Monday, June 27, 2011


By Chris Wilson

How do you keep alive – fresh, relevant and interesting –– characters and stories that have been ongoing for decades? The interplay between rabid fanboys and fangirls, readers who come and go as life demands, and new faces to comics must make creators and publishers writhe with full body dry heaves.

Relaunches, reboots, restarts, re-numberings, remakes, retellings … fans have been through it all more than once. When DC Comics announced it’s re-whatever last month (catch up on the brouhaha here), with 52 titles being revamped, redone, re-numbered and re-costumed, the comic world went topsy-turvy with speculation, anticipation, revulsion in some cases (Batgirl), and remembrance of gimmicks past.

What’s a fan-teacher supposed to do?

Putting aside fandom and our desperate attachment to certain characters, certain ways of doing things, and certain defined histories and backstory, the teacher’s outlook is not so controversial and in fact the classroom may very well benefit from such moves. It’s easy, really.

The news gives rise to the hook. It is quite useful to use news as a treble hook in the student gills to increase interest in reading and discussion. Gimmick or no, a number one issue is appealing. It’s a place to jump on without feeling like you are turning the channel to a Nascar race well in the 200th lap. Without commentary (in the case of Nascar) or backstory (in the case of comics), many things can be lost or confusing, which is incredibly frustrating to casual and new comics readers.

The opposite is also frustrating for hard fans. The constant re-whatevers drives the most loyal to the brink of abandon. I sympathize. I am still reeling over Oracle’s non-disability. If anyone but the bodacious Gail Simone were writing it I think I would quit BATGIRL altogether. I may still hate what happens, but if anyone can pull Oracle out of her wheelchair and back into the Batsuit and not offend me for numerous reasons (if I begin that rant, I doubt I’ll stop) Simone can do it. I trust her and am going to give her the benefit. She deserves nothing less.

However, neither the uber-fans nor my own attachments are the purpose of this article. Teachers, parents, and librarians need not engage the debate of: good or gimmick. Our job is to use the re-vamp to get students to read and hook them onto a title, a character, a storyline. We can give them the opportunity to see the number one and pick up a title they may have been otherwise reluctant to grab and read.

Ever tried Hawkman? How about Wonder Woman
? You know, Blue Beetle is kinda cool. Now’s a good time to try those characters and titles. If we have done our jobs with our students, they will hold our opinion of great stories (novels, comics, poems, short stories, movies, magazines, newspapers, blogs, wikis or whatever) with high regard and trust our guidance when we tell them: “You should read this. Billy, I think you will like it because you like … (insert Billy’s hobby, sports, favorite books or movies, etc.)”.

Maybe the numbering goes back after 16 months. Perhaps, after some time, we discover the reboot was really nothing more than an alternate universe. It may all be a gimmick. No matter. Use it. Hook kids. Get them reading. If things change back or debates arise in the classroom over the re-universe, well then we can use that too to teach our kids to choose a side and more importantly civilly and intelligently defend their position with facts and citations. When students passionately discuss literature, then we have succeeded in creating lifelong readers. That’s the goal, right?


By Chris Wilson

FRACURED FABLES is exactly what you expect it to be: a series of short fairy tales, tall tales and fables retold with reinvented endings.  It is comedic and sarcastic and sometimes sardonic. As with most anthologies, some chapters ring true while others fall flat.

You will get most of them right off –– duh –– while others take a panel or two to put together. I found a significant number of these were very clever and artistic like Hey Diddle Diddle or Starlight Starbright. In these stories, the art and text intermingled so well I pictured them hanging in an art exhibit.

Others such as There was an Old Giant and The People vs. Hansel & Gretel were surprisingly re-imagined. On the other hand titles like Raponsel (correct spelling, by the way) and Pie Eating Contest were just plain funny, the kind of funny you haw-hawed over when you were in sixth grade.

The thing I like about anthologies is the same thing that is bothersome about them: consistency. The writers and illustrators varied from chapter to chapter, so there is no common thread artistically. Even the narrative varies greatly in tone and content.

This works to the advantage of the teacher who uses the anthology as an à la carte instructional tool. I cannot conceive a time when I would assign students to read the title in its entirety. Rather, I would use individual stories to supplement core curriculum. For instance, I might use The House that Jack Built if I were teaching students about the use of rhythm, rhyme and repetition. Raponzel is an excellent example to teach students about the use of humor in storytelling. Hey Diddle Diddle offers a lot in the way of dissecting art in comics to gain important information not present in the text and to make connections. If one is looking to demonstrate how classic stories can be relevant today, Cinderella certainly makes use of contemporary teen attitudes.

A natural assignment using such an anthology would be to read a classic fairy tale and then read the fractured version. Compare. Contrast. Repeat. However, I think it would be more interesting to have students rewrite the traditional fable of their choice, making use of a rhetorical device studied.

Teachers could require that some classroom content (science, social studies, or math) be incorporated into the story so the student can simultaneously demonstrate their knowledge while practicing their communication arts requirements.

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

This is one of those texts in which I feel it is appropriate to place in the parent permission required box for my fourth graders.

No cursing, but there are allusions to sexual situations, although they are brief and rather obscure.

Author: Various
Illustrator: Various
Publisher: Silverline Books
Genre: Fairy Tales

Format: Hardcover
Pages: 160
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-1-60706-269-1


Sunday, June 5, 2011


You might have noticed that we took a month off from publishing. The Graphic Classroom is made up of teachers all of whom are unpaid volunteers who read comics and write reviews and articles because we are passionate. There are times when we just get worn out.

Regular posts resume immediately.


By Chris Wilson

In the midst of The Great Depression, 10-year-old Enrico and his family fight for basic needs: food, shelter, water. Jobs are rare and fought over. Enrico’s father finds work but his wife is none to happy about it because Papa works for the suave, smoking, John Water’s looking Christoforo Boccioni. Papa extracts dragon eggs from the cave dwelling beasts for the purposes of fighting and gambling and moneymaking.

One afternoon, while on a rare family outing, Papa disappears to work a job. Enrico follows and witnesses the burning death of his Papa at the hands of an angry fire breather. The boy of the house becomes the man and insists on a job hunting dragons for Boccioni. It is revenge the boy seeks.  During his first campaign, Enrico is trapped in the cave, barely surviving the ordeal by hiding in the mother dragon’s dung heap. There he finds the discarded and disabled four-eyed dragon.

FOUR EYES is a mix of history and fantasy narrated by the much-too-young Enrico. His rapid transformation from boy to man is signified by the cover art depicting Enrico donning his father’s warm work gloves. It is a sad tale for us and for Enrico, but he forges on to build a life and take care of his rather weak-minded and pitiful mother. She stands aside while their boarder, angry with Enrico for awakening the day-sleeping man, attacks the boy. She says nothing and does nothing.

If it is to be done, if they are to be safe, then Enrico will do it. He cannot depend on his mother for much more than tears and hugs. Fortunately, Enrico is watched by one of Boccionoi’s supervisors, Fawkes. While Enrico is trapped in the cave, Fawkes delves the depths to find either the boy or his remains. What he finds is a boy and a discarded dragon spooning together in the dung for warmth and protection. Against Fawkes’ better judgment he allows the boy to emerge from the cave with the four-eyed dragon. The two children, Enrico and the dragon baby, bond in the dung heap and Enrico learns that he is “the king of the castle. And it is my job to protect it [the dragon]. And I will protect it as my father did. I will protect the castle from monsters … with a dragon.”

The art is bloody and brooding. People are burned and halved and destroyed. Fights are conducted and bets placed. The carnage of the historical time and the fictional place are powerful and tragic. The set-up for the next volumes leaves the reader with images of future destruction.

The boy who emerges from the cave is not the same as the one who went seeking his father during their family outing. It is his transformation that creates the engagement for the reader.

The art is very graphic and blood-thirsty, but also quite compelling. Most of the panels and pages are placed onto black backgrounds not white and much of the story takes place in dark places and black spaces. The front cover is initially what made me purchase the book, but its greatness is not exclusive. The splash page of Enrico cuddling in the dung with the baby dragon is at the same time disgusting and reassuring. 

Chris’ Rating: High school and older

It is a bloody, gangster-inspired comic. 

I could see FOUR EYES used in conjunction with traditional novels to explore certain themes: the parentified child, disability studies, and even Italian or Italian-American stereotypes. The monomyth and its cave imagery is overt in FOUR EYES.

Author: Joe Kelly
Illustrator: Max Fiumara
Colors: Nestor Pereyra
Lettering: Drew Gill
Publisher: Image Comics
Genre: Fantasy

Format: Softcover
Volume: 1
Pages: 96
Color: Full color
ISBN-13: 978-1-60706-292-9

I like dragons, dragon stories, and stories with child protagonists. FOUR EYES is gory and dark and –– despite its fantasy themes –– is not far removed from the horrors of real life or real poverty, or real seedy underground goings-on. I think for those reasons students would love it.


By Chris Wilson

How does one go about reviewing a well-crafted book that one finds absolutely unappealing? It’s a quandary, to be sure. I shall make the attempt anyway.

It only took 14 pages of narrative for me to realize Lewis Carroll’s stories of ALICE are not my cup of tea. At this point, Alice swam to shore only to endure the clothes-drying attempt of Mouse’s through dreary stories.

“Sit down! Sit down, all of you and listen to me! I’ll soon make you dry enough. This is the driest thing I know. [ahem] ‘William the Conquerer, whose cause was favoured by the Pope, was soon submitted to by the English, who wanted leaders ... and had been of late much accustomed to usurpation and conquest.”

Dry indeed.

Oh, now, the comic adaptation is interesting enough. The art is beautiful and the text is faithful, but I could not help wonder if modern children would actually find Alice as intriguing as the youth of yesteryear. Frankly, I could not abide much more, but I forced myself. I found the story entirely repetitious what with all the recitations, growth spurts, shrinkages, and nonsensical nowhereness.

I know there is literary merit enough in the original text to choke a horse. I’m not arguing it’s a bad story or a poor adaptation. I took plenty of notes and I could write a paper on it, but why in the world would I want to? In other words, I’m simply stating that I find the classic story incredibly dull and wearisome and I cannot imagine students finding it as interesting as they might hope, even as creative as the comic adaptation is. Unfortunately, this proved true for my fourth grade students who checked it with high hopes only to give it back with the same feeling of tedium I had experienced.

That’s hardly a fair review for Dynamite. The quality of the comic is wonderful and the dustbowl experience with the original story is no reason to punish the comic.

Chris’ Rating: Ages 10 and older
Publisher’s Rating: All ages

There is nothing inappropriate in Carroll’s story or the comic adaptation and it is appropriate for all ages; however, the language is archaic and difficult. Elementary and even some middle school students might find it troublesome and may require assistance. 

So I am not into Alice. Well big deal. The comic is still worthy of classroom inclusion. Kids know the basic story even if they do not know specifics. If students find the story as boring as I do, a forced reading of the entire novel may lead to revolt, in which case the comic adaptation might be more advantageous. That is, unless it turned kids away from the comic format altogether. Perhaps, Alice is not the best story to teach at school.

Original Author: Lewis Carroll
Adaptation by: Leah Moore and John Reppion
Pencils: Erica Awano
Colors: PC Siquiera
Publisher: Dynamite
Genre: Traditional literature in comic format

Format: Hardcover
Pages: 88
Color: Full color
ISBN-10: 1-60690-085-4
ISBN-13: 978-1-60690-085-7

Despite my personal dislike of the original story, it is not entirely fair to give any kind of recommendation to the comic (or the original for that matter). Both have their place in the library. You need to read it for yourself. Perhaps a lover of ALICE can make headways with it where I was unable.