Friday, July 30, 2010


Sample Art from page 15 of OPERATION AJAX.

By Chris Wilson

When video game artist turned college instructor Daniel Burwen read Steven Kinzer's historical accounts of CIA and other now declassified covert governmental operations, Burwen was inspired to bring true history to life. Using the technology made popular by the iPad, Burwen (Cognito Comics) teamed up with Daniel Brazelton (Tall Chair Inc.) to bring iPad users, comic lovers, history buffs, and teachers a technology-based comic titled OPERATION AJAX via an iPad app.

OPERATION AJAX is an historical account of the United States' first governmental sanctioned coup. Inspired by Kinser's book detailing the CIA's involvement in the coup of Iran in 1953, ALL THE SHAH'S MEN, Burwen created a "historical narrative" or the telling of an historical event sprinkled with small amounts of fictionalization in order to create a cohesive story.
Sample art from page 2 of OPERATION AJAX

"This is all based research. They are real events. It is a legitimate telling of history. We have the evidence," said Burwen. The research is based mostly on declassified governmental documents but also including news reports, photos, and other texts. Because it is inspired by Kinzer's work (and Burwen emphasized it was inspired and not adapted) that Kinser is editing the comic to ensure historical accuracy.

Burwen and Brazelton were both intrigued by the story because of the relevance to today. "This story is about oil politics and BP. It is a big piece of the puzzle of what has happened in the Middle East," said Burwen.

The merger of comics and technology has exploded with the invention of the iPad. Of course motion comics and electronic comics have been around for a while, but the iPad changed the availability and access to a wider audience and opened the door for more interactivity, which will be a key aspect of the comic.

We saw a sneak peak of OPERATION AJAX last week. The art is typical of mainstream American comic realism with bright colors and solid shadow work. The narrative structure starts out in the thick of the coup with a CIA operative (who goes unnamed in the comic because his name was redacted in the declassified documents) taking the reader through the events as he saw them, but also offering scenes of the narrator as an older gentlemen looking back on his place in history, giving the storytelling some complexity. OPERATION AJAX is not simply a timeline of events, which is a common mistake in the genre history comics, in my opinion.

Sample art from page 13 of OPERATION AJAX.

The team was very hush-hush about the specifics of the interactivity components until the app and comic go live this winter; however, they did say that readers will be able to control their experience making it as rich and deep as the readers chooses. Copies of actual documents, photos, news articles as well as other items will be available to the reader (if he or she chooses) without even leaving the comic.

Brazelton commented when he reads and comes across references to names or events with which he is unfamiliar he feels compelled to stop reading to look the reference up. "I'm the type of person who has to research every asterisk," said Burzelton. The idea is that the interactivity –– the reading of the comic combined with the checking of the research –– is a seamless and natural activity whereby the reader is never taken out of the story.

During my demo, I noticed the comic is similar to a motion comic. The big difference, as Burwen pointed out, is that motion comics are closer to movies on the spectrum while The Active Reader's approach is closer to a comic experience because the comic is not voiced (something students have not liked in our experience) and the reader can easily control the pace.

The Active Reader iPad app will debut this winter in the Apple App Store. The comic will likely be split into chapters, the first being free and the other nine likely costing between $1.99 a $2.99 each, although they could not confirm an actual cost yet. It was indicated that readers will have the opportunity to buy the entire comic for one reduced price.

While there are no plans to create a teacher version for an interactive whiteboard, the iPad does have video out capabilities, which means it could be cabled to a projector and then displayed on a Smart Board.

I am very excited to see the end product and we will preview it when we receive the full-blown comic. I think Burwen and Brazelton are on to something big, fun and educational.


By Chris Wilson

In 2007, I reviewed a title called HISTORY DUDES: EGYPTIANS published by DK. I enjoyed the book but gave it a Recommended with Reservations because it was designed for ages 9-12 but had some curse words in it (hell and damn). The recommendation has bothered me ever since because I know some of the books in my school library have those same words in it. I know most of my students hear those words at home on a regular basis and most parents would be completely unconcerned. I am unconcerned when it comes to my own daughter reading this series. I am quite liberal in what I allow my own child to read.

However, I also know there are some very protective parents in my community who would object. A parent once told me –– upon learning her child said the s-word in my class –– that she sat her kindergartner down and instructed the child that God would send her to hell to burn for eternity for using profanity.

So sometimes I am a bit conservative in my recommendations even if my own personal views are much more liberal. I try to balance those recommendations with honest and detailed reviews so teachers can make decisions based on their own communities and cultures. Because it has long bothered me, I have decided to modify the recommendation for HISTORY DUDES: EGYPTIANS.

While contemplating that move, I figured I might as well take a stab at HISTORY DUDES: VIKINGS. The use of profanity is less in this title: a “hell-bent”, a “pain in the asp” reference to a snake story (which I found funny), and the historical mention of the use of ale.

The historical information in this nonfiction book far outweighs any minor language. HISTORY DUDES: VIKINGS is a jocular encyclopedia of all things Viking. Raids, weapons, ships, clothing, culture, laws, homes, food preparation, jobs, gods, burial rites, colonization, and several stories of real Vikings are all combined in what is actually an illustrated encyclopedia which uses comic elements –– panels and dialogue bubbles. It’s not actually a comic.

HISTORY DUDES hammers at a niche of young readers who, for the most part, are often overlooked. It is nonfiction and humor combined to envelop kids who find no interest in fictional stories. Kids will laugh, especially at the more controversial parts, and find their place in the world of reading for enjoyment.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 9 and older
Publisher’s Rating: Ages 9-12

Author: Laura Buller
Illustrator: Rich Cando
Publisher: DK Children
Genre: History
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 64
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-0-75666-2940-3


Saturday, July 24, 2010


Blogger just added a share feature allowing you nice folks to share our articles on some of your favorite social networking sites. At the end of each post there are icons for your sharing pleasure. Use them often.


From the Editor

San Diego Comi-Con is the big news these days. Someday, I will make a pilgrimage to the World Series of comics and see it for myself. Like Bucky, I'd like to go to the American Library Association convention as well. That group promotes comics like nobody's business. We like them a lot. 

The Will Eisner Awards were announced during San Diego Comic-Con.  That is always a lot of fun to see. Good place to look for outstanding comics. 

The state university in my locale, Missouri State University, announced a class in comics for the summer. More and more universities are looking toward comics as for serious academic scholarship and the classes fill up. Imagine, students begging for academic scholarship. We need to support such things.

Dr. Carter pointed me this Canadian study regarding comics and boys and literacy. Boys are falling behind significantly in reading. It is my contention that comics may very well be the key to changing such trends. 

I've said it before: We teachers often educate the love of reading right out of kids. This study shows just that. For some reason teachers are reluctant to allow boys access to the genres and formats they want to read. So boys just quit reading.


From the Editor-in-Geek

Dr. James "Bucky" Carter –– of whom we often link and speak –– has a new book (along with Erik A. Evensen) coming out for teachers this fall. It will be published by Maupin Press.

SUBJECT: Word Study
GRADE LEVEL: 5 and older
  • 15 weeks of activities;
  • Word sorting of roots and affixes;
  • Extension activities;
  • Comics stories;
  • Elements of dual coding theory;
  • Language exploration and awareness theory;
  • Creative writing-based assessments;
  • The best of visual literacy and comics-as-literacy research.
Dr. Carter is well versed in education and comics and all of the works I've read from him have been outstanding. I look forward to getting a copy of the book myself.


From the Editor

Perhaps you knew the Army has for years utilized the comics format to effectively instruct soldiers on many an military procedure. I doubt you knew the modern Army created a comic to inform homosexual soldiers of their rights and responsibilities. I didn't know it, either until a friend of TGC sent me the link to this news article. The comic addresses those homosexual soldiers who have been outed by someone else and those who are considering coming forward of their own volition.

Offered from MSNBC's Rachel Maddow is an educational-style read aloud of the comic. So make your way to the carpet boys and girls and click on the link above to have your Big Book read to you forr the day. You have been informed.


From the Editor-in-Geek

Friends, geeks, banner fliers of nerdom, please remember that all of us at TGC read comics, write reviews, and create essays without any compensation besides the comics we receive. The hardworking staff writers do what they do to help teachers, librarians, parents and administrators use comics to help students of all ages increase their love affair with reading and literacy skills. using comics as one avenue. Be sure to let the writers know how much you enjoy their stories, or how you use their reviews by leaving a comment. They deserve to know their efforts are useful to the educational community. 

I sincerely appreciate every person who works for or assists The Graphic Classroom in any capacity. If you are interested in participating in some way, big or small, weekly, monthly, or semi-annually,please contact me. If you wrote your thesis or dissertation on comics, please send it our way. I would love to publish it.


The ever-expanding world of The Graphic Classroom is expanding with yet another addition to our staff of incredibly dedicated teachers who believe in the power of comics for students of all levels, which now includes the post-secondary sector.

Coming out of San Francisco State University with an MA in English Composition and a Teaching Post-Secondary Reading certificate, Ellen Ma has transformed from a comic book lover to an instructor who uses graphic novels in the classroom. After much enjoyment with using graphic novels in her college freshman English courses, Ma decided to further explore how instructors can use the text and images in a graphic novel to its fullest potential in order to meet students' needs in the composition classroom. Ma hopes that in the near future, she will be able to enter a Ph.D. program to conduct studies that may provide further insight on how one processes reading the text and images of a graphic novel.

A lover of films, comic books, video games, DIYs, and all things within "Geekdom", Ellen was born in New York and grew up in the Bay Area. Her favorite comic book writer will perhaps forever be Garth Ennis while Mike Carey and Warren Ellis are consistently fighting over for second place. 

Do not forget to read Ms. Ma's graduate thesis, available at The Graphic Classroom. Please help welcome Ms. Ma to the ranks of TGC. 


By Ellen Ma
Staff Writer

Before I came across this graphic novel, I never felt like Edgar Allan Poe’s writing seemed disturbing or suspenseful, most likely because I’ve always had a hard time picturing what he was saying. Out of sheer curiosity I picked up this graphic novel hoping it would be up to the challenge of depicting Poe’s frightening work and sure enough, I definitely got what I wanted.

Ten of Poe’s works have been primarily adapted by Rich Margopoulos and each of Poe’s original work follows the adaptation. I found myself very entertained in reading some of the adaptations because a different outcome might be presented compared to the original work. This then made me want to read Poe’s original work more careful and keep in mind what was different and similar. In the end, I wanted to compare and contrast the adaptation to the original and see if my understanding of both versions were the same or not. I was also thrilled to see that each adaptation was in a different setting: 19-century, country side graveyard, post-apocalyptic future, and even a high school reunion. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so connected to Poe until now.

Richard Corben’s well known for a number of horror comic titles, so who better to give the task to depict disturbing, frightening images than Corben? His style captures the entire essence of what feelings Poe most likely wanted to inflict upon his readers. Each story is beautifully drawn in black and white with tremendous details and definitely caused me to slow down my reading to examine each page. I will say again: Disturbing images are probably what stand out the most about this graphic novel.

My Rating: College
Publisher’s Rating: 18+ years old

This graphic novel is meant not to disgust but portray the horrors of what Poe’s work may have represented from the writer/artist’s perspective.

The examination of language and words would be an interesting aspect to explore. What words or phrases does Margopoulos choose as inspiration from Poe? Does this technique work well? Is Margopoulos’ tone similar to Poe’s? Why do you think some of the adaptations have a different ending than Poe’s original work? In regards to the different ending, I found this to be very intriguing because Margopoulos seemed to have his own perspective of what is horror or frightening story telling. Also, some of the endings from the adaptations were an actual conclusion, compared to Poe’s original work that could possibly leave a reader with an open interpretation. The adaptations felt like a great way for me to get into reading Poe’s original work and with keeping the adaptation in mind, I could pin point where the original work starts to differ compared to the adaptation. I really like the idea of reading an adaptation with the writer’s personal touch to it because I become open to forming my own interpretations or at least considering the work from a different perspective.

The images are also a notable part for discussion as well, since after reading the adaptation, the reader is given the original work in traditional text. What images were you imagining when you read the original work? Do you think you would have had a difficult time imagining what you were reading if you didn’t read the adaptation first?

Having students explore the writing and images in this graphic novel could lead students to understand word choice, tone, and the significance of different perspectives. This graphic novel is also a great collection of only some of Poe’s poems and stories.


Author: Rich Margopoulos, also including Rick Dahl
Illustrator: Richard Corben
Gray Tones: Richard Corben
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Genre: Horror
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 112
ISBN-10: 0785122796
ISBN-13: 978-0785122791


By Kevin Hodgson
Staff Writer

There is no way to do justice to the myriad of ways in which the stories of MEANWHILE, written and conceived by Jason Shiga, take shape. In fact, the book touts that there are actually 3,856 different possibilities of the narrative. I'll take Shiga's word for it but the way the stories branch off in various and unexpected ways is a pretty satisfying adventure for any reader. The comic is very nontraditional in that you use your finger to follow the story thread to various points, and then make decisions about the direction of the story of the main character, Jimmy, and follow the colored tubes off to tabs on other pages, weaving your way in and out of parallel storylines. Got that?
This is the explanation depicted in the book.
What emerges from the experience is an intensive tangle of narratives about a doomsday device, time travels and the reading of the minds of others, and all of it begins with a simple task before the main character (and the reader): vanilla ice cream or chocolate? Take my advice. Go for the chocolate. You won't be disappointed.


Shiga does such an impressive job with the layout and design of this book that the possibilities can overwhelm the colorful art at times. This is not a bad thing, per se, but it is very different from many comics. You look at a page, with its crisscrossing colored tubes, and sometimes you are reading it from right to left, or bottom to top, and you barely notice how cute Jimmy, the main character, can be or how detailed the backgrounds can be.

Page 35


Publisher’s Reading level: Ages 9-12
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 80
Publisher: Amulet Books
ISBN-10: 0810984237

You can also view an image of Shiga with his story on posted notes on a wall as a comic matrix.

You have to look for it, but there is a note on the index page in which Shiga explains how the book evolved from seven detailed flowcharts, which were later fed into a computer program to help come up with a layout for a book format. Unlike the book's website built on hyperlinks, here in the paper book format, Shiga uses colored tubes as pathways and your finger to track the progress of the story (or one of the stories). For young writers, it might be possible to narrow the scope of but still create a single flowchart for a story that has three to four different possibilities, and then design what that would look like, using the Choose Your Own Ending books as a model. It might also be interesting to have students read the book and then visit the website, and think about the different experiences as a reader of a book and a hyper-textual comic.


I would highly recommend this book for middle and high school classrooms. It's inventiveness is sure to engage thinkers of all abilities, although some younger readers may need some help with the initial navigation of the text. 

Sunday, July 11, 2010




By Chris Wilson

We all have our role to play, but when one of those roles gets changed –– reversed –– everyone's roles and lives go altogether catawampus. Good turns bad, bad in turn changes sides and when the heroes and villains have capes millions of people die. Thus is the story of Mark Waid's IRREDEMABLE and INCORRUPTIBLE.

IRREDEEMABLE explores the tension of living the heroic destiny and the pressure that comes with always being needed and loved (so long as you meet those expectations of need). More insidious and real is the pressure that beneath the need and love is a fear of the hero so profound that the fear permeates all social interactions no matter what level the relationship. Nearly god-like hero, Plutonian, can hear the fear on every human’s lips. He can hear heartbeats and worldwide conversations and he knows the love of him is superficial, fear-based, fake. His own foster family turned him away because of their fear of him, despite his good intentions, and so he seeks to prove humans wrong and he uses his powers for good. It is never good enough, and he finally cracks under the pressure of his own guilty, pain and too-good persona.

 Waid's narrative cleverly investigates both sides of the fear: the fear of a god-like superhero's powers by weaker beings, and the fear on the part of the superhero to always be in control, always cautious, always careful. An all-powerful being does not learn about eggshells and fear but through the painful teachings of life experience, leaving him with baggage and his own suffering and insecurities. To be free from unimaginable strength, to love and touch without fear of inflicting pain, to be weak and mortal, even for just a short time, is as coveted a prize as any other. Any such dream is short lived and so release comes only in the form of uncontrolled rage, eventually proving those fears correct.

The Plutonian embarks on a worldwide killing rampage, destroying entire cities, annihilating masses of innocent humans, and hunting down his own former teammates. We ride along with the Plutonian and sympathize with his former colleagues because we understand his struggle because we fear our own possible of loss of control.


INCORRUPTIBLE, on the other hand, is the story of Max Damage, who (if it could not be deduced from his name) is a villain. Observing The Plutonian's team change, inspects his own heart. Max's first act as hero is to burn his ill-gotten millions, abandon his headquarters and stop having sexual relations with his underage female sidekick.

His conversion is less satisfying if not less convincing, but it provides a much less emotional motivation than The Plutonian's. Once The Plutonian slips into the abyss of mass genocide, Max understands that 1) he is no longer needed as a villain and 2) the world needs someone to play the role of hero. Such dispassionate conversions introduce two questions: Was Max ever evil (he did kill people) or was he just filling a role? Are strong emotional components such as pain and guilt required for one to have a real conversion or for that conversion to stick?

The sister titles are a wart-filled exploration of the human condition that asks some pointed questions, not about superheroes, but about plain old boring human beings: Are any of us irredeemable or incorruptible? Are our deeds and actions indicative of our inner souls? Is there such a thing as a good soul or a bad soul or do some simply fill a needed role?

Mark Waid goes all in with a dynamite narrative perfect for the classroom.

The art is very representative of modern American comics. Every element is detailed and the characters are easily identifiable. The colors are bright and explosive.

Chris’ Rating: High school

There are a few curse words in both books, although there is more in INCORRUPTIBLE, as well as a couple of non-nude bedroom scenes.

Waid gives teachers an incredible story with which to investigate the hero and villain beyond black and white definitions or stereotypes. What makes a hero? Since we do not have superpowers in our real world, whom do we hold up as our heroes? Does that change depending on the age or generation of the person? Should some of our heroes really be heroes? How do they become heroes? How quickly do we abandon our heroes when they make mistakes, retire, or die?

I find these two characters, The Plutonian and Max Damage, incredibly interesting. One (Max) seems very analytical, calm and thoughtful, yet he is perceived to be maniacal and wild. On the other hand, The Plutonian is perceived to be in control when in reality he is the one fighting to always fight back his urges to let loose, which means destruction.

The Plutonian has a lot in common with humanity. The resistance of primal urges is a cornerstone of civilized society. Adolescents, in particular must work hard to control the mind and body –– an easier job for some than others –– in order to become good global citizens. IRREDEEMABLE offers something for students that has been heretofore inaccessible or at the very least less prominent: a look at good guys and bad guys from a new perspective. I find two things very compelling for the classroom: 1) The fight to control ones feelings and emotions, and 2) the imagery of who we are versus who others think we are and how that perception fuels our outcomes.

Author: Mark Waid
Illustrator: Peter Krause and John Cassady
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Genre: Superhero

Format: Paperback
Volumes: 1-3
Pages (v1): 128
Pages (v2): 112
Pages (v3): 112

Color: Full color
ISBN-13 (v1): 978-1-93450-690-5
ISBN-13 (v2): 978-1-60886-000-5
ISBN-13 (v3): 978-1-60886-008-1

Author: Mark Waid
Illustrator: Jean Diaz
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Genre: Superhero

Format: Paperback
Volume: 1
Pages: 128
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-1-60886-015-9

Highly Recommended
Despite the fact that there is some cursing in both books, but mostly in INCORRUPTIBLE, and a couple of bedroom scenes, I find these books worthy of the high school (perhaps even some middle school) classes.


From the Editor,

Ellen Hua Ma, San Francisco State University, submitted for publication her graduate thesis on the use of comics in the college composition classroom. We are excited to bring this research to you. Ma also joined The Graphic Classroom ranks as a staff writer, and she's already submitted her first review. We are very excited to have the perspective of a person in the post-secondary education world.

Graphic Novels for the College Composition Classroom