A Public Service Announcement! ;)

A Public Service Announcement! ;)

Thursday, April 30, 2009

And Just When I was Getting Over Being Embarrased By My President....

Vague, couched in tired, reactionary "crisis" rhetoric, and seemingly narrow in focus, scope, and informed resources, NCTE president-elect Carol Jago's recent NCTE-published white sheet "Crash! The Currency Crisis in American Culture" just arrived in my inbox. The PDF is available by clicking the title of this post, in which I have intentionally used wording I believe to be equivalent to the absurdist rhetorical punch of her title and piece.

I knew to expect a growth in Cultural Literacy-heavy writings once the economy went sour and the 21st Century had settled in. Recent MLA statements seem to have more than a tinge of fear in them about the changing nature of reading and literature in the U.S., and I even read a quote from a representative from Harvard recently talking about how we're getting too far away from education for education's sake. Jago's white sheet reads similarly to these statements.

In all those examples, I find it hard not to note banal reactionary concern from individuals and institutions free to engage in elitist, privileged perspectives: I worry that the reemergence of the "learning for learning's sake" argument is too closely linked with economic downturns that have left many universities reeling. I read these arguments as saying, "Come back to school. Your tuition dollars will help save the Extra-Sensory Studies program." As well, as the new century situates itself, its problems, potentials, and strains become more apparent, making it easier for those grounded in ideas of the previous century to beckon back to good old days that never were, to notions of living and literacy that may grow less and less relevant with each passing tweet.

I can't tell you for sure if Jago's position statement is supposed to be read as such. Perhaps she's dabbling in savvy subversion, but her main point is that students need to read and write about literature.

I am not sure anyone would argue with this, though she seems to think there are many. She says, "They [whom, I don't know] see the study of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, as superfluous to helping students make a living. But making a living isn't enough." She says later, "Part of our responsibility as teachers is to help students discover that the pursuit of happiness does not begin and end with the purchase of a new car."

I'm not a proponent of state standards by any means, but I've never read one -- in teaching in North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Mississippi, and Texas -- all standards-ravenous states -- about making sure students are able to purchase a Mazda. Jago may be trying to warn readers to be wary of students' own sense of capitalism, but in a document laced with terms like "currency" and scare-tactic mentions of ambiguous "theys," she comes off as pointing fingers.

At whom? Considering that she never overtly defines "literature" but defends its use in practice via mentioning Harper Lee, Janie Crawford, Huck Finn, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Maya Angelou, Countee Cullen, William Wordsworth, Maxine Hong Kingston, Romeo and Juliet, The Great Gatsby, Moby Dick, Crime and Punishment, Henry V, and Emily Dickenson, it may be at those who have a broader sense of literature than Jago. She doesn't mention canons specifically, but she does use the other C-word:

"I worry in our determination to provide students with literature they can relate to, we end up teaching works that students actually don't need much help with at the expense of teaching the classics that they most certainly do need assistance negotiating."

So, literature is defined as the classics. At a time when many of the top names in education, literary studies and other fields are talking about how new forms such as graphic novels inform, expand, and transform the very meaning and nature of literature, Jago wants us to return to a narrowed definition of what is literature and what it isn't? Again, it is hard to say as her definitions of solidified quantities revolve around the use of "literature" and "classics," but the alternatives that she may or may not consider "literature" are as vaguely defined as those others she invokes.

I worry that she is speaking of those who advocate for Young Adult literature, for using digital forms in the classroom, for bringing in contemporary (to her credit, she does make the distinction between "classic" and "contemporary" literature, but in no detail beyond using the two terms) song lyrics. Of those who advocate for using graphic novels in the classroom. Of those who even advocate using non-fiction in the classroom, since most of her examples are poetry, drama, or fiction.

I also worry that her phrasing sets up another useless "either/or" trap that educators so easily fall into these days. She mentions how crucial it is for students to experience scenes like Atticus Finch putting his children at risk to stand up for the rights of the under-represented. If she thinks it is tough being Atticus, she should try being Vladek or Anja Spiegelman. Indeed, "literature reflects the human condition," as Jago points out, and it "requires deep reading and analytical thinking." Do I give up analytical though, deep reading, and the ability to integrate and ingrain terms like clarify, motif, and device by teaching a text that is not in the canon? That is not in what appears to be a very winnowed view of literature? Are they necessarily "banished" simply because I'm not teaching fiction, or traditional print-based text? Can not the zone of proximal development be reached in texts other than canonical ones? So many graphic novels reflect so many facets of the human condition. So do good YA titles.

Indeed, many who advocate for the integration of "newer" types of texts do so with the understanding that these texts can help build connections to the more traditional literature, not with the intent to replace it for all students. Jago does not make any mention of these educators, though, focusing on "caring teachers" who "defend the use of alternative, simplified reading selections for nonhonors students in the belief that their students don't have the vocabulary background knowledge, or reading stamina to follow complex syntax." She argues the only way to get them to develop those skills is through the reading of complex works. "Complex," of course, is a complicated term. I might even argue that the structure of a graphic novel, with its spaces and closures, boundaries and borders, images in repetition and sequence, make up a complex complex. :)

There are many teachers and teacher educators who want to teach literature. In my experience, many of them ask questions like "where is the quantitative data to show graphic novels work?" while accepting the fact that there is little-to-know quantitative data that any one text that Jago mentions or that might be on their current syllabi "works." When it comes down to it, it is the teacher and the strategy that are most important, not the text. An excellent teacher can make a rock interesting, which, if I may hazard a guess, is why some people go on to become geologists. This point also seems lost at times in "Crash!"

There is also the reality that Reading research has identified levels of reading success such as the frustration level, the instructional level, and the independent level. Jago states of a text that students can read on their own, "it probably isn't the best choice for classroom study." She also mentions that when help is available, students who "never expected to be able to read challenging literature find that...the book isn't as daunting as they first thought." Agreed, but by not couching her phrasing in specific terminology from Reading research, Jago undermines her positions and comes off as one apparently hoping that "saying it simply makes it so." This isn't the case, of course.

We know that asking students to read works at their frustration level, for example, is asking them to read at their failing level. Scaffolding -- visual, textual, auditory, or otherwise -- can help students understand elements of these texts, but if the selections are too far above the students' reading level, "exposure" or base understandings are the best teachers can expect. There is the zone of proximal development, then there is the zone beyond. This point needed to be made, and there are mryiad Reading and literacy scholars Jago could have cited to make it.

Surely there are good strategies for teaching complex literature, writing and joining with other types of texts included within them, but there is also the reality that not all students in English language arts classrooms will be able to read certain traditional texts with fluency and comprehension. By ignoring basic Reading knowledge, Jago appears to be missing a very important "in between" positioning.

This happens again when she juxtaposes ideas on Critical Literacy in this very obviously Cultural Literacy-laced work. She asserts, "Once we disdain to teach works that need to be taught to be understood, we not only debase the coinage of literature but also bring into question our own function....all we need to do is to question the value of literature itself, and, abracadabra, we have eliminated the need to teach it."

But in the following paragraphs, she says that students need to be able to critique "a brave new world in which reading is reduced to skimming and scanning websites." If they don't, they'll be "unprepared for everything that this great nation holds dear -- independence, freethinking, and the pursuit of happiness." Besides for a severe lack of understanding of reading in the 21st century (students are reading beyond simply skimming and scanning, just in ways that they might not define as "school" reading) inherent in the statement, Jago also has in this argument a glaring paradox: We shouldn't question the value of literature, but we should question habits in which we do find ourselves actively reading?

"Why" is at the heart of Critical Literacy. Not questioning why we might read from "classics"-heavy curricula seems to me to be regressing in its own way, to a point where very specific sociocultural points of view are privileged without question. As I mentioned above, leading figures in multiple fields are now discussing how new or recently recognized forms are altering and informing notions of literacy and reading. The New London Group mentions that this will move us towards a need for transformational design over critique. I do not argue here against the notion that critique is necessary. Critical Literacy in every aspect is necessary. That we should ever stop questioning why we teach literature (-- why we teach anything --), that our students should be robbed of the opportunities to transform themselves via critique and questioning of the texts and forms they encounter and why they are there for them to encounter -- for the sake of keeping literature from falling into chaos -- seems beyond absurd.

Quoting Louise Rosenblatt, Jago asserts that, “The problem that a teacher faces first of all, then, is the creation of a situation favorable to a vital experience of literature. Unfortunately, many of the practices and much of the tone of literature teaching have precisely the opposite
effect” (61). To me, this statement gets at strategy, not at text. To how a teacher teaches, not what. Jago ends her essay by commenting, "As we move through the twenty-first century, let's be careful not to lose in the name of progress and preparedness the texts and habits of mind that have brought us this far." Are these "habits of mind" those strategies to which Rosenblatt might allude, or notions of what is acceptable literature and what isn't? I worry Jago means the latter.

Those habits of mind are always already changing. This call comes too late, vague as it is, paradoxical as it is, and via its use of "either/or," capital and crisis rhetoric, to be given serious consideration as it is currently phrased. Yet, I fear it will be heeded and interpreted as a call not towards the future, but to a past that we can't relive, and since the past that was, was beset with inequities and narrowed views of worth and value judgements from every angle, including from the privileged elite and privileged intellectuals, to a past we shouldn't want to relive.

The argument is old; the rhetoric of crisis and fear is stale, and terms are vaguely defined. I know that as a young academic, I might be placing myself precariously for writing this. I'm not so naive as to not realize that even in the academy there is bread-buttering and the need to tread cautiously at times. But I can't shake feeling that though I'm not sure Jago is saying what she wants to be saying, I'm certainly afraid she is.

Mythbusting Experiment: "I'm Not a Visual Learner"

I admit it, I have seen more than my fair share of practicing teachers turn ghost-white at my mention of using art -- especially teacher-drawn -- art in their classrooms and in my workshops. I hear cries of, "What if you can't draw?" and "What about students who aren't artistic" and "I'm just not a visual learner" more often than I'd like.

I don't get frustrated with the teachers themselves, though I readily admit to you in every exercise that I have used with students and with teachers, a larger majority of students have bought in and enjoyed it more than some of the teachers have, most likely because I make kids feel comfortable by being comfortable enough to model my own drawing skills, which are slight. I do get frustrated as I look into those teachers' eyes and see a 4th grade teacher tell her child-self "No more books with pictures. It's time for real reading" or see a play role out before me featuring said teacher's child-self and another presence --sometimes adult, sometimes child -- ridicule the person's attempt at visual expression.

Yes, I am convinced that my inner eye is seeing psychological trauma associated with drawing and art and its connection to reading when I deal with many reluctant teachers, who sometimes seem to completely shut down upon knowing I might be asking them to draw.

Contemporary education, with its belittling of the arts and linguistic/logical emphasis, seems to further embed the psychological scars. I know that many believe there is a such thing as a person who isn't a visual learner.

I disagree, excepting the caveat of blindness as it is defined as a medical condition. There may be some of us who are better visual learners than others, and certainly this plays a part in reading because many who have reading issues have trouble visualizing what they read, but every sighted person is a visual learner and a visual reader to some degree.

Don't believe me? Try this experiment:

You'll need:

a desk and chair

a friend

a book you haven't memorized. Preferably one you haven't read.


1. Posit the book in your friend's hands. Better yet, let the friend pick a book from a shelf or bring one with him/her.

2. Sit in the chair, then close your eyes.

3. Ask the friend to place the book in front of you on the desk, then ask her open it to a random page, making sure the book's pages lay flat.

4. Keeping your eyes closed, begin reading the book.

Didn't work, did it? Isn't it a strange phenomenon that we often seem to forget that when we read, we're actually using our eyes? We get so caught up in the cognitive aspect of reading we forget the basic sensory aspect and how the sensory-cognitive aspects are actually working together to help us form comprehension. It's like we think the words go straight to our brain, bypassing our corneas and rods and cones all together.

If you can read, you're a visual learner. You might not be as good at learning through visual stimulus as others are, but -- especially if you've ever uttered the phrase "I'm just not a visual learner" -- you're probably better at it than you think.

Recommended Reading: English Language Notes 46.2: "Graphia: The Graphic Novel and Literary Criticism"

University of Colorado, Boulder professor (and my former chair at USM) William Kuskin edits this issue of English Language Notes, which deals specifically with the graphic novel and how its best home may be situated in the realm of Literature Studies.

Kuskin joins Charles Hatfield, Johanna Drucker, Jan Baetens, and other talented intellectuals from the U.S. and abroad to illustrate how the hardbound (or at least compared to its soft-pamphlet brethren) graphic novel is literally/literarily bound to the histories, legacies, and theories of the book. Each essay positions graphic novels in or around the ethos of the book and literary theory while also touching on other notions that have posited the graphic novel elsewhere/elsewheres (film, art, media studies) and while making sure to expressing the unique values of the medium. The limits of narrative, linearity, and form of traditional print-based texts, other types of visuo-verbal discourse emanating from the page, and the graphic novel medium inform each other, comment on one another, and in many ways, transform one another as the authors place them in proper relationships.

I enjoyed the issue very much and recommend it to anyone interested in comics studies. I happen to be reading it alongside the new Comics Studies Reader and Theirry Groensteen's The System of Comics, and I find this joining to make for an even more satisfying intellectual endeavor, especially when I compare Groensteen's thoughts (in both the Reader and in Systems) on how comics, or the 9th art, as they call it in France, needs to be considered as its own, unique system, with its scholarship drawing from but not concreted in any number of studies, to ELN's situating graphic novels and its scholarship in literary traditions and thought. Both make compelling arguments on their own, of course, but they're particularly intriguing when paired.

You can order your copy of the "Graphia" issue of ELN by visiting here. It's worth at least twice what you'll pay for it and will make for many exciting conversations among those interested in comics and with those more traditionally literary-minded folks whom may not yet know what to make of them.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Get Your Daily Dose of God or Goddess

My good friend and very talented comics artist (and artist in general) Erik A. Evensen has started a blog where he posts sketches of one deity per day. All culture's mythologies are on the table at Daily Deity. Evensen's graphic novel Gods of Asgard won a Xeric grant to help it see completion, and it is definitely a text I recommend for libraries and classrooms. It is well-researched and well-rendered.

I think visualization of interesting characters like gods and fairies and other creatures from mythology can help make ancient texts come alive for students. I used to ask my students to draw various pilgrims from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales or to do a sketch of what the Beowulf monsters looked like to them. I also used to integrate fine art in my k-12 classes, letting students see how painters, etchers and sculptors had interpreted scenes from Shakespeare plays, The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, etc.

I recommend bookmarking Daily Deity. It's a high-interest site for kids and adults and will always have a connection to multiple studies: religion, mythology, literature, history, to name a few. Even if the site eventually stops updating (the last entry as of this posting is April 17), it's a worthwhile resource.

Classics Illustrated Series hit Hard By New Policies

A press release to make a person cry, "Why, Diamond? Why?":

TORONTO, April 28, 2009 — In early April 2009, Diamond Comic Distributors notified Jack Lake Productions Inc., publisher of Classics Illustrated comics, that due to “new operating guidelines and benchmarks,” they are dropping solicitation and distribution of the full Classics Illustrated series.

President of Jack Lake Productions Inc., Jaak Jarve, commented, “That this is another example of a knee-jerk reaction to the tough economic environment everybody is struggling with to get through.”

He also added, “Ironically, here we have an American intellectual property (consisting of 325 classical literature titles) which are being dumped in favor of spandex-super-hero titles. Oddly enough the American-owned and -produced Classics Illustrated series is being welcomed more by foreign publishers than our own North American publishing community.

Maybe those foreigners are investing in the knowledge that classical literature will help teach our children to cope with the realities of the real world much better than these caped-crusaders who like jumping off high buildings. Splat! That’s all I have to say.”

Jaak further mentioned, “Given these new circumstances, we ask all our loyal customers and retailers to continue to order these new republished Classics Illustrated titles directly from Jack Lake Productions Inc. at our website http://www.jacklakeproductions.com or call us at our toll-free number 1-800-269-9206.”

Classics Illustrated titles will continue to be sold and distributed by independent distributors, book stores, BudsArtBooks.com and Amazon.com.

Jack Lake Productions Inc. is proud to announce that since September 2008, Classics Comic Store Ltd. out of the UK, managed by Jeff Brooks, has been selling and distributing Classics Illustrated titles into the UK, Republic of Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.
The company is also proud to announce that in March of this year, !Editions, a publisher out of France, picked up the worldwide French rights for the 1990 First/Berkley Classics Illustrated titles.

In 2007, Papercutz picked up the worldwide English rights for the Classics Illustrated First/Berkley series as well as their own deluxe 144-page adaptations of classic literature. Since 2006, Egmont has been re-issuing 4-title Classics Illustrated volumes in Scandinavia. Since 2005, Modern Times S.A. has been selling and distributing Classics Illustrated Juniors in Greece and Cyprus.

Check us out on the Internet at http://www.jacklakeproductions.com

Free Comic Book Day is Almost Upon Us!

Get free comics this weekend just by stopping by your local comics shop. It's a great time to explore different genres. And, hey, maybe you can finagle a class set of something if you ask the store owners nicely.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Borderland Comics Studios to Represent on Free Comic Book Day: May 2, 2009

More comics goodness -- this time for Free Comic Book Day, coming up May 2,2009 -- from comics creators in the El Paso/Juarez region via this press release:

Free Comic Book Day: The Christmas of Comics, to promote literacy and art through the medium of comics and to inspire thousands, nay, millions to get out and visit their local shops is upon us, MAY 2nd 2009!

This year, Adversary Comix and 656 Comics is doing something unheard of, unprecedented, and just really kick ass and cool! Nothing like this has ever been done before, so we’ve gotta set the trend and hopefully this will become the norm. with the recession in full effect it’s tough to get your books for a low price, but how does free sound, well we’re gonna sweeten the deal even more as we present the first COMIC BOOK CD made in EL PASO, TX and CD.JUAREZ CHIH!!!!!

The digital age is upon us, we download music and movies like mad, and comics are headed in the digital direction, major companies are seeing the trend and striking while the iron is hot, and since we at Adversary and 656 enjoy breaking borders, we’re throwing our hat in the ring as well!

We are giving away a CD with over 25 comics and previews in it.Yes you heard right! Why only get one or two free comics on FCBD, when you can get over 25!

We are mixing media and technology to bring to you just a sample of all the work that 656 Comics and Adversary Comics has put out!Here is a sampling of what we’ll be handling out on FCBD!:

El Valiente vs La Momia Robotica

Los Meksmen vs Zombi Kid part 1

Zombi RiderEl Comiquero #1

El Comiquero Verano

Mar de Locura


8x8 Short Stories

Terror infonavit, a 24 hour comic

Las Chicas Clave 1-4

And the premiere of:

A Year Without a Summer

Double Edge

And previews of

BATTERY ACID: Tales of the Strange Sort








The FCBD CD will be given away at our signing @ Dave’s Comics located at 5360 N. Mesa St.
El Paso, TX 79912(915) 875-8600 Soon to be renamed Asylum Comics.

And on top of that, the CD will have a free sketch on the label! But wait that’s not the best part, the best part is that even if you can’t make it to El Paso to our signing to receive a CD, you can email us at adversarycomix@gmail.com and WE WILL SEND YOU A COPY FOR FREE!

And did I mention that the whole stable of Adversary and 656 artists will be there AND that BATTERY ACID: TALES OF THE STRANGE SORT WILL BE ON SALE?!And on top of that! ADVERSARY COMIX: AGENTS OF THE PARANORMAL will be on hand to answer your paranormal questions and read your future, there will be Pinup Models and a LIVE ART JAM and free giveaways and trivia, and direct from Los Angeles, P.H.A.T.M Death squad will be belting out the tunes till the cops shut us down!

So join us if you can and see what FREE COMIC BOOK DAY should be like, the ADVERSARY/656 way!Whew! And then the after party afterwards? We are going to keep going till the break of dawn!


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Salt Water Taffy

Salt Water Taffy, a favorite comic among many and one suitable for general audiences, is going to have a web comic version as well as its popular print version, according to The Beat.

ViziPress Gets Busy with Multimodal Comics

Press release:

(New York, April 22) The first visual storytelling site that combines Graphic Novel and music that will define a new genre of literacy, launches today. Over 20,000 viewers have already previewed its opening collection of titles on ViziPress.com

ViziPress.com combines the elements of infographics, visual narrative and music to deliver fiction and non-fiction narratives online and soon, on iPhones and other smart mobile devices.

"We have learned from the Graphic Novel/Manga World that a new generation of readers needs a high level of visuality with their literacy," says founder, Alan Brody. "The magic in the online version is the music which brings it all together in a compelling way."

ViziPress is launching with 3 titles:
Cigarette Seduction - a non-fiction book on the history and psychology of smoking
Broad on Wall - a racy romp about Wall Street
White Shaka Boy - the story about a New York teen who discovers his inner Zulu and the empire he owns in Africa.

ViziPress will be serializing all these books in "Webisodes" that can be viewed online and by iPhones and other smart phones as well as delivering them in print and digital format.

Business Books
ViziPress will be offering visual renderings of non-fiction business books, complex texts, graphic novels and music storybooks.

About the Music
Each webisode comes with original music from top performers like Jennie Walker and great producers like Tommy Faragher. White Shaka Boy features music by Draztik from the top selling African album, Imbube.

About the Platform
ViziPress is powered by Empressr - an innovative presentation technology platfom that supports full mutimedia features.About the AuthorAlan Brody is a technology impresario and producer of multimedia Graphic Novels.

About ViziPress
ViziPress is the innovative publisher of cutting edge Graphic Novels in print and digital formats. It is also produces the annual Graphica in Education https://www.webmail.utep.edu/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.graph-ed/.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

SpiralMind: A New Hero from El Paso Comics Creators!

Press release:


Series zooming forward with big plans for military, Spanish speakers, Comic-Con

Since its debut in January, the Spiralmind comic book series has picked up steam and a devoted fan base around the country. Hugely popular entertainment website Ain’t It Cool News gives Spiralmind a big thumbs-up, saying “Not [in] a style you see often in this post-Image era of cross-hatches and sketches, and that’s what made reading this first issue so refreshing. The story aims high with a conflict of biblical proportions, but boiled down to its basics, it’s got an @$$-kicking rabbi, a spandex clad superhero, and werewolves...

Issue one also has a full article on Ancient Judaic Exorcism. This is definitely unlike any comic I’ve read before…and a hell of a lot of fun to read… SPIRALMIND is definitely a comic book reading experience you won’t forget.”

Created by two natives of the world’s largest border metropolis, BenPerez and Matt Rothblatt dot the fantastical city of Ninevah where Spiralmind battles to save humanity from mystical demons with details of their truly unique hometown. Their background in military service also contributes to the story as well as plans for spreading the comic around the world. Plans are in the works with local military base Fort Bliss to provide free copies of Spiralmind for soldiers being deployed overseas. “Our soldiers deserve a little bit of fun and a little bit of home,” says Perez. “We’re happy to work hard and do what we can in return for all they do.”

In acknowledgement of their bicultural, bilingual environment, Perez and Rothblatt always intended for Spiralmind to be available in two languages and the Spanish version of Issue #1, Rabbi’s Lament, hits stores May 1.

“Our plan since starting this venture was to make Spiralmind accessible to everyone in El Paso and Spanish speakers around the world,” says Rothblatt.Perez adds, “Living in El Paso—where Spanish is primarily a first language for residents—we realize the importance that ‘En EspaƱol’ holds for people. This goes for the rest of the country too! As of 2008, Hispanics made up 15% of the U.S. population and are projected to make up 30% by 2050. From a business standpoint, it’s a no-brainer. DC Comics did a Spanish language issue of Blue Beetle, a Hispanic character living in El Paso. The writer Jai Nitz—who lives in Lawrence, Kansas but has family in Laredo, Texas—was able to pull off the issue beautifully while representing Spanish and the 'Spanglish' spoken here on the border. Thanks to guys like Jai and some of his predecessors, Spanish comics are considered an important part of a shifting paradigm in the comic book industry.”

“If things go well, we’ll be able to translate it into other languages in the future,” Rothblatt explains. “But having Spiralmind available in Spanish was not just a business decision; it was a decision of the heart. We know there are many kids and young adults living in El Paso,Ciudad Juarez [Mexico] across our border, or even in Omaha, Boston,and Raleigh who speak Spanish. These books are for them. We want them to be able to embrace our stories just as an English speaker would our English version.”

Jahaziel Rodriquez, who assisted Perez and Rothblatt in translating Rabbi’s Lament, says, “When I first heard about Spiralmind from Ben and Matt, I was excited for them. When they mentioned a Spanish translation, I was excited for me. As a fan of comics and a fluid Spanish speaker, I had not seen many good comics in Spanish, but Spiralmind had the chance to be exactly that. So I jumped at the opportunity to bring something to life that had not previously been seen. Hispanic-American fans of the genre were not being given the privilege to enjoy strong comic stories in their native language and I wanted to be involved in the process of making that possible.”

Spiralmind can be ordered online from www.comixpress.com orwww.indyplanet.com. Updates about the series and its creative umbrella, Phi3 Comics, can be found at www.myspace.com/phi3comics.

Spiralmind will celebrate Free Comic Book Day on May 2 with an appearance by creators Perez and Rothblatt in their hometown of El Paso at Rebels Comic Vault. Upcoming plans for Spiralmind include appearances at Comic-Con in June and Issue #2 ready in time for summer.

# # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # # #The Spiralmind team is available for interviews. Review copies of Issue #1 in English and Spanish are available for review, along with hi-res art for publication. For more information, contact Lisa Y.Garibay at LARGetc. Publicity, 213-840-3517 or lisa@largetc.com

List of Web Comics

Someone asked the comics scholars list serve about recommended web comics for a college course on comics and graphic novels. The results were ... well, this is a list serve full of comics fans and scholars. So, here's a link to many that got their URLs posted in one place, and the URLs for several others. The info just kept coming, which is wonderful and what these lists are for!


Perry Bible Fellowship: http://pbfcomics.com/

Listed as someone's "Jewish faves":
Eros Inc. http://www.commonnamefilms.com/erosinc/
Hereville http://www.hereville.com
Rabbi Encounters http://rabbiencounters.smackjeeves.com/
Talmud Comics http://homepage.usask.ca/~mll934/
Comic Torah - http://afreeman.com/52portions/index.htm
Of Biblical Proportions - http://obpcomics.com/
Graphic Therapy - Notes from the Gap Years by Emily Steinberg http://www.smithmag.net/graphictherapy/2008/06/04/chapter-1/

I'm basically posting this info as a placeholder so the next time I want my own students to look into web comics, I can call their attention to this resource, which started out as a teacher's request for info. You feel free to do the same to keep the "pedagogical pass it" forward going!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Friday, April 17, 2009

Call for Papers! Graduate Conference and Event

CFP: El Paso in the Comics II: “The Southwest in the Comics”

Graduate students in all fields of study are invited to submit 200-word abstracts to the second-annual “El Paso in the Comics” conference and event, to be held on the campus of the University of Texas at El Paso, February 23, 2010.

Papers on all aspects of comics scholarship, theory, and pedagogy will be given attention, but those that deal with issues related to artists, creators, characters and/or themes associated with the American Southwest and/or Hispanic/Chicano culture in comics will be given top priority.

Abstracts should include name, e-mail, affiliation (university and program), proposed paper title and 200-word description. Presentations should run no more than 20 minutes.

Send abstract to:
Dr. James B. Carter
Re: El Paso in the Comics Conference
113 Hudspeth Hall
UTEP English Department
500 W. University Ave.
El Paso, TX 79912

Or electronically to:

The deadline for abstracts is August 20, 2009.

The academic portion of the event will take place in the morning. A creators' roundtable will follow in the mid-afternoon, featuring the many local studios and creators of the El Paso/Juarez region discussing their work with members of the community. The evening will wrap up with a keynote speech by celebrated comics artist and writer Jaime Hernandez of Love and Rockets fame.

Hugh Jackman Promotes Free Comic Book Day/ Literacy

In other news, my wife rejoices as this makes the chances of me inviting him over for dinner that much more likely.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

UNL Digital Collection Debuts: Government Comics Collection

Governments have used comics to educate, indoctrinate, train and persuade for almost as long as comics have been recognized as a medium. This excellent new online collection details multiple examples from the U.S., Mexico, and other countries and also has some gems like senate reports from the 1950s.

This is one resource you'll want to remember.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Interview with Gene Yang, Other Asian-American Comics Creators

Great, great interview covering a range of topics over at Sequential Tart.

Chabon on Carter

Alas, it's John Carter of Mars, not James Bucky Carter of El Paso, of whom the writer who draws so much inspiration from comics speaks. Apparently, he might be helping with a script for a movie version of the classic sci-fi. Maybe next time......

Juggernaut Slowing, Still Not Stopped

ICV2 reports that comics sales were down 6% and graphic novels sales down 5% in the most recent quarter, but says that with the economy as it is, that's actually not so bad. Comics weathers the storm better than other sectors so far, and I expect this to continue, unless there is serious backlash from the cover price increases on certain comic books ($4.99 a pop!). I just wish that comic strips weren't being dropped from so much, and that editorial cartoonists were in better shape.

It'll be interesting to see how the economy and reactions to it shape the comics industry, especially since there seems to be no stop to movie studios seeing comics characters as viable commodities. DC is keeping it's second tier characters fresh by bringing back back-up stories in many of its main books. Marvel has most of its most interesting players in solo and team books, but they are being very budget-conscious of whom they pay and how much they pay out for their future movie releases.

Will the price increase finally move folks to the trade/graphic novel route as more wait to get the pamphlet stories collected? Is that the hope of the companies? Will Spidey save Madam Web?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Raggin' on Shaggy

I give Shakespeare a lot of grief, I admit it. Unfortunately, he often makes a good example when I talk about how not to teach English (don't spend 3 weeks discussing every detail of his life and asking students to do exact replicas of the Globe, right down to the butt imprints on the seats)and how he is often used to promote literacy practices that are becoming more and more ancient by the day.

This is sad because, I really like the guy. Or guys, if you go for the whole "Francis Bacon" multiple identity theories. I love the plays I've read, though I admit to being too rusty on too many of them, and I loves me a sonnet, Petrarchian, Spencerian, Shakespearean, or Flinstonian (a rare form with the rhyme scheme of Y-A-B-B-A/D-A-B-B-A/D-O-O. Don't tell this to college students, though, unless you want to see it written as an answer to a test question enough times to make you wish you'd majored in grocery bagging).

It's not his fault he's been so misappropriated. Indeed, he's good evidence for many of the ideas I espouse about multiple, multimodal and visual literacies, and I was glad to see this week's NCTE's Inbox mention several others who are seeing Ol' Shagstaff in those lenses as well.

To wit: In my travels, I have often encountered skeptics who ask me if students oughtn't be reading Shakespeare instead of learning this visual literacy stuff. Of course, I eat this up, because what texts could be more interactive, multimodal, and visual than the plays of Shakespeare? The very figure that so many traditionalists uphold as the pinnacle of literary quality is the same figure who might represent the pinnacle of the multimodal experience!

Shakespeare's plays aren't meant to be read dryly, but to be EXPERIENCED. Read, seen, heard, smelled, even. I recently attended a state-level conference where the new teacher of the year talked about needing no film versions or abridged texts to teach her students Shakespeare. By God, the original language was all they needed. But the language is so much stuff and nonsense on its own, as tedious as a twice-told tale without the visual and visceral experiences that were originally meant to accompany it.

What I wouldn't do to time travel with a video recorder and study not just a performance of King Lear or A Midsummer Night's Dream, but how the audience interacted with the story as they witnessed it....

We can't do that, of course, but we can at least acknowledge the visual and spatial quality of the texts without degrading their status as literature. Again, if it represents the apex of literary achievement, let us see that within the top of the form, visual elements must exist. Teach Shakespeare instead of visual literacy? It is visual literacy! Teach Shakespeare instead of comics? Why not Shakespeare-inspired plots or themes in comics, or Manga or other graphic adaptations of Shakespeare. The visual doesn't detract from the source material ,which innately was visual to begin with!

Of course, I know enough that the argument I've made herein will not make short shrift of many traditionalist's thoughts on my good friend Willy D. Shakes. But, at heart, I think Shaggy and I are on the same team, brothers never so vile, when it comes to his plays and visual literacy.

After all, if all the world's a stage, and we're merely players, and we're not supposed to enjoy seeing any of it and doing the active aspects that "playing" implies, what sort of sick joke is life? Lot of tripping over each other, I think. And a lot of not being able to see the forest (marching or otherwise. Hey, anyone else think that Macbeth should have included the line "Run, Forest, Run"?) for the trees for not being able to see the trees or anything else.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Student Review and Lesson Ideas: The Education of Hopey Glass

In The Education of Hopey Glass, Jaime Hernandez attempts to portray the lives of several Hispanic adults, paying close attention to the development of Hopey as a young woman trying to make sense out her life as she takes a teaching assistant position at an elementary school. Interestingly, the graphic novel seems to come to an abrupt break midway through, and turns it’s focus away from Hopey, her lesbian lover Maggie, and her new career as a teaching assistant; to that of a highly sexually charged relationship between the characters of Ray and Viv, and Ray’s unrequited love for Maggie. It is not clear if Hernandez intended the graphic novel to read this way, or if it is a major flaw in the plot line.

Hernandez explores issues of racial identity, racial discrimination, sexual and physical violence towards women, and homosexuality as prominent themes and underlying themes in almost every vignette of his work. He artfully combines the characters choice dialogue with highly explicit illustrations that not only set the scene for the reader, but provide background information as well. His illustrations are done with so much expertise and craft that many times dialogue is sparse or non-existent, and the story line does not seem to suffer. However, it may be this expertise that is Hernandez’s undoing as well.

I suggest that in the second half of The Education of Hopey Glass, Hernandez may lose some of the reader’s interest because of the explicit sexual relationship between Ray, Viv, and Angel. While more mature readers may be turned off by the explicit sketches, some younger readers may be turned on. Either way, the focus on the explicit sexual images may overtake a readers attention, rather than focusing on the plot line and racial themes apparent in the graphic novel.

A suggestion for a lesson plan can be geared towards twelfth-grade and college level students exploring the theme of racial identity and/or the “passing” theme. In the text, Milena Loznika passes for a young Mexican woman to land a job on television. Teaching suggestions include linking The Education of Hopey Glass with Nella Larsen’s Passing, and W.E. Bois’ The Veil. One can ask students to read all three texts, hold a class discussion, and then give students a choice of writing a comparative/contrast paper or to compose their own prose or poetry, citing their own experience of passing if applicable.

-- Cira Montoya

Student Review and Lesson Ideas: Sloth

Gilbert Hernandez’s Sloth is an imaginative graphic novel that examines the feelings of fear, frustration, uncertainty, and joy all adolescents go through during their teenage years. He does this by constructing an imaginative plot line; wherein the two main characters Miguel and Lita, escape the trauma of adolescent love by “willing themselves” into a self-induced coma. When both characters emerge from their coma, they seem to have forgotten about the most stressful moments of their past, and opt to perceive the world in a much slower, methodical way.

Hernandez artfully creates illustrations that suggest to the reader that Miguel and Lita are in a dream-like trance while existing in their self-induced comas. His illustrations also suggest the dreamy-like state of a coma is connected to a peace of mind only found with in the lemon grove that much of the plot-line takes place in. The third character Romeo, also experiences a method of escape from the stresses of teenage angst and love. Romeo succumbs to urban legend folklore and actually transforms himself into a teenage idol, with hopes of romance with Lita. When the romance between Romeo and Lita backfires, Romeo escapes inflicting any more trauma upon Lita and Miguel and “wills himself” into a coma as well.

Hernandez creatively suggests how young adults opt to escape the social and emotional pressures of growing into adulthood in the twenty-first century. Within the graphic novel, Hernandez touches on the volatile themes of abandonment, female discrimination in the workforce, love versus lust, teenage idolization, and adolescent self-esteem. Furthermore, Hernandez successfully depicts how the three main characters opt to “fade out” of society through self-induced comas, rather than the much glorified subject of teen suicide. This aspect of the graphic novel makes it a possible candidate for use in the classroom, preferably for twelfth-grade and college-level students.

A possible lesson plan for integrating Hernandez’s Sloth into the classroom includes the exploration of the themes mentioned above. For example, one may choose to create a unit plan on the theme of discrimination in America. Varied texts may include The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, Racism 101 by Nikki Giovanni, and Sloth by Gilbert Hernandez. After a class discussion on the re-occurring theme in all three texts, one may ask students to write a persuasive paper on discrimination in America citing all three texts, or for those students who have a more creative edge; ask students to create their own poem or comic strip incorporating the discrimination theme.
-- Cira Montoya

Student Review and Lesson Ideas: The 9/11 Report

For my English 5350 graduate course we were assigned to do a review on at least two of the graphic novels that we have read for class. I was lucky enough to get one that is truly very gripping. The 9/11Report: A graphic Adaptation is a graphic novel based on the final report of the National Commission on Terrorist attacks Upon the United States. The authors of the novel are two names which not new to the comic industry, Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon.

Similar to what the foreword of the graphic novel is explaining, an article in the New Yorker states that although the 9/11 Commission Report became a best seller, the way that it is laid out will not reach a diverse audiences and that is why the adaptation of the book into graphic novel format was greatly need (Singer, 2008). That is exactly what Jacobson and Colon did by creating a graphic novel based on the event that took place on the tragedy that took place on September 11th, 2001.
From the standpoint of someone who is familiar with the situation only through what was heard from surrounding people or from occasionally clips seen on television, this graphic novel is a great way to learn about what truly happened on 9/11 and on dates closely surrounding 9/11. The creation of this graphic novel is all around great. The creators give so much detail in this rather small graphic novel. At the beginning of the novel the creators tried and in my mind did a pretty good job of developing a time line of what was going on at specific times in the four airplanes that were hijacked. As mentioned above, the novel presents its readers with different situations that surrounded and probably lead to the tragedy on September 11th, 2001 that as a reader you wonder why the government didn’t do things differently to try to better prevent the tragedy from happening. Not only because of how greatly informative this novel is, but also for its fantastic graphics which catch the attention of so many young adolescents , this is definitely a book that needs to be incorporated into today’s schools’ curriculum.

I feel that this graphic novel can fit into many different subjects, but because the fact that I hope to be an English Language Arts Teacher, I tried to think of ways in which The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation could fit into a Language Arts class. One way that is obvious is doing a lesson based on vocabulary. I feel that this is a good idea mainly because of the immense amount of intense vocabulary. Another way that a teacher could use this is by teaching about visual representation and visual interpretation.
One could ask there student to develop a graphic novel on an important event that has taken place in their own lives. Another idea of how this could be incorporated into the a classroom is if you are basing your instruction on tragic events this would be a perfect novel to teach about 9/11. I believe that the creators of this graphic novel did such a good job that it could be used in so many different ways and that is another thing that makes it so great.

-- Ana D. Valtierra

Student Review and Lesson Ideas: Chiggers

Chiggers is a fun graphic novel written by Eisner Award Winner Hope Larson. Chiggers is an interesting and enjoyable story about a adolescent girl named Abby who is going through what all young people go through, friendship and identity issues. The title itself comes from an inside joke that the campers circulate around the camp. “They’re, like, these little, tiny bugs that crawl under your skin and die, and they itch a lot. Way worse than mosquito bites” (pp.24).

The graphic novel revolves around Abby and her return to summer camp. Abby being very young and a bit naive adolescent is returning to her what seems to be yearly summer where she expects to see all her old friends and start from where they left off, but thing did not turn out exactly how she wanted them to.

Being the first person to be dropped off at camp, Abby anxiously waits for everyone to arrive and for her fun to start as soon as her old friends arrive, but Abby excitement quickly ends. Rose is the old friend who Abby especially cannot wait to see, but from the first encounter between the two, Abby quickly realizes that things at camp are going to be a lot different this year. This year her friend Rose is a Cabin Assistant and a bit too busy to really get to talk to Abby, let alone spend time with her. All of Abby’s other friends from last camp also seem to be different. One has piercing, others have boyfriends, or some just think that they are too mature and cool for Abby. The only person who seems to be the only person who does not think that she is too cool for Abby is a young girl named Shasta who was a new to the camp and had been struck by lightning. In Chiggers it seemed like Abby would do anything to try to fit in with her old “friends.” Abby often did things that we as readers could see were not characteristic of her such as treating Shasta horribly and taking insults from them. Eventually Abby finally realizes that all she has to do to be happy is be herself.

Although this book seems to be very realistic, we as readers are also introduced to supernatural occurrences. One thing made me think about this is when Abby and Teal run off together we get a visual of them being elves and another is when they develop wings like fairies. In a discussion in class we talked about the magical realism of the novel. The fantasy world is just like a reflection of what their camp is; it is only real for that particular time and it will only last till the end of the summer.

As mentioned above it is a really fun story to read especially for younger girls in Middle School or even the early High School. It is follows the format of the movie Mean Girls. It is not the most educational story that one can find, but I believe that it is a great book to have in the classroom. Those who are interested in reading it can either read it a home or on their free time at school. I think all kids will be able to relate to this book mainly because everyone goes through the types of changes that Abby is going through.

One lesson that I feel that could be taught using the graphic novel Chiggers is a lesson that deals with identity. Abby seems to be struggling to find out who she is or who she wants to be and at the Middle School and early High School ages many students are dealing with the same thing; therefore, creating a lesson dealing with something that relates to them will definitely have them engaged.

--Ana D. Valtierra

Student Review and Lesson Ideas: American Widow

American Widow, by Alissa Torres, portrays the harsh reality of a young widow desperately searching for answers about her late husband Eddie Torres, who was killed during the attacks of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The themes of loss, surviving through adversity, and the search for a new identity are a few possible themes portrayed in this touching graphic novel. What I found most appealing about this novel was that a woman’s memories and heart-wrenching experiences were so clearly and passionately illustrated. It’s almost as if Alissa Torres were sitting next to me, describing in detail the horrific aftermath of losing a husband and fighting to make a new life for her and her child.

American Widow can be used in secondary classrooms to teach different themes that may be relevant to the lives of secondary students. Before teaching this graphic novel, I would begin class with a mini-history lesson of September 11, 2001 to refresh students’ memories and thoughts about this historical tragedy. If I were teaching a class of juniors, I would remind myself that these students were only seven or eight years old when this occurred so they will have to discuss what they remember about this day, who was involved, and the resolutions this nation took to defend itself.


Students will learn new themes through this graphic novel.
Students will compare/contrast themes with other novels or whole texts.
Students will apply meaning to reality or real-world situations.

When studying a unit on surviving adversity and fighting to create a new life, teaching American Widow as part of the Holocaust would be relevant because there are numerous Holocaust survivors’ stories and memoirs just waiting to be read and discussed in the language arts content. When choosing to study a novel such as Night by Elie Wiesel, American Widow can be used as a secondary source of loss, survival, and forming new identities after horrific life changing experiences. Both main characters in these stories are faced with loss of faith, a search for answers, and eventually choosing to write about life’s unfair struggles and tribulations to reach diverse audiences.

Secondary Lesson Idea

High school juniors would begin with front-loading activities by reading American Widow first to establish the three themes of these novels. By exercising “front-loading” in the classroom, students do most of the unit’s activities before reading the primary or whole text of the unit to gain a better sense of similar themes characters experience during different time periods.

While students are reading American Widow, they will be asked to select significant lines, phrases, or quotes they feel are important and write their explanations using a double-diary entry log. Since this is a graphic novel, students may also choose to write about significant panels that contribute to the themes or emotions portrayed by the author. After reading this graphic novel, students will discuss the relevance of the themes, and the significance of the author writing about her experiences of September 11, 2001.

Discussion Questions:

After reading Alissa Torres’ graphic novel, what do you think gave her the motivation to create her true story in a graphic novel format instead of a traditional novel format?

Select a scene, picture, or panel and discuss why it was significant to you.

If Alissa Torres was in our classroom, what question would you ask her about this novel or her life-changing experience?

If a sequel was created for this graphic novel, what do you think it should be about? What are your suggestions for a sequel?

How does this graphic novel relate to today’s conflicts and controversial war?

Mini-Lesson Idea:

Introduce Pablo Neruda’s works and discuss their importance in this graphic novel.
“You will remember that leaping stream where sweet dreams rose and trembled” (Neruda).

Post-reading Activity

After reading Night and American Widow, students will create a visual representation of the two texts using power points or other methods students would like to use to demonstrate similarities in significant historical events that have shaped the nation’s history and future.
Using American Widow in a secondary classroom is a unique teaching method because it addresses many English Language Arts standards and because it is a non-traditional approach to understanding the history of the Holocaust and the history of the United States. Survivor’s memoirs and true stories are an excellent way to engage all readers of all ages.

-- Marcy Alvarado

Student Review and Lesson Ideas: American Born Chinese

American Born Chinese depicts the life of an adolescent Chinese boy and the struggles he encounters throughout his childhood and education. Although there are several stories occurring throughout the novel, they all tie in with characters struggling against discrimination, the quest for self-identity, self-acceptance, and truth.

It is clear that Jin Wang’s family moves to America to give him a better life and more opportunities for Jin. Jin Wang’s curiosity with the transformer action figure is symbolic of Jin’s desire to become someone greater and more accepted than the identity he was born with. This is relevant to younger secondary school students because they often find themselves trying to fit in with different crowds of kids to feel accepted and wanted by others. “A robot in disguise. Like this one! He changes into a truck…See? More than meets the eye” (28). The robot that is able to transform to something unexpected is appealing to Jin Wang because he secretly wishes he could transform himself and give others the opportunity to discover more than meets the eye.

“Returning to true form” is a reoccurring theme throughout this graphic novel. The Monkey King feels he is destined to rule but has no desire to return to the form he was given. After reading this novel, middle school students could choose one story to discuss and write about. Students will identify with one or more characters and describe what the main theme is throughout the novel.

· Students will identify adolescent themes through a cultural assimilation story.
· Students will discuss the importance of remaining true to themselves or to their “true form.”
· Students will discuss how this graphic novel is relevant to their lives in and out of the classroom.

Background Web Quests
Students will research information regarding the Chinese culture, customs, and traditions that affect the characters’ lives and choices in this graphic novel. This will help students understand the importance culture plays in growing up in a country where diversity is often times scorned or not readily accepted.

Discussion Questions
· What is the main struggle each character is faced with?
· Why is it important to remain true to yourself or to always return to your true form?
· Discuss the importance of parents’ rules regarding expectations for children. Are your parents’ expectations similar to Jin’s parents as far as education and expectations?
· Choose one page, panel, or phrase to discuss with a partner. Discuss why the page, panel or phrase stuck out to you. What is the significance of it and how does it relate to the graphic novel as a whole?

Students will create a few panels portraying Jin Wang’s life after high school. What will he be doing in his future? Will he fulfill his expectations his parents desire for him or will he escape his true form and create a new destiny? Students will present their predictions to the class and explain each panel through a short presentation.
-- Marcy Alvarado

Student Review and Lesson Ideas: Blankets

Blankets is the coming of age story of Craig Thompson during the early 1990s Wisconsin. In the novel, Craig tells the story of how he found a guiding light amongst the uncertainty of teen life and home life. The story revolves around Craig and his friend-and-sort-of-girlfriend Raina, and how both of them need each other to get through their lives (at this point being 18 years old). Bt far from being your basic any and every hormonal 18 year old problem(s), Craig deals with the uncertainty of what is to become of him in the future and not only that, but it is coupled with a questioning of his religions beliefs. While Raina has to deal with her parents separating, having to help raise her mentally challenged adopted siblings, and way to often having to play the role of head of household and responsible adult.

When Craig and Raina meet up and spend time together, not only does having one there for the other (and vise versa) help with their situations, it gives them a chance to develop a romantic intimacy that respectively at their given time both Craig and Raina use this experience to spring board into the next phase of their lives. The love Craig gives and takes is helpful in coming to terms with his crisis in faith, that in turn gives him the fortitude to move out and grow as an individual out in the real world. The love that Raina gives and most deservingly needs and receives certainly helps her get through her family’s disintegration. In the novel, even though both characters do use each other to get the most out of the emotional and mental rut they are in; it is not done in a negative way, rather it is done more in a therapeutic symbiotic relationship.

This novel is perfect for any and all High School teens; but being that Craig is a Senior in High School, it may be better suited for Juniors and Seniors because they are all (to a given extent) going through the same motions, emotions, fears, frustrations, and uncertainties of adolescence and creating a strong individuality from any and all occurrences and experiences in their lives. These are some exercises that can accompany reading Blankets:

1) Have students point out several themes the novel presents: family values, faith, growing up, the future, etc. And have them write how one or many of the themes they find in the novel help the story progress.

2) Have students reflect on certain personal experiences that may be mirrored by the text. Were they feeling similarly to Craig, or did they react in a different way? If anything in the novel has not been experienced in any way by the students, have them write what they think they would do in the exact same situation.

3) Have students compare and contrast Blankets with another novel or the novel it may be paired with to analyze the benefits/drawbacks of both graphic novels and textual novels.

-- Javier Guerra

Student Review and Lesson Ideas: A.D.: After the Deluge

A.D. is the story of the aftermath Hurricane Katrina left in New Orleans as it is intertwined and told by people that lived in New Orleans at the time; and how their lives were changed by one common event. The novel retells the events of Katrina in the lives of five people (Leo, The Doctor, Kevin, Hamid, and Denise) and their families and friends. During the hurricane and its aftermath, each of the individual must make a decision or are part of a decision, of whether to stay and wait out the storm or leave (just in case) and return when it is safe to do so.

In the case of leaving, Leo and his girlfriend Michelle decide to leave and stay with a friend in Houston, Texas; Kevin and his brother are sent to California to stay with a family friend. This includes Hamid’s family, who he sends to Houston while he and his brother decide to stay and look after his store. The Doctor also stays, only because he thinks it is one of the “usual” storms that NOLA gets; while Denise must stay to care for her mother and her niece and her baby.

The novel begins on Monday, August 22, 2005, as the hurricane is nowhere to be found and slowly starts to grow; ends on September 1, with a follow up 1 ½ years later on February 6, 2007, when all the individuals in the novel tell Neufeld what they returned to and how they are doing now. It has been said that you can never go back home, as far as leaving home and returning later on and realizing things have changed. But A.D. certainly is a twist on this idea; whether you stayed home or returned after being forced out, due to factors not in one’s control, home is definitely no longer the same.

A.D. is a perfect novel to use when learning about the human system and experience. How not only man can affect nature, but how nature can also affect man; and from it, what could, is, can, and has been done since to present or alleviate such disasters and human suffering during natural crisis. Being that the novel is accessible online, soon to be out in print, it gives great links to add to the story/occurrences of Katrina to better help in learning and precariously experiencing the event. The following are exercises for the novel:

1) Students can explore themes of Man vs Man, Man vs Nature, and Human Nature (Psychological), and determine what each character could or should have done differently. Then, whether based on those decisions, would it really have mattered during Katrina?

2) Students can write what they would have done in the same situation, and then research safety measures that have been created for natural disasters (focusing on hurricanes) and then rethinking and rewriting their original responses to what they would have done in the same situation. The online version would help out with this because of the added links.

3) If students recall Katrina they can describe their feeling about the disaster and the aftermath for New Orleans residents. If they cannot recall, they can still describe how they feel now, after having learned about the disaster and having read the novel.

--Javier Guerra

Student Review and Lesson Ideas: La Perdida

This graphic novel is a page-turner and definitely contains all the necessary elements for a narrative saga. In spite of this, there is something intrinsically offensive in the rhetorical framework that appears to be substantially essentialist as certain traits are portrayed as intrinsic or mandatory to the state of existence that governs the lives of a country and its people. If an uninformed reader who has never traveled or been exposed to Mexican culture were to read this, he or she would come away with a linear view of a culture driven by the drug trade, governmental anarchy and rampant violence that is categorically directed at women.

And yes, I understand that this novel is conveying an “ex-patriot” experience in Mexico City but I feel that the rhetorical implications extend far beyond that singular dynamic. Furthermore, a binary is established that positions Anglo American culture and society at a distinct advantage. From the beginning, the half-Mexican Carla Olivares and her Anglo one-time boyfriend Harry, are portrayed as possessing intrinsic or “a priori” privilege that is God-given and serves as a veil of protection. Also the tone of the plot dynamic suggests that both Harry and Carla are rooted to an institution that affords a sense of balance and stability that they can always return to when they tire of wild living. The social ties that connect them to the United States and their families are identified as through legitimate means via stable family situations and the sound economic practices of their progenitors (although Carla is of lesser means, her family appears to be established and not due to any swindles). They are also positioned within the novel as the object of covetous thus spawning and nurturing the notion that the American capitalistic lifestyle is what is the most desirable and the viable yardstick through which all other groups are gauged and accessed.

The Mexican nationals are primarily portrayed as degenerate, conniving, abusive and amoral individuals who prefer criminal activity to legitimate channels of economic endeavor. Furthermore, for the most part, the Mexican nationals are portrayed as foolishly earnest and ignorantly sloppy desperadoes who are really never even afforded the rhetorical gift of potency as competent criminals. With the exception of a few obscure friends of Carla’s brother Rod, the Mexican characters are absorbed in the full-time task of attempting to perpetrate a scam on someone. With that in mind, the plot develops into a full scale kidnapping of Harry which leads to Carla’s eventual involvement and several murders. Even the Mexican Communist revolutionary is exposed as a blatant hypocrite who is another complicit agent in the plot to obtain the fruits of capitalism through extortion.

The novel does not offer a satisfactory anecdote. Yes, Harry’s father is revealed to be the owner of some imperialist companies exploiting conditions in Mexico but the information is given as an aside. And yes, I get the sense that the primary cartel leader may be an “ex-patriot” American posing as a South American. Still, the ending reaffirms the initial assumptions of the novel. Nothing in the plot offers an alternative point of view that would usurp ubiquitous assumptions or suggest a route towards change. Harry and Carla Olivares survive the ordeal with their special status and privilege intact.

Now I must admit that the information given does not offend the boundaries of verisimilitude. There is an aspect of existence here on the border in El Paso and in Mexico which somewhat parallels the lives of characters in La Perdida. ( I have lived here for twenty four years) I have personally known various such desperadoes living on the edge of existence and peddling for any little, minute advantage that will carry them into the next day. And yes, I would dare say that certain cities could be considered as sustained through drug economies. When you have a city in which the median income is $15,000 and sixty percent of the student populations of the various school districts are receiving free and reduced lunch and yet a percentage of these same students live in $400,000 homes and when many homes are bought with cash, you know there has to be a source of unreported income. Yes, this side of life exists. And yet this is not adequately representative of the Mexican community. There are many families who reject this drug related lifestyle and who work earnestly at legitimate jobs. There are a significant number of individuals with advanced college degrees and strong cultural ties. There are those with engineering and medical degrees who attend symphonies and send their children to catechism and violin lessons.

Contrary to the suggestions of La Perdida, not all Mexican men beat women and act like prolific gigolos. Thus, the novel does not offer a balanced view of reality. Ironically, the main character Carla, assumes responsibility for the deaths of two of her close, drug dealing friends, who upon her suggestion, seek asylum in the American embassy. I feel that the author needs to assume responsibility for such a linear view of a culture. Incidentally, in her long list of acknowledgments, Abel only mentions two people with Mexican surnames who assisted her in this project.

Lesson Plan Ideas:

One project might be for students to look at the way both English and Spanish are used in the novel. Initially, the author has the characters speaking in Spanish with English translations. As the story progresses, and the main character Carla learns Spanish, the English translations merge with the Spanish. Then the novel becomes a dialogue in strictly English but it is not standard English. This English conveys literal translations of Spanish phrases into English. As most of us know, the literal translations do not always convey the meaning as it is intended. I believe this is done in order to convey what incorrect Spanish would sound like to a native speaker in a manner that English speakers can identify with.

Students might compile a list of Spanish words in the novel and couple these words with their English translations and various connotative and denotative meanings.

Students might engage in a “Deconstructionist” exercise in which words and phrases that are presumed to be analytic or true by definition are examined for flaws in interpretation and meaning. The students might construct two lists of words with opposite meanings or opposing characters on opposite sides of a page and reserve a middle section. In this middle section, they can describe ways the words with opposite meanings and or opposing characters are not so different. They will look for flaws in binary distinctions between words and their meaning, concepts and people.

This novel could be paired with an essay entitled “The Task of the Translator” by Walter Benjamin. Students might read the essay and identify key arguments regarding what constitutes a good translation (a translation need not always be an actual translation – it could be rhetorical or figurative) or a cultural communication. Then they would examine various rhetorical strategies and literary elements in La Perdida and decide whether the ideas suggested by Walter Benjamin can be found or not.

This novel could be paired with a book on cultural studies or politics such as:

Decolonial Voices: Chicana and Chicano Cultural Studies in the 21st Century by Arturo J. Aldama and Naomi Helena Quinonez. Indiana University Press, 2002.

Capital: A Critique of Political Economy by Karl Marx. Frederick Engels editor. Charles
H. Kerr & Company, 1906.

This graphic novel could also be paired with Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises. The student could compare and contrast the two different portrayals of an “ex-patriot” experience. The students could also write essays in which they compare and contrast the cultural perspectives in the two novels. The students could compare and contrast the characters’ involvement or lack thereof with the native populations. The Sun Also Rises takes place in Paris, France and several cities in Spain in the 1920’s. The students might discuss how portrayals of the ex-patriot experience have changed over time.

-- Nadia Morales

Student Review and Lesson Ideas: Deogratias

Deogratias is a graphic novel of a minimal length but one which might need to be read twice and with an ample amount of supplementary contextual information. And even then, engaging the truth becomes a meticulous process of revelation, not through direct statement of fact but through innuendo, suggestion and second hand accounts(at least at first). Furthermore, the confession of the ultimate crimes remains vague and information regarding the degree of complicity is absent. The translator, Alexis Siegel incorporates several pages of contextual information that is perhaps intended as an anticipatory element that will help the reader absorb the narrative. Still, I found myself completely unprepared to mentally deal with the adumbrations regarding the subjects of genocide and cannibalism.

The novel unveils parallel realities of existence in which the pedestrian world of logic and cause and effect compete with the sublime reality of physical addiction and insanity. The story discloses the life of one young boy, possibly orphaned and living somewhere between the streets, the Christian missions, the brothels and the mercenary recruiters. His life becomes a daily struggle with alcoholism, drug addiction and later insanity. He suffers from delusions that he has become a dog who eats dead bodies due to the guilt he feels over treacherous acts of torture, rape, murder and possibly cannibalism he has committed against people he knew as childhood friends. The overarching cause of the atrocities might be attributed to the ethnic struggles between the Tutsi and the Hutu tribes of Rwanda and yet this explanation seems grossly inadequate.

I was left wondering how a young, innocent boy evolved into a torturous, murdering cannibal and the most dangerous kind of sociopath. And yet he is not completely a sociopath. His journey into insanity in the wake of his deeds is evidence of his moral struggle. The novel could be extended and developed into a study on how life on the streets serves to neutralize feelings of human empathy and personal conscience. Was it the physiological changes due to drugs and alcohol or the psychological impact of a life devoid of solid social bonding? If there is a moral to the story, it is implied in the life of this young boy, who is subject to a substantial discourse of contingencies and who has never known boundaries or rules of any kind. Even the missionary priest who is supposed to teach morality is rendered inept to the task as his widely known affair and love child with one of the town’s prostitutes has extinguished his credibility (Strassen 12).

And on another level, the purpose of the Christian missionary presence is called into question. The moral message fails to transform the society possibly due to the lack of a good example. In addition, the priests and the religious workers appear to assume a “laissez faire” attitude regarding the horrors being committed by the Hutu against the Tutsi. The tone conveyed appears to be one that is essentialist in nature (attributing individual acts as evidence of ubiquitous characteristics that are rooted in genetics or cultural norms) and one that dismisses the barbaric acts as somehow a foregone conclusion and beyond empirical control. Throughout the novel, the revelatory style of narration suggests predestination or the unveiling of some sort of sublime, metaphysical occurrence. I was left wondering why the author ironically named the boy “Deogratias” or “thanks be to God.” I also found myself objecting to the apparent lack of human agency (the characters appear as sleepwalkers) in the narrative which implies an ideological complicity with predestination that affects the interactions between the social, economic and political forces that constitute the story.

Lesson Plan Ideas:

This graphic novel could be taught in conjunction with a unit on the Rwandan genocide. The students would be asked to research news stories on the subject from the archives of at least five reputable agencies to include Reuters, The British Broadcasting Company, The New York Times, the United Nations report on the genocide and several publications local to the country of Rwanda. They might be asked to discuss the rhetoric of Deogratias in their journals and contrast this narrative with actual news accounts. A class discussion would follow in which each student would summarize their interpretations as juxtaposed with factual reports contained in their journals.

Deogratias could also be used as a springboard for sociological studies in which the students will research the ways in which societal contingencies – economic, religious, ethnic, political and governmental – influence the moral development of a person.

The students might conduct research on what constitutes sociopathic behavior and discuss their findings in their journals.

After reading Deogratias, each student might form a single theory regarding the cause of Deogratias’ mental state. The students would write one paragraph in their journals explaining their reasoning. The students could conduct research on drug addiction, alcoholism and insanity and apply factual information to their own interpretation of Deogratias and their individual line of reasoning.

The students could research the history of Rwanda, ethnic identities, the United Nations’ policies and the role that other forces played in the perpetration of the genocide. The historical research could be conducted in conjunction with a “Deconstruction” exercise in which the students gather a list of ethnic characteristics of Hutu and Tutsi through their research. They would construct a binary list of opposites and then identify places in the novel in which those binary distinctions are undermined or proven to be false.

-- Nadia Morales

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Dave Eggers, Teens Writing, and the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Store

I would have soo gone to this store last time I was in NYC, had I known of its existence and connections to literacy!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Graphic Novel.Com Updates with Creator Interviews, More

From the press release:

Creator Interviews

Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim

The long-awaited The Eternal Smile, new from Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim, is finally here. Meet the two creators behind the book in this interview and learn how the two friends decided to work together-and whether their friendship can survive a Star Wars vs. Star Trek debate.

Ariel Schrag

Ariel Schrag documented her high-school years in four raw, unflinching memoirs. With the release of the fourth and final edition, Likewise, which chronicles her senior year, she talks about what it's like to share your coming-of-age with the world.

Mitch Clem

Mitch Clem started Nothing Nice to Say, a webcomic about "the awesomeness and the absurdity" of the punk rock scene, back in 2002. Here he talks about the recently released anthology of his popular and controversial series.

Domingos Isabelinho Posts Interview with Author of Exit Wounds

A student of mine recently read and reviewed Exit Wounds, a graphic novel on my "need to read" list, for our "Teaching the Graphic Novel" graduate course. As well, a previous guest speaker on campus, comics writer Jai Nitz, sang its praises. So, I'm posting a link to a youtube-style interview with the creator, Rutu Modan. Enjoy, and thanks, Domingos, for posting the video! :)

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Diamond Bookshelf Interview with HS ELA Teacher Who Teaches Watchmen

Proof that they exist! John C. Weaver has been getting some deserved attention lately for talking about how he handles a complex and mature text(with dangling blue wangs) with his HS seniors.

NCTE 2009

I'll be on the program for the 2009 NCTE national convention. Some of the folks working on my next edited collection, a new colleague from Fordham, and I will be giving a roundtable talking about comics in the contact zone. More information as it develops. I've never been to Philly before, so I'm excited about visiting.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Process of Adapting Prose into Comics

I readily admit that I prefer stand-alone graphic novels with multiple embedded literary elements to those that try to adapt classics, but here is a great article on the process creators, etc., go through when considering how and what to adapt.

For better or worse, there is a growing market for sequential art adaptations. Though I fear these will be the only graphic novels teachers will consider when given choices, essentially taking an easy way out and not really learning anything new, there's also the possibility that adaptations might pique interest in other types of comics.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

More Obama in the Comics

In fiction and satire this time, no less. I'm starting to think publishers are going a little crazy with the Obama appearances. If he shows up as a member of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, I may never read comics again (and I voted for the guy!).