Wednesday, June 30, 2010


There is a new Wonder Woman in town and she is out to discover who destroyed Paradise Island and why, hopefully stop them, and see if she can correct it all. Unlike other incarnations of the Amazonian, this woman has a costume more fitting a fighter and less a sexual icon. Her boobs won't fall out and her heels are militarized. She even has pockets to store items!

Check this out: Her gauntlets are modern with a raised cursive W inscribed on the back. When you tangle with Wonder Woman, she leaves quite the impression. Sweet!

Look at the "W" on this victim's forehead! 
This is a woman who stands as a model for girls everywhere: 
tough and beautiful, but not over-sexualized.

J. Michael Straczynski (writer) and Don Kramer and Michael Babinski (artists) are rebooting WW with a new origin thanks to time travel, but it's an origin that may not be irreversible. It all starts with issue #600 on stands today. If you did not order yours – and subscribe – then there's still time to call your local comic book shop and order. I missed it, but my comic guy says he can get her for me. I have already put in my subscription. 

You can read all about the changes, the conception, and the costume change at DC's The Source (from which all the above info was pulled). I recommend the read. It sounds very exciting.


TOON Books, the infinitely rad comics for pre-K to grade 2 readers is now making its comics available on the iPhone. The titles (JACK AND THE BOX and LITTLE MOUSE GETS READY) cost $2.99 each. Toon Books offers some unique options with their titles:

  • Authors read their work. Children can hear the authors’ voices and see their drawings.
  • Designed specifically for young readers to easily use, the pages can be turned automatically or manually.
  • Onscreen text and highlighted speech balloons help readers make associations between the words they hear and see. It is the closest experience to being read a book that any app can deliver. As with all TOON Books, repeated use builds reading fluency.
  • Narration is available in five languages - English, Spanish, French, Russian and Mandarin Chinese.
    “The app takes full advantage of its electronic medium by introducing young readers to other languages,” says Art Spiegelman.


Book publisher, Capstone, launched a professional development movement to help educators teach graphic novels as well as other respond to other reading issues. From the press release:

"Presented by a cadre of nationally known speakers with more than 20 years of product experience, Capstone’s professional development program incorporates best practices with research-based products."

Online and on-site presentations are both available and curriculum can be flexible to meet educator's individual needs. For more information call 888-728-1266 or click here.


Hofstra University's Department of Continuing Education is offering a writing course on graphic novels this summer taught by Keith Dallas. The course description states:

"This class focuses on how to appropriately outline, pace and lay out a graphic novel script. Effective panel perspective and dialogue placement are also discussed. By the end of this course, each student will have written a script for a 22-page graphic novel chapter as well as learned how to approach artists and prospective."

More and more colleges and universities are recognizing the impact of the comic on culture and the influence on the literature and art communities. It's a good thing. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


By Nate Stearns
Staff Writer

I come to graphic novels from a lit geek’s perspective rather than a comic book geek’s perspective (more MACBETH than Marvel in other words), so it tends to take a lot for costumed heroes to interest me. Kurt Busiek’s ASTRO CITY series, for instance, has enough complexity to intrigue even the most spandex skeptical, and something uncomfortably dark like Frank Miller’s DARK KNIGHT RETURNS can reinvigorate the genre. Still, it takes an effort.

However, reading SONS OF LIBERTY by Alexander and Joseph Lagos makes it clear that superhero comic books have inexplicably missed a huge opportunity: period piece superheroes. This story involves Graham and Brody, escaped slave boys of colonial America who, through a series of improbable misadventures, become imbued with superpowers when the evil son of Benjamin Franklin conducts mysterious electrical experiments on them. Their chief opponents are wicked slaveholders who employ slavering wolf dogs with very uncomfortable looking pointy collars to hunt escaped slaves. The Yoda role is played by Quaker Benjamin Lay (a real-life abolitionist who was apparently 4-feet tall and known for drinking only milk and water, ) who takes the boys in and teaches them an African form of martial arts. The first book explains their origins and even involves a massive kung fu fight with redcoats.

There’s a lot of promise in having black superheroes who — HANCOCK notwithstanding — are shockingly underrepresented in the caped community. Unfortunately, the superheroes themselves don’t get nearly enough focus. We see much more of Benjamin Franklin’s hand wringing than Graham and Brody’s perspective on their lives and struggles. It could be as the series develops their characters will become more fleshed out and interesting (especially their hunger to return to Africa), but in the first book at least they seem to be more enigmas than anything else.

For teachers, this could be a good book to have around for students to read in free reading periods — the African American protagonists and the general theme of self-reliance remain strong draws — but the actual amount to be learned about colonial America is still pretty limited. Maybe it’s the teacher in me that wants to see more robust detail about the role slavery played in the founding of America (for instance, Benjamin Franklin’s slaveholding seems to be glossed over) and the Founding Fathers’ participation in this. Nevertheless, a good teacher could use this book as a full class set and then use an inquiry-based lesson to flesh out the various historical figures in the book as well as the details of slave life. Still, would it be too much to ask to have, say, Thomas Jefferson as the Lex Luthor figure or would that result in such a tsunami of complaint that it would be banned in all 50 states (except maybe Texas?)

Alternatively, a joint English/Social Studies enterprise at involved creating either superhero stories set in other times (SuperPlato! Madam Curie/Radioactive Girl!) could set the world on fire. Social Studies teachers could mandate a certain pack of facts and concepts to be included and English teachers might look to teach the elements of story (exposition, conflict, resolution) to their students.

Here’s hoping that this spurs an entire subgenre of counterfactual history that gives the tired arcs of origin stories ( and bad guy battles a new snap. Where’s Einstein teaming up with Dorothy Parker to rid the world of inter-dimensional monsters? Or Pablo Picasso using his Ring of Cubist Power to defeat the infelicitous demons of representationalism? OK, maybe only I would want to read that. Still, in the historical fiction/comic book mashup category there is Seth Grahme Smith’s recent ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER or even the movie Brotherhood of the Wolf which involves French Aristocrats and Native Americans kickboxing werewolves. Grahme Smith is also responsible for PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES which spawned (sorry, couldn’t help it) a mini-movement of monster-izing classic literature.

For students, there is the worry that without a solid background of the actual history involved they might not be able to distinguish between what was real and what was not. For instance, Benjamin Franklin’s son in SONS is a villain, but it would be difficult for students to know that in history William Franklin’s conflict with his father was about loyalty to the crown rather than experiments in electricity. Some graphic novels that deal with history use extensive footnotes to mention these issues and SONS would be improved by doing the same.

Maybe my dreams of historical figures kicking costumed villain-ed butt is not far away. It is, I imagine, always difficult for counterfactual writers to decide when and where to depart from history and steer instead into their imaginations; the ideal is that even when we invent new events, characters, and settings, we bring some new insight to what has happened before.

Recommended for middle school students.

Publisher: Random House
Authors: Alexander Lagos and Joseph Lagos
Illustrator: Steve Walker
Color: Oren Kramek
Pages: 176
Color: Full-color
ISBN-10: 0375856706
ISBN-13: 978-0375856709 


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

ESCAPE FROM PYRAMID X is the second in a new series by Graphic Universe called Twisted Journeys that, as the book says, “… lets you control the story.” Like the Make Your Own Ending books that have made a comeback, this graphic novel allows the reader to make choices about the narrative, which is a mix of text and comics.

In ESCAPE FROM PYRAMID X, written by Dan Jolley, the reader is a young girl who is part of a group of explorers going deep into a mysterious pyramid with dangers all around. I was confronted with a choice early on and made my way, alone, into the center of the pyramid, where I confronted some looters, found a magical item and later, after declining an offer of a gift from the High Priestess of Bast, I am transformed into her slave for eternity. Oh well. Flipping through the book, I notice there are at least eight other possible endings that Jolley has created (if I read again, will I survive and escape?). I had fun moving through the story, and the mix of comics with a regular narrative was interesting to experience. It also helped that that the story was all about adventure, allowing the choices to have meaning for me as the reader.

Matt Wendt illustrateD this graphic novel and the colors are vibrant and expressive in tone. The reader is shown as a character in the comics, and the use of a yellow speech bubble is helpful to track that character. 

Page 6-7 shows the traditional narrative paired 
with a choose-your-own-adventure page.


 Page 14-15 demonstrates the juxtaposition between comic and traditional narrative.

Publisher’s Reading level: Ages 9-12
Format: Paperback
Pages: 111 pages
Publisher: Lerner Publishing
ISBN-10: 0822567792
ISBN-13: 978-0822567790

You can view a portion of the book at Google Books.

This series of Twisted Journeys offer an alternative to traditional texts and the resurgence of Make Your Own Ending books is a good opportunity to teach storyboarding, as readers can map out stories in books and writers can plan their own stories with multiple possibilities.

I recommend this book for elementary and middle school students as well as some high school readers, but I would probably have it available more for pleasure reading than for use in the teaching curriculum.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


From the Editor,

I will not have access to Internet for a few days. So these posts will have to do you for a while. I have a pretty heavy comic reading schedule going on. You can keep up with that on my Facebook page. I'm reading and reviewing and trying to get enough to hold me until Christmas break. Posts will resume after a short blackout.


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

This is a classic tall tale of the powerful John Henry, a former slave who uses his brawn to help build a better America, and forge a better life for himself, only to be caught in a battle of wills against technology that arrives in the form of digging machines that will forever change the way work is done in the country.

Like Paul Bunyan, John Henry was special from the day he was born. Big, strong and full of curiosity, John Henry came out of the cradle with a hammer in his hand, ready to pound away. For all of the American tall tales, there are only a few that emerged from the stories of slaves, but the classic story of John Henry is one of them. This book, which is the tale retold by Stephanie True Peters, is just as I remembered it, with John Henry emerging as a hero of the working class at the end of the book, celebrated at his funeral not only for his hammer and his strength, but also because “...his heart was pure as gold.”

Earlier, on the day the family is freed from slavery at the end of the Civil War, John Henry tells his mother that he is going to “make my mark upon the world, Ma,” and you just know he is going to do it. If there is a complaint here, it is that the racism surely faced by freed slaves such as John Henry is barely mentioned. The color of one's skin isn't a factor in this story, even though his epic battle against the machine could be seen as symbolic of this struggle. But given the audience for tall tales, perhaps this is a wise move.

The illustrations in this book by Nelson Evergreen are wonderful to look at. The dark colors and pictures really capture the characters. John Henry, in particular, is a glorious sight to see, with rippling muscles, a huge smile on his face that belies intelligence, and he carries the look of someone who is about to change the world, whether the world is ready or not.

Stone Arch Books, which published John Henry and a stack of other graphic tall tales, does a fantastic job of making the book a valuable resource for the classroom. There is a glossary of vocabulary words in the back (including some railroad terminology that might be difficult for young readers). There is an interesting feature, too, in which the truth and myths of the story of John Henry are looked at in closer detail, allowing students to think about how the narrative story form of tall tales compliment and expand true historical events and times.

There are also discussion questions and writing prompts to help guide discussions. In particular, students could research the times in which the railroads were being built, and examine not only the human toll it took on workers to lay the lines, but also how the railroad system opened up our country to population expansion and therefore, access to rich resources. Students might also read the picture book, MIKE MULLIGAN AND HIS STEAM ENGINE, for a look at how yet another era came to an end later on and how the new is always replacing the old.

Format: Softcover
Pages: 40
Publisher: Stone Arch Books
ISBN-10: 1434222659
ISBN-13: 978-1434222657

Lexile: GN 420L
ATOS: 2.9
AR Quiz No.: 134686
Reading level: Grades 1-3
Interest level: Grades 3-8

A reader’s theater kit is available from the publisher.


In my view, every classroom should have a few tall tales on the shelves and those titles should be more than Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed. This book –– JOHN HENRY: HAMMERIN' HERO –– is a story that is rich with character, setting and heart. And given how little we talk about characters emerging from slavery with power and resolve, as John Henry does here, this book might open up some discussions. I highly recommend this book, and think it is most appropriate for the elementary and middle school classroom.


By Chris Wilson

Original Author: Jane Austen
Zombie Adaptation: Seth Grahame-Smith
Comic Adaptation: Tony Lee
Illustrator: Cliff Richards
Publisher: Del Rey
Genre: Traditional novel in comic format

Format: Softcover
Pages: 176
Color: Black and white
ISBN-13: 978-0-345-52068


I read some Jane Austen in college. The subtext and intricacies of the dialogue were lost on me and I spent most of my time trying to figure out what it was that was really going on and what was really being said. No one ever says what they really mean in Austen's novels.

Zombies, however, make for a much more interesting experience. When the graphic novel was solicited, I bought it. It was time to try Austen again and I'm glad I did. This go around I was able to visualize the characters and study their faces. Finally, I was able to understand Austen in an authentic experience and I found her much more interesting. I cannot really determine if my enjoyment of Austen this time was due to my life experience or the graphic novel format. I’ll take it either way.

I found the scene involving the lead musket balls most stimulating. I got it and I snorted out loud. And the scene when Young Miss Bennet –– warrior and protector –– discovered some affection for Mr. Darcy: "I have never seen him so desirous to please as now, when no importance could result from the success of his endeavors. I am almost ashamed of ever wishing to drink the blood from his severed head!" Now that is funny dialogue.

I'm sorry to say that it took the addition of zombies for me to show any interest in Jane Austen again, and it took a graphic novel for me to read it. With that said, I am stirred to purchase a copy of P&P&Z the plain old novel and give it a try. That’s good news. Comics can work to make one want to read the original, or in this case, an enriched adaptation.

It may take trolls or witches, goblins or vampires in order for me to read any other Austen works, and I dutifully apologize to my literature friends who find that offensive, but it made me pick her up again and that is a good thing.

I may rave on the story, but the art of this adaptation is grossly inadequate at best. A Jane Austen title deserves art that is precise, where the myriad of period characters are easily discernible and the lines clean. This looks unfinished, raw, sloppy, and out of place with the author and her style.

Chris’ Rating: High school and older

The Bennet girls having been trained in the Chinese killing arts, beheading zombies as easily as they attend a ball. The language is most appropriate and upstanding. The subtext of the novel is what it is.


Dare I suggest that a teacher use an undead-enhanced adaptation (novel or comic) to entice students to engage classic works? I don't want to start an argument –– and any such suggestion of bastardizing a classic would surely garner me hate mail –– I will simply hint at the fact that it opened new understanding for me.



By Chris Wilson

Ken Maccus
Illustrator: Justin Bleep
Lettering: Jacque Nodell
Publisher: Ape Entertainment
Genre: Superhero

Format: Monthly comic
Pages: 24
Color: Full color

Tim works for a temp agency and is assigned an HR job at Super Crises International (SCI) for a few weeks. It’s an agency that deals with crises of the super variety, and like any big agency it has its corporate red tape, line-towers and disgruntled employees. SCI has its share of that and then some.

Poor Tim's first day was not what he expected. No sooner had he sat down in the waiting room than a ninja-clad job applicant –– looking to nullify any possible competition –– injected Tim with some paralytic green spinal goo. There is an antidote but it's just out of reach, and so Tim degenerates throughout the agency tour by his boss, Mrs. Nicholas.

The story is funny for anyone who has every worked for a company with more than 20 employees and been irritated at the ridiculous amount of unnecessary paperwork, procedures, or the outright rejection of good ideas. We've had other comics and movies in the same vein – DILBERT and OFFICE SPACE. What makes this title different are the monsters, supers, and creatures. Zambor the receptionist –– a Frankenstein-like creature –– is part of the Evil Villain Relocation Career program, and he tolerates very little from anyone including customers. "How may Zambor direct your call, pathetic sack of man-flesh?" We’ve all known that one person who needed firing, for no other reason than hatefulness.

The characters are quirky and the comic is a fun read, but it is not really school material. A reader simply needs a lot of real work experience to get SUPER HUMAN RESOURCES. For those of you who need a break and a fun laugh, or a healthy counter to your work environment, this should fit the bill nicely. For grown ups who’ve worked and cursed, I recommend SUPER HUMAN RESOURCES. Don’t bother your students with it.