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Comics in Education: Teaching Figurative Language with Comics and Graphic Novels

Columnist Anastasia Betts of Graphic Novels 101 looks at the use of comics in the classroom, and shares her experience as an educator helping teachers embrace sequential art as a teaching tool.

Anastasia Betts by Anastasia Betts

Anastasia Betts by Anastasia Betts

I still remember my first year teaching in the classroom. What a fun, challenging, and eye-opening experience that was. I eagerly anticipated the students I would get to know, and how (with all the naive enthusiasm of a newbie), I would light the fire of inspiration under each and every one of them. I dutifully reported to campus, accepted the key to my classroom, and received from my principal a very tall stack of teacher’s manuals.

I started the year with gusto, following the pacing plans given to me by the district and the sequence of lesson plans laid out in the manuals. Before I knew it the end of the first trimester arrived and it was time to complete the report cards for my lovely young 4th graders. It was my first time ever filling out a report card, and I was excited to engage in this next new step of my teaching career.

The report cards were the newly designed, standards-based kind. As a result, I did not see one until it was time to fill it out. Had I gotten my hot little hands on one at the beginning of the year, my teaching might have been entirely different – for the “key” standards listed on the report card had very little to do with what I had been teaching from the teaching manuals and district assignments.

Understanding figurative language (similes, metaphors, personification, onomatopoeia, etc) was one of the important skills that I was to report on. How well had they mastered this knowledge? Were they able to demonstrate and apply their understanding? I experienced a moment of panic as I realized that my current prescribed curriculum did not even cover figurative language – yet here it was on the report card. And I was responsible for holding my students accountable for this knowledge.

I realize this is a lengthy introduction, but here I arrive at my point. With absolutely no tools in my classroom to teach figurative language (and I was determined to do so before I completed those report cards), I raided my comics and graphic novels collection for teaching ideas.

GreenArrow-13

Green Arrow #13 by Kevin Smith and Phil Hester

The first experience with using comics in my classroom was a little rough. I barely knew what I was doing – but I knew that the kids were engaged, and excited to learn. And because they were engaged and interested, their retention of the concepts I was teaching was even stronger.

The next year, I was determined to be much more prepared. My collection of superhero comics was not large at this time (and, I wasn’t sure how manhandled I wanted my issues to get). So to limit some wear and tear, I saved up all the Sunday comics for months, and added them to my lessons on onomatopoeia. Handing out stacks of colored newspaper comics with my DC and Marvel issues elicited tons of “oohs” and “aahs” from my class. With highlighters and post-its they eagerly dug into the comics determined to find every last pop, bang, and pow.

In the coming years I continued to add to my comics collection. My lessons on personification moved to include the amazing comics series Babymouse by Jennifer and Matthew Holm, and also Owly by Andy Runton.

Similes and metaphors are found everywhere in comics. But as teachers, we want our students to move beyond simply identifying to creating their own. Comics provided the perfect stepping stone for such skills. Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man were all larger than life characters that made it easy for my students to develop figurative comparisons: he was fast as a speeding train, or he fought like an enraged lion, etc.

Babymouse

Babymouse: Queen of the World by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm

We moved from writing figuratively about established characters, to having students develop their own characters. I invited my students to create their own comics; tell their own stories – and include all of the examples of figurative that they had learned about. Together we created rubrics and criteria lists, through which the students assessed the work of their peers as well as their own. We had a “wall of fame” where students put up the best examples of similes, metaphors, and inventive onomatopoeia that they had found – in the commercial comics as well as the work generated by the class.

It was many years ago, but I realize looking back that these experiences with teaching figurative language launched what would become a very long love affair with using comics in the classroom. Not only did my students learn everything I wanted them to, they learned so much more. We continued to use the comics throughout the year – to teach elements of narrative, fiction, the hero’s journey and more. And because my students had learned all of these skills using a medium they loved and found engaging, they were more willing and ready to apply that learning to the text-only literature we read.

Using comics in the classroom can be as simple as bringing in the Sunday “Funnies” or the latest issue of Spider-Man or Teen Titans. Don’t be afraid to try – it opens a world of awesome opportunities.

Homework (for you to do on your own, with your kids, or with your students): Pick up any handy Marvel or DC comic and count the instances of onomatopoeia you find. Do the same with the Sunday Comics. Which has more? Which has more “rare” onomatopoeia? What purpose does the onomatopoeia server? How would the experience of the comic change if it wasn’t there? When is it effective? When is it not effective? How can you effectively use onomatopoeia in your own writing?

HAPPY READING!

Anastasia Betts is a former teacher, administrator, and UCLA literacy coach from California. She has delivered professional development courses, workshops, and seminars on using comics in the classroom, including participating on Comics in Education panels at Comic Con International: San Diego. Anastasia currently runs an independent curriculum development company called Curriculum Essentials, Inc as well as the website Graphic Novels 101. You can follow her on Facebook at Graphic Novels 101: Using Visual Texts in the 21st Century.

Comics in Education: Comics as a Tool for Writing

Columnist Anastasia Betts of Graphic Novels 101 looks at the use of comics in the classroom, and shares her experience as an educator helping teachers embrace sequential art as a teaching tool.

Anastasia Betts by Anastasia Betts

Anastasia Betts by Anastasia Betts

In past columns we have spent a lot of time talking about how to use comics in the classroom. We’ve discussed everything from using wordless comics to teach elements of narrative, to using graphic novel adaptations of Shakespeare, to experimenting with comics based on poetry. What we haven’t really talked about is how to use the medium of comics to help students tell their own stories, or demonstrate their own learning.

Using the comics format as a way to get kids writing couldn’t be more natural. Students love to tell stories, especially their own stories, and the comics media is a perfect vehicle for doing so. But kid-created comics can do so much more than just tell stories. In this month’s column, we are going to spend some time talking about all the ways you can use comics in your classroom to help students to share their voice and “show what they know” – in other words, as a vehicle for expression.

“Essay” Comics

Perhaps the most natural way to have your students create their own comics is through the process of creative writing. Unfortunately, in our testing obsessed education culture, creative writing is often the first part of the English curriculum to go. Teachers are often compelled to have their students spend time writing essays, such as expository, response to literature, persuasive / opinion essays, etc. But did you ever think that perhaps combining these genres of writing with comics could be another tool in your motivation toolbox? Why not invite your students to create a Response to Literature as a conversation between the speaker and the reader – in comics form? Or, why not create a persuasive argument as a visual essay with two characters debating both sides of the issue? There are innumerable ways to have your students employ a visual component to their essay writing. Neither the teacher nor the students should be intimidated by the drawing component either. Students need not be able to draw; stick figures work well, as do shapes (think of Flatland).

Consider this example…

studentpersuasioncomicex

By Richard Korzekwa, first place winner of Florida Citizens for Science’s 2009 Stick Science Cartoon Contest (click for larger image)

Using comics to help students learn about a topic, and then demonstrate that learning just makes sense. Some of you out there might be thinking that having students create “persuasion” comics (like the one above) is not the same or as rigorous as having them write conventional essays on the topic. But I would argue that’s simply not true. A student created comic can certainly be as rigorous and sophisticated as a prose essay – it’s all up to the teacher to set high expectations, and provide many models for students to review. And for most students, creating comics is a heck of a lot more fun and motivating than mere writing alone. If essay writing is the ultimate goal, then creating a comic as an interim step is a great way to get students involved in the writing, bringing out their voice and passion. It’s just a hop, skip, and jump away to turn that comic into a full-blown essay – should the need arise.

airlinesafetybrochure

Airline safety brochure using comics

“How to” Comics

Much like the “essay” comics described above, “how to” comics can be used at any grade level to help students demonstrate what they have learned about a topic. There is the added advantage of authenticity to this project, since “how to” comics are a part of the world we live in. From the safety instruction pamphlet on an airplane, to the building instructions that come with Ikea furniture –“how to” comics are everywhere.

Writing “how to” books is a common part of many elementary school writing programs – and can even be found in many state standards. Instead of your standard “how to” text only writing assignment, why not have your students illustrate their text and turn it into a comic? Once again, adding in the visual/artistic component builds motivation and investment in the project, and creates a student work product that is both pleasing and instructional. With your older students, it can even be fun to have them create such “How to” comics to give to younger classmates at school (i.e. through a book buddies program). A fun adaptation of this project would be to model it on the popular TV show, “How its made” – inviting your students to explain how something is made…. Like a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich. Yum!

Comics that Explain

The “How to” and “How its Made” comics mentioned above both explain how to do something, or how something is made. But there are other ways to explain things as well. I’ve known many math teachers over the years that invite their students to use the comics format to explain a math procedure, rule, or proof. I remember one year a student, after receiving such an assignment, used her comic to explain why a negative times a negative (or positive time a positive) is always positive; while a negative times a positive is a negative. She created an entire story about how when you put a negative person with a negative person, they are happy (i.e. positive) to be negative together, and when you put a negative with positive person, he just ended up bringing her down… (making her a negative in the end…). Ok, not perfect math, but it was creative, awesome and ultimately, the student came away with a better understanding of the rule – and never forgot it.

All in all, there isn’t really anything out there that couldn’t be explained in a comic if you just give your students a chance to do so. Plus, it gives your students an opportunity to use their artistic intelligence, not just mathematical or linguistic.

pyongyang

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle

Comics as Journalism

This is actually a genre that exists in the comics publishing world. Whether you are a fan of the works of Joe Sacco (Palestine), Guy Delisle (Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea), or Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón (The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation) – there are plenty of great models for students to look at, and be inspired by. Encourage students to find an issue they are passionate about, and investigate it. Then, invite them to use the comic format to report out on that issue. Comics writers have been doing this for ages, and it’s a legitimate form of reporting. Again, such visual reporting can be extended in so many ways – use as a launching point for having students create their own film documentaries. Or, have them create a comics newspaper on the issues that matter most to them. This particular assignment also offers numerous opportunities to teach the writing conventions of the journalism genre (who, what, when, where, why… etc.). Again, if text only writing is the goal, well-written, high quality text can be lifted directly from the comics.

HealingFromThePEV

Healing from the P.E.V. by Riva Jalipa, addressing post-election violence in Kenya

“Activism” Comics

And last but not least, using comics as a form of activism, or for promoting social change is a great way to channel student writing. Combining elements of all the types of writing we’ve already discussed (persuasion, how –to, explanatory, journalism, etc.), Comics Activism takes it a step further, asking students to use their comics to compel the reader to act.

Again, there are real world examples of this. One of my favorite organizations to share with students is World Comics. World Comics specializes in teaching individuals (both kids and adults), how to use the comics format as a way to speak out on important issues. Basically, World Comics uses comics to give voice to those who would have been otherwise silenced. Students in their programs have created comics that “focus on different issues, such as racism, sexual harassment, girl child rights, school drop-outs, hiv/aids, sanitation, and right to education… Any issue, on which one can make a story, can be expressed through grassroots comics.” (World Comics website, “Comics in Action”)

World Comics has a great website with a myriad of tools for running comics workshops, and they have affiliates in numerous countries. Not only can you teach your students how to create comics for social change, but through World Comics (and other organizations like them) you can partner your class with other students around the world who are doing the same thing.

Comics have the power to change things. They have the power to change reluctant readers into avid readers. They have the power to motivate lackluster writing into writing filled with voice and passion. When created by empassioned students on topics that matter, comics have the power to change minds and motivate people to act. Much like those archetypal characters that transform from average, everyday regular “Joe’s” into crime fighting, butt kicking superheroes, comics—the literal underdog of the literary world—have the power to do a little butt kicking of their own.

So get busy and get your students to write comics. Like World Comics’ tagline says, “If you have something to say, say it with comics.”

Homework: Check out the myriad of tools at the World Comics website, and maybe even start a World Comics Club at your own school!

Anastasia Betts is a former teacher, administrator, and UCLA literacy coach from California. She has delivered professional development courses, workshops, and seminars on using comics in the classroom, including participating on Comics in Education panels at Comic Con International: San Diego. Anastasia currently runs an independent curriculum development company called Curriculum Essentials, Inc as well as the website Graphic Novels 101. You can follow her on Facebook at Graphic Novels 101: Using Visual Texts in the 21st Century.

Online “Best of 2012″ Comics Lists

Happy New Year! The Comics Observer will be returning to our regular weekly schedule (more or less). But first, to kick things off: a list of lists for the listophiles. 2012 was another amazing year for comics. Truly the great modern renaissance continues unabated.

We’ll be attempting to aggregate every online “best of 2012″ comics lists covering comic books, graphic novels, manga, webcomics, etc. that we find. (Basically, a blatant rip-off of this Best Of books list of lists.)

As the lists appear online, this master list will get updated. We’ll post on Facebook/Twitter when new ones are added.

Please feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me with a blog, magazine, newspaper, or other online media list I have missed.

About.com (comics, graphic novels)
Ace Comics (comics)
Alec Reads Comics (comics)
Amazon.com (comics, graphic novels)
A.V. Club (comics)
A.V. Club (graphic novels)
Bad Girls, Good Guys, and Two-Fisted Tales (graphic novels)
Barnes & Noble (graphic novels)
Battle Hymns (graphic novels)
The Beat (comics, graphic novels)
Bleeding Cool (comics, graphic novels)
Bleeding Cool (Irish comics)
Bloody Disgusting (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6) (horror comics)
Boing Boing (comics, graphic novels)
Boston Globe (fiction with graphic novels)
Brain Pickings (graphic novels)
Brian Evinou (comics, graphic novels)
British Comic Awards (comics, graphic novels, creators)
Broken Frontier (UK small press comics)
Co.Create (digital comics)
Collingswood Patch (comics, etc.)
ComicAttack.net (all-ages comics)
ComicBook.com (comics)
ComicBook.com (new comic series)
Comic Book Resources (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5) (comics, graphic novels, webcomics)
ComicMix (comics)
Comics Alliance (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5) (comics, graphic novels, webcomics)
Comics-and-More (superhero comics)
Comics Bulletin (comics, graphic novels, webcomics, creators)
The Comics Reporter (comics, graphic novels, webcomics)
Comics Should Be Good (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7) (comics, graphic novels)
Comics Worth Reading (graphic novels)
comiXology (digital comics)
CraveOnline (graphic novels)
Crisis on Infinite Midlives (part 1, part 2) (comics)
The Daily BLAM! (comics)
Den of Geek (comics, graphic novels)
Diana Tamblyn (part 1) (comics, graphic novels)
Drawn (comics, graphic novels, art books, etc.)
Earth’s Mightiest Blog (comics, graphic novels)
East Windsor Patch (comics)
FEARnet (horror comics)
File Under Other (comics)
Filth and Fabulations (graphic novels)
Flashback Universe (digital comics)
Forbidden Planet (comics, graphic novels)
Ghastly Awards (horror comics)
The Globe and Mail (graphic novels)
Goodreads Choice Awards (graphic novels)
The Gauntlet (graphic novels, etc.)
The Guardian (graphic novels)
House to Astonish (comics)
Huffington Post UK (comics, graphic novels)
iFanboy (comics, graphic novels, creators, etc.)
IGN (comics, graphic novels, digital comics, webcomics, creators, etc.)
io9 (comics, graphic novels)
io9 (webcomics
Karen the Small Press Librarian (part 1, part 2) (graphic novels)
Library Journal (graphic novels)
Manga Bookshelf (manga)
Manga Bookshelf: Melinda (part 1, part 2) (manga)
Maybe Blogging Will Help (comics, graphic novels)
MillarWorld (comics, graphic novels)
Mother Jones (books with graphic novels)
MTV Geek (comics)
MTV Geek (graphic novels)
MTV Geek (manga)
Multiversity Comics (comics, graphic novels, creators, etc.)
National Post (books with graphic novels)
Nerdage (graphic novels)
Nerdist/TOKYOPOP (manga)
Newsarama (comics, graphic novels, creators, etc.)
NewsOK.com (graphic novels)
NPR (comics)
NPR (graphic novels)
NYTimes.com (books with graphic novels)
NYTimes.com (‘bathroom books’)
Panel Patter (indie comics)
Paste Magazine (comics, graphic novels)
Paste Magazine (webcomics)
Paste Magazine (graphic novel reissues)
Paste Magazine (comics, graphic novels, webcomics, digital comics)
Patheos (comics, graphic novels)
Planet 46 (comics, graphic novels, etc.)
Publishers Weekly (graphic novels)
Quill & Quire (graphic novels)
Rob Kirby Comics (self-published comics, graphic novels)
Rob Liefeld (comics)
Robot 6 (comics, graphic novels, manga, webcomics, digital comics)
Salon.com (graphic novels)
SciFiNow (comics, graphic novels)
School Library Journal (graphic novels)
She Has No Head! (comics, graphic novels, webcomics)
SFGate (books with graphic novels)
TheStar.com (comics, graphic novels)
StarTribune (graphic novels)
The Tearoom of Despair (comics, graphic novels)
TIME (graphic novels)
Time Out Chicago Kids (part 1, part 2) (graphic novels)
Tor.com (concluding comics series)
USA Today (comics, creators, etc.)
Village Voice (comics, graphic novels)
The Washington Post (comics, graphic novels)
The Weekly Crisis (graphic novels)
When Words Collide (part 1) (comics, graphic novels)

Comics in Education: Teaching Controversial Comics

Columnist Anastasia Betts of Graphic Novels 101 looks at the use of comics in the classroom, and shares her experience as an educator helping teachers embrace sequential art as a teaching tool.

Anastasia Betts by Anastasia Betts

Appropriateness is a topic that we all struggle with at one point or another, and is not just limited to the world of comics. As teachers we have to make determinations every day on whether this image, this book, this movie, or this discussion is appropriate for our classroom. For some reason though, comics seem to get a bad rap in terms of classroom “appropriateness”.

It is true that a lot of comics published for entertainment purposes contain content that is inappropriate for classroom use. I can’t count the number of times that I have read a comic and thought, “This is PERFECT for what I want to teach,” only to get halfway through the book and arrive at a scene that would never pass my district censors. Whenever this happens, I am confronted with a dilemma… how can I use a book that I think is incredibly important for students to study, but that contains some content that my colleagues or parents would find controversial?

Barefoot Gen Volume 1: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima by Keiji Nakazawa

Let me share an example. Barefoot Gen series is a ten volume comic that tells the story of a young boy who survives the atomic bombing in Hiroshima and the immediate aftermath. Originally this series was published as a serialized comic in a Japanese boys’ manga magazine. The story is closely based on the early life experiences of the author, Keiji Nakazawa, who lived with his family in Hiroshima and experienced the bombing first hand. This series is powerful, moving, and emotional. As a more traditional manga, it contains some of the slapstick conventions that take a little bit of time to get used to. Once you have read past the first few pages, however, you begin to get lost in the story of a family with a pacifist father, an older brother that has enlisted in the military to prevent his family from being targeted as “unpatriotic traitors,” the conflict between this father and son, another young son that has been evacuated to the countryside (where he faces starvation), a sister and a brother still trying to maintain some sense of normalcy by attending grammar school, and a mother who is nine months pregnant caring for her preschool aged son at home. Yes, it’s a large, complicated family.

There is so much going on in this book that I can’t even begin to encapsulate it here. It is, I believe, my most favorite comic of all time. In fact, this book has been translated into over a dozen world languages. It is quiet, unassuming, and childlike. Reading portions of this comic is like watching a very clever child’s cartoon: entertaining on the surface, but chalked full of meaning if you begin to peel back the layers.

Barefoot Gen Volume 5: The Never-Ending War by Keiji Nakazawa

Considering all of that, why would I have any problem using it in the classroom? Well for one, there is a lot of cartoon, slapstick type violence. This is actually more a manga convention than anything else, and common to a lot of ’70s Japanese comics. It’s similar to the zany antics of Tom and Jerry or Bugs Bunny – only in the middle of a serious story about people trying to survive a very real war. If you are thinking “wow that’s awkward,” then you get the idea. It seems strange to see characters in the book always punching each other, complete with Batman-style onomatopoeia, like it’s an everyday thing. That being said, I helped my students get past this by using some of the explanation above, and also reminding them that this comic was originally printed in a ‘rough and tumble’ boys’ magazine, and so this type of comic action was expected.

Next, at the end of the book, the author recounts the experience of the bomb drop and immediate aftermath. Obviously many people die, including members of Gen’s family. It is violent, gruesome, dark, and horrific. I can not ever read this part of the book without crying. As disturbing as this part of the book is, it’s not difficult from an educational point of view to develop a rationale for teaching it: We never want this to happen again – and therefore we have to know what happened, in all its tragic detail.

Barefoot Gen Volume 10: Never Give Up by Keiji Nakazawa

So what’s the problem? Well, there is a scene in the middle of the book… school officials (who are angry at the dissent and pacifist attitudes of the family’s father) seek to punish the young daughter. They make her strip down to her underwear, in what amounts to the principal’s office, and make her stand there while they humiliate her. It’s an awful scene, but so critical to the story. I remember when I first read this scene, I had already been thinking seriously about using this comic in my classroom. I couldn’t wait to start building curriculum and lessons around it. But when I read this part of the book, I became seriously worried that I would never be able to use the book because parents and administrators, even students, would be so disturbed by it. That being said, I was reluctant to give the book up. I REALLY wanted to use it. I felt the message was too powerful and too important to just abandon. I began thinking of ways I could use parts of the book. Could I excerpt it? Could I just rip out those pages? I felt slightly insane as I tried to come up with ways to get this past my educational “censors”. In the end, I decided the scene was too important, too pivotal to the overall story to leave out. I would just have to find a way to get others to believe in the story as much as I did, and then prepare my students as best I could to receive it.

The example of Barefoot Gen is not a unique experience for teachers wanting to use significant, yet controversial, works of comic literature. With that in mind, I have developed a list of steps I follow as a result of my experience with Barefoot Gen:

Carefully consider the age group
As a curriculum director, I work with and develop educational content for a variety of ages – from elementary through college. When I first read Barefoot Gen, I felt it would be appropriate for upper elementary – 5th and 6th — through adult. Before deciding to use a particular book, ask yourself, Can my students handle this? For the use of Barefoot Gen in particular, I asked, Are they mature enough to understand the conflict between the oldest son and the father? Are they emotionally mature enough to understand the humiliation scene with the daughter, and the impact that it has on Gen? These are very important questions. If you have any doubt about the ability of your students to handle such questions, or your ability to present the content effectively, I would steer clear.

Develop a clear rationale for use
I always write a rationale for the use of a book such as Barefoot Gen. I want to be very clear about why I am using this book and how it connects to my broader curriculum. If you teach in a standards based classroom, be prepared to share which standards your teaching of this content will help students achieve mastery of. Your administrators will likely ask you why you can’t just use some other more appropriate book. You want to be able to defend your book choice and refute any argument administration might have against its use.

Get approval from administrators or department heads in advance
There’s a saying… “Its easier to obtain forgiveness than permission”. But that’s not always true. Try to teach a controversial book without permission and it may be the last time that book sees the light of day in your district. Don’t put your book in danger of being banned. It is likely that your district or school has protocols for gaining approval for controversial material. Follow them. If no protocols exist, consider talking to your administrators or department heads and get their buy in.

Involve Parents in the Project
Invite your parents to be part of the journey. Use a back to school night, or open house to introduce the project to them, your rationale for using the book, as well as some significant background or historical information. If the parents are able to understand the importance of the book’s message, you are nearly home free.

Have parents sign a waiver or permission slip
Create a permission slip that summarizes the project and questionable content in the book, and invites parents to become more informed. Provide them with websites or links for more information. Make yourself available to answer their questions. Ultimately, ask them to sign a permission slip allowing their student to participate in the study of the book you have selected. For parents who do not want their child to participate, have an alternate book selection ready as well as accommodations for them to attend a different class if necessary.

Create a Parent Book Club
Again, this requires skillful facilitation on the part of the teacher – it could be a blessing or a curse. I’ve found, however, when it works out, it is a brilliant experience for both parents and students, and provides multiple opportunities for in-class and at-home discussion. Establish a reading schedule and periodic discussion meetings. If desired, do both separate and joint discussions with parents and students.

Preteach, preteach, preteach!
Prepare your students for the controversial content by doing some strategic preteaching. In the case of Barefoot Gen, mini lessons on classic manga conventions, as well as sexual harassment (yes we even teach awareness of that to elementary students), and an understanding of the horrors of war, are in order. For historically based books like Barefoot Gen, students will need a series of lessons to increase their background knowledge on the time period and key events. Again, be conscientious about presenting multiple viewpoints to keep students from becoming biased. While Barefoot Gen doesn’t point fingers, it is difficult to read about the family’s experiences and not be critical of the decision to drop the bomb. It is important to make sure that students understand all facets and perspectives of that decisions (i.e. the fear of a prolonged and protracted Japanese mainland invasion resulting in millions of deaths, etc.), so that they can make informed judgments.

Tie your teaching to a service project or community outreach
There are always ways to tie student learning into some type of action project. Whether you are studying superheroes or war, there is something you can do to make the world outside your classroom a better place. In the case of Barefoot Gen, get your students involved in the Hiroshima Peace Project (of which Barefoot Gen is also part). Invite your students to involve themselves in creating awareness about the proliferation of nuclear weapons today. The horror of Hiroshima will never be far away as long as mankind has the ability to launch a bomb with the press of a button. The only way to prevent tragedies such as this in the future is to promote a culture of peace.

Evaluate and reflect
The importance of having students (and parents if you involved them) evaluate and reflect on their experience reading a book like Barefoot Gen can not be overstated – especially if you ever plan to teach the book again. Create tools to gather perspectives of the participants and to document the meaningful and significant work that is done as a result of the learning. Consider using a survey to capture useful “sound bites” that can be used in future rationales. Invite students to write reflective journal entries detailing how their participation in the project has changed or impacted them.

Hiroshima: The Autobiography of Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa

It’s a lot to think about, I know. But it’s worth it. I have a number of colleagues that avoid books with controversial content. It’s just “easier”, they say. It may be easier, but it doesn’t make the world a better place. True teaching takes courage and persistence. I hope that our tip list above can help you amass the courage and persistence to teach the controversial content that you too believe in.

For homework, check out more information on Barefoot Gen:

The Critical Eye: Barefoot Gen – essay on the animated movie adaptation

You can also take a look at Keiji Nakazawa’s actual autobiography, with comparisons to the Barefoot Gen story in this book:

Hiroshima: The Autobiography of Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa

Anastasia Betts is a former teacher, administrator, and UCLA literacy coach from California. She has delivered professional development courses, workshops, and seminars on using comics in the classroom, including participating on Comics in Education panels at Comic Con International: San Diego. Anastasia currently runs an independent curriculum development company called Curriculum Essentials, Inc as well as the website Graphic Novels 101. You can follow her on Facebook at Graphic Novels 101: Using Visual Texts in the 21st Century.

Comics in Education: “Ut Picture Poesis” – The Shared Experience of Poetry Comics

Columnist Anastasia Betts of Graphic Novels 101 looks at the use of comics in the classroom, and shares her experience as an educator helping teachers embrace sequential art as a teaching tool.

Anastasia Betts by Anastasia Betts

Comics have long been used to illustrate classic literature. In our last post, we even talked about the ways in which comics have been paired with the likes of Shakespeare to create some amazingly satisfying visual delights (see No Fear Shakespeare’s Hamlet – its great!). Many other great adaptations of classic texts also exist in comics form.

But today I want to talk about visually adapting another kind of classic literature – poetry. When people think about comics, they naturally think “story”. After all comics are also known as “sequential art”, implying the passage of time, which is an important part of narrative storytelling. Poems, on the other hand, tend to be more abstract, and often exist as moments in time. Additionally, poems use highly sensory language, which calls to mind heightened imagery for the reader. One might ask, does a poem really need visuals added to it? Are the words alone enough?

The relationship between poetry and visual images has been known for ages, however. In ancient Rome, they discussed it a lot – consider for example this phrase: “poema pictura loguens, pictura poema silens,” which roughly translates to “poetry is the verbal picture, and painting is the silent poetry,” which Horace then shortened to “ut picture poesis,” which is simply, “As is painting, so it poetry.”

Basically, both painting (or drawing) and poetry are ways of communicating perception – what one sees in the mind’s eye. Both are liberating forms of expression, unencumbered by the conventions of more formal modes of communication. My students tend to love both for the same reason, they can toss their grammar rules out the window. Which isn’t to say that there are not rules in poetry or comics, just that it’s a much freer form of self-expression.

Comics and poetry are alike in more than just the freedom of expression they offer. As I mentioned before, both are visual mediums. Though poetry often exists in text only, the way the text is displayed on the page is in itself a visual metaphor. Are the lines broken into neat little stanzas? Or, are they displayed staggered across the page? Are the words formed into a particular shape, such as a diamante poem (in the shape of a diamond)? Or, are the words creating their own random path across each page, or even falling off the page altogether?

“Lazy Jane” by Shelf Silverstein, originally published in Where the Sidewalk Ends (click for bigger)

Consider the placement of the words in the poem “Lazy Jane” by Shel Silverstein, at left.

What does the placement evoke? Perhaps a “shower” of words tumbling down into the mouth of Lazy Jane who wants to catch the rain in her mouth? Though Jane is drawn at the bottom of the page, the placement of the words is very intentional and works in harmony with the art to create more than splendid image – its an idea he is communicating.

Silverstein is a master at combining evocative images with poetic text to create a wonderful effect.

Let’s look at another. Consider first, just the text for Silverstein’s poem, “Union for Children’s Rights”:

Strike! Strike!
For Children’s Rights

Longer weekends,
Shorter school hours
Higher allowances,
Less baths and showers!

No Brussel Spouts, more Root Beer
And seventeen summer vacations a year!
If you’re ready to strike, sign up right here.

Now consider that same poem as Shel Silverstein drew it – as poem/comic:

“Union for Children’s Rights” by Shel Silverstein, originally published in A Light in the Attic

There is something instantly magical about the way Silverstein chooses to represent the poem. Instead of stanzas, Silverstein writes the lines as protest signs carried by the children. The art adds a dimension to the poem that text alone does not carry. That little extra something is actually a window into Silverstein himself – his personal vision of his own poem. That is not something we normally have access to when reading poetry. Which is why poetry can be so difficult to interpret at times – so full of allusions, symbolism, and metaphors that may or may not be familiar to us. Having the chance to “see” the poem, instead of merely “reading” the poem, provides an entirely different experience.

Reading poetry comics allows the reader to “experience” the interplay of visuals and language in a way that is different from text alone, or even poetry picture books. There is a rhythm to a comic that mirrors the punctuated nature of poetic verse, with its stops, starts, and flows.

The artist Seth describes it this way:

“When I am writing a comics page (or sequence of pages) I am very aware of the sound and ‘feel’ of how the dialogue or narration is broken down for the panels. If you have to tell a certain amount of story in a page then you have to make decisions on how many panels you need to tell it. You need to arrange these panels — small, big or a combination of the two — and decide how to sit them on the page. All these decisions affect how the viewer reads the strip; there is an inherent rhythm created by how you set up the panels. Thin panel, thin panel, long panel: this rhythm is felt by the reader, especially when you put the words into the panels. When writing a comic strip I am very aware of how I am structuring the sentences: how many words; one sentence in this panel; two in this one; a silent panel; a single word. These choices are ultra-important in the creation of comics storytelling, and this unheard rhythm is the main concern for me when I am working out a strip.”

“I imagine poets feel this same concern. If you read any free verse poetry you can see how the poet has made certain decisions for how to break the thoughts apart and structure them, often in a way that defies a system.”

Reference: Carousel, Volume 19, Spring/Summer Issue 2006, pg. 17-24

Speaking of rhythm and panel placement…

Another comics poet was Kenneth Koch, from the New York School of poetry. Known for his inventive combinations of words and images, Koch released a number of books over the years. One of his last books is The Art of the Possible: Comics Mainly without Pictures, which has been called “part journal, part sketchbook”. This collection of visually inventive poems are sure to inspire you and your students and provide for much discussion.

One of my particular favorites from this collection is “Different Kinds of Hemispheres”.

“Different Kinds of Hemispheres” by Kenneth Koch, originally published in The Art of Possible: Comics Mainly without Pictures (click for bigger)

Text:

“Different Kinds of Hemispheres”
By Kenneth Koch

Northern Hemisphere.
Southern Hemisphere.
In every hemisphere, there is a different 
kind of life.
Sometimes this causes problems.
One day a man
From the northern hemisphere
Met and fell in love with
A woman
From the southern hemisphere.
They married and had children
- one boy and one girl-
Who lived on the equator.
They felt they had to.

There is something tremendously poignant and resonant in this poem, especially for children with divorced or separated parents. The text is meaningful, but as text alone it definitely loses some of it power. There is something about the visual, with its abstract lines, stark divisions between north and south, the boxed in phrases that are separated one from another, that lend the theme of the poem a metaphorical punch that isn’t there in the text alone.

The poems of Silverstein and Koch contain visuals and text that exists simultaneously, as far as we know without one preceding the other. As we saw when separating out the text from the visuals, the poems lose something. They are not meant to stand apart, but are meant to be experienced together. But that is not the only format for poetry comics. Many comics artists have collaborated with poets to create visual representations of their text-only poems, which in turn creates an entirely different experience. In such cases we are not only experiencing the voice of the original poet, but we are experiencing the poem as filtered through the mind of the artist – his or her own perception of the poem, its themes, and meanings.

The Poetry Foundation hosted a “Poems as Comic Strips” project some years back where they encouraged comics artists to select famous poems and adapt them as comics. The results were nothing if not interesting. Consider the Russel Edson poem “Of Memory and Distance” adapted by one of my favorite comic book artists, Jeffrey Brown.

Of Memory and Distance
By Russel Edson

It’s a scientific fact that anyone entering the distance will grow 
smaller. Eventually becoming so small he might only be found with a 
telescope, or, for more intimacy, with a microscope....

But there’s a vanishing point, where anyone having penetrated the 
distance must disappear entirely without hope of his ever returning, 
leaving only a memory of his ever having been.

But then there is fiction, so that one is never really sure if it was 
someone who vanished into the end of seeing, or someone made of paper 
and ink....

What I suggest (and I suggest this for your students as well), is for you to read the text only version of Edson’s poem a few times to take in his meaning (or what you interpret his meaning to be). Once you have done so, click the link below to Brown’s comic version of the poem. Brown is known for his “bittersweet” portrayals of failed personal relationships. He is never afraid to be vulnerable or unappealing in his comics, and that also shows in his artwork.

[CLICK for PDF]

After viewing Brown’s comic, what are your thoughts on his interpretation of the poem? I admit, the first time I experienced the comic, I was surprised. Brown’s interpretation was so different from my own. And yet, by experiencing his mental image of the poem, my own experience of the poem was enriched and enhanced. It became a shared experience – not between two (myself and the poet), but between three human consciousnesses (myself, the poet, and the artist).

The Poetry Foundation actually has a series of these poetry/comics collaborations. I enjoyed some more than others, but all are worth your time. You can read more about the project here.

Poetry Comics: An Animated Anthology, edited by Dave Morice

Poetry comics (or comics poetry), have many applications in the classroom. At the very least, comics poetry can be used as a visual support to enhance and strengthen student comprehension. Poems can often be daunting for students, because the meaning is not always apparent – much more so for struggling or readers reluctant to do the work of ‘digging deeper’ to uncover the mysteries there. The visuals may allow for students to feel less intimidated, given that the poem is presented in a format that is appealing and friendly for students. It’s a very easy way to introduce works by Poe, Dickinson, Frost, Shakespeare and more. It also can provide opportunities from some deep discussion, by inviting students to compare their understandings of text-only poems versus the interpreted poems of the comics artist.

But another, more important strategy (in my opinion), is to invite students to create their own poetry comics – creating their own interpretations of poems using visuals. This requires students to actually do the work of interpreting the poem, and then share that interpretation with others through the format of a comic.

There are many other resources on the marriage between poetry and comics. A good book to check out is Poetry Comics: An Animated Anthology by Dave Morice. It combines some of the best classic poetry, re-imagined in comic form. There’s also the newly released Comics as Poetry anthology. There are also many websites, from the “Poem as Comic Strips” project at PoetryFoundation.org, to websites completely devoted to the genre of poetry comics.

If you have a chance to use poetry comics in your classroom, we would love to hear from you.

Until then, here is a lovely article on Poetry and Design to read…

Homework: Read “Seth on Peanuts: Comics = Poetry + Graphic Design”

Anastasia Betts is a former teacher, administrator, and UCLA literacy coach from California. She has delivered professional development courses, workshops, and seminars on using comics in the classroom, including participating on Comics in Education panels at Comic Con International: San Diego. Anastasia currently runs an independent curriculum development company called Curriculum Essentials, Inc as well as the website Graphic Novels 101. You can follow her on Facebook at Graphic Novels 101: Using Visual Texts in the 21st Century.

The Journey, Man 03 – I Was Indie Before I Even Knew I Was Indie

Guest columnist Wayne Rée shares his discovery of comic books, from his start as a super-hero fan to his evolution into a believer of the power of the art form of comics.

For Wayne, going indie started with a Turtle and a Crow

When I was 14, my friend Roy introduced me to Monty Python. Or, at least, I thought he did. See, after watching the Pythons’ infamous Dead Parrot skit, I had this moment of clarity and realization, and I suddenly found myself, as a six year old, on a plane to LA, listening to the in-flight radio’s comedy channel—and laughing my tuchus right off at the very same Dead Parrot skit.

The point of that little anecdote is that, for a while now, I’d been telling people that my journey into indie comics started when I got into Oni Press in the late ’90s (a topic I’ll probably cover in the next edition), which, upon closer reflection isn’t actually true. In fact, I probably got into indie comics around the same time as a lot of kids my age. Well, one indie comic in particular anyway; you might have heard of it: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 (1984) by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird

Squiggly flashback lines
Let me take you back, dear reader, to the early ’90s—to a time when Guns N’ Roses was more than just Axl and everyone was down with OPP (yeah, you know me). Before The Walking Dead showed the world that indie comics could become a massive franchise, the Turtles were a juggernaut and every kid was nuts over them, myself included.

I had all the toys and watched all the episodes. But I also remember that, on my school bus, one kid actually had a reprint of the original comics by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. They were, to my seven-year-old mind, a lot darker than the cartoons and I was naturally enthralled. They were superheroish like Spider-Man, but not. I mean, come on—in that very first issue [20-YEAR-OLD SPOILER] they killed Shredder! Do not pass Go; do not get sent back to Dimension X.

Sadly, because it was one copy being passed around, I didn’t really get to digest it until last year when IDW Publishing reprinted the first couple of issues in a massive hardcover. IDW, interestingly enough, also has ties to the second time I was exposed to indie comics.

The Crow #1 (1989) by James O’Barr

Victims, weren’t we all?
James O’Barr’s The Crow had a similar effect on me, seven years after the Ninja Turtles. Like any 14-year-old in the mid-90s, I was angsty and brooding and wore more black clothes than was sensible in a tropical Singaporean climate. And it was all because of Alex Proyas’ adaptation of O’Barr’s comic, the movie that was famed for being Brandon Lee’s last role.

Again, I devoured everything I could that was related to The Crow. I had the soundtrack on cassette (ask your parents, kids) and I rewatched the film on laser disc (seriously, ask your parents) so many times that I could recite entire scenes by heart.

I also borrowed a reprint of O’Barr’s original comic from my friend Paul and was astounded by what could be done in terms of comic storytelling. It was more a bloody piece of poetry than a tightly cohesive story, but it said everything that needed to be said. The art was a mix of a grimly manga-infused, almost cartoony style and gorgeously painted, emotionally charged pages that, up till then, I never thought could be part of a comic.

Years later, I picked up the trade paperback for myself. And recently, I found out that IDW’s roped in John Shirley, one of the screenwriters for Proyas’ film, and O’Barr himself, to pen new stories revolving around The Crow legend.

All the comics who independent, throw your hands up at me
Like I said at the start, these two books were really just the first few drops of what would be the torrent of indie comics I’d find myself drowning in. I said earlier that Oni Press will probably be the focus of the next edition, but after laying the groundwork here a bit, I might want to also talk about what the term “indie” really means in the confines of comics. Or I might not. Look, as I also already established with the opening paragraph, I don’t exactly have the most reliable memory.

Wayne Rée’s been writing professionally for about ten years. He’s worked in everything from advertising to publishing, and was even part of the team that created Singapore’s very first tattoo magazine. He dabbles in screenwriting and photography, and travels way too much. And, yes, he had a goth phase. Look, he was 14, OK?

Penn State Press Launches Line of Medical Graphic Novels

Graphic Medicine book series announced

Partnering with the excellent GraphicMedicine.org, an online study of graphic novels and comic books that address health issues, Penn State Press is launching a new series of graphic novels targeted to medical practitioners, patients, caregivers and their families.

As mentioned last week, higher education is embracing the language of sequential arts more and more, and this is just one more example of scholars appreciating that there is a unique way in which comics engage their readers and relay information both factual and emotional.

The editors of this new line of books are currently accepting submissions, and Graphic Medicine posted the below image to their Facebook and Twitter pages to get the word out about their new Graphic Medicine line.

From the announcement:

Graphic Medicine – a new book series from the Pennsylvania State University Press

Graphic Medicine is an exciting new book series from Penn State Press. Curated by an editorial collective with scholarly, creative, and clinical expertise, the series is inspired by a growing awareness of the value of comics as an important resource for communicating about a range of issues broadly termed “medical.” For medical practitioners, patients, and families and caregivers dealing with illness and disability, graphic narrative enlightens complicated or difficult experiences. For scholars in literacy, cultural, and comics studies, the genre articulates a complex and powerful analysis of illness, medicine, and disability and a rethinking of the boundaries of “health.” The series will be diverse in its approach. It will include monographic studies and edited collections from scholars, practitioners, and medical educators, as well as original comics from artists and non artists alike, such as self-reflective “graphic pathographies” or comics used in medical training and education, providing a creative way to learn and teach.

Editorial Collective

Lead Editors

Susan Squier, Brill Professor of Women’s Studies and English, Penn State University

Ian Williams, Comics Artist, Clinician, Editor of GraphicMedicine.org

Collective Editors

MK Czerwiec, Artist-in-Residence, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University

Michael Green, Professor of Humanities and Medicine, Penn State University College of Medicine

Kimberly Myers, Associate Professor of Humanities, Penn State University College of Medicine

Scott Smith, Assistant Professor of English, Penn State University

Submissions should take the form of a 3-5 page proposal outlining the intent of the project, its scope, its relation to other work on the topic, and the audience(s) you have in mind. Please also include 2-3 sample chapters, if available, and your CV.

Questions or submissions? Contact Penn State Press:
Kendra Boileau, Editor-in-Chief
Penn State Press, 820 N. University Dr.
USB 1, Suite C, University Park, PA 16802
kboileau@psu.edu, (814) 867-2220

or the lead series editors:
Susan Squier
219 Burrows Building
University Park, PA 16802
sxs62@psu.edu

Ian Williams
Hafety Lwyd, Llanrhaeadr
Denbighshire, LL16 4PH
UK
ian@graphicmedicine.org

The Spidey Project’s LA Invasion: How an Underground Musical Sought Out Comics Fans and New Audiences

Guest columnist Cindy Marie Jenkins explores the unexpected yet increasingly frequent relationship between theater and comic books, two art forms that must be innovative in attracting audiences.

The Spidey Project at Theatre Unleashed

Most likely if you’re reading this site, you heard of the record-breaking, bone-breaking Broadway debacle turned box office success called Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark last year. Going over budget was not such a big deal (often happens with such a huge project), even pushing the opening back months wouldn’t have been such a big deal. What really put the PR nail in the Spider-Man musical spectacular coffin were injuries performers sustained during rehearsals and previews.

Of course, even a year and two lawsuits later, we’re still learning everything that went into the rise of the hype, the fall of the actors (sorry, I had to) and ultimately the writer/director Julie Taymor’s exit. From most accounts, the show is a spectacular good time if you don’t mind a thin story and extravaganza for extravaganza’s sake. As pure entertainment, it seems to do a non-offensive job. I’m curious to know what Spider-Man fans think about it, if you’ve seen it or followed the story at all.

One of the more positive things to arise from all of this craziness is The Spidey Project. Creator Justin Moran released this video last February challenging himself – and anyone game enough to jump along with him – to write, score, cast, rehearse, costume, tech… you get the point… in 30 days and open his zero budget show before the $65 million dollar musical. The big payoff is that Moran didn’t just want to get the new musical open before the mega-musical, he wanted to prove you don’t need $65 million dollars to write a good story. For anyone remotely involved in the theatrical hierarchy and being told to write smaller cast plays so theaters who pay actors can actually consider producing them, Moran’s challenge hit home. Are theaters as a whole putting their money in the wrong places?

It is incredibly telling that their second video begins with a small print disclaimer making it clear, in case you were confused, that Moran in no way has the rights to do anything that he’s doing with The Spidey Project. In fact, that was Moran’s response to Gregory Crafts, Managing Director of Theatre Unleashed in Los Angeles who asked for the rights as soon as he saw the challenge video. His thought was that his theater could produce the West Coast premiere in solidarity with Moran in New York City: “We’ll see if we get sued first.”

Crafts was impressed with Moran’s results: “Well, they didn’t get sued. The show was a complete success. I finally got to see it when he posted it on YouTube. We kept in touch and late last year, we struck a deal for Theatre Unleashed to premiere it out west. It’s been our most successful show to date.”

He wasn’t just interested in the show for the marketing appeal, though; Crafts details how big a role comics have played in his life. “The first comic book I ever read was Web of Spider-Man #12. I’ve been collecting and reading them off and on for twenty-five years now. It’s kind of crazy. Books like Spider-Man, X-Men and The Avengers influenced me a lot growing up, and played a big role in defining who I am today. We’re talking they’ve shaped my life to the point where, for my day job, I do marketing for a company that makes high-end collectables based on Marvel characters (as well as Star Wars and other major geek intellectual properties). So, it’s not hyperbole when I say comic books and characters like Spider-Man are a huge part of my life.”

Lauren Turner as Betty Brant in The Spidey Project

Truth be told, one of my personal beefs with theatrical productions that have such a great cross-genre appeal is that they do very little to no realistic attempts at reaching that potential audience. They usually send a few emails inviting comic stores to their show and call it a day. So I was highly impressed at the extensive outreach that Theatre Unleashed accomplished in their short rehearsal period. Although they’ve had a few months to prepare, T.U. still delivers the same kind of guerrilla quality love for their premiere of The Spidey Project while attempting to reach a new audience with many different tactics. In no particular order:

1. Because it’s an unlicensed parody musical, they faced quite a few marketing challenges in order to stay under the “Fair Use” rules. Says Crafts: “We were really gun shy about using the #Marvel or #SpiderMan hashtags, but we still tweeted a lot about the show, about Spider-Man himself.”

2. They also integrated an extensive social media campaign Crafts called “the 50 Days of Spider-Man, where we shared the top 10 stories, top 10 villains, etc. in honor of Spidey’s 50th anniversary this year. So, for us it was about raising awareness and sharing our appreciation of the character with our patrons, theatre-goers and comic book fans alike.” A recent Facebook post featured David Letterman’s Top Ten Changes to the Spider-Man Musical also paid homage to this project’s birth.

3. “We were also very active in the real world.” says Crafts. “We did put up posters around town, especially in comic shops.”

4. Meltdown Comics hosted a one-night teaser where the audience heard some songs along with other entertainment acts.

5. Offering steep discounts through Goldstar’s Deal of the Day was probably the most important step for both ticket sales and word-of-mouth. “We sold over 300 tickets in one twelve-hour period, and word of the show spread like wildfire from there,” remembers Crafts.

6. They went a step further and opened their lobby to other sorts of art, creating a gallery of “Spidey-themed art by fans, for fans. More like a “tribute” gallery.” Crafts added, “This was pretty awesome, because we put out the call to artists everywhere and did get submissions from across the country. We also had a whole bunch of submissions come in from a grade school class. It’s kind of cool to see Spidey interpreted through the eyes of a child.For those who haven’t been to the show, we’ll be posting pictures of everything on our website soon.”

7. Something Crafts did not mention and which I know thanks to their social media campaign is that they also created guerrilla, effective process videos from Day 1. You definitely want to watch the time lapse of the set being painted, especially for the video bombs near the end. More photos of the rehearsal process are also on their Facebook page.

8. With all of the successful efforts listed above, Crafts sees their partnership with Children’s Hospital LA being the more important part of their campaign. Crafts explains that Theatre Unleashed is running a book drive for the hospital’s Literally Healing program. Crafts explains, “This is an innovative program that gifts books to children in long-term care and their families. This one hit close to home for me, as I’ve got a cousin whose life was saved by Children’s Hospital Boston, so when we came up with the idea to run a book drive in conjunction with the comic book musical, CHLA was the first place I researched. We’ve been offering patrons that bring a new children’s book to donate to CHLA the ability to name their own ticket price to see the show. A nice incentive, I think. Taking things one step further, we actually had members of the cast visit the Hospital last week in costume and in character. We hosted story time and gifted books from the hospital’s Book Moobile (a book cart that looks like a cow). It was a great experience and the kids were absolutely thrilled to get to meet Spidey in real life. The folks at CHLA were absolutely fantastic to work with and we’re looking forward to partnering with them more in the future.”

Up until the last week, T.U.’s message to their audience prevails: Come experience this show with us. The final push in an otherwise sold-out run had them running a contest to win two tickets to their closing night, typically also a party night in the theatre world. How can one lucky fan win free tickets to closing night? That is one more inventive idea that proves Gregory Crafts and Theatre Unleashed are looking for long-term relationships with their community and their audiences.

Check out Theatre Unleashed’s expansive plans for this June’s 3rd annual Hollywood Fringe Festival.

Cindy Marie Jenkins admits her childhood playmates were Gilbert & Sullivan. She works as a Storyteller and Freelance Consultant. Current writing found at the Blue Dragon Scribe Shoppe and MYTHistories. @CindyMarieJ. She is a big fan of beer. CindyMarieJenkins.com.

The Journey, Man 01 – An Introduction

Guest columnist Wayne Rée shares his discovery of comic books, from his start as a super-hero fan to his evolution into a believer of the power of the art form of comics.

Wayne Rée

The fastest way to get to know someone, I firmly believe, is to start with one simple question: “What’s the first comic you ever read?” (A similar approach works for movie buffs, music fans, or voracious readers of any kind, sure—but this is a site about comic books, after all.)

It’s not so much the answer that’ll tell you everything you’d want to know about that person, but everything else that follows. Because once you open the floodgates, almost any fan will start going on and on about their own little journey through this medium that we love so much.

On the one hand, that’s what this column’s about, really. It’s incredibly egocentric—and I’ll be the first to admit that—but at its core, I’m telling you the story of me, month after month, by recalling my journey with comics’ greatest creators and creations. Because I genuinely believe that everyone’s got a story to tell. I just happen to know my story better than anyone else’s.

On the other hand though, I find that personal experiences are also one of the best ways to spread the word about the things that you love. I could tell you to listen to The Smiths, for example—or I could talk to you about how, during a particularly crappy point in my life, their music helped me out of my funk and got me back on track.

(Yeah, I know. That wasn’t exactly a comic-related example. But I’ll get to those in greater detail from the next edition of this column onwards.) (Also, I just bought a ticket to watch Morrissey in concert and I’m really psyched!) (Ahem. Anyway…)

So, that’s what you can expect from me. But before I start talking about specific characters or creators, there’re just two more things you need to know: Hi, my name’s Wayne—and my first comic ever was a European hardcover reprint of classic Spider-Man stories from the ’60s. But we’ll get to my relationship with Spidey (and one of his particularly amazing friends) next time.

Welcome to the journey, man.

Wayne Rée’s been writing professionally for about ten years. He’s worked in everything from advertising to publishing, and was even part of the team that created Singapore’s very first tattoo magazine. He dabbles in screenwriting and photography, and travels way too much.

Comics Panels announced for LA Times Festival of Books

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books has announced the program schedule for the event’s weekend of April 21 and 22. Most of the panels and presentations related to comics and graphic novels are front-loaded on Saturday, with some competing against each other in the early afternoon. While the scheduling congestion is unfortunate, it’s indicative of the growing star power of comics at the Festival to get such premium placement.

Highlights include a moderated conversation with Robert Kirkman, writer and co-creator of The Walking Dead comic book series, and an appearance by Jeff Kinney of Diary of a Wimpy Kid fame on the Children’s Stage. DC Entertainment will also hold a panel with co-publishers Dan Didio and Jim Lee to talk up their controversial prequel comics to the acclaimed Watchmen graphic novel, followed by a screening of the movie adaptation. Almost simultaneously there is a discussion panel called Drawing Outside the Lines, featuring acclaimed graphic novel writers and artists Joseph Lambert (I Will Bite You!), Carla Speed McNeil (Finder), and Jim Woodring (Weathercraft), a trio of unique creators who write and draw their own work on their own terms. That panel is moderated by the LA Times’ Deborah Vankin who also wrote the graphic novel Poseurs. The last event for Saturday is a panel on Mythic Stories that features writers Ed Brubaker (Criminal), Adam Mansbach (Go the F**k to Sleep, Nature of the Beast) and Douglas McGowan (Nature of the Beast), with moderator Leslie S. Klinger (The Annotated Sandman). A fourth writer is TBD. The weekend ends with two screenings of the feature-length documentary, With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story.

While admission to the Festival is free, the limited seating of indoor panels requires the necessity of tickets, which go on sale April 15 at 9:00 am. A limited number of tickets will also be for sale during the Festival at booth #463. Panel passes, which reserve 8 tickets per pass, can be purchased now for $30. Tickets for the 32nd Annual LA Times Book Prizes Ceremony, happening the Friday night before the Festival, are also now on sale for $10.

Saturday

10:30 am – Robert Kirkman in Conversation with Geoff Boucher (Panel 1121)
Ronald Tutor Campus Center

12:55 pm – Jeff Kinney, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever
Target Children’s Stage

1:00 pm – DC Entertainment Presents: Watchmen — It’s Not the End, It’s the Beginning.
A Conversation with Jim Lee and Dan Didio, moderated by Geoff Boucher
2:00 pm – Watchmen Screening
School for Cinematic Arts

1:30 pm – Graphic Novel: Drawing outside the Lines (Panel 1113)
Joseph Lambert
Carla Speed McNeil
Jim Woodring
Moderator: Deborah Vankin
Taper Hall (THH 101)

3:30 pm – Graphic Novel: Mythic Stories (Panel 1044)
Ed Brubaker
Adam Mansbach
Douglas McGowan
TBD
Moderator: Leslie S. Klinger
Salvatori Computer Science Center (SAL 101)

Sunday

11:00 am & 3:00 pm – “With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story” screening, presented by EPIX
Located in the Ray Stark Theater
School for Cinematic Arts

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