Friday, March 26, 2010

IN THE CLASSROOM THIS WEEK

From the Editor

Technically speaking, this week is Women in Comics Week. As you know, we have been talking about females and comics for four weeks now, culminating in three reviews for your pleasure this week.

I finished all of Stephen King’s THE DARK TOWER comics. There are more to come. This weekend I am heading to Planet Comicon in Kansas City. I hope to find some trades or hardcovers of THE BOYS and SANDMAN volume 1. I’ve heard great things about both, love the writers, and the fact is if I want to call myself a comic lover, I have to read SANDMAN and need to read THE BOYS. (Both are for mature audiences).

Here are the comics that came in this week.
  • Star Wars Omnibus: Boba Fett
  • Spider-Man Secret Wars #4 (of 4)
  • Tiny Titans #26
  • Twilight: The Graphic Novel Vol. 1

BATTLEFIELDS: THE NIGHT WITCHES





By Chris Wilson
Editor-in-Geek



Author: Garth Ennis
Illustrator: Russ Braun
Colors: Tony Avina
Covers: John Cassady
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Genre: Historical Fiction, War

Format: Monthly comic
Color: Full color


STORY SYNOPSIS

In the summer of 1942, after the German army settled into Soviet territory, the sickle and hammer used every available means to purge the Germans from the motherland, including The Nachthexen, which translated from German means The Night Witches.

This band of all female pilots and crew, officially known as the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, ran nighttime psychological (or harassment) raids upon the Germans leaving the soldiers nowhere to rest, no where to go as they fought Soviet commandos by day and were surprise-bombed by The Nachthexen by night.

The sorties were successful but dangerous as the ladies flew loud, antiquated biplanes, which meant the Germans could detect them before their bombs were dropped. Cleverly, the ladies cut their engines early and glided in to drop their bombs, then restarted their engines and flew back to get ready for another attempt.


REVIEW
Garth Ennis’ narrative carries two simultaneous storylines: that of the Witches, and one German unit. As has always been the case for females in significant or important roles, these ladies are mocked and even hated for their important roles in the world. Ennis does not hide behind the ugliness, but shows us an authentic, nasty story of war.

These courageous women stand at attention while their new commander, Guards-Major Aleksandr Lukin of the 41st Guards Fighter Air Regiment makes clear his disdain for his new assignment.

“My squadron – who are currently out of sight laughing, by the way, because they know I’ve got to stand here in front of you and perform this ludicrous duty – my squadron are engaged in trying to stop the Nazis, which is hard enough in the first place, without you lot showing up and getting in the way with your … your … your female requirement.”

Equipped with inferior planes and no support, the ladies engage in their bombing escapades only to find the Germans can hear them coming. It’s up to the women to solve their own problems, and they do so by taking risks, risks that are amazingly successful, creative and crazy.

Ennis is a gritty writer – a creator of dirty, bloody, realistic stories of true characters and disgusting humanity. There is a reason THE NIGHT WITCHES carries a mature rating on the cover. The story is about war and Ennis spares no ugly detail. It is stark honesty that makes THE NIGHT WITCHES so powerful. Not only is the story profoundly brutal, but it is genuine and honors the women it is about. They crash, they die, they kill, they get raped. But many of the women make it through and significantly impact the outcome of the war. It is their heroism – and not pitty-inspired heroism for being a female in a war, but heroism in the patriotic and self-sacrificing sense – that makes the war effort winnable.

The Night Witches are a squadron of women who are truly worth celebrating and studying and the Ennis/Braun comic is an ideal way to glorify the strength of woman and their contribution to world events, even when those contributions are little known and rarely acknowledged.


ART REVIEW
Russ Braun took a stouthearted script and inked a cinematic period piece just as brutally as Ennis. The expressions of the characters – from the body language of the women to the pathos of the single conflicted German soldier, to the seething and scornfulness of the commanders at the soldiers they feel are inferior – is emotive and haunting.


AGE RECOMMENDATION
Chris’ Rating: Mature
Publisher’s Rating: Mature


BE AWARE
This is a mature war story where blood is spilled, entrails are strewn about, eyes are gouged, heads punctured, prisoners raped, suicides committed, and knives are stuck in the bellies of enemies. The cursing is real and appropriate for the subjects but unseemly. Remember, I said Ennis is gritty. The characters curse like soldiers of war often do.


IN THE CLASSROOM
THE NIGHT WITCHES is 90-some pages of World War II reality and is at home in a class studying the war, the psychology of war, or the female rights movement. Because of the brutality, it would likely need to be a college-level class. Given that level of study, THE NIGHT WITCHES is an outstanding title to dissect and discuss. Questions might include:

  • What are traditional roles? How did they begin?
  • Are those traditional roles still necessary?
  • Why does male culture use female body parts as negative descriptive names to belittle other men?
  • How should soldiers respond when encountering the rape of a prisoner on the battlefield?
  • What made the Night Witches’ approach work so well?
  • How does the absence of any safety or rest effect a soldier’s psychology and how does it affect the overall outcome of a war?

OTHER INFORMATION
BATTLEFIELD is a serious of war stories, which include THE NIGHT WITCHES. There is a hardcover edition of the entire BATTLEFIELD story lines. All three of the NIGHT WITCHES issues are collected in a single paperback edition.


CHRIS’ RECOMMENDATION:
I highly recommend THE NIGHT WITCHES for mature readers such as college students. The story is outstanding. However, I do not recommend the book for the high school classroom, as the material is so savage. 

YOU CAN DO A GRAPHIC NOVEL

 
By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer


STORY REVIEW
Barbara Slate has created one of the best books on the topic of writing a graphic novel that I have come across and she does this magic in the form of a graphic text, so you get double the pleasure: enjoying Slate as an artist and writer, and as teacher of the experience.

Slate, who has worked in the comic field for Marvel and DC Comics, gives not only her life experiences as a writer and artist, but she patiently walks the reader through the process of writing a story through the graphic novel lens. Her tone here is encouraging and thoughtful, and you might want to consider putting a copy of this book in the hands of any of your students who imagine a career in the field. Add to the mix that she is a woman in a field still dominated by men and you come away amazed at what she has done here with YOU CAN DO A GRAPHIC NOVEL. What is important, too, is that her tips can be used for any kind of writing, not just comics and graphic novels.


ART REVIEW
Slate illustrated this book, as well as wrote it, and her art is warm and fun, and perfectly suited to what she writing about. She shows as well as tells, providing her artwork as examples of the craft of each chapter. She even provides some of her own examples from comic books to demonstrate how she herself used what she is telling the reader to consider.


OTHER INFORMATION
Format: Paperback
Pages: 208
Publisher: Alpha
ISBN-13: 978-1592579556


IN THE CLASSROOM
As I mentioned above, YOU CAN DO A GRAPHIC NOVEL is a valuable tool for any writer working in any genre, although it is probably most effective with middle and high school students. The book is jam-packed with insights into publishing, and covers a lot of ground from brainstorming, character development, plot devices, and inking the pages. The language is very accessible.


MY RECOMMENDATION
I would highly recommend this book for a middle or high school classroom where writing is at the center of learning. While YOU CAN DO A GRAPHIC NOVEL would be a home run for a student interested in the graphic arts, it would also provide another experience into the world of professional writing.

FOILED


By Chris Wilson
Editor-in-Geek


Author: Jane Yolen
Illustrator: Mike Cavallaro
Publisher: First Second
Genre: Realistic Fiction, Fantasy, Coming of Age

Format: Softcover
Pages: 160
Color: Mixture (monochromatic and full color)
ISBN-13: 978-1-59643-279-6


REVIEW
FOILED is a genre-bending experience - a mash of coming-of-age, romance and fantasy. It plays in two parts. The first being a story about high school freshmen, Aliera, who is a catch, but no one knows it. She reads fantasy novels, plays D&D, and has an appropriate amount of contempt for the preps, jocks and goths. Most importantly she is an outstanding fencer - though no one cares because that's not a real sport to other high schoolers. All the things add up to a girl who spends a lot of time alone.

When the baby-faced new boy comes to school, Aliera finds herself feeling things she's never really felt - or cared to feel - before. Then the two are paired together in science class. Typical innocent adolescent goings-on ensue: cute banter, slaps on the arm, quick looks, lots of dumb jokes, ending with a first date for her (but not for him).

Enter the second installment of FOILED, the fantasy stage. In the middle of Grand Central Station, Aliera fights with the blond-haired boy and fences her way through some trolls, and other creatures. Was it all a hallucination? Was this just her way of making sense of a bad date? Is she really the magical “Defender” of a mysterious underworld? Did any of this actually happen?

I've come across several of these mishmash stories in recent years (I KILL GIANTS and PAN'S LABYRINTH to name two), yarns that mix genres and give the reader a realistic fiction story with a heavy dose of fantasy (or possibly pseudo-fantasy if you fall on the side that it's all just in the hero's head) realm. It's an interesting approach.

For Aliera, all of this story is built upon fencing. In fact the chapters are structured around fencing terms. This weaponized art is not only a literal activity of the protagonist, but it is a none-too-subtle metaphor for the girl and her emotions. Aliera is taught, in fencing and also in life, to defend her heart. The metaphor is a little heavy-handed, but it is a middle grade book after all.

Metaphors are continued in Aliera's form of color blindness (monochromancy) where she cannot see colors at all. Interestingly, Mike Cavallaro used a monochromatic scheme in most of the book. When Aliera discovers the boy's true colors during their date, she also discovers her own ability to discern the color spectrum and the book takes a full color turn as well. With mask on (another metaphor by the way) she pulls out her foil and gets down to business of dispensing of creatures, blond-haired and otherwise.

I connected with the first section of the book more than the last, which is funny considering how much of a fantasy junkie I am. The fantasy section felt rushed, making it feel a bit out of place. The truth is I did not really want that element in this book, as I already have a preconceived notion of where Yolen was taking the story. So did FOILED work? Partially. I think the dichotomy between the two halves of the book was a bit discombobulating. However, I do think girls especially will connect with Aliera and her story and I would guess they would prefer the book to stick to Aliera in the real world.


AGE RECOMMENDATION
Chris' Rating: Ages 12 and older
Publisher's Rating: Ages 11 and older


BE AWARE
Alcohol and marijuana are briefly mentioned when students are in class listening to a boring lecture wishing to be somewhere else or doing something else.


IN THE CLASSROOM
It would be an interesting concept to use this graphic novel in the biology or genetics classroom as a way to kick off an inherited traits unit. One could discuss the different types of color blindness (red-green or monochromancy) and the prevalence rate (men versus women).

At the same time, the human development or psychology class could use the book to study the emotional development of adolescents (peer relationships, social exclusion, and dating rituals).

Down the hall, the literature class could use the title to deconstruct the methaphors and themes rampant in FOILED. How do the metaphors play out? Before reading the passage with Aliera's date, I would have students write down their predictions of what might happen referencing specific passages in the story to support their claims. Through the reading, I would draw the students' attention to the constant use of ravens outside the windows. What do ravens symbolize? Why are they there? Are the purposeful?

The art teacher, or art history class, could examine the use of metaphor as an artistic device and explore how Cavallaro used color to tell the story. Would the story be better in black and white? Full color? Why or why not?


CHRIS' RECOMMENDATION:
Appropriate

Monday, March 22, 2010

SPRING CLEANING

From the Editor

I'm making some changes around these parts. Nothing major. You will notice that I added a new standalone page located beneath our header. This is the new home of our BEST COMICS FOR YOUR CLASSROOM. This is where I will continue to update. The old page in the sidebar is gone. I also added a "Like" button similar to Facebook. Feel free to use it. We appreciate the feedback.

I might make some other changes as well. We will see how it goes. Hope you all are getting some comics reading done over Spring break. That's what everyone does, right? Read a comic for you, if nothing else. I recommend the following graphic novels for my teacher friends seeking out great comic literature to read over break:

BATGIRL
DC: THE NEW FRONTIER
MAUS
PRIDE OF BAGHDAD
SANDMAN
WATCHMEN

Can you believe I've never read any SANDMAN? It's a real shame because it is highly recommended by comics enthusiasts. However, I do have a hardcover edition of THE SANDMAN: THE DREAM HUNTERS on my bookshelf. It's one I recently purchased at a local comicon. I will rectify my transgression as soon as I can. 

Saturday, March 20, 2010

IN THE CLASSROOM THIS WEEK

From the Editor

This week we offer a young reader comic written and illustrated by female creator Ashley Spires, and a series of three biographies of female political power brokers. It is Spring break for me and I haven't made it to the comic book store yet. So no listing of comics this week. 

In other news, I went to a comic book convention a couple of weekends ago and filled in some gaps in my collection. Now, I have all four hardbound editions of Stephen King's THE DARK TOWER comic expansion. I say expansion, because the comics are not adaptions of his opus. The stories are new material that delve deeper into the gunslinger's past. It's presented in comic format and have never been told. (The exception is the first volume (THE GUNSLINGER BORN) which is an adaption of Roland's back story from WIZARD AND GLASS, which was done for continuity's sake. The rest are new stories.)

I have read King's entire seven-part series years ago and really enjoyed them. I had never read anything like them. The fantasy/sci-fi/cowboy/modern world mix were so interesting. (I wasn't that crazy about King being a character in his own book, but that's a minor detail.) Book 4 (WIZARD AND GLASS) was my favorite because of the story of Roland's rise to becoming a gunslinger and his first love. The incident would define him, change him, forever ... and probably not for the better. 

The comic explores the most tumultuous of adolescent life experiences much to my delight. So far, I've read volumes 1-2 and I'm starting volume 3 today. I plan on reading the four published volumes of the comic over Spring break. There are six volumes planned.

BINKY THE SPACE CAT



By Chris Wilson
Editor-in-Geek


Author & Illustrator: Ashley Spires
Publisher: Kids Can Press
Genre: Animal Fantasy

Format: Hardcover
Pages: 64
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-1-55453-309-1


STORY SYNOPSIS
Cat lovers rejoice in the delicate and genial nature of BINKY THE SPACE CAT, a feline whose imagination is larger than his heart and body. Binky lives in a space station (house) surrounded by deep dark space (sky and yard), fights off killer aliens (flies and gnats), and he completes research on his mission (sleeps on papers and near the computer).


Binky is, don’t you know, a Space Cat certified by Felines of the Universe Ready for Space Travel (F.U.R.S.T.) and he spends his time building a rocket ship and readies for take off, but in the end he cannot leave his humans because they need him. He stays behind, letting the rocket ship blast off unmanned, in order to protect his people from any potential alien invasions.


REVIEW
BINKY THE SPACE CAT really isn’t about a space at all. It is about our love of our pets and how we attached human-like qualities to our friends. Anyone who has pets will swear to the fact that these four-legged creatures believe they are people. It is our deepest affection for our purring friends that BINKY taps into and sweetly caresses.

He is adorable, that black and white cat. His child-like innocence and caring for his humans is adorable and gives outlet to those who express love of pets easier than love of people. Those kids who treasure their cats will pet the corners right off the book.


ART REVIEW
A muted color palette and watercolor qualities make BINKY soft and easily accessible to young children.


AGE RECOMMENDATION
Chris’ Rating: Ages 7 and older
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 7 to 10


There are no scary moments, no tension, no dark scenes of evil forces. BINKY is lighthearted and kind and solid for the youngest of readers.


IN THE CLASSROOM
BINKY would make a wonderful read aloud for young kids. It would also make a great foundation for kids creating their own stories about animals. BINKY gives rise to voice and style as the reader can see the difference between how Binky sees the world and how the world really is. Case in point, Binky does not really live in outer space. He thinks he does. He play pretends like kids do. What would their pet play pretend? A collaborative unit with the art teacher could make for interesting comics. The students could write their stories in the classroom (meeting communication arts standards) and then create the art in the art classroom (meeting art standards). What a great display.


CHRIS’ RECOMMENDATION:
Highly Recommended

POWERFUL POLITICAL WOMEN IN COMICS


By Chris Wilson
Editor-in-Geek


 
Series: Female Force
Author: Neal Bailey
Pencils: Ryan Howe & Joshua LaBello
Colors: Mike Adams, Michelle Davies & Kristy Swan
Lettering: Malachi Sharlow, Wilson Ramos & Jaymes Reed
Publisher: Bluewater Productions
Genre: Biography

Format: Comic book
Volumes: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin & Caroline Kennedy
Color: Full color


REVIEW
I’ve been collecting the biographies published by Blue Water Productions since the Barack Obama and John McCain comics hit the newsstands. Biographies are an important genre and the comics medium is a expressive way to tell a person’s story. For Women in Comics Week (a month-long celebration for us), I thought it prudent to review some of America’s most influential and political women.

The FEMALE FORCE series offers 22 pages of actual story for each woman (Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin and Caroline Kennedy), making it difficult to delve the depths. Be that as it may, FEMALE FORCE makes a solid effort to give a balanced perspective to each of these powerful, and sometimes controversial, ladies.

Bailey struck a nice balance in showcasing each woman’s strengths while addressing problems each made. Even still, the purpose of the series is geared toward showing the accomplishments and influence of women taking their place on the political landscape.

Comics of strong female leaders are important to girls and women, and for society. Accessible biographies give rise to the study of females as integral parts of our society, and help girls become strong leaders in their families, communities and country. While studying these women’s accomplishments, it is also important to study their miscalculations and mistakes. Blue Water’s biography comics show both sides of the women well.

The stories, however, do fall short in two aspects: biographer interjection and caricatures. Throughout these stories (and in Michelle Obama’s biography, too) Bailey the biographer continuously inserted himself (both narratively and artistically) into their stories. Bailey was not only the narrator (done in first, second and third person if you can imagine it), but he was also an illustrated character with dialogue.

In some places this served the story well as it did in the first page of the Palin comic. Here it set the tone and acted almost as a foreward to her biography. He showed humor and demonstrated his concerns of objectivity. Unfortunately, Bailey did not confine his persona to a foreward or afterward. He interjected his own feelings and often apologetically lamented his fears of being criticized.

Ultimately, his introduction as a character deflected the story away from these women and distracted the reader from the women he was showcasing rather than enhancing the narrative. Not only is that a disservice to these power brokers, but considering the huge hurdles women go through for equality, it disingenuous.

I think Bailey knew this. In FEMALE FORCE: CAROLINE KENNEDY, Bailey uses his own character to talk about Kennedy’s revelation that as a celebrity, to become a photojournalist would shift the focus from the subject of the story to the photojournalist. Interjects Bailey:

“Hopefully I will someday learn this lesson myself, and not make myself the subject when the beauty is, perhaps, somewhere else.”

To further demonstrate Bailey’s flippant approach to what should be a more serious and authentic view of women in power, at the end of Clinton’s biography, Bailey used a covert curse word: “And good. It’s about #&@ing time.” There is absolutely no reason for any writer to use an f-bomb reference in a serious political biography, unless quoting someone else, which is not the case here. I have no problems with the f-word itself in literature when it is appropriate to the subject and the characters. To do so in this case is to not treat the subjects with respect, even if you are arguing for them.


ART REVIEW
My second critique is with the art, which lacks a certain gravitas. The women are often heavily inked, especially around the mouth, giving them the appearance of wrinkles and making their smiles seem contrived, old, and tired. I find they often seemed more like caricatures of themselves. The covers, on the other, were generally quite realistic and appropriate to the women they portrayed.

In Kennedy’s story, the artist brought the story full circle by connecting two images. I noticed it right off and made notes. In an early scene, Kennedy’s life is described by the death that surrounds her. It is an unfortunate reality. We see the tragic loss of a child and Kennedy’s mother lying in a hospital bed while her two older children play with blocks. It is a sad and poignant moment that will later define Kennedy.

In the spread depicting her marriage, graduation and birth of her children, the same scene is set, this time with Caroline Kennedy holding her child in a hospital bed, her two other children playing with blocks. It’s a brilliant and delicate scene that resonated with me and connected the story together.


AGE RECOMMENDATION
Chris’ Rating: Ages 12 and older


BE AWARE
At the end of Clinton’s biography, Bailey used a covert curse word: “And good. It’s about #&@ing time.” Other than that, there was no inappropriate or questionable content. There is really no reason for any biographer to use an f-bomb reference in a serious political biography, unless quoting someone else, which is not the case here. It further demonstrates Bailey’s flippant approach to what should be a more serious and authentic view of women in power.


IN THE CLASSROOM
Social studies, political science, and feminist studies are all no-brainer subjects with which to incorporate the FEMALE FORCE comics. The brevity of the biographies give students a quick look at these women and give rise to further investigations.

The heavy use of all three narrative styles make these books apropos for the English or journalism classroom. Not only can these be used to distinguish between the different styles, for good or ill, but also the objectivity of the biographer and how his personal opinions can color the story. I think it is a good opportunity for a creative writing class to study the use of profanity in literature and dissect when it is appropriate and when it is not.


OTHER INFORMATION
Bluewater continues its popular series with Condoleeza Rice, Princess Diana, and Sonia Sotomayor.


CHRIS’ RECOMMENDATION:
Appropriate
While I am critical of the narrative style and the presence of the biographer from a writing point of view, I see great possibility with using these books with students and would not hesitate to use them with students. 

Sunday, March 14, 2010

IN THE CLASSROOM THIS WEEK

From the Editor

Continuing our celebration of women in comics literature we offer two titles for your girl-power pleasure. The first comic, ONE STORMY NIGHT, is written by Ruby Lee and features two cats and an old woman – a delight for the younger crowd. The second, I KILL GIANTS, introduces the strong-willed, geek-hearted and teenaged Barbara: giant killer, role-play gamer, and bully fighter.

Don’t let the stereotypes about comics being a boy thing fool you. Girls abound in comics both as creators and characters, offering the reader rib-sticking literature for children, teens and adults of all genders.

Here are the comics that came in this week.


Batgirl #8
Complete Alice in Wonderland #3
Foiled
Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers #1 (of 4)
On the Odd Hours
Red Robin #10
Super Hero Squad #3

Saturday, March 13, 2010

ONE STORMY NIGHT



By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

STORY REVIEW
Two cats can't agree over who eats a mouse caught in the house of the old woman, and after both argue and fight over the mouse, the old woman accidentally tosses them out into the cold wintry night where they realize that neither was right in the fight over the mouse. Yes, this small tale told in poetic verse (and apparently based on a traditional rhyme) is a common-enough plot, but this graphic novel for young readers is a delightful read from start to finish and is sure to get the attention of emerging readers.


ART REVIEW
I loved the pictures in this book. The cats, in particular, are hilarious, with one tall and skinny and other, short and fat. Since the setting of the book takes place at night in winter, illustrator Ken Turner effectively uses the contrasts of white and black to great effect. And the old woman who sweeps the fighting cats right out the door has this sweet, nonchalant look to her that is so very touching. Since this is a graphic novel in poetic form, the use of text boxes, dialogue bubbles and others are part of the story, and they work well, too, in the telling.


MORE INFORMATION
Author: Ruby Lee
Illustrator: Ken Turner
Publisher: Rubicon Publishing
ISBN-13: 9781554774456


IN THE CLASSROOM
This small book would be very effective in a younger grade classroom and the publisher, Boldprint Kids, makes sure that the book is designed for learning. The inside page shows us the characters and the last two pages provide helpful notes for additional learning activities for teachers, including vocabulary words and art activities. Plus, any book that also lists literary consultants (David Booth and Larry Swartz) along with the author (Ruby Lee) and illustrator (Ken Turner) is likely created for the classroom.


MY RECOMMENDATION
This book is highly recommended for grades kindergarten through second grade

I KILL GIANTS




By Chris Wilson
Editor-in-Geek

Author: Joe Kelly
Illustrator: JM Ken Niimura
Publisher: Image
Genre: Fantasy, Coming of Age
Format: Monthly comics (hard and soft covers available)
Color: Black and white


STORY REVIEW
Barbara Thorson is one freak of a fifth grader. She wears animal ears to school (mostly bunnies but her repertoire includes various woodland creatures), is a formidable and unforgiving DM (that means she designs and controls the adventure in the role playing game, Dungeons & Dragons), converses with pixie-faeries, is an all-purpose and cynical smart aleck … and she kills giants. Or at least does so in her imagination.

Barbara has little tolerance for teachers or administrators, or anyone else in the world as far as that goes. She is a disconnected kid who is intelligent beyond her age, but aloof and angry. Her mother is dying and Barbara cannot face the fact. Her sister is raising her and her brothers, all of whom are overwhelmed and indignant to anyone around them who might care. She was sent to the principal for reading during a career day presentation and general rudeness, and the exchange with her principal is the perfect illustration of Barbara’s character:


Barbara: “You know we’re never going to move forward in our relationship if we only meet at your place.”

Principal: “Neither of us wants to be here, doing this, Barbara. I have a school to run. You have lessons to learn.”

Barbara: “Very astute, sir.”

Principal: “So can you tell me in twenty words or less why you were rude in class?”

Barbara: “I wasn’t. I was reading quietly until Ms. Dean asked me a question and then I answered it. Politely.”

[Actually what she said when asked to participate in the motivational speaker’s presentation was: “I find giants. I hunt giants. I kill giants. So you’ll forgive me if ‘motivating’ a room full of losers with no self-esteem out of their hard earned money doesn’t hold much interest for me.”]

Barbara: “Nineteen.”

Principal: “Nineteen what?”

Barbara: “Words. Following directions is the key to success.”

Principal: “Fine. I tried to be nice. You need to fly right, Barbara. Stop talking back to your teachers, and enough with the ‘giant killing nonsense.’ Or we start calling home.”

Barbara: “’Nonsense.’ With respect, principal Marx … until you’ve actually fought a giant … until you’ve looked into its eyes and seen the horrors that crawl behind them … until you’ve plunged your broadsword into their arteries and felt the wet spray of victory wash over you, intoxicated by the steaming perfume of spilled entrails … you really have no right to judge me.”

I love this kid. I even like her sass-back, but I especially like her spunk and spirit and her obvious intelligence. Barbara is a real character who is obviously hurting and needs someone who enjoys her wit and repartee, and appreciates the things she loves. Instead, what she gets in life is strangeness.

Barbara’s eccentricity brings about bullies, one giant of a female bully specifically. However, bullies are not Barbara’s real problem. She is preoccupied with, and afraid of, death. The thoughts consume her. Her fear is personified in the form of creatures. When she gets off the bus one day, Barbara witnesses harbingers, death bringers. The very next scene she confronts her bullies destroying up an item of hers. When her sick mother calls out to Barbara from her death bed in the bedroom upstairs, the child runs. The one day Barbara actually sees her mother, the poor woman is rendered (in what can only be Barbara’s perception and not reality) as a beastly, skeletal, screeching wretch.

I’m not convinced the giant she battles, harbingers, or the pixie-faeries are real. I suspect they are just part of Barbara’s imaginative attempt to flee from the painful realization of her dying mother. They are metaphors for Barbara’s true feelings. While it makes for an interesting class discussion (one that is more insightful and educational than debating if one is an Edward or Jacob supporter) it is incidental if they are real or imagined. One could, indeed, make the case for either side.

I prefer, however, to see them as part of Barbara’s psyche and her childlike emotional state trying to make sense of the suffering inside and around her. Barbara needs those creatures for her life to have purpose and to give her an escape.

A narrative that gives such depth is what makes I KILL GIANTS so remarkable. This story reminds me of the film, PAN’S LABYRINTH. The same discussion (are the beasts real or imagined?) was a favorite topic among film lovers. With I KILL GIANTS, there is so much to sink one’s teeth into: metaphors, psychology, and a heroic journey. Sprinkle that with clever banter and some D&D geekness and what is produced is a taut and unforgettable comic.


ART REVIEW
Ken Niimura’s art is a manga-inspired, black and white journey with hand drawn panels and clean panel fluency. He did seem a bit preoccupied with full frontal nudity, but that might be explained by his creating mostly for a European market, an inference I made after reading the “Behind the Scenes” afterward.


AGE RECOMMENDATION
My Rating: High school (maybe) and older


BE AWARE
I KILL GIANTS has cursing aplenty throughout the storyline. Appropriate for the characters? Absolutely. Teens have filthy mouths, but it is still enough that most teachers should read every word before making a decision to use it with students. Ass, goddamn, bitch, son of a bitch, and pussy are the worst that I recall. There are no f-bombs. Also note that there is some innocent, full frontal male pixie-creature nudity.


IN THE CLASSROOM
IKG is a top contender on my Favorite Comics list. However, I have reservations in its use in the secondary public school. If one teaches in an alternative high school program, then IKG is probably the perfect book.

There are teachers who use WATCHMEN in high school and so there is a place for IKG in the public high school literature class. Its use of metaphors is easy to understand and interpret without being trite. The internal struggle is powerful and I think this book, unlike many others, taps into interests of both genders very well. The strong female protagonist is a good character study for girls why also maintaining interest for boys.


MY RECOMMENDATION:
Highly Recommended with Strong Reservations
I KILL GIANTS is a hard book to review. The content is robust, apropos to the modern student, and worthy of literary study. On the other hand, it has strong language and some scenes depicting penises (of creatures not humans). Nothing is gratuitous or out of character, but it is controversial just the same. Know your school and community. If you use it in your classroom, please drop us a note. We would love to know how the students and all those other important people are receiving it. 

Sunday, March 7, 2010

TGC PLEDGES MONEY TO READING WITH PICTURES

The Graphic Classroom just supported Reading With Pictures' all-ages anthology fundraiser. We have committed to purchase a hardcover edition of the anthology. I am also including a RWF widget in the sidebar.

Here are things that your donation will pay for:

  • Partnering with Northwestern University and other academic institutions to oversee the largest and most comprehensive research study in US history on the role of comics in education. 
  • Building a searchable, interactive database of research papers, lesson plans and comic-centric curriculum. 
  • Providing educational consultation services to schools and publishers. 
  • Working with cartoonists to produce top-quality educational comics.
  • Helping universities design courses in the burgeoning field of Comics Studies.
  • Creating a Speaker's Bureau to get cartoonists into schools and libraries. 
  • Aggregating graphic novel reviews from various accredited sources and generating recommended reading lists for every age and subject matter.
This is exactly the kind of movement we need in the comics-education field. Both on the front side of making it easy for teachers to make the case for comics to administrators and on the back side by providing lesson plans and support to teachers.

To learn more, go to RWF site at Kickstarter.com.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

READING WITH PICTURES KICKS OFF ALL-AGES ANTHOLOGY


From the press release

Beginning February 22 and running through May 22, the educational non-profit Reading With Pictures will be taking pre-orders for its kid-friendly graphic novel anthology on Kickstarter.com. The full-color, 192-page anthology features a cover by Jill Thompson (The Sandman) and all-new stories by more than 50 cartoonists including Fred Van Lente (Action Philosophers), Jim Gownley (Amelia Rules), Raina Telgemeier (The Baby-Sitter's Club), Chris Giarrusso (Mini-Marvels), Eric Wight (Frankie Pickle), Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes (Unshelved) and RWP Executive Director Josh Elder (Mail Order Ninja).

In addition to selling signed softcover and limited-edition hardcover editions of the anthology, Reading With Pictures is offering several unique opportunities for high-level donors to live the dream and become comic book characters by being drawn into the anthology by their favorite artists. Other incentive packages include digital downloads, bookmarks, bulk-rate discounts for teachers and more.

The anthology centers around the theme of education, and each story contains engaging and entertaining educational content. Trevor Mueller and Gabriel Bautista tell the story of alien exchange student and his human classmates traveling back in time to learn about dinosaurs firsthand. In Kevin Pyle╩╝s “The Order of the Secret Pencil,” a boy learns to read and write through the use of comics. The sciences are also represented along with the humanities when Chris Eliopoulos, an animation director for Yo Gabba Gabba! on Nick Jr., explains the unique biology of the electric eel.

"The Reading With Pictures Anthology isn't just a fund raising tool, it's a proof of concept," says Executive Director Josh Elder. "It's proof that comics belong in classrooms because this comic belongs in the classroom. It contains stories of the highest quality that are engaging, educational and enlightening."

Money raised from anthology pre-sales will pay for the printing of the anthology itself and provide funding for Reading With Pictures during its critical startup period. That funding will allow Reading With Pictures to forge ahead with its ambitious slate of groundbreaking projects to revolutionize the use of comics in the classroom. These include a partnering with Northwestern University to conduct the most comprehensive research study in U.S. history on comics as educational tools, creating a searchable, interactive database of comic-centric curriculum and providing recommended reading lists for all ages, interests and subjects.

BATGIRL: REDEMPTION


By Chris Wilson
Editor-in-Geek



Author: Adam Beechen
Pencils: Jim Calafiore
Inks: Mark McKenna, Jonathan Glapion , Jack Purcell,
Colors: Nathan Eyring
Lettering: Travis Lanham, Sal Cipriano, Rob Clark Jr., Pat Brosseau
Publisher: DC Comics
Genre: Superhero

Format: Monthly comic
Issues:
1-6
Color: Full Color



REVIEW
Those in the bat-clan are known for their neuroses: deep-seeded pathology characterized by traumatic, calamitous events. Bring out your DSM-IV kids, because entire courses could revolve around the study of the bats.

In this series, Batgirl (Cassandra Cain) is out for revenge against two assassins. The first is Deathstroke who injected her with a mind-bending drug, making her an invaluable and insatiable killer. The second head she seeks – and more importantly – is that of her own father, David Cain, who raised her (“trained” is more like it) as a ruthless, devastating atom bomb of an assassin.

During her quest for revenge, Batgirl comes across two other females who seek these same men for similar reasons. Revenge, it seems, is not only driven by pain, but is epic in scope and swaddled in suffering.

During this six-issue miniseries, we learn David Cain’s abuse of Cassandra (and other sisters) was pathological and his conditioning relentless. David deprived her – but not the other sisters –of the ability to speak or read, limiting her social interactions and focusing her every moment on the art of death and destruction. She was his prize machine. Every decision was calculated to create a monstrous assassin.

Throughout the six issues, Cassandra not only has to deal with her equally neurotic and vengeful sisters-in-blood, but she must stop Cain and Deathstroke from building a new army of female foe hammers.

Cassandra risks her relationship with Batman et al. – the only real family she’s ever experienced – in order to kill her father. To do so she has to deceive Batman and seek her own justice outside the Bat’s ethical boundaries.

In issue #6, Cassandra finally meets up with her father and the two engage in a no-holds-barred physical and psychological showdown. In an emotional and important climactic ending, Cassandra beats her father leaving him hanging over the side of a building. Unsure what to do she sits and thinks all the while hearing his pleas for rescue and prison. After finally deciding on the high road, Cassandra rushes to the edge to spare his life as David’s grip loosens and he plummets to the concrete below. Batman and Robin then emerge.

Batgirl: “I waited – I should have –
Robin: “After all Cain’s done to you, the fact that you moved at all is impressive.”
Batman: “Agreed. You didn’t kill him and you could have. After everything, you tried to help. You’re free of the worst things he taught you." 


Of all the people to turn to, the bat-clan is the group mostly likely to understand and empathize with Casandra’s profound pain. They, too, know what it means to be seething and tortured and consumed with revenge. With them (Batman, Robin, Nightwing, and Alfred) she has a home and a family that knows just what she feels like.

BATGIRL works because the story is encased in deep emotional scaring and pain, something that many readers – be they teens or adults – live with. The story is not about caped heroes and super villains. It is about characters and how they, despite their costumes, are like us. (Batman and the accompanying characters are especially connected to the human condition because they don’t have super powers at all. Everything they do is brain and skill and gadget.)

Cassandra does not need saving by the big strong man, and she was not forced into traditional gender roles. Batgirl is her own woman who, along with any hero, journeyed with the help of others, but eventually prevailed on her own. She chose her path and broke free from the emotional and physical subjugation of her father. It was then that she could move forward and join a new family, a real family of masked and caped heroes with a purpose.


ART REVIEW
Calafiore’s art is sharp and astute. His panel movement is seamless and flows organically. The pain and emotion of the characters is dynamic. Casandra’s mask covers her mouth, and her eyes are darkened. The only defined element is the hand-sewn seam running across her nose and down the corners of her mouth – a symbolic and eerie mask that tells a lot about Casandra and her pain.


AGE RECOMMENDATION
Chris’ Rating: High School and older
Publisher’s Rating: Undetermined

The darkness of BATGIRL’s story is probably best suited for high school students and adults. However, I do not discount BATGIRL’s use in the proper middle school setting.


BE AWARE
The story is dark and full of violence, death, hatred, revenge, and childhood abuse.

IN THE CLASSROOM
BATGIRL is an authentic story of one girl who is trying to make sense of life and break free from the childhood pain she experienced. Casandra is also seeking redemption from the death and pain she inflicted on others while a brainwashed, drug-induced assassin. The hauntings of real life are exposed and raw, but at the same time are handled with maturity. Casandra finds a path to redemption and forgiveness, at least in the eyes of others. The hard part is, of course, in forgiving ones self.

Students will undoubtedly be engulfed in BATGIRL and find themselves thinking about the story outside of class and school. If handled properly, students will have the opportunity to delve into universal truths and literary themes while still reading a contemporary work that speaks to young persons.


OTHER INFORMATION
BATGIRL: REDEMPTION is available as a trade paperback. The story continues in an ongoing BATGIRL series, which comes highly recommended by my comic guy.

CHRIS’ RECOMMENDATION:
Highly Recommended

ZIG AND WIKKI IN SOMETHING ATE MY HOMEWORK

 
 
 
By Chris Wilson
Editor-in-Geek


Author: Nadja Spiegelman
Illustrator: Trade Loeffler
Publisher: Toon Books
Genre: Science & Sci-Fi

Format: Hardback
Pages: 40
Color: Full color
ISBN (13): 978-1-935179-02-3


STORY SYNOPSIS
No kid wants to hear those dread words: “Your homework is late again.” For kids like Zig it’s a common occurrence. He and his friend, Wikki, are making a trip to grandma’s house to pick up a pet for Zig’s classroom zoo. They get a bit off track, thanks to too much gaming, and their space ship ends up near Earth.

The two land and try to find a suitable pet for Zig to take to class. On their journey they discover a lot about animals and the food chain. From fly to dragonfly to frog to raccoon, with each possible pet, a larger predator comes along and devours the smaller leading the two to discover more and more about how the world works.


REVIEW
Nadja Spiegelman scrambles a science fiction setting and plot with nonfiction details about animals and the food chain, creating an engaging piece of science literature for kids.

The single-eyed, tentacle-armed Zig and electronic encyclopedia Wikki give kids the right dose of fantastical story with real life science taken right from the national standards. Their adventure almost gets them eaten, adding in excitement, but in the end they get their fly for the classroom zoo.

It is the sci-fi/nonfiction combo that does it for me. The story is so exciting for the reader because it makes use of two significant genres to tell the story (science and sci-fi). While Zig and Wikki act like humans, Earth’s creatures are not personified; they act like animals.

Throughout the book Wikki gives Zig (and the reader) all kinds of helpful hints about animals. We learn how flies eat (yuck) and how some frogs eat their own skin (even yuckier). Illustrator Trade Loeffler used real life pictures in these descriptions setting the fiction apart from the nonfiction. The two also included fun animal facts in the back.

ZIG AND WIKKI is a hit for young kids and is my absolute favorite Toon Book to date, a choice that is hard to make when the company publishes so many outstanding comic titles for kids.


 
AGE RECOMMENDATION
My Rating: Emergent Readers
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 4 and older (grades K-3)

Emergent readers will need help reading ZIG AND WIKKI at first, but it won’t be long when they can read it themselves.


IN THE CLASSROOM
ZIG AND WIKKI is the perfect introduction to the food chain for early readers. I would suggest using the book as a whole class read aloud using a document camera. Other Toon Books are available electronically for free at the Professor Garfield website and it could be that ZIG AND WIKKI will eventually make it there as well.


MY RECOMMENDATION:
Highly Recommended