The first volume of the Reading With Pictures Anthology is now available. Proceeds from the book will go to sponsor research and outreach projects associated with Reading With Pictures, a group of comics artists, educators, and researchers who seek to explore the connections between education and comics.
I enjoyed reading the anthology. Dr. Michael Bitz's introduction was the perfect frame, and I appreciate how he mentions "the fragile relationship between comics and the reading establishment," citing IRA's spur-of-the-moment cancellation of a full day's worth of GN-related programming last year and inadvertently helping RWP solidify their mission and desire to produce the book. That happening has been terribly under-reported and examined.
The various shorts, from generous comics artists associated with RWP or just willing to offer their resources, cover a variety of genres and messages. Many are inherently pedagogical and some are even a little didactic, but others seem created for the pure juissance of the comics reading experience.
The Fillback Brothers history of images as linguistic signifiers starts the book and pairs well with David Faroz Precht and Cho Youn Chul's "Visual Cues" toward the end of the text.
Among my favorites were the aforementioned; the "Just James" selection, in which I'd like to think mention of characters named James and Katie are references to a couple of folks who have recently published books on comics and literacy (don't shatter my illusion, please!) and in which comics, composition, and literary elements are explored; the physics-inspired "Mail Order Ninja" short that explores the square-cube law; Raina Telgemeir's short but poignant "A Conversation I Had While Teaching a Comics Class;" Pyle and Sacco's "The Order of the Silent Pencil," which deals with literacy and in-school subversive vs. in-school traditional notions of learning to read and write; and Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey's "Comics and the Classroom: a Match Made in History," which relates some of the historical connections between comics and education and from which this gem of an image (and new office door cartoon) is drawn:
It's hard to say if the anthology is for kids or for teachers. Certainly the short stories are child-appropriate, but the reasons behind the anthology's creation never seem too far removed from the content therein, and one can read the text as offering information and lesson ideas for teachers more than offering kids interesting reads. That's not a weakness of the book, of course.
For example, in my "Dramatic Modes of English Language Arts" class, we cover comics as a form that meets the 6-pronged definition of English Language Arts as explained by NCTE/IRA. I ask students to choose 1 book from among the following: Big Fat Little Lit, The Best American Comics, or the Smithsonian collection of graphic novels.
My pre-service English teachers use that text to help them explore connections with pedagogy and comics, but the Reading With Pictures Anthology seems to overtly cover that ground whereas these other texts need some coaxing to do so. Hence, I'm thinking of using the anthology the next time I teach the class.
Indeed, the text might have its most use in application and practice, with pre-service teachers and in professional development seminars first, then in the classroom once professionals have considered the stories and their use beyond a simple reading.
Regardless of initial use or intended audience, the anthology does not disappoint. There's enough evidence for comics and learning coexisting to help the cause, though one wonders how much success the text might have reaching beyond "the choir," a problem all of us in comics-and-literacy face, and enough fun for anyone.
Labels: Reading with Pictures