Monday, August 31, 2009


The news is out. Marvel Comics has been purchased by Disney for $4 billion. You can read more at Publisher's Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, and The New York Times. It is unclear how this will all play out although NYT has some interesting speculation about the integration of Marvel characters into Disney's theme parks and television station.

Most important to readers and comic lovers is the extent to which the quality of the stories in the Marvel Universe will be affected. The news is entirely too new to even speculate.

Friday, August 28, 2009


By Chris Wilson

Author: Scott Christian Sava
Illustrators: Diego Jourdan & Villagran Studios
Coloring: Frank Villarreal
Publisher: Worthwhile Books
Genre: Science Fiction

Format: Paperback
Pages: 172
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-160010311-7

Scott Christian Sava has done it again with another delightful story for children. His first book, ED’s TERRESTRIALS, was highly recommended by The Graphic Classroom for the same reasons that PET ROBOTS hits the spot: It is adventurous, authentic and enjoyable for young students.

Staying in the science fiction vein, Sava weaves a yarn about four kids who find themselves lost during a field trip to a toy manufacturing company. The four accidentally activate four prototype robots, which bond themselves to the kids and follow them home. What do you do when a robot follows you home? Sava crafts fine stories that entertain students but do not overwhelm them. Combined with Diego Jourdan’s art, the books makes for great fun for kids.

Sava’s books are artfully crafted with bits of bathroom humor, teasing, plenty of action-adventure, and nasty adult antagonists. The art is distinctively Jourdan’s, who illustrated ED’s TERRESTRIALS. His kid-friendly illustrations are bright, cheerful and full of expression.

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

The thickness and reading level of the book make it most accessible for third graders, although the subject matter is all kid.

There is some CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS-style humor that, for some unknown reason, bothers some teachers. Burps and toots don’t bother me in the least, and the kids think it is funny as all get out. When they enjoy a book then they will read it. That’s the point, isn’t it?

Stealing and bad business practices make for good discussion in the classroom, both of which are main subjects in PET ROBOTS. What should the kids do when they are faced with the possession of property that is not theirs? How do they deal with it? After all, it’s pretty cool having your own robot even when it is not really yours.

Add it to the list of great books for kids. They will read books about robots and kids and big bad adults.

Saturday, August 22, 2009


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

This is a bit different: reviewing not the comic book itself, but the process of creating the comic. It reminds me again that sometimes, as a teacher and a writer, making the process transparent is as much a learning process as the product itself.

I recently stumbled upon this wonderful website that details how a group of writers and artists in South Africa known as Umlando Wezithombeare are engaged in converting history books of their country into comic book format to make the material more accessible for the population. The inside look at the creation of a comic (which is part of ArtisanCam) uses video interviews to showcase the creative process behind the comic book biography of Nelson Mandela (the project is partly funded by the Nelson Mandela Foundation) and the comic biography was later distributed all around South Africa. (The Madiba Legacy comics themselves are distributed through the Nelson Mandela Foundation.)

Without getting into the possibility of using comics for political propoganda, it's clear the comic format can reach a larger and more diverse audience than a textbook can and the Umlando Wezithombeare group is taking advantage of that possibility. Here is a blurb from the Mandela Foundation, explaining the use of comics to tell the story:

Easier to read than conventional books, the comics are aimed at conveying the seminal values of a free society and a sense of their own history to those beyond the reach of other kinds of written media because of poverty, illiteracy, geographic isolation, technological divides, and underdeveloped reading cultures.

In fact, there were one million copies of the Mandela comic published and distributed throughout South Africa and my guess is that most of those homes were places where few updated textbooks were available. One of the artists glows with pride when he talks about people hanging up his artwork (ie, the comic) on their walls, showing us the power of images and words.

The main section of this fascinating website of Umlando Wezithombeare at work is a visual retelling of the life of Nelson Mandela and the video story intersperses interviews, images and screenshots from the comic book to create an engaging look at the man who spent years in jail under Apartheid only to emerge later as a leader of modern South Africa and a statesman on the global stage. I like how they have broken down the story of Mandela into video chapters, allowing the reader/viewer the opportunity to follow the thread of Mandela's life as they wish. It's an interesting mix to see pages from a comic flash over the screen as the people being interviewed continue their story. It's a sort of video/audio/comic mashup that holds potential for bringing storytelling in new directions, I think.

The video compilations here show how the artists and writers involved in the Mandela comic book effort visited the Cartoon Museum in London to get an inside look at the format and use of comics to tell a story. There is also a web gallery with pages from the book and a neat timelapse video of one of the artists drawing a page from the book. One section even gives us an insight into a workshop for young writers as they move through the process of envisioning and creating their own comics. Add in a section for teachers that has an overview of the resources and possible activities for the classroom, and you come away realizing that they have put a lot of thought into this project and showed the possibilities of comics as an important storytelling device.


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

THE REAL COST OF PRISON COMIX paints a bleak picture in which the real cost of prison is counted in human lives. This is a book with an agenda, but that agenda is never hidden. The editors, writers and illustrators want to change our prison system. The intent of this publication is to change public perception of the prison system in the United States by casting a light on the sad stories of prisoners, the conditions of these facilities and the politics that go into not only putting offenders behind bars, but also constructing these buildings all over the country. (There is a whole sequence that talks about how the federal government entices small communities to house prisons, only to realize later that there is little economic benefit to being such a host).

THE REAL COST OF PRISON COMIX is actually a collection of three smaller comic books put together by The Real Cost of Prisons Project and PM Press. This is not a book for young children; in fact, it may even be a bit harsh for some high school students. But it is an important book and by using the graphic novel format, the writers and illustrators make an emotional appeal to break the cycle of heartbreak for so many poor and minority citizens who, once put into confinement, rarely find a way back to a straight life.

The format also breathes life and breaks down the stereotypes of those who inhabit the cells of our jails. What makes this book even more valuable, however, is that this is more than a collection of stories. It also includes a narrative overview of the prison system in America, a reflection on the origins of THE REAL COST OF PRISON COMIX, written reactions from readers about the comics, and – most importantly, in my mind – suggestions for making improvements to the prison structure. In essence, this book details injustice and then goes the extra mile to lay out a social action agenda that could transform society by building a stronger social network for one-time and small-time offenders who are all too often coerced into committing worse crimes by their time in jail.

There are three books in this one collection, and three different artists (Kevin Pyle, Susan Willmarth and Sabrina Jones), but overall, the black and white artwork is powerfully drawn. The illustrators use a mix of traditional framed views with informative graphs, and the faces of those prisoners and family members profiled provide a real emotional depth to the writing. In one sequence, a storyline shows what happens to a 19-year-old black man and a 19-year-old white man when charged with similar crimes. By placing the two stories side by side, the reader traces the development and sees the sad fate of the world on the black man's face while the white man sits in counseling, looking somewhat bored. The use of black and white texturing is effective on many levels, including the clear symbolism of white versus black inequities that form the crux of these books' arguments when it comes to the unfairness of incarceration.

This collection has a place in the classroom, but I would advise teachers to think about it carefully. It is a political tome presented as a graphic novel, and as such, you would likely use it for older readers. Some of the storylines are troubling – dealing with drugs, HIV/AIDS and the awful reality of life in prison. However, the book also holds out great potential for discussion, research and social action on this important issue. Students could use this book as a catalyst for political dBoldebate and for political action. It is collection of powerful stories based on real people, and how students react to those stories might provide for deep written reflections.

  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 104
  • PublishBolder: PM Press
  • ISBN-10: 1604860340
  • ISBN-13: 978-1604860344

I would recommend this book for the classroom, but with some important reservations. This is not a book for elementary or middle school students, and a teacher should read the book first before bringing it into the high school classroom. The stories show a gritty reality, as drugs and alcohol and disease takes its toll on people's lives both in and out of the prison system. It is unflinching in this regard and so the book is not for the sensitive or faint-hearted. There is also some profanity in the dialogue in an effort to reflect the real language of the characters, which are mostly composites drawn from real stories.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


By Chris Wilson

Author: Chris Drier & Jacob Paplham
Pencils: Federico Zumel
Inks: Chris Drier
Publisher: Afterburn Media
Genre: Science Fiction

Format: Softcover
Volume: 1
Pages: 90
Color: Black and white
ISBN-13: 978-188842963-3

A sentimental fog came over me as I closed UNIT PRIMES and I remembered one of my favorite literature classes when working on my bachelor’s degree over a decade ago. We read stacks of short stories and I recall enjoying that experience immensely. I found that short stories appealed to me in a way that novels did not. I especially loved the slice of life stories.

UNIT PRIMES is the comic industry’s equivalent to the short story.

In it, we have a story with little plot progression and small amounts of character development, but a solid and poignant story nonetheless. It is a science fiction slice of life story that is more intriguing the more I contemplate it.

A boy, L-Bee, is rescued from the remnants of a planet destroyed by the Unit Primes. The beings that take him are fighting the good fight against the seemingly unstoppable Primes and for 90 pages we live this boy’s upheaval, connection to other beings, and finally their separation. It is an experience that a child simply should not have to endure, but this one does. The experience is well done – and tear inspiring for the characters and the reader – with deep connections to this world and the life many children live.

The expressions, which come mostly from L-Bee as the alien life forms’ emotional characteristics are harder to differentiate, are what make the art connect emotionally with the text. L-Bee feels fear, confusion, love, and anger. He cries a lot, which is to be expected from a 12-year-old child who just lost his entire race to a planetary explosion. It is our compassion for L-Bee, expressed in the art, that creates the empathy and interest in the story.

UNIT PRIMES is a comic that would have benefited greatly from the use of color. A well-chosen color palette should have been used to create the setting and tone and reinforce the theme of the story. Color would have helped the reader relate to L-Bee and would have created differentiation between Alo and Yiralo, who for the most part are indistinguishable except for Yiralo’s larger lips.

Chris’ Rating: Middle school and older

The subject material is tough and is best for middle school and high school students. L-Bee’s life is tragic and gets no better at the end of the story. Other than a few cases of the word damn and its variations, there are no objectionable material.

UNIT PRIMES is a study of human behavior in the face of tragedy and impeding doom. I think this slice of life story would be very useful in the classroom to help students study a small piece of life and dissect it. What makes the story interesting? Is there any real plot progression or character development? How does this story work? What makes it interesting? How do we connect with UNIT PRIMES? How does this story engage us differently than other works? I think it would be interesting to compare UNIT PRIMES with traditional short stories.

The next text in the series, UNIT PRIMES: SALVAGE will be available soon.



By Chris Wilson

Author & Illustrator: Harry Bliss
Publisher: Toon Books
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Format: Hardcover
Pages: 32
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-1-935179-00-9

Luke is bored. What child doesn’t spin and shake in the wake of his father’s incessant jabbering with a neighboring dad? Luke does what kids do: He observes a flock of pigeons cooing and when they fly the coop, so does Luke. It’s all innocent enough; he simply follows what he finds interesting.

Dad calls mother and the two alert the authorities. Meanwhile, Luke is having quite an adventure chasing the pigeons all over the city, down sidewalks, into crowds.

Eventually he tires and follows the flock to the top of a water tower perched on a building. The firefighters finally find and rescue Luke, thanks to the concerned citizen who spoted the little boy on the roof. The tired little tot is reunited with his parents and all ends well.

Toon Books has cornered the market on comics for early readers and they have done so by providing authentic stories that children can enjoy, and enjoy it they do. While completing a rotation in kindergarten I had the opportunity to read this book to the kids. The classroom teacher had to step out of the room for a while, and I seized the moment to read.

Reading a comic aloud to a group is a bit tricky as there are multiple panels per page and the kids cannot really see the words. I saw that as a barrier, but the kindergartners did not. I read the entire book to them and they giggled and laughed and enjoyed every second of it. I stopped often to let them absorb the illustrations and make sense of the story.

Most of the time, I kept the book pointed at them and I read it by peering down from the top of the book. It’s a bit awkward but you get used to it. It worked and they loved it, begging me to read more comics. By then, the teacher came back and we moved on to another activity.

K-kids don’t stay with any one activity for very long, but I was encouraged by the fact that they wanted to sit longer and have another story read to them. If a comic can keep kindergartners engaged for extended periods of time, then I consider that quite a success. LUKE ON THE LOOSE did just that.

The bulk of the pages consist of 1-3 panels per page, although there is at least one 6-panel page. The flow of the panel arrangement is clean and simple for young eyes. The text is leveled for young readers and the typeface seems slightly larger than most comics. The size of the book is also perfect for little hands (9” x 6”).

Chris’ Rating: Ages 5 and older
Publisher’s Recommendation: Grades K-2

Lexile: GN 170
Guided Reading Level: J
Reading Recoverly Level: 17

Toon Books does exactly what all comic publishers should be doing: offering the reading level of the title so teachers who utilize those rankings, can make use of the book.

LUKE ON THE LOOSE can be a very important book to introduce to youngsters to help foster a love of reading. It can also be used to help older youngsters who have fallen behind to build up their reading confidence and interest.

Highly Recommended
LUKE ON THE LOOSE offers our youngest readers the chance to get into comics on their reading level and fall in love with the idea of story. Click here to view the entire Toon Books library for little ones.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


By Tracy Edmunds
Staff Writer

A new non-profit organization called Reading With Pictures is taking its first steps toward providing hard data on the use of comics in the classroom. The project was announced during the Comics in the Classroom panel at the San Diego Comic-Con by founder and Executive Director Joshua Elder. Elder is the author of the all-ages MAIL ORDER NINJA graphic novels and gives workshops on creating comics at schools and libraries. He is strong voice for comics in education, and he’s putting his money where his mouth is.

The Graphic Classroom interviewed Elder to get the details.

The Graphic Classroom: When you announced your project at Comic-Con, I could hear the collective intake of breath in the room. I think a lot of educators and comics advocates have waited a long time for something like this. Could you give us an overview of what Reading with Pictures hopes to do?

Joshua Elder: The organization’s mission statement is to “Promote and expand the role of comics in the classroom”. That’s a fairly broad remit, and we plan to explore every nook and cranny of it. As someone who learned to read (and more importantly, learned to love reading) from comics, I consider it a moral imperative to bring comics into the classroom in ways that maximize the benefits to all students from pre-K through college.

There’s no shortage of teachers who want to bring graphic novels into their classrooms, but they often lack the resources to properly integrate them into their curriculum since there’s little to no support from publishers or the scholastic establishment. In fact, there’s often outright hostility. Most graphic novel publishers simply don’t get the school/children’s market while most book publishers simply don’t get graphic novels. Then there are the gatekeepers – the administrators, school boards and parents – who feel that comics have no place in education.

In order to overcome these institutional barriers, Reading With Pictures plans to initiate the largest and most comprehensive clinical study on comics in the classroom ever attempted. Working in conjunction with the Learning Sciences Department at Northwestern University, Reading With Pictures plans to develop testable, comic-centric curriculum that we can place in schools across the country. This will allow us to study how students learn from comics in ways that differ from more traditional classroom methods while also providing us with the opportunity to gather massive amounts of clinical data on the effectiveness of using comics in the classroom.

TGC: I understand that you’ll begin the initial research in fifth and eighth grades. What will that research look like?

JE: The project is still in the planning stages, but the general idea is to develop and then provide several comprehensive Language Arts curricula for fifth and eighth grade free of charge to schools all around the country and across various demographic and socioeconomic spectra. These curricula would come with professional development seminars instructing teachers on their proper use. The goal is to provide a turnkey curriculum solution so as to minimize the cost and therefore the risk for participating schools.

We will then test the participating students against control groups in the areas of reading comprehension, visual literacy, critical thinking, creative communication and other outcome-based criteria. We will examine how different types of students (gifted, students with disabilities, etc.) respond to the curricula and hopefully get a much better idea if comics can indeed “reach” certain students where traditional methods have failed.

TGC: If that effort proves successful, where will Reading with Pictures go from there?

JE: Everywhere. The initial research project is only the opening salvo of what we hope will be a massive and ongoing effort to bring comics into the classroom – at every grade and in every course of study. We hope to spark a national discussion on the role of comics in education and to help fund and facilitate further research on the topic. We also hope to create a clear economic incentive for publishers to produce more and higher quality material for children, thus giving schools an even greater reason to bring comics into their classrooms.

Beyond that, we aim to become a clearinghouse for all things related to comics in the classroom. We plan to – among many other things – aggregate graphic novel reviews, build a community for academics working in the field, and provide a comprehensive database of comic-centric lesson plans.

Basically, if it will help get comics into schools, we’re going to do it.

TGC: How close are you to getting started?

JE: Right now we’re still finalizing our non-profit organizational structure and recruiting a board of directors, but depending on how quickly we get all that squared away, we could begin fundraising and applying for grants as early as the end of this year.

We are currently looking to fill out our board of directors and also recruit volunteers (cartoonists, educational professionals, academics, grant writers, etc.) to help us realize all these very lofty goals we’ve set for ourselves. We know there are lots of people out there just as passionate about bringing comics into the classroom as we are, and Reading With Pictures will provide them with an organizational structure in which to channel that passion.

We’re going to do this, and it’s going to change everything.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The Graphic Classroom will continue to monitor the work of Elder and Reading With Pictures and keep you updated in the process.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009


By Chris Wilson

Author & Illustrator: Aaron Williams
Publisher: Do Gooder Press
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Format: Softcover
Pages: 96
Color: Black and white
ISBN-13: 978-1-933288-38-3

What are nerds – and I mean dice-rolling, con-going, fantasy-reading, comic-discussing, parental cohabitating, card-carrying fanboys – really like in real life? Do you know any? Chances are they mill about in the hallways at school (or in your local comic or game shop) talking about paladins or dire badgers, fighting over who would be the eventual winner in a Superman-Batman fight, or harping on Hollywood’s latest comic-to-movie transgression. Truth be told, we can answer our “nerd” question simply by reading the back of FULL FRONTAL NERDITY:

“…it’s a comic strip about being fans of gaming, comics, movies, and other socially unacceptable things. We have Renaissance festivals, homebrew games, a trip to E3, and strips from Scrye magazine and Comics Buyer’s Guide. If you have no working knowledge about any topic covered in this collection, take it as a sign that you’re well-adjusted and will probably never find yourself dressed as a character from the Final Fantasy video game series, attending a con at the Boise Holiday Inn.”

FULL FRONTAL NERDITY is hilarity in the geekiest sense of the word and anyone who is the least bit of a fanboy will split his sides, but it is not really for everyone or even most people. Mostly it is about gaming, comics and movies with only the lightest sprinkling about girls. Most of those mentions are about female cup sizes and flawed attempts at cultivating relationships with the opposite sex.

In that sense, FULL FRONTAL NERDITY really isn’t for the school crowd. That is to say, it is not a book that I would recommend stocking on the classroom shelves. However, I would suggest it to those awkward high school boys who delight in role-playing and comics. They should not only get it, but love it, and likely thank you for the suggestion.

For those adult friends of yours who fit into the fanboy category, buy it for them (if they don’t already know about it, which they likely will). It will make their day. It made mine.


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

It was only a matter of time, really, before someone realized that there might be a viable market for comics on mobile digital devices. News came out – announced at the ComicCon Convention in San Diego – of one application now available through iTunes App Store that allows a reader to download and read comics on the small screen.

I gave ComiXology a try this week and at first glance, I was pretty impressed. You need to first sign up at the website of ComiXology and then download the application for ComiXology onto your iPhone or iTouch. There is a free version of the app and one for 99 cents, which has more options for viewing and storing comics.

Right now, there are a lot of free comics available and then if you want more of that series, it costs 99 cents.

One of the drawbacks, of course, is that the screen is small, so comics with a lot of text probably won't be that effective. I found myself squinting to read a few lines of dialogue here and there. It is true that with the Apple devices, you can just use your fingers to enlarge an area on the screen (the beauty of the touch), but then you lose the visual of the page. I wonder if the new eReader now being developed by Apple (and slated for release this year) will make this complaint moot.

Still, for most of the comics I read on my iTouch, the shift through the narrative was pretty seamless. A tap of the finger and I was on the next frame, and sometimes the developers realized the possibilities, bringing me in on a close-up of a character's face or hands or an object of importance before panning back across the wider image. You can tell that the developers are still thinking of ways the new medium (the small screen) can be used with comics. The app even comes with a comic tutorial for how to read a comic on your device.

The offerings are conveniently sorted by title, author, genre, popularity and other options that a digital archive can provide.

I started to read two books: CLOCKWORK GIRL by Kevin Hanna, Sean O'Reilly and Grant Bond; and JAM IN THE BAND by Robin Enrico. The first was a comic about a place where inventors compete to show off their talents and one creates a robotic girl. The second is the start of a graphic novel about an all-girl rock band trying to make it to the top. I thought JAM IN THE BAND was more effective as it mixed black and white drawings and shifting visual narratives. CLOCKWORK GIRL, though, has a great storyline going already.

One bonus: no advertising pages. It's just pure story and art.

Needless to say, I was soon clicking "purchase" for the next chapters in both and within seconds, I had more of each story to read. The mobile device gives an immediacy to purchasing, although you lose the feel of a comic store adventure. You don't yet have the ability to stumble across an interesting title, or get advice from the comic book expert behind the counter, or run into an old friend thumbing their way through a new graphic novel.

As I was taking in CLOCKWORK GIRL and JAM IN THE BAND, I was pondering the potential for the classroom. More and more teachers are foregoing desktop and laptop computers and moving towards class sets of mobile devices, such as the iTouch. They see value in the lower costs and Apps such as GPS, texting and others might engage students in new ways (it's too new to say, really).

While many of the comic offerings on ComiXology are geared for adults (and you need to state that you are older than 17 when you sign up), the potential for students reading comics and graphic novels, and then writing reviews are certainly there. My guess is that other Apps for comics and graphic novels will be on the way in the future.

I'm not so sure how this particular comic App helps from the writing standpoint (other than posting reviews of books), but my guess is that with time more and more applications for mobile devices will gear towards user-generated content and wouldn't it be cool to have students write and create their own comics for mobile devices?

Here is a video overview of the ComiXology application.