A Public Service Announcement! ;)

A Public Service Announcement! ;)

Monday, December 15, 2008

"Year in Review" Stuffs Popping Up

Along with all the "Best Of" lists populating comics blogs as of late, "Year in Review" articles have been bountiful as well, particularly as folks compare this year's "finally we call it a recession" market to those of recent years past.

I was glad to see Heidi at the Beat notice something about graphic novel publishing that I too had noticed after visiting the exhibitor's booths at this year's NCTE:

"Plus, if you look closely, most of the books coming out from Random House, Simon & Schuster, Hill & Wang and so on, are beginning to slide into two camps: non-fiction “teaching” comics, such as the bestselling 9/11 Report graphic novel, (which had a little-noted, low-selling sequel this year), and bestselling fiction adaptations, like Tokyopop/HarperCollinsmanga adaptation of Erin Hunter’s The Warriors, which have sold thousands and thousands of copies."

Heidi is speaking generally, of course, but her conclusion was one I reached at NCTE. There were some great exceptions. The :01 booth was chocked full of great books, and I know of many wonderful graphic novels that weren't being marketed to the ELA educators at the convention. But, if one looked at what was there and excepted the :01 excellence, one saw exactly what Heidi noticed.

Heidi goes on to say that the graphic novel tidal wave has bottomed out but not been destroyed.

I worry that companies will continue to market graphic novels that were made specifically for "teaching purposes," because those books are usually of the worst quality.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: what we need are graphic novelists being graphic novelists. Art Spiegelman has no obligation or responsibility to create comics for the middle or high school classroom. He should simply go about creating his art as he sees fit. It's up to educators to learn about the graphic novel and look at those excellent works and find the pedagogical potential in them. (caveat: Spiegelman and Mouly have been doing some excellent comics work for kids, though. But they're doing it because they want to and can do great work. I'm not suggesting comics artists shouldn't create kids or teens-centered work if they want to, just that they shouldn't feel bound to in any regard.) Teachers teach. Artists create art. Informed teachers know how to integrate art -- and everything else of relevance -- into their classrooms.

Recently I was interviewed by someone who asked me how important lexile scores were when it came to teachers using comics. I told the interviewer that if I were looking for graphic novels, and I saw some with lexile scores and pre-packaged with associated AR points or grade levels, I'd be very dubious of their quality. I'd know they were made and marketed directly to me, the teacher, playing off what marketers thought of as "flash points" to draw my attention and "make my job easier" rather than crafted with quality of material in mind. I told the interviewer, good teachers already know how to level texts.

Better for teachers to look at the sort of themes or big questions they are exploring in their classrooms and look for the high-quality comic art that can help their students further explore said themes and questions. Otherwise, what will happen is eventually folks will catch wise to the poor quality of graphic novels marketed to teachers, and the backlash against them will gain considerable ground, consequently mask marketing to teachers the idea that no comics art is worth teaching, which is the thinking that many already have anyway.

I maintain that only good comics material will have what it takes to help teachers and students build learning connections. If I were a teacher and saw a company trying to sell me graphic novels based only readability or lexile score rather than on theme, big ideas, and excellence of story-telling, I'd be wary.


Sean said...

I agree with you 100% on this. It's the graphic novel corollary of what too often happens when publishing companies attempt to make films for classroom consumption - not very good films (I feel the tug of the Lotos-Eaters when I remember watching a Britannica film of Clifton Fadiman talking about Oedipus Rex between God-awful stagings of key scenes ...).

Did you get a chance to check out the manga adaptations of Shakespeare being peddled by Cliffs Notes? (See http://www.cliffsnotes.com/WileyCDA/CliffsTitle/productCd-0470097604.html for their Julius Caesar) One of the booth jockeys at NCTE claimed that the dialogue text is only a slight abridgment of the original Shakespeare, not an "update" or "translation," as I was expecting. I'm not sure how "slight" the abridgment is, but the language is the real stuff. I'm planning to do a quick line-by-line comparison with my trusty Riverside, and if it turns out to match upwards of 85-90%, it would get my rare vote for a useful graphic novel produced specifically for classroom use. The Folger did a wonderful series with MacBeth, Othello and King Lear back in the mid-90s, each edition featuring an accomplished (and very distinct) artist with an unabridged presentation of the text. These went over extremely well in my classroom.

Bucky C. said...

Thanks, man. I have a couple of Manga Shakespeares I picked up at the Diamond booth that I'll be reviewing for the site in the near future. I think mine are published by Wiley, though.

There are so many comics adaptations of Shakespeare out there, it is hard to keep up. Some are better than others, to be sure.

As for comics adaptations, they can have their uses, but I'd hate to see them become the dominant use of graphic novels in the classroom when there are so many other good texts that can facilitate learning in so many ways.

Bucky C. said...

Actually, looks like we did both get some of the same sort of books. Sorry, blame it on brain drain from all the grading! :)