Thursday, February 25, 2010


From the Editor

Starting next week The Graphic Classroom will honor Women in Comics Week (March 22-26) by celebrating women in comics all month. It seems fitting to end Black History Month and start Women in Comics with a comic biography of First Lady Michelle Obama.

The comics list this week includes:
  • Muppet King Arthur #2
  • Marvel Adventures Spider-Man #60
  • The Marvelous Land of OZ #4 (of 8)
  • The Mice Templar Vol. 1: The Prophecy
  • Previews #258
  • Usagi Yojimbo #126


By Chris Wilson

Author: Neal Bailey
Illustrator: Ryan Howe
Publisher: Blue Water Productions
Genre: Biography

Format: Comic book
Color: Full color


Only a cursory overview can be wrought from 22 pages of information; keeping that in mind the nonfiction narrative gives readers a nice look at America’s first African American First Lady. Based on this piece alone, the driving force behind Obama is her endless search for social justice for persons of color and those in poverty. This descendent of American slaves worked hard to achieve her goals, coming from a middle class home with a working class and politically active father.

Despite the fact that her father was a janitor, she has been criticized as elitist because of her Ivy League education. Furthermore, her master’s thesis was scrutinized and, according to this book, misunderstood as segregationist because of her exploration of race and class.

Obama’s work with those in poverty was formed by early experiences: Mayor Daley’s “shoot to kill” riots in her hometown Chicago, hearing Rosa Parks speak at the Third World Center, and attending a speech from one of the Scottsboro Boys. During college she began advocating pro bono with those living in poverty. Her detour working as an attorney for the entertainment industry was unfulfilling and she left it to continue her work in social justice (with a significant cut in pay to do so) and also to work with her husband and his political endeavors.

Bailey tells his story using a mix of first person and second person narratives. It works fine in few instances, but is mostly a hindrance, a sad fact because the information presented is incredibly interesting. Unfortunately, her story is somewhat obscured by the insertion of the writer as a character in both text and illustrations. This comic could act as a jumping off point for further study.

I did enjoy Howe’s use of silhouettes against a colorful background. Those panels set the tone for Obama’s philosophy. The interior art can come off a bit cartoony and flat because of the lack of substantial shading, especially in the faces. The character’s hands seemed rushed and oddly pointed.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 12 and older

The comic shows Barack with a cigarette in his mouth, an issue that has been widely reported in the new, but a portrayal that can be problematic for some schools.

This comic is right at home in any class studying minorities, feminism, politics or history – suggestions which seem a bit obvious. I do think the high school English class might use MICHELLE OBAMA to flush out the author’s use of different narrative styles. As well, a teacher could use the title to explore subjectivity and objectivity in writing. What happens to the writer’s objectivity when he or she becomes a character in the biography?

Blue Water Productions has made a name for themselves with their biography comics. I recommend teachers check out their site for more comic biographies.



Comic sales hit an all-time high this week when Action Comics #1 (the first appearance of Superman) sold for $1million cold hard cash. MSNBC carries the story.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


From the Editor

I introduced the earthquakes unit to grades 3-4 this week. Every class was captivated by it, complaining that they had to leave when it was over. Now they are hooked and we can get down to the business of research and answer the student-created questions. When it is all over, I will publish detailed lesson plans for you.

Several books came into The Classroom this week. Here they are:

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #14
Black Widow & The Marvel Girls #1-4 (of 4)
The Incredibles #5
Legendary Talespinners #1
The Mice Templar: Destiny #7
Sonic Universe #13
Super Hero Squad #2
Tiny Titans #25


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 the ArtisanCam home) 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.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


From the Editor

This week at school our PTA sponsored the Scholastic Book Fair. We had a ton of comics on the shelves to purchase. I took the HALL OF HEROES comic book club kids into the library for a special showing of the comics. Our PTA even set up a special table for the BONE books.

I could not pass up the deal, so I purchased a lot of comics myself for the club. Other books came into the classroom as well. I’ll list them all. Next week the kids have tons of new books to read.

  • Club Penguin Comics Vol. 1
  • Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-so-Fabulous Life
  • Knights of the Lunch Table Vol. 2: The Dragon Players
  • Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #20
  • Missile Mouse: The Star Crusher
  • Muppet King Arthur #1
  • Revenge of the Baby-Sat (Calvin and Hobbes)
  • Simpsons Comics: Hit the Road
  • Smile
  • Spider-Girl Vol. 1: Legacy
  • Spider-Man: Secret Wars #3 (of 4)
  • Star Wars The Clone Wars: The Colossus of Destiny
  • Super Friends #24
  • Tails of the Pet Avengers #1
  • Wolverine Special Edition


By Chris Wilson

Author: Michael Burgan
Illustrator: Brian Bascle
Consultant: Gerald Lyn Early, Prof. African & African American Studies
Publisher: Capstone Press
Genre: Biography, Sports

Format: Reinforced Library binding
Pages: 32
Color: Full color
ISBN (10): 1-4296-0153-1
ISBN (13): 978-1-4296-0153-5

Boastful, explosive, committed and controversial, Muhammad Ali is one of the greatest and most revered athletic figures in American history. His tale is not just one of athletic prowess. Ali’s story is one of commitment and dedication, humanitarianism, religious conviction, and standing up for one’s beliefs.

His great traits also brought great detractors, especially in his early years, as he was pompous and vocal, frequently disparaging his opponents inside and out of the ring. Ali gave up boxing for his religious beliefs, refusing to fight in the Vietnam War, bringing about him banning from his sport and prosecution (which was later overturned). Once his court battle was finished Ali boxed again and again. Age and Parkinson’s may have caused his retirement from boxing but only deepened his religious faith and turned him toward charitable and humanitarian work.

Muhammad Ali is a man who secured the release of American hostages from Iraq in 1990, carried the Olympic torch in Georgia in 1996, and was named a Messenger of Peace by the United Nations in 1998.

To this day, America’s great sports legend travels more than 200 days per year for good causes and donates to charities.

MUHAMMAD ALI: AMERICAN CHAMPION is not just a sports story. It is a glimpse into the heart of a great African American man who earned fame with his hands, but remained an influential character because of his heart. The story is condensed for young readers (elementary and middle school), but is a good overview of the man beyond his boxing abilities. He is a hero that children can admire and emulate. He epitomizes the American ideal in that he:
  • Is focused and committed to his goals (boxing);
  • When defeated (and he was several times) he trained harder;
  • Gave up his sport for what he believed in;
  • Used his fame for good;
  • He continues to serve others

The comic celebrates his life beyond boxing and helps inspire readers to do more for themselves and others.

My Rating: Ages 7 and older
Publisher’s Reading Level: Grades 3-4
Publisher’s Interest Level: Grades 3-9

Lexile: GN 510L
ATOS: 3.8
AR Quiz No.: 116120

I suspect that most kids have heard of Muhammad Ali the amazing boxer, but I seriously doubt most students are familiar with his character and controversies. It is his efforts outside the ring that really make the man interesting and unforgettable. The man who never gave up is worth studying in the classroom.

This comic would be a great story to use when studying a unit on heroes. Sure, we have mythological heroes, super heroes, but we also have real life heroes – those modern day persons who create good in the world. While kids would no doubt chose police officers, fire fighters, and military personnel, Muhammad Ali would be a great sports hero who has added so much great to the world beyond his athleticism.

I recommend using the THIEVES method of reading nonfiction with MUHAMMAD ALI: AMERICAN CHAMPION. This method increases student understanding of the nonfiction texts by giving them lifelong reading strategies, which can also be utilized when trying to comprehend texts during standardized tests.

Direct quotes from primary sources are depicted in a pale yellow (the references are published in the front of the book). The book also includes a table of contents, chapter headings, additional facts, a glossary with pronunciation guide, reading suggestions, a bibliography and an index.


Highly Recommended


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

(EDITOR'S NOTE: The discussion about diversity, the African American Civil Rights Movement, slavery and history is a very sensitive and complex issue. We provide the following comic review as part of our Black History Month concentration in order to strike discussion and reveal the fact that even among some Confederates, slavery was seen as immoral and repugnant (a fact I have only started to understand in my 30s, as I always grew up thinking the Civil War was only about slavery). It's important to note that freedom from slavery required enlisting in the Confederate Army. We must have frank discussions about our history (and the painful struggle endured by so many) in order to understand where we are and how we need to move forward with civil rights – equal rights – for all persons. We sensitively provide the following comic review with hopes of sparking dialogue about slavery, history, diversity and the struggle African Americans have endured just to be free.)

As writer Justin Murphy so eloquently puts it in his forward to CLEBURNE, "In these pages, you will meet a man who is virtually unknown to the general public: an idealist and an outsider who stood up against the institutions of the very society he sought to defend."

Indeed. I had never heard of General Patrick R. Cleburne before reading this graphic novel. Cleburne was a highly decorated officer in the Confederate army during the Civil War, inspiring heroics and bravery from his men during brutal campaigns against the Union troops. But I came away inspired by the tale of this man who was a pioneer in wanting to free blacks from slavery, if only to fight for the Confederate Army in return for freedom. Cleburne, of course, was rebuffed by other generals, who thought the idea of giving black slaves their freedom was tantamount to rebellion and thwarted Cleburne at every turn.

This graphic novel, which Murphy openly states is a mix of fact and fiction, takes place over the course of the year of 1864 that leads up to Battle of Franklin in which General Cleburne is finally shot and killed on the battlefield. In between, he finds love and works to reunite a free black volunteer in his battalion with his enslaved family and tries to bring honor to the cause, which he believes is not about slavery (which he considers immoral) but about the rights of states to govern themselves with as little federal interference as possible (an issue that still resounds today).

Cleburne was a transplant from Ireland whose outsider status allowed him to view the issues differently from the other generals in his midst. I also found it fascinating to read a story about the Civil War from the view of the South. So much of history that I have come across about that period of time is told from the North's view and we forget that there were many layers to the conflict and that honor could be found on both sides.

CLEBURNE is an excellent example of a story well-told that opens an important window into a forgotten hero of the Civil War whose heart and valor led the way forward, if only to eventual defeat.

The artwork here is excellent and rich with color and detail. The nuances of the illustrations really bring the characters to life and they wear their emotions on their sleeves during scenes of panic, war, love and friendship. The battle scenes are quite vivid, and for younger readers, it might be a bit too much blood and gore and violence.

Justin Murphy, along with the art team of Al Milgrom and J. Brown, demonstrate the horrific nature of war in the aftermaths of the battles and the reader is left feeling quite abandoned and lonely by the overwhelming death and destruction left in the wake of the violence.

This graphic novel has great value to any study of the Civil War. It gives the reader another view into the conflict, showing fully-developed characters that move beyond the stereotypical depictions of southern generals. While one may not always agree with the rationale or basis for the Civil War, this book provides a valuable insight into the slow course of change and how one man can use his moral authority to begin to sway the thoughts of others.

The story also shows the impact of war on the homefront, as Cleburne's fiancee waits and waits for him to arrive safe so that they can get married, only to learn of his death on the battlefield through the headlines of the local newspaper. The anguish on her face tells more about that moment of realization than words could ever say. The book also begs the question: what other heroes become forgotten when the victor (in this case, the North) gets the power to tell the story of a conflict? How does that change our understanding of a conflict? Of history?

A possible research project might involve learning more about a lesser known character from the Civil War and mesh fact and fiction to create a short story or graphic story.

Publisher: Rampart Press
Format: Softcover
Pages: 208
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-0979957901

Winner, Book of the Year by Forward Magazine

I would Highly Recommend this book, but only for older high school readers. The violence of the Civil War is vivid and the story depth makes it inappropriate for younger readers.


The movement of comics and education (K-12 and Post Secondary) has gained enough steam and published enough research studies to warrant the next level of academic structures: a peer-reviewed journal. We have Dr. James Bucky Carter, from the University of Texas at El Paso, to thank for it. Academic journals are the place where scholarly research and articles by professionals in the field are scrutinized and critiqued. It is clearly time that we have a scholarly publication to further push the comics education movement into the future.

From the press release:
SANE (Sequential Art Narrative in Education) Journal is now seeking submissions for works of research, practitioner-based articles, reviews, and rationales regarding its first two themed issues. Information about this new peer-reviewed, open access interdisciplinary journal covering all things comics-and-education-related, from pre-k to doctorate, can be obtained by visiting SANE Journal. For more information, e-mail Dr. Carter at

Volume 1 #1
“Comics in the Contact Zone” 
(Late 2010 release or per article as considered ready by review board)

Mary Louise Pratt defines the contact zone as “social spaces where cultures meet, clash and grapple with each other, often in the contexts of highly asymmetrical relations of power, such as colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out in many parts of the world today” and where those involved in the educational experience may “reconsider the models of community that many of us rely on in teaching and theorizing and that are under challenge today.” 

Texts are social spaces, of course, and the comic book may be the best indicator of this fact. How do you see comics as meeting, clashing, and grappling with social issues in your classrooms when you teach them? How do comics illustrate contact zone precepts such as speech acts, transculturation, unsolicited oppositional discourse, autoethnography, and safe houses? How does the integration of comics themselves set up contact zones in the classroom? Which texts do you teach to get at notions associated with contact zone pedagogy? How does teaching a comics course set up a contact zone with professional colleagues, departments, university officials, etc? Articles should make explicit mention to contact zone theory and its component concepts. Deadline July 2010.

Volume 1 #2 
“Teaching the Works of Alan Moore” 
(planned 2011 released or per article as considered ready by the review board)

Alan Moore may be the most influential and controversial comics writer of the 20th and 21st centuries. How do you teach his complex, multilayered works in your high schools classrooms, your college courses, etc? What are the challenges associated with teaching his texts or specific texts and how do you and your students address them? Can they be addressed? How does his output “fit” with notions of literature, literary, canon, etc. as you teach them in your courses? Articles may cover several of Moore’s texts or focus specifically on one. Deadline October 2010. 

Saturday, February 6, 2010


From the Editor

February is Black History Month and as promised, you can look forward to some reviews of comics on the subject. You will notice that the comics are not just about Americans, so that you have a broader context from which to choose. We also have comics written on every level. 

We hope the reviews this month help you find quality comics to meet your diversity needs throughout the year. To this end, I am adding a new label (diversity) so you can easily search for comics about minority populations. 


By Chris Wilson

The Mathews Elementary PTA in Nixa, MO donated several comics to THE HALL OF HEROES fourth grade comic book club through their work with Scholastic. The titles were shipped with our school’s Scholastic Book Fair books and I received them this week.

As you can see from the picture above, the PTA was very supportive of the comic book club’s efforts to enhance reading in our school. Here are some reasons they invested:

  • Kids who were never interested in reading are now reading comics and traditional books.
  • Kids in third grade are already requesting to be in the club next year.
  • Parents of primary aged kids are checking out comics from the club to read over the weekends.
  • Teachers are seeing an increased interest in reading because of the club.
  • Kids are talking about the comics and books they are reading.

Make no mistake about it; comics are influencing the reading habits of the students in my school. It’s just our first year.

Here is a list of the comics that came into the classroom this week, thanks to my school’s PTA:

Amulet Book 2: The Stonekeeper’s Curse (2 copies)
The Baby-Sitter’s Club Vol. 1: Kristy’s Great Idea
Bone Vol. 1: Out from Boneville
Bone Vol. 2: The Great Cow Race
Bone Vol. 3: Eyes of the Storm
Bone Vol. 4: The Dragonslayer
Bone Vol. 5: Rock Jaw
Bone Vol. 6: Old Man’s Cave
Bone Vol. 7: Ghost Circles (2 copies)
Bone Vol. 8: Treasure Hunters (2 copies)
Bone Vol. 9: Crown of Horns (2 copies)
Bone: Rose (2 copies)
Queen Bee (2 copies)

This gives me two complete sets of the BONE series, which will make my students very happy as they have been fighting over the meager volumes I have.

I encourage you to use the research out there (including my master’s seminar paper linked in the sidebar) to support your reasons for receiving funds to purchase comics for your classroom, club or library. I am delighted to speak with you over the phone, Skype, or email to help you in your cause. 


From the Editor

I am a fan of Greek mythology (traditional and comic adaptations) and I am using that love combined with the PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS movie that debuts next Friday, Feb. 12 to support the efforts in my school’s comic book club.

I am reading PERSEUS: THE HUNT FOR MEDUSA’S HEAD (Lerner Publishing) to the students in the HALL OF HEROES comic book club in preparation for the movie. Many of the students have read or are reading Rick Riordan's excellent PERCY JACKSON novel series and love it. Together, we are learning about the character the popular book series is based upon.

I read a chapter a day stopping often to discuss the plot, the art, the vocabulary and to check for understanding. We talk about the characters and how those character’s play out in the PERCY JACKSON novels.

The culminating event is a trip to the movies. We are out of school Friday, February 12. I am taking my daughter and going to the local multiplex on opening day. Any student or parent who wishes to go may sit with me if they like. It is not, however, a school-sponsored event.

My hope and intent is to spark interest and cultivate social literature sharing among students, building a link to literature of all types and a reason to read.



By Chris Wilson

Author & Illustrator: Jean-Philippe Stassen
Translator: Alexis Siegel
Publisher: First Second
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Format: Softcover
Pages: 96
Color: Color
ISBN-13: 978-1-59643-103-4
ISBN-10: 1-59643-103-2

The story of young Deogratias is one that is gut wrenching in its authenticity, brutal in its storytelling, and painful in its truthfulness. The horrors of Rwanda are exposed in a fly-ridden heap of human travesty, the stink of which is only seconded by the visual display of the pack of dogs feasting on the pile of humanity.

DEOGRATIAS is an important story, detailing the darkness of a man’s soul and the apparent ease we humans have at killing our own based purely on physical differences. We read and watch as Deogratias decomposes into a beast, giving way to the hostile environment around him.

There is hope, though not much of it. One man, his friend, the last bastion of understanding and kindness, offers to pray for mercy for Deogratias’ soul and for the power to someday forgive Deogratias. Despite Deogratias’ machete wielding, the man knows that even the boy is a “creature of God”. And there we are left with the story of DEOGRATIAS: A TALE OF RWANDA.

If you are considering, pondering, or in any way experiencing even the slightest temptation to use this story in your elementary or middle school classroom, dismiss the thought. I would be very cautious – skeptical even – of using it with high school students.

This is no ordinary graphic novel. I knew right away why First Second published it: This story deserves to be told, but not to children or teens. It is enough to send college students and mature adults straight to the bathroom for a scalding hot shower. We need to experience such realities so that we can understand the world in which we live and appreciate the power of making a difference beyond our city borders, but this story is for more mature audiences.

Chris’ Rating: Mature Reader
Publisher’s Recommendation: Grade 9 and older

The publisher and I differ on our age recommendations. The story is so powerful, so real, so current that I would not use it in a high school classroom except in very circumstances.

If I were to teach this book to college students, I would highly recommend a multi-literacy twin teaching of DEOGRATIAS: A TALE OF RWANDA with the Oscar nominated film, HOTEL RWANDA.

American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults
YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens

Not Recommended for the K-12 Classroom
Highly Recommended for mature audiences

Notice the discrepancy between the ratings? The American Library Association and the YALSA consider the book for young adults. Perhaps, I have been too conservative with my recommendation? I do believe the book deserves all the accolades it has received; it is incredible. However, I am not convinced this book is right for the high school classroom.

Such differences are what make for excellent discussions and controversy. I would love to hear from high school teachers who have read it and disagree. Even better, I relish the chance to converse with a teacher who has used DEOGRATIAS in the classroom. That is what my comments section is for. Feel free to discuss and disagree.