Saturday, April 24, 2010


This Saturday is the annual FCBD that we've covered since our inception. You can read about Free Comic Book Day here. Don't forget to promote it with your students and to go yourself. It's a great way to get introduced to new titles. 

Nationwide event
Saturday, May 1
Local participating comic book store


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

I recently had the opportunity to interview author Barbara Slate, who has written and illustrated many comics and graphic novels and just put out a fantastic new book for teaching graphic novels from the view of writing them. The book is called, appropriately enough, YOU CAN DO A GRAPHIC NOVEL. We published a review of the book here at The Graphic Classroom but I wanted to follow up with an interview with Barbara about her entry into the world of comics and why she wrote this book
The interview is in two sections.

In the first part, Barbara talks about how she got into the field, some gender elements of the business, why she wrote her recent book and other interesting tidbits. In the second part, I asked her specifically about how to help teachers who want to bring graphic novels into the classroom as a writing activity, but don’t quite know how to begin. 

Podcast, Part 1 (general information)
Podcast, Part 2 (focus on writing graphic novels with students)


By Chris Wilson

Author: Jean Regnaud
Illustrator: Émile Bravo
Translator: Vanessa Champion
Publisher: Fanfare, Ponent Mon
Genre: Realist Fiction

Format: Hardcover
Pages: 120
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-84-96427-85-3

On my way out the door to my daughter’s cheerleading/gymnastics practice, I grabbed MY MOMMY: IS IN AMERICA AND SHE MET BUFFALO BILL thinking it would

  1. Be a quick read for me
  2. Be a cute book for my primary students

I was right about it being a quick read (45 min) but I was completely wrong in thinking it was appropriate for children.

I equate MY MOMMY with, say, a powerful and mostly over-looked independent film. The portrayal of children is eerily quaint and unsettling but accurate in terms of both the sadness many kids experience, and the accuracy with which the child’s mentality is written.

Young Jean has no idea his mother isn't on vacation. We know something is wrong because we are adults who have lived and we know what he's in for; it is not pleasant although it is life – real life. I teach little boys and girls like this everyday. Progressing through the comic it becomes clear that the time for the purposefl delusion of poor Jean, by those who are around him, is at its end.

To hear of one’s mother’s death from the next-door neighbor is unconscionable, but nonetheless a reality for Jean. The fact that he finds out about Father Christmas – this is a French story – at the same time means little Jean’s childhood ends abruptly.

“That evening in bed, I tell myself that Mommy is like Father Christmas … I’m too old now to believe in her …”. The image following this text is so childlike yet heart wrenching that I cannot bear to describe it to you. It makes me too sad.

Regnaud ends the story with an amazing childlike clarity and resolve. Jean is not depressed and ready to die. He is not angry, at least on the outside. He does what children do: He moves on. Jean goes back to school to find a new teacher, a much younger teacher, who is erasing the goodbye message from the old and hateful teacher. This one seems nice and we can tell that Jean will live. How well-adjusted and happy he will be is unknown, but I have my suspicions.

It’s not a happy story; it’s not a pretty-ribbon story. MY MOMMY is an authentic story, one that deserves its place among the highly acclaimed. Its sum is greater than its 120 pages and it is worth the read, even if it is a gut-punch of worse things likely to come.

Bravo makes use of frameless panels, or if you prefer, panels without black outlines bordering them. He does not always use this technique, but it makes up the bulk of the pages. It’s something I’ve seen with other French comic creators.

The backgrounds are uncluttered, often completely muted, giving a nice center to the characters. The lettering is also distinct from traditional uppercase fonts. It’s quite easy to read, but strikingly different from the American norm.

Chris’ Rating: High school
There is nothing overly difficult regarding the decoding of text. The vocabulary is straightforward and uncomplicated. It is the content of the story that makes the book most appropriate for older readers.

The story takes on serious and painful topics such as parental abandonment, death and the revelation of Saint Nick.

If I were a child development, counseling, psychology, or social work instructor I would use MY MOMMY in class to discuss the nuts and bolts of child behavior and prepare my students for the world that awaits their profession.

Highly Recommended with Reservations
I have no complaints about MY MOMMY. It is brilliant. However, I think thigh school eachers should use caution because of the power of the story and the immediate connections and emotional ramifications MY MOMMY might bring to the surface in some students. I am inclined to think of this book as most appropriate (and Highly Recommended) for college students and adults.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


By Chris Wilson

Okay, boys and girls, it’s time to rock the mature, fanboy side of comics – and to celebrate the adult form. I make no apologies for my review, my language, or my excitement, but bear in mind, I’m talking comics and movies and not K-12 education. There is nothing about this comic, movie (or review for that matter) that is for kids, and I cannot imagine any of it appropriate for any K-12 classroom. This is full of intensely profane, saucy, smutty, scandalous, vulgar, violent, comic-movie geekdom. Proceed with full consent, a utility belt full of anticipation, and a good sense of humor.

Back in January I saw my first trailer for KICK-ASS and I nearly came undone thinking this would be the ultimate kinda-naughty-but-probably-okay-for-my-daughter super hero movie. I missed the comic unveiling. “Sure, there is that butt word in the title, but that’s probably the worst of it,” thought I. Then I saw the R-rated trailer. Sweet Judas Priest! When I saw the 11-year-old Hit Girl call her soon-to-be adult victims “cunts” then proceed to hack-and-slash them like a human vegematic, I rethought this movie as more appropriate for a guys night out with my crew, my peeps, my boys. Truth be told, I was even more excited to see a movie that had the testicular fortitude to take on such a bold approach. I was all in. 

 Speaking of the gonads, KICK-ASS has two of them – big old puppies made of cast iron that hang low and swing wide. The whole kit and caboodle of the KICK-ASS franchise is a mincemeat cobbler of AMERICAN PIE, THE BOYS, and KILL BILL. The adolescent humor in AMERICAN PIE is more prevalent in the movie version than the comic, but only slightly. Both are as irreverent and shocking as THE BOYS comic from Dynamite and the violence, pop culture references and use of music are reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s movies (KILL BILL and PULP FICTION) – channeling the ability to make you laugh at the most horrific and grotesque of scenes add to the disturbing and entertaining nature of the movie. If that’s a bad thing, then I’m a bad boy because I don’t care.

The comic-movie conglomerate works for several reasons, but the most important element is that the comic-turned-movie is not entrenched with an established mythos. Free of the dogma that constrains so many comic-related movies, KICK-ASS is able to have a book and movie that are both enjoyable, but individual at the same time, giving the director some leeway in adapting the comic for the silver screen.

KICK-ASS takes itself seriously as a comic art form, but it is not stupid slapstick, snobbish literature, or an elitist art house film. The source material and the film understand the complexities and sometimes-ridiculous nature of superheroes and weave the campy nature into a perfectly rendered art form. It is everything a fanboy loves, needs and wants.

The movie takes the camp a step further by using the actors to balance the serious and the absurd in a yin-yang of taut yarn. The acting performances of Big Daddy (Nicholas Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) were exceptionally good. Big Daddy was a superb 60s Batman spoof and Hit Girl was the epitome of girl power: trained comic book assassin with childlike perspectives. She cares nothing for dollies, but does carry a Hello Kitty backpack in the comic.

I have been disappointed before when I read comics or novels and then watched a movie adaptation. I did not run out and buy the KICK-ASS comic even when I found it on sale at a local comicon. I knew I would not be able to resist and would read it first.

Instead, I choose to employ my long-held hypothesis that movie adaptations of comics or books are significantly less irritating (hence more enjoyable) if I read the title after the movie. My thinking is that I will be able to interweave both into my schema as cohesive but individual art forms, allowing me to enjoy both.

I saw the movie last night, then downloaded all eight comics to my iPad and read them this morning. Good luck finding copies of the trade paper and forget about first printings of the eight issues.

I loved the movie and the comic. Loved them. Is that because of my purposeful approach, the dogma-free storyline, or the closeness of the movie to the vision of the source material? I cannot really say without testing my hypothesis further. I will simply tell you I am in love with both.

Despite my movie-first-then-read hypothesis, I am compelled to compare and contrast both forms and approaches. After all, the comic is the source material and the movie is simply an adaptation.

As with any movie adaptation, the screenwriters integrated several scenes from the book into one movie element. I guess that’s okay. It worked. Conglomerations are typical and were not significant issues for me. The way some characters interacted was very different. All of the costumes, except Kick-Ass’, were changed significantly. Big Daddy was a scruffy, biker type in the comic, but more of a poindexter in the movie. Interestingly, the geeky movie version of Big Daddy seemed a better hand-to-hand combatant.

The climactic ending was changed. The characters’ impetus for coming together was vastly different, but the ultimate violence and feeling were the same. In the comic, Big Daddy had a secret, secret origin unbeknownst even to Hit Girl, an element that was scrubbed from the movie adaptation. There are other changes, but they are mostly minor.

KICK-ASS is a nerdgasm of awesomeness, one that celebrates all things superhero and takes the adult comic genre into new savage and smutty levels. I can sum it all up in three words: KICK-ASS has tunk! Damn straight.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


From the Editor,

Free Comic Book Day – one of my favorite days of the year. FCBD is just what it says, if you can fathom such a thing. Customers may walk into participating comic book stores (three-fourths of my local comic shops participate) and walk out with a free comic book(s). I go over year, hit all the stores, and come back with loads of comics that I can give away to kids during presentations, local speaking engagements, or at the end of the Hall of Heroes comic book club the following year. 

I encourage students to go to the comic shops themselves and get their own comics. I even provide names and addresses of my local stores to help students and parents. Click here to see a list of the comics offered to comic shops for FCBD. (Not all shops will order all titles.) As you can see, there is a strong emphasis on kid-friendly comics in order to build the upcoming consumer. 

Every teacher knows the importance of reading and research clearly demonstrates the significance of readers having choice in what they read as it applies to reading motivation. According to my research I did on my thesis, comics rank high among kids. All of this is solid reason to encourage students of all reading levels to pick up comics, especially during FCBD. 

Free Comic Book Day (FCBD)
Saturday, May 1
Local Comic Book Shop

Go forth and read!


By Chris Wilson

Author: Appollo and Lewis Trondheim
Illustrator: Lewis Trondheim
Publisher: First Second
Genre: Historical Drama

Format: Softcover
Pages: 288
Color: Black and white
ISBN-10: 1-59643-258-6
ISBN-13: 978-1-59643-258-1

From the website: “It is 1730 when Raphael Pommeroy arrives in the West Indies with his ornithology professor. They’re supposed to be in search of the almost-extinct dodo … but Raphael is quickly entranced with the piratical inhabitants of the island, becoming obsessed with their vision of a world where all people are free and equal, regardless of their skin color. Drama unfolds on Bourbon Island as all the inhabitants race to find the treasure secretly cached on their island – and reveal their inner selves in doing so."

BOURBON ISLAND 1730 is not an action-adventure thrill ride with swashbuckling pirates running their enemies through at every turn. It is a subdued historical drama full of tumultuous underpinnings that communicates important intricacies in human governance then and now.

That is not to say that BOURBON ISLAND is a staid comic. It is rambunctious and full of dissent and discontent – a wonderfulct concoction for the angst-filled adolescent. The characters, illustrated as animals, were richly conceived and executed, giving the reader plenty to digest.

I found myself reminiscing about my first experience (high school) reading Mark Twain’s HUCKLEBERRY FINN. I drew parallels to the ways that Twain used his characters to talk to us about our own attitudes and beliefs and the way that humans devalue other humans.

One will notice, right off, the extensive use of the word “Negro” throughout the story. Indeed, the island is full of aristocrats, pirates-turned-plantation owners, slaves, run-away slaves, pardoned pirates living off the land, and slave hunters.

The hobble-gobbled mixture of peoples makes for competing ideals and subversive attempts to change the world. All the while, a group of ornithologists make their way through the jungle to find the elusive dodo bird.

BOURBON ISLAND is exceptional and I wish I had an adult book club to talk with about it. I could not get enough of the ISLAND and was disappointed when it ended.

Chris’ Rating: High School

BOURBON ISLAND would be lost on younger students. I think many high schoolers will need assistance in making the most out of the book and connecting it to American history and contemporary culture. For those who attempt it, I think the discussion and learning could be outstanding.

The f-bomb is launched, although it is done so appropriately for the subject, time and characters. Other minor curse words also appear. I mean, really. Many of the inhabitants are pirates, French plantation owners, slaves, slave hunters and heavy drinkers.

I highly recommended two techniques when using BOURBON ISLAND 1730 in the classroom: twin texts, and a pre- and post-test.

Historical context is everything when looking at period piece, especially when it involves policies and politics. To grasp the graphic novel, one must first access some prior knowledge and have a foundation – a context – in which to place the story.

I would consider a pre- and post-test to help guide the learning. The words and concepts could include: ornithology, colonialism, slavery, geography (Bourbon Island, Madagascar, West Indies), real life pirates, America’s underground railroad, and politics. By the way, I would use my interactive white board (SmartBoard or Prometheus) and use Google Maps or Google Earth to explore the geography and typography of the West Indies.

After the pre-test but before the students read a single page I would ask the students to think about what ornithology is, but don’t let them discuss it … yet. Then direct them to specific vocabulary words in the first chapter (titled “The Birds”): waterfowl, specimens, albatrosses, diomedea melanophris genus, dodo, expedition, and ornithology (pg 40). Have students pay special attention to the backdrop of the panels. What, besides the characters, is illustrated? Anything drawn more than others? Why? Why is Mr. Despentes traveling to Bourbon Island?

The purpose is to get students to look at comic literature beyond the words, but to see the text and images as a singular unit. In other words, I would ask the students to read the words and art and parse the definition of ornithology without looking it up on the Internet or in the dictionary. They should use semantic and syntactic cues derived from both the text and art and be able to cite specific passages.

This same approach could be used throughout the graphic novel to help students gain a deep understanding of the story being told.

I would pair this reading with a historical text related to slavery or colonialism, depending on your class. Perhaps, even a book of historical photographs would work as well. The goal is to give students a look at a slavery or colonialism using both fiction and nonfiction, helping them to connect with history.

Click here for a preview.

Highly Recommended

Saturday, April 10, 2010


From the Editor,

I could not help myself. A week ago today, the Apple iPad was released. Late in the afternoon, I went to my local independent Apple dealer to try one out. By the end of the day I had purchased my own. 

The first thing I did was download several comic apps and comics (some free and some I paid for). I have read a few comics (old and new) to try the thing out. I'll publish a comprehensive review later. I will say I love the device for comic reading.

In other news, my earthquakes unit for grades 3-4 is coming to a close. The students are creating their glogs (Glogster Edu version) and answering at least three questions about earthquakes. It's all very exciting and began with a ... comic. 

So what came in this week? Let's see:

  1. Amelia Rules! When the Past is a Present
  2. Black Widow and the Marvel Girls TPB
  3. The Lone Ranger #21
  4. Olympians: Athena–Grey-Eyed Goddess
  5. Red Robin #11  
  6. Thor and the Warriors Four #1 (of 4) 




By Chris Wilson

Created by: Bryan J. Glass & Michael Avon Oeming
Author: Bryan J. Glass

Illustrator (Vol. 1): Michael Avon Oeming
Colors (Vol. 1): Wil Quintana
Lettering (Vol. 1): James H. Glass

Illustrator (Vol. 2): Victor Santos
Colors (Vol. 2): Veronica Gandini
Lettering (Vol. 2): James H. Glass

Publisher: Image Comics
Genre: Animal Fantasy
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 180 pages each
Color: Full color
ISBN-13 (Vol. 1): 978-1582408712
ISBN-13 (Vol. 2): 978-1607062578

Long ago the god Wotan chose the warrior-priest Kuhl-En to bring truth and harmony to the Dark Lands. There he stood on the threshold of evil, alone. His hope inspired many to take up his cause, eventually leading to the creation of the Templar, a loyal brotherhood of protectors of the natural balance between light and dark.

As the fields of wheat grew, died and grew again, the story of Kuhl-En became legend then myth. Many Templar, known as the Revisionists, grew to see the story of Kuhl-En as a tale of good rather than the actual truth from god Wotan, as the traditionalists saw it. The two factions fought for control of the Templar leading them to a misguided strike and a civil war. Few on either side lived and those that did scattered, some retreating back into society while others trained new recruits. The leader that won took his control and turned it into tyranny.

THE MICE TEMPLAR is the story of Karic, a boy who is believed by some to be a new prophet from Wotan, one who will set the order right again and send the dictator and his rats and weasels back to their rightful place.

THE MICE TEMPLAR is an intoxicating saga of competing ideologies. It is a story of power, or rather the struggle to supplant those in (and on the other side the attempt to maintain) power – and this entire endeavor in the name of their god Wotan.

Boiled down, TEMPLAR is about usurping a tyrannical leader who is holding the world of mice hostage, destroying their lands and imprisoning their people. The religious subtext is strong and captivating, aligning well with the religious warmongering in our world. The traditionalists and revisionists still hold grudges toward one another’s beliefs, and the priests living in the Great Ash Tree, who spoke on Wotan’s behalf and dispensed his wisdom, also became corrupt from their own desires for control.

How will young Karic the chosen one (if he is indeed chosen) reunite the people who have been so hurt and pained by one another? How can he glue together such deep fractures? He is on his own journey, the hero’s journey, to meet his destiny.

In the beginning, the yarn feels almost formulaic, but as the narrative unfolds, Glass – being keen on creating something fresh and interesting – takes unexpected avenues from the typical hero story. The first surprise being the fact that Karic’s sage guide is a deceiver, and luckily for Karic the guide is discovered, thwarted and replaced.

Glass develops a strong balance between character development and action, giving the story a brisk pace without rushing the tale for the sake of swordplay. Like any good fantasy story, there is plenty of blood-spurting action: decapitations, impalings, amputations, eye-gougings, and digit loss.

The number of characters grows significantly throughout the two volumes, which requires careful reading to prevent confusion. I do not, however, consider that a fault, but it can be problematic to illustrate so many distinct mice with large ears and still keep them discernable to the reader. Glass inserts enough descriptive dialogue and narrative labels to help the reader differentiate.

I simply could not put THE MICE TEMPLAR down. I read it while working out in the mornings, in place of television at night, and on the weekends. I took my time and absorbed the art and story, reread pages, and enjoyed every second of the experience.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 12 and older
There is no profanity or nudity. There is a lot of fantasy violence, very bloody violence in fact, that makes the book best for teens. With that stated, I have fourth grade students who I know would be actively engaged in this story, but whose parents might object because of the violence. I would only provide it to elementary students with parental permission.

There is extensive fantasy sword violence with blood and death.

I work with one student who requires stronger material to keep his attention. When presented with comics and novels meant for teens, he reads with a passion and fervor unseen in other students. He devours books in lieu of video games and television, then comes back begging for more. With parental permission, I will check out THE MICE TEMPLAR to him knowing full well he will be at door the very next morning, 30 minutes before school starts, begging to talk about the story.

THE MICE TEMPLAR is ripe with modern day connections to religion and war, giving rise to study in many different classes.
  • Trust
  • Using of ideologies to manipulate a group and establish a dictatorship over all
  • Destiny and fate
  • Religious leaders becoming corrupt from their own aspirations for power
  • Disputes over religious textual interpretations leading to fractions and civil war
  • The trials of uniting enemies against a third and common enemy

How is TEMPLAR similar to the American Civil War? How does our ideology affect our relationships with friends, family, and strangers? How does religion play a part in war? What leads brothers and sisters to kill one another over a belief system? Can people of diametrically opposing viewpoints live in harmony? How have religious beliefs influenced wars past or present?

I envision high school English and social studies teachers collaborating on a unit using THE MICE TEMPLAR. The literature teacher talks about the themes, the monomyth, and the narrative while the social studies teacher uses the TEMPLAR to connect with previous and current wars, social impact of religion, and the installation of hope on an oppressed people. Of course, there would be plenty of cross-over, but I think it could make for a robust and influential unit. Discussions could carry over into both classes and teachers could each take a figurative side exposing the students to different viewpoints, making them think through the complex implications of our decisions and actions.

Highly Recommended 


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

Julian Calendar is a middle school nerd, through and through, but he sees a chance to shake that image when his family moves to a new town and he starts in a new school. He is determined NOT to be an outcast due to his brains but the plan falls apart quickly. Julian is not one who can blend in with the common kid, and so begins THE SECRET SCIENCE ALLIANCE AND THE COPY CAT CROOK by Eleanor Davis. Julian soon finds two other friends who are as nerdy, in a cool way, as he is and their prowess in science and math lead them on an adventure to solve a crime. A local scientist is trying to steal something from the museum (it's a hat!) and the Science Alliance kids are on the case, with spring-loaded shoes, a homemade helicopter and super sticky glue bombs. In the end, the nerds rule the day and a love of science propels these three heroes forward, hopefully into another story in the future.

The graphic novel is colorful and fun with plenty of very detailed full-page illustrations by Davis, including the Science Alliance's underground hideout. One particular page that I found enjoyable was the one that showed all the ways in which Julian is a nerd, with arrows pointing to parts of his body. 

Click the image to enlarge.

Reading level: Ages 9-12
Format: Paperback
Pages: 160
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children's Books
ISBN-10: 1599903962

Click here for a preview of SECRET SCIENCE ALLIANCE.

This is a story about characters overcoming peer perceptions and using their strengths for good and for fun. Students could compare Julian and his friends to characters from other stories they have read and compare how outsiders are often used as narrative devices for novels (including graphic novels). Another interesting angle of discussion: Why are kids who are smart in science and math always viewed as outsiders who are too smart for their own good instead of being celebrated for their mental acuity?

I recommend this book and think is appropriate for elementary and middle school classrooms. The plot is not very original and fairly predictable, but the novel moves along at a nice pace. There is nothing inoffensive in here, unless being a brainiac is something that still rubs you the wrong way. The book is a fun read.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


I couldn't help it. I had to rip down to the local independent Mac dealer and test drive the iPad. The store's entire shipment has been spoken for as has the incoming shipment. I haven't ordered one yet, but I am excited to experience comics on the device. 

I went to App store with the iPad and searched for comics specifically designed for the iPad platform. Here's what I found:

Comic Reader Mobi
iVerse Comics
Marvel Comics
SketchBook Mobile

Considering that Toon Books just came out with an iPhone app, it won't be long until our children are reading their first comics on the iPad. I am envisioning all kinds of educational impacts of this device in the classroom (and personally). Considering one can blog, facebook, glog, read, surf, shop, type documents, presentations and spreadsheets – all on a device that is fast, light and easy to hold and carry – I can't help but think it will change the way John Q. Public will consume (and even produce).


From the editor,

You might notice that we posted two review of the same title this week. We thought it best considering Greek mythology is on everyone's mind right now (Clash of the Titans and Percy Jackson and the Olympians movies).

We picked up a lot of titles this week:

Female Force: Ellen DeGeneres
Legendary Talespinners #2
Political Power: Nelson Mandela
Political Power: Bill Clinton
Previews #259
Usagi Yojimbo #127

We also got a pack of K-3 comics from Boldprint Kids. Too many titles to list, but that is exciting. I can't wait to use these with my emergent readers.



By Nate Stearns
Staff Writer


I’d like to start this review with what I consider to be a shameful secret about my past. If you are one of my students reading this review, please stop reading unless you want your opinion of me to be dramatically lowered. When I was in middle school, I was somewhat obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons (shocker, I know), so much so that my friends and I would drag out DEITIES AND DEMIGODS, fight over who got Zeus and who got Odin, and then do terrible battle with icosahedrons. Hit points and lightning bolts flew. It didn’t matter if you were fighting Odin or Anubis or 1000 chaos dragons, Zeus always won.

Which is why, when I read George O’Connor’s ZEUS: KING OF THE GODS all of that came rushing back. But O’Connor’s Zeus is not the white-bearded, thunderbolt thrower that we usually think of when we think of Zeus. This story goes back to the less well-known origins of Zeus and his battle for existence against his Titan father Kronos. Kronos — no candidate for either father or son of the year—had killed his own Daddy (the sky aka Ouranos) in order to reign supreme over the Earth. Fearing the same might happen to him, Kronos got in the habit of swallowing whole all of his children.

Luckily for Zeus, he has people on his side. Rhea (Kronos’ wife) and Gaea (Kronos’ mother) conspire to trick the titan into believing that a crude stone baby is Zeus (apparently Kronos, despite his omnipotence, has substandard taste buds). Zeus is then raised by a small army of nymphs on a small island and grows up to look more or less like a blonde Skeet Ulrich. He then uses more trickery to force Kronos to cough up all of his brothers and sisters and instigate a massive Titans vs. gods conflagration that would last for decades and turn the earth from a paradise of milk and honey into a smoking husk.

Students who are used to being confronted with Greek mythology in Edith Hamilton will find this graphic novel series as a welcome change. The stories are suited for the graphic treatment and the superhero style seems legitimate in describing the stories of immortal adventurers. The violence is sketched in true superhero fashion in mostly PG-style carnage and most hints of sex or adult themes are discretely addressed. For instance, Zeus cavorts with nymphs on the island in a very innocent, giggly middle school sort of way. When Zeus wins an important battle, Hera runs her fingers through his hair and mentions, “Your hair…It looks nice.” Which is a line that somehow never got included in Bullfinch’s Mythology.

One of the most obvious uses of this book is as a template for students in rendering other stories in this style. Many other battle stories from other myths (say the Ramayana or Ragnarök) would work well as subjects. Applications such as ComicLife and websites such as ToonDoo can help kids convert these stories into comic strips.

Highly Recommended for middle school and high school students

Author: George O’Connor
Illustrator: George O’Connor
Publisher: First Second
Genre: Mythology

Format: Softcover
Pages: 78
Color: Color
ISBN-13: 978-1-59643-431-8


By Chris Wilson

Author & illustrator: George O’Connor
Publisher: First Second
Genre: Greek Mythology

Format: Softcover
Pages: 80
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-59643-431-8

ZEUS: KING OF THE GODS is the story of how the universe came to be according to Greek mythology. It all started with Gaea or Mother Earth. She was lonely and desired a companion so she created Ouranos (the sky) and thus time began. The two conceived children, many children in fact, the first of which were the 12 Titans, eternal and beautiful. There were others: the three Cyclops and the three Hekatonchieres.

Ouranos was jealous and he imprisoned the Cyclops and the Hekatonchieres into Tartarus, which angered their great mother, Gaea, and so she got her Titan son, Kronos, to attack her sky husband with a sickle of adamantine. Kronos then sat on his mountain throne as the lord of the universe.

Kronos and his Titan sister, Rhea, bore children. Just like his father, Kronos was also concerned about the power of others so he ate his immortal children. Thanks to the quick thinking of Rhea, a switch was made with the last of the children, saving baby Zeus from the fate of his brothers and sisters, allowing the rest of the story to unfold.

ZEUS is the story of the universe and the war between Kronos and his children leading to Zeus’s eventual seat as king of the gods.

The time before Zeus is a lesser-known aspect of Greek mythology than, say, the stories of the gods meddling in the business of humankind. With that said, the stories are no less exciting.

I found ZEUS, the first book in the OLYMPIANS series by First Second, to be incredibly electrifying. The constant barrage of deceit, attacks, sons usurping fathers, wives tricking husbands, and the fact that the being at the center of the universe is female, made the story gripping and had me asking questions, a device O’Connor used purposefully.

Why is Metis, Zeus’ girlfriend, never mentioned after page 48? What happened to Kronos’ sickle, which used to destroy his own father? It inexplicably disappears on page 61. These elements are not mistakes. O’Connor was smart in his knowledge that more questions leads to further investigation. Perhaps the answers will show up in subsequent titles? Either way, the effect works well giving the reader something to ponder and something to look forward to in future installments.

The OLYMPIANS is a hit series for First Second and O’Connor. The connection between these myths and modern super heroes burns from the page and they will, no doubt, excite students of all ages.

“Oh, now that’s cool,” I said to myself when I took ZEUS out of its envelope and gazed at the cover. The midnight blues; the stars and smoke; and the ominous creatures set the backdrop for the ever-powerful, angry, brooding, golden-headed, lightning encircled Zeus with ripped pecs. In his grasp and his eyes is foil-blasted electricity cracking across the void. War is obviously afoot and O’Connor’s cover makes it impossible not to flip through the pages.

The Titans are mostly enigmatic creatures: mountainous, naked, shadowed. Only their shapes are illustrated. In most cases, even their eyes are hidden from the reader, with the exception of Kronos, in whose eye sockets lives the infinite universe.

You may have noticed I used the term “naked”. Much of Greek art depicts the natural human form, naked and beautiful. Culturally, it is appropriate to show the human body in a Greek text. O’Connor takes great care to conceal the breasts and genitals either using shadows or nature. Zeus, himself, is shirtless on top and covered in a loincloth below.

Chris' Rating: Ages 9 -11 with parental permission, Ages 12 and older open access
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 9-14

There are only two issues that might cause concern for the elementary teacher, but no so much for the middle school instructor. There is only one word of profanity and it is on page 31: “Prophecy be damned. We will … I will … not be beaten by brats like you.” Pretty innocuous language, really.

The nakedness of the characters will likely cause the most concern. While nothing is gratuitous, and it appears that O’Connor considered the issue, some of the characters are without clothing, although they are always tactfully hidden in shadows or by nature.

George O’Connor’s title starts out hot on the academic tracks with an Olympian family tree graphic. I love maps, charts, and graphs and we teach our students to develop their own graphic organizers. The inclusion of the family tree makes perfect sense for a book marketed to kids. An interactive version of this family tree is available here.

He goes on to include some informational pages on key players (Zeus, the Cyclopes, Metis, and Kronos), discussion questions, as well as an annotated notes section giving more details, explanations, clues, and questions regarding specific pages and panels. O’Connor also included a bibliography and recommended readings. All of these are excellent additions for any book in the classroom. I do wish, however, they would have included a pronunciation guide to help students with the unfamiliar names. Perhaps they will do so in future installments. I use this pronunciation guide with my students.

The circular nature of life – the repetitive mistakes made from generation to generation – is brutally apparent giving the teacher a chance to talk about history and of ending the cyclical mistakes we make, be it in our individual family unit or as a country.

The numbers three and 12 are present in the myth, giving rise to the literary and cultural connections to those significant numbers.

Teachers would be well advised to drop the hammer on Greek mythology this Spring. I say this because of the influx of Greek myth-related movies and books. PERCY JACKSON AND THE OLYMPIANS has been a popular traditional book series and movie for kids. The new CLASH OF THE TITANS movie, about Perseus and Medusa, is playing now. Both will renew the interest in mythology with students.

The official OLYMPIANS website has a lot of details. They offer a section for teachers, which includes a teachers guide (pdf) and reading group guides (pdf). 

Other titles in the series include: ATHENA, HADES and HERA. Keep an eye out for those. Click here for the official Olympians home page.

Highly Recommended