays with that same tension inherent in creative depiction of mental illness. His graphic novel follows twins Ruth and Perry as they navigate not only the difficulties of adolescence but also the challenges of mental illness. Perry periodically hallucinates; his pencil sprouts a tiny wizard creature who sends him on missions that seem to always result in getting beat up (although sometimes he gets a girlfriend for his troubles). But at least he knows he's seeing things. Ruth suffers from a strange form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which involves collecting and labeling an ever larger glass jar collection of insects (Linneaus disease?).

The early parts of the graphic novel weave together foreboding and innuendo. Is grandma's dementia a byproduct or result of her creative output? Is she a cautionary tale or an illustration of the road less traveled? Is mom's growing deafness real or convenient? Are Perry's hallucinations nudges from a restless id, driving Perry to experience the world and break out of his morose worldview? Where's dad? Even Ruth's illness and the suffering that it causes her helps her land a gig as an intern at a local natural history museum. Unfortunately, her OCD devolves into hallucination and a giant stuffed frog begins talking to her.

One of the strengths of the graphic novel is that it's able to capture a skewed reality in such a way that it's easy to suspend disbelief. Perhaps, because readers are primed to expect people to fly or leap tall building or shoot laser beams from their eyes, they can be more easily induced to accept characters lifted bodily over their lawns by Beelzebub's swarms of insects. The same imagery in a move would be too surreal for us to care about the characters and in a novel too difficult to accept. Graphic novels have shown how well they can present memoirs that use hallucinatory art to illustrate symbolic meaning (EPILEPSY or MAUS or even FUN HOME), but in a fictional story the use of these techniques are able to separate a bit from the indulgence of an author's life and reach for the larger significance of literature. The images invite us to consider the ambiguity of the charaters' experiences.

Part of the appeal of SWALLOW ME WHOLE is the gorgeous allure of the art. Finding a sweet spot between the stark drama of BLACK HOLE and the swirly romanticism of BLANKETS, the graphic novel manages to both scare and bewitch. For instance, when Ruthie is haunted by the swarms of bugs that collect on her lawn, Powell scrawls huge SHKAAKs across the page in thick slanty script. Still, there is a promise of transcendence in those bugs; they lift her bodily into the sky like a modern-day Mary or Remedios the Beauty – her face an untranslatable mix of exaltation and fear. Even the lettering twirls around the characters and wraps them in the words they use to make sense of what is happening to them.

While graphic novels give students the opportunity to use visual cues to assist in their reading, there are a number of obstacles in using works like SWALLOW in the classroom. It would be hard to image a school having either the cash or the inclination to buy a full class set of such a personal, quirky book. Also, despite the fact that the book follows teenagers (and there's nothing more interesting to teenagers than teenagers), this is not a story that resolves neatly or has easy answers. Students have to be willing to accept surrealistic art and the lack of closure. However, I think there are some great possibilities for this book to be in a teacher's library; I could image it calling to just the right student at just the right time. There is even a possibility in using it to encourage students to create short illustrations of scenes from their own lives, complete with the surrealistic imagery that suggests the symbolic importance of what is happening.

Highly Recommended for High School Students. There are a few cautions in terms of profanity and teenage situation, but they are relatively mild.

Author: Nate Powell
Illustrator: Nate Powell
Lettering: Nate Powell
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
Genre: Memoir/Family Drama
Format: Hardcover
Edition: First edition
Volume: 1
Pages: 216
Color: Black & White
ISBN-10: 1603090339
ISBN-13: 978-1-60309-033-9


Because I teach elementary aged students (K-4) I stick to all ages books during Free Comic Book Day (FCBD), although there are books available for teens and adults. As you can see from the picture above, I went to several comic retailers for the purpose of giving comics to children, which supports the mission of FCBD.

The daughter has her own titles, which she gets to keep in her own box. She is almost 9-years-old, so she is expected to care for her comics and treat them with respect: always kept in bags and boards, and stored in a comic box.

The titles I received this week (sans FCBD comics) include:
  1. G.I. Joe: Origins #3
  2. Marvel Adventures Avengers #35
  3. The Muppet Show #2
  4. Sonic Universe: The Shadow Saga #3 (of 4)


I'm off to gather my comics for Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) and I am taking my daughter with me. How are you going to use the comics you picked up at FCBD? Drop us a comment and tell us how you are going to use your FCBD comics in your classroom.

I'll publish some reviews later today.