Teachers are getting graphic

Negotiator_Roger_Smith 05-04-2005 12:58 PM
By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY
Wed May 4, 6:22 AM ET

When the American Library Association invited acclaimed comic book artist Jeff Smith and three fellow artists to its annual meeting in 2002, the quartet huddled beforehand and agreed that this was their best -- and perhaps only - chance to pitch comics to an influential group of tastemakers.

So the artists were taken aback when the librarians professed that they already were in love with comics and wanted more. "I'm like, 'Hello? Is there a gas leak in here?' " says Smith, the creator of Bone, the epic adventures of a trio of cartoon cousins. "We were used to being told comics are bad."

Librarians lavished the artists with kind words, saying their books were teaching kids - especially boys - to read and getting them excited about literature. In fact, the artists heard that comics and their book-length cousins, graphic novels, were the only books for which circulation was up.

"The librarians were way in front of us," Smith says.

And along with librarians, teachers also are embracing comics, both for recreational and instructional reading. They're using the caped crusader Batman to explore mythology and Art Spiegelman's Maus, a Holocaust memoir, as well as other titles, to teach history. (Related story: Stories for the ages)

"Reading is an acquired skill," says Austin librarian and author Michele Gorman. "If you have negative experiences early on with reading, you just quit."

The push for comics has produced an interesting set of bedfellows. A collaboration of artists, teachers and scholars, the National Association of Comics Art Educators, is distributing study guides and lesson plans that include "An Aesthetic History of Comics."

And a Columbia University professor is leading a 10-city, after-school project that gives 30,000 students, from elementary school through high school, a chance to have their own comic books professionally published.

In previous editions, students have tackled AIDS and the plight of Tibet, among other issues.

"Kids are writing about very real topics," says Michael Bitz, a senior research associate at Columbia's Teachers College and the founding director of the Comic Book Project. It began in 2001 at an after-school program in Queens, N.Y., and has produced three published student collections.

"It's become sort of a national movement," he says. "It's really been fantastic."

A genre on the rise

Meanwhile, teachers in a few Maryland school districts are piloting the use of Dignifying Science, a 144-page comic about the lives of women scientists such as Marie Curie and American geneticist Barbara McClintock.

Sales of comic books, while still comparatively small, have grown in recent years, helped in large part by a handful of blockbuster movies.

Graphic novels first appeared on USA TODAY's Best-Selling Books list in 2002. Last week, five titles appeared on the list, including two from the noir crime-novel-inspired Sin City series by Frank Miller.

Younger readers thrill to the wordless adventures of Owly, an expressive, big-eyed owl drawn by Andy Runton, and Jef Czekaj's mercurial Grampa and Julie: Shark Hunters, adapted from Nickelodeon magazine.

Even Harry Potter publisher Scholastic is wading into graphic novels: Smith, who for more than a decade self-published his popular Bone series in black-and-white, is now coloring the frames for a glossy, nine-volume version under Scholastic's new Graphix imprint. The new editions include a few subtle tweaks by Smith to play up tension or foreshadowing.

"This is sort of like the director's cut," says Scholastic's David Saylor, whose assistant discovered Bone in a comic book store and passed it on. "I read it, and I loved it." The first reissue appeared in February, and the last is planned for 2009.

From comic stand to library

Many librarians first took note of graphic novels in 1992 when the second volume of Maus won a special Pulitzer Prize. But it has been only in the past five years that libraries have developed their own graphic-novel collections, says Gorman, author of Getting Graphic! Using Graphic Novels to Promote Literacy with Preteens and Teens.

In Austin, she created an entire shelving category for graphic novels, which is "probably the most browsed collection" in the system. "If your intention is to create a library collection that will circulate, it's almost impossible to say it's not worth it," she says.

Sandy Hayes, an eighth-grade teacher at Becker Middle School in Becker, Minn., uses excerpts from Maus in a lesson on the Holocaust. She says she doesn't assign the entire two-book series; it's too grim in parts for some eighth-graders.

Hayes says many graphic novels these days are "much more sophisticated than the Batman or Superman or Donald Duck comics that I remember from my youth."

Popular but controversial

Not all teachers are sold on comic books as a teaching tool.

Carol Jago, who teaches English at Santa Monica High School near Los Angeles, says anything "that gets kids reading rather than watching television and playing video games is good." But she stops short of assigning comic books in the classroom, saying that puts teachers on a slippery slope.

"If our mentality as teachers is how to make the text easier and easier, we're moving in the wrong direction," she says. "Our job as teachers is to help students read hard texts. When a student tells you the work is hard, you should say, 'Good; now I know it's the right book for you.' "

Jago is a fan of Spiegelman and Neil Gaiman, creator of the cult DC Comics series Sandman and a popular graphic novelist. She believes their works are "great, great pieces of literature."

But teachers should assign them for outside class, Jago says. "They're serious books. I am not denigrating their artistic merit. It's just not what we should be teaching."

She especially frets about comic book adaptations of classics such as The Odyssey and Beowulf. She says teachers should think twice before assigning them.

"I worry tremendously that if we bring stuff like this into the schools for low-level students, but everybody else reads regular texts, aren't we creating a two-level system? If we're giving students a comic book version of their English class, something's wrong. ... And that is a danger. Nobody is going to bring comic books into an Advanced Placement class."

Jack Gantos, author of the popular Joey Pigza series of children's books, says adults should be delighted by kids' attraction to comic books - or any other lightweight material - if they want them to read heavier books down the road. "Kids have beach reading just like adults have beach reading," he says.

Even French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre loved comic books, Gantos says. "This is a pretty heavy thinker, but he said in his autobiography that he started off reading comic books as a child and that if it wasn't for comic books, he never would have stuck with books.

"That was really where (Sartre) sort of punctured the world of literature and really got excited about books," Gantos says.

Smith, 45, began drawing the characters that eventually would populate Bone at age 4. He remembers looking forward to Sunday mornings and his father reading Peanuts, learning to read "specifically so I could find out what Snoopy and Charlie Brown were saying in those little bubbles."

He loved the power of Charles Schulz's simple drawings. "Charlie Brown just had two dot eyes and a squiggle line for a mouth, but when his stomach hurt, you knew what was going on."

An image makeover

Advocates are trying to restore the reputation of comic books after 50 years in exile. Once a popular genre among all age groups, they fell prey in the 1950s to a crusading psychologist named Fredric Wertham, who portrayed comics as rife with sex, violence and drug use. Reading them, he asserted, encouraged bad behavior.

Detractors considered Wertham's 1954 book, Seduction of the Innocent, over the top. He saw nude women hidden in tree bark and hinted that Wonder Woman was a lesbian, but the book led to Senate hearings and a censorship code that put many publishers out of business. Most that survived stuck to a good-vs.-evil formula in which, as the code required, bad guys got their due. Many comics historians believe this relegated comics to life as a lesser genre, fit only for kid-friendly superhero story lines.

"Comics really became sort of 'trash literature,' " Gorman says. "People grew up with those ideas."

A wave of underground comics in the 1960s helped undermine the code, and now few publishers abide by it. This created a new generation of fans who share the books with their own children.

Smith's adult fans have been snapping up copies of Bone for more than a decade, but about five years ago, readers attending comic book conventions started bringing their kids along. "I think it appeals to kids because it's the book I wanted to read when I was 9," he says. "I just had to wait until I grew up before I could write it."
pen1300 05-04-2005 04:27 PM
Will you please include links to stuff like this? I really want to send this off to work/print it off to read later and stash in my file from the actual site. Hey... wait, if this is about ALA, maybe I'll see more about this at work...

BTW: My comments on the whole libraries and comics thing can be seen here.

I personally support having comic books in libraries for the reasons listed. Bone is actually a bit surprising because I read it as a library book and it's recommended a lot for libraries (in addition to The Tale of One Bad Rat)

Later,
Pen1300
Negotiator_Roger_Smith 05-04-2005 04:36 PM
quote:
Originally posted by pen1300
quote:
Originally posted by Negotiator_Roger_Smith
quote:
Originally posted by pen1300
Will you please include links to stuff like this? I really want to send this off to work/print it off to read later and stash in my file from the actual site. Hey... wait, if this is about ALA, maybe I'll see more about this at work...

BTW: My comments on the whole libraries and comics thing can be seen here.

I personally support having comic books in libraries for the reasons listed. Bone is actually a bit surprising because I read it as a library book and it's recommended a lot for libraries (in addition to The Tale of One Bad Rat)

Later,
Pen1300




here the


It didn't work...I can look for it later.

Later,
Pen1300

here the correct one
pen1300 05-04-2005 05:46 PM
quote:
Originally posted by Negotiator_Roger_Smith
quote:
Originally posted by pen1300
quote:
Originally posted by Negotiator_Roger_Smith
quote:
Originally posted by pen1300
Will you please include links to stuff like this? I really want to send this off to work/print it off to read later and stash in my file from the actual site. Hey... wait, if this is about ALA, maybe I'll see more about this at work...

BTW: My comments on the whole libraries and comics thing can be seen here.

I personally support having comic books in libraries for the reasons listed. Bone is actually a bit surprising because I read it as a library book and it's recommended a lot for libraries (in addition to The Tale of One Bad Rat)

Later,
Pen1300


here the


It didn't work...I can look for it later.

Later,
Pen1300

here the correct one


Thank you kindly. Big Grin

In the future, could you please include a linky?

Thanks,
Pen1300
paul1290 05-04-2005 06:07 PM
Very interesting. I'm glad to hear that comics and graphic novels aren't being seen as kiddie stuff anymore.

As a matter of fact, there just so happens to be a chapter in my Language Arts text book that explains that not all comics are child's play. It also tells about how it's important not to judge an art form by the content your used to seeing in it.
StevieV019 05-05-2005 07:23 AM
Yeah, I read this article when I got into work yesterday. Interesting find...
Lady Tesser 05-05-2005 09:07 AM
Why not? All the pulp writers are now being taught in English literature classes (Bradbury, Heinlein, Twain, Burroughs, etc), so it was a matter of time before comic books were allowed to be taught as well. After all, 'pulp' was considered the 'trash literature' of its day.

The name itself needs to change - 'comic book' draws up images of Silver Age Superman, Scrooge McDuck, and Archie. If you've read any of Alan Moore's stuff, you wouldn't call any of it 'comic' (of course, teachers wouldn't be allowed to share his work, despite it being the BEST examples of storytelling and story structure).

Wertham's so-called 'studies' had set back this media for far too long, and we're only NOW able to see what sort of stories the artform can produce - imagine what would have been produced now if everyone didn't have such dirty minds back then!
Darth Nat 05-05-2005 11:52 AM
Don't forget Frank Miller, who I think is easily better than Alan Moore when he (Miller) is at his best. The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One are both exceptional examples of comic book storytelling that also works as a metaphor for the real world and real situations as well as just being fun to read. I think the ultimate problem I have with Alan Moore is that he sometimes seems to skew the personalities of characters just so he can make some sort of a point, ala The Killing Joke, which probably has the most out of character Batman that I have seen in any of the popular Batman books.

Anyways, I'm just starting to get into comic books and stuff, but I'm glad to see they are being more readily accepted in schools. Heck, I would have never gotten into comics if I hadn't read The Dark Knight Returns in my school library.
dancinggummi88 06-15-2005 09:28 AM
comics should definatly be included in libraries......
its kinda sad that theyre not
BethMcBeth 06-15-2005 10:58 AM
quote:
Originally posted by dancinggummi88
comics should definatly be included in libraries......
its kinda sad that theyre not


I so second that! I mean so many times I use comic books for drawing refrances and also to get ideas. I mean they are also books I menan they are just similliar to a magazine some times so they should be out in it.

-Beth
Gummibear 06-15-2005 11:04 AM
quote:
Originally posted by Darth Nat
Don't forget Frank Miller, who I think is easily better than Alan Moore when he (Miller) is at his best. The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One are both exceptional examples of comic book storytelling that also works as a metaphor for the real world and real situations as well as just being fun to read. I think the ultimate problem I have with Alan Moore is that he sometimes seems to skew the personalities of characters just so he can make some sort of a point, ala The Killing Joke, which probably has the most out of character Batman that I have seen in any of the popular Batman books.

Anyways, I'm just starting to get into comic books and stuff, but I'm glad to see they are being more readily accepted in schools. Heck, I would have never gotten into comics if I hadn't read The Dark Knight Returns in my school library.


I agree wholeheartedly. Batman is a fascinating character in a literal sense not just in movies and television. The Dark Knight Returns is a excellent piece of literature and art, not to mention that it's a classic. I also like to look at older comics ( of the 30's-40's) which gives great insight into the influence of the comic book heroes on the public and the transitions of the comic book characters over the years.
pen1300 06-15-2005 07:53 PM
quote:
Originally posted by BethMcBeth
quote:
Originally posted by dancinggummi88
comics should definatly be included in libraries......
its kinda sad that theyre not


I so second that! I mean so many times I use comic books for drawing refrances and also to get ideas. I mean they are also books I menan they are just similliar to a magazine some times so they should be out in it.

-Beth


Most Public libraries are now buying comics (in the form of graphic novels) for their library. I was at the one library in the system today going through their graphic novel section and I brought home at least five or six. The system I'm in abounds in graphic novels.

School libraries I know have some issues with having graphic novels. I was in my former school's library for a day and learned that it's kind of hard for a school to buy graphic novels. The librarian just doesn't read them. She bases her purchases off of reviews and what some students suggest. The biggest thing is the audience though. Some would be too contriversal which would lead to a possible review board meeting and librarians hate to censor stuff.

ALA's (American Library Association) Teen Read Week a few years ago had an anime theme which was when most libraries purchased some manga and I have found MANY sites and articles dealing with purchasing graphic novels for the library. Especially with this rash of comic hero movies. Most libraries have been adding those to their collection because people want to read the graphic novels!

Have you checked your public library? All most every public library has graphic novels in their system, you just have to take the time to look. (Do a subject search in your library's catelogue for "graphic novels" You should be able to find a few.)

Later,
Pen1300
Madrona 06-24-2005 06:52 PM
Indeed, the library in my town (which is not part of the larger county system) has a fairly nice selection of graphic novels. They even carry NewType and the soon forgotten Animerica.
The county system has an even larger selection. I've made use of both.