Category Archives: comics

Nerd Alert: Comics and Games Ahead


First of all if you are heading to Nerd Mecca AKA the San Diego Comic-Con in the coming weeks, please stop by room 26AB. In there you will find the Comic-Arts Conference, an academic space to discuss and share findings related to comics. Peter Carlson and I will be presenting findings from a forthcoming paper about academic literacy scaffolding and comics.

When not trolling 26AB, I will probably be waiting in lines at Comic-Con. It’s been a few years since I’ve been, but that’s what you still do there, right? Actually, I’ll probably be looking for folks running Pathfinder, D&Dnext, Savage Worlds, and  13th Age. If none of those sound familiar to you, welcome to the diverse fan-driven world of role playing games (RPGs). For the next year or so, I’ll be looking at role playing game spaces when it becomes (somewhat) untangled from the clicking and typing of online videogame play. I suspect the robust research in that space is sustaining educator interest in videogames, but the origins of games like World Of Warcraft are still very much alive as their own space. Though I plan to explore some of my ideas about aspects of RPGs on this blog in the future, for now I would point other would-be interested literacy folks to this lengthy tome. Jon Peterson’s exhaustively long book details the history of the nascent days of the first RPG: Dungeons and Dragons. Yep, RPGs are a staunchly American tradition and one that is based on non-digital remix and feedback loops in gaming communities. This history of remix is not only still alive and well, but in some ways even more encouraged due to the industry’s Open Game License (which I read as a Creative Commons-like license for expanding popular gaming systems). A lot more to say about this in the future, but for now if you’re interested in playing in person (in Fort Collins or at SDCC) or online (there are a lot of user-friendly VTTs – Virtual Tabletops) I’d be happy if you helped learn with me.

Last week Ally and I were at the American Library Association’s annual conference in Chicago. I appreciated the artist alley there. That no one was in line to meet folks like Paul Pope, Jeffrey Brown, or Matt Kindt was pretty interesting compared to the craziness those three industry stalwarts will face in San Diego. I was thrilled to get to pick Matt Kindt’s brain about his work. The top picture is Kindt showing a small group of conference-goers his pencil, ink, and painting process for his ongoing series Mind MGMT.

“sung from the grave by a ghost who doesn’t know he’s dead”: Books Read in 2012

Another year in reading and I’m left tallying and questioning. Much of my research lately focuses on what counts as reading. A healthy portion of the books included here are audiobooks (I’ve mentioned previously they are usually listened to at double speed). Is that reading? As one of my students noted, it’s more like “like reading.” Similarly, the seemingly random line between what’s tallied and what’s not is problematic. My list favors the bound not the stapled. Early in 2012 I read Who Is Jake Ellis as a trade paperback collection of comic books. I am currently reading the second arc of this story, Where is Jake Ellis in serialized form, one issue each month as they are released. When this is done, these comics (and the many, many more that I’ll read) won’t be tallied here. Nor will the single chapters of books or many journal articles I’ll dive into. Nor will the hundreds of blog posts I’ll swim through. Or the Youtube comments or cooking recipes or the or the ortheorthe. I only catalog so much of my life and, at least for this annual post, I’ve decided it’s going to be things that are bound and things that typically have isbns. Further, as the number of YA texts I read continues to increase, I am interested in what is typically considered “academic.” For example, I guarantee you that reading Gossip Girl this year was a purely academic effort, despite the fact that it’s not counted as such in this year’s list. All that ranting being ranted, here’s the list:

Books read in 2012: 121
Comics and graphic novels included in reading total: 23
Books of poetry included in reading total: 2
Books reread included in reading total: 7
Academic & Education related books included in reading total: 21
YA and Junior Fiction books included in reading total: 32

A few thoughts and highlights (and here are my posts on books read in 20112010, and 2009):

In terms of fiction, I find myself thinking back most frequently to Steve Erickson’s These Dreams of You. There is a longer discussion of race, representation, and privilege within the book that I think Erickson somewhat glides beyond. However, it’s a book that I really enjoyed and was generally overlooked this year.

I spent more time this year with 1Q84 than any other book. It was a text that dragged me slowly and resistantly into its long and patient world. I found it stereotypical and misogynistic to begin with only to be pulled into the surreal double-mooned realm of Murakami’s latest off-kilter universe.

Not a whole lot, again, in terms of BSRAYDEKWTDWT (that is: Books So Ridiculously Awesome You Don’t Even Know What To Do With Them). However, Chris Ware’s Building Stories is such a great example of the genre that I’m reserving discussion of it for a future post on literacies, archiving, geography and exploration. Suffice to say that Ware’s work is so universally acclaimed that one has to just throw a digital rock and you’ll hit a link or two or three or four praising the book.

I really liked Many Subtle Channels by Daniel Levin Becker. Essentially an insider’s history of the Oulipo, the book is neither overly academic nor entirely focused on the landscape of experimental literature. Instead the unique personalities, voices, and movements of a group of writers emerge in a compellingly readable book. Anyone interested even remotely in the idea of “experimental” or playful literature should take a look at Becker’s book.

In terms of comics, I finally tackled Duncan the Wonder Dog and feel it deserves the smattering of acclaim it’s garnered from a generally small readership. A page from the book is at the top of the post and with nearly every page of the book as intricately labored upon as this one, the book’s depth and design match the complex ethical exploration of the relationship between animals and human.

Gabrielle Bell’s collection of comic diaries The Voyeurs was also a powerful image-based book I appreciated and continued to reflect upon this year. It reminded me of a hyper-verbal version of Lewis Trondheim’s Little Nothings series. The sequence detailing Bell’s experiences at the San Diego Comic Con were particularly entertaining to view.

Like his documentary films, I found Errol Morris’ Believing is Seeing engrossing and challenging. The questions about truth and image and representation reminded me of the best of some of Weschler’s book length profiles. Morris is deliberate in how he makes and develops a thesis and I can imagine each of the essays in the book acting as useful examplars for multimodal argumentation.

Finally, I concluded this year by tackling Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. All of them. I’m still reflecting over the relationship between the series and a certain boy wizard with a lightning bolt on his head. I’m also interested in the linguistic development of the book, particularly Sunny’s developing babble over the thirteen books and the way it exhibits a kind of double consciousness (if anyone has any academic texts related to the Snicket series, the are appreciated).

As 2013 approaches, I am halfway through Sergio de la Pava’s A Naked Singularity. The book’s frenetic jumps from courtrooms to meetings with clients to bitching about said clients to family gatherings to insane neighbors and more than a few encounters between the protagonist and Uncle Sam and a Chimpanzee make the book one I’m enjoying at a slow, winter’s pace.

Words Read & Melodies Hummed

[because one of my more neurotic routines is that I keep a small notebook with the books I’ve read arranged by date.]

Books read in 2009: 91
Comics and graphic novels included in reading total: 12
Books of poetry included in reading total: 5
Books reread included in reading total: 6
Education related books included in reading total: 28
“YA” books included in reading total: 7

Clearly, a significant chunk of the books I read this year were related to school and to school. The thing about grad school is that there are often a whole bunch of articles and papers I’ve read that aren’t reflected on this list (they become part of the collective flotsam that is my EndNote library – itself another haphazard list of materials read). Why do I keep such a list? Most practically, because I’ve come to accept that I have a terrible memory: flipping through the notebook, there are several titles I don’t even remember (I read this? And this? Really?).
A few highlights in my year of reading:

As far as music goes, considering that I got this computer a third of the way through the year, my iTunes most played list serves as a useful indicator of what was what (how Squirrel Nut Zippers made it so high up the list is beyond me… though I think frequent use of the song to wind up Sadie may have something to do with it).

“Tell Them I Am Busy”: Comics and Counter-Narrative

One of the things that Mr. Carlson and I experimented with using during his intersession was comics. Specifically, we had students create comic strips through Pixton.

The best thing about having students create stories through Pixton is that it just happens. Other than guiding students through the registration process, Mr. Carlson and I never needed to actually tell students how to create the comics they would make. They just happen. After students made a couple in response to class discussions, films, or readings, the Pixton comics reached a tipping point with some of the class; now, students are regularly authoring comics and sharing their work with a network of other comic creators.

Because Pixton is such an intuitive interface, students are able to quickly generate stories or opinions on any part of the world they are interested in. What’s compelling is the way the medium becomes a mode for generally silenced voices to comment and critique life at Manual Arts and to punctuate experiences that are otherwise normalized through an adult lens.

Again, I can take no credit for the astute implications behind the comic below (if your browser isn’t getting along with the Flash window below, view the comic here).

more about “people’s perspective of MAHS by kflor1“, posted with vodpod

I Hate Sounding Like I’m Using Hyperbole But …

I’m currently reading through Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli and I’m just staggered by how good this is; content, design, layout, color, everything. I’m halfway through and frankly haven’t had this feeling about a book’s contribution to its genre since reading Jimmy Corrigan (sadly, I suspect this will be the go-to comparison in upcoming reviews precisely because  they feel like such strong “statements” despite being worlds apart thematically).

I realize how snobby the above thoughts sound. However, I literally put the book down every five or ten pages, reach for my computer and then decide I need to go back and make sure about what I’m reading. This being the halfway point, I feel confident in stating this book is a product of genius. A pure, precise effort that also has enough nuanced details to reward multiple readings (check the juxtaposition of assumptions of the first few pages with a major turning point later in the book, for instance).

The only other work by Mazzucchelli I’m familiar with is the superb adaptation of Auster’s City of Glass – something I almost taught as part of the Black Cloud curriculum last summer.

Why We Can’t Get It Right (Comics Edition)

I stumbled across this interview last week and immediately groaned. Great, another non-educator (yes, this can even include former educators) showing us how to teach. That sounds pessimistic and mean spirited, but it is intended more as a commentary on how teachers are pushed into a passive role within the educational field.

As a traveling teacher, I spent two months of the year “borrowing” the classroom of a follow colleague who’s shelves positively burst with comics: a class set of the Watchmen, numerous copies of Maus, and Persepolis (since they have somehow become the only comics that teachers acknowledge as existing…), plenty of that dirty stuff we’re supposed to keep away from kids (aka Vertigo titles, Strangers in Paradise, The Walking Dead), tons of superheroes, manga, you name it. The teacher spent a fortune, I presume, on these titles. I saw him utilizing comics in his curriculum on a regular basis (I recall, for instance, a unit on autobiographical writing using some of the aforementioned texts as well as The Rabbi’s Cat and a manga title I was unfamiliar with).

I asked some of his kids about the comics and all of them – I repeat, all of them – said they were fun to read. Both male and female students read a hefty helping of comic books. Kids regularly trickled in during lunch to pick up the latest trade they were reading. This teacher successfully incorporated comics into his everyday teaching practice. Kids were engaged during silent reading, throughout the lesson, and even at home. The comics helped transition reluctant readers toward standard-fare novels.

No one paid this teacher to develop a comic book framework for his classroom. He didn’t go to buy a manual showing him how to use comics in a standards-aligned classroom. Instead, he found an instructional strategy (clearly one he was already passionate about), and figured out how to best engage and personalize the learning experiences for his students. From the overwhelming anecdotal evidence I received from his students over the two months I spent in his class, it was clearly an effective model. This is the teacher that should have penned a book about utilizing comics. He should be leading professional development sessions for our school and our district.

I single this teacher out in this instance to illustrate that there are similar skills represented by all of our teachers. Think about the sheer amount of expertise that is being disregarded within our schools. Sharing such work at annual conferences and in journals isn’t going to be enough (even though I participate in both mediums): frankly, I suspect it’s the same select cadre of teachers from schools circling within these pools. The vast majority of the teachers – at my school at least – are not going to conferences or reading journals (it’s the work for the perceived “teacher leaders”: department chairs, coaches, and ‘those loudmouths that speak up in faculty meetings’).

If we want to get things right it’s going to take a larger shift in how teachers are perceived.

It’s going to have to start with how we perceive ourselves.

I haven’t looked at – let alone read – Comics in Your Curriculum. I can’t vouch for whether it is any good. However, reading the interview, I question why this book came into existence without the consultation of (let alone being authored by)  teachers. I didn’t intend to pick on this title in particular, it acts as more of an exemplar of what I am arguing against. As a group of disenfranchised professionals, there isn’t any reason why we shouldn’t be developing these kinds of plans and manuals alongside our students. Why are we letting publishers and textbook tycoons dictate our careers for us? I’m all for having guests come in and aid and collaborate in the classroom. However, it’s time to shift how curriculum is manufactured, interpreted, and consumed. It’s time to make sure teachers are a part of this process every step of the way.

It’s (Still) A Man’s Man’s Man’s World

Not quite a year and half after being launched and the DC imprint, Minx, is kaput. Minx was focused on releasing comics oriented for female teens. I had high hopes for what Minx meant to the comics industry. It was something I would regularly bring up and mention to my colleagues – a beacon of hope to get comics into the hands of students everywhere.

First off the press back in 2007, The Plain J.A.N.E.S. was such a refreshing read that I was thrilled with where Minx would push the industry. I bought a class set of the graphic novel to incorporate into the graffiti unit Mark and I taught. His seventh graders ate it up and my eleventh graders breezed through the text as well.

Unfortunately, the rest of the Minx catalogue – at least what I perused of it – didn’t match the quality of The Plain J.A.N.E.S. It didn’t even come close. Sure, I ho-hummed my way through The New York Four, but that was only because it was a “Brian Wood Book”.

Looking at the titles that existed under the Minx imprint, I’m not exactly surprised by what happened. However, the idea of helping to bridge the gender gap in comics was exciting. I don’t know if the failure of Minx will further scare away other publishers from expanding in such a way.

I think this is also an appropriate place for an aside about how comics have emerged as a part of my day-to-day reading habits. I initially came towards comics with the same sense of self-righteous ‘I only read graphic novels’ attitude I see in some of colleagues. I liked Chris Ware, read Maus, the “important” Alan Moore work, and therefore was more than a little elitist in my comic book habits. It was through the patient handselling of the two Davids that run Secret Headquarters that I began to diversify. I’m pretty confident that Y: The Last Man serves as a sort of gateway comic as well – students swear by it and it’s the kind of book most people can pick up and need to read in the same kind of fervor that some get afflicted with Harry Potter or – more recently – Twilight. At this point, I’ve begun wading into the fell fledged heroes in capes and masks kinds of comics. I still like “the other kind” of comics too, but I’m an equal opportunity offender. More pertinently, not to out her in any way, but the example is worthwhile; Rhea is also reading pretty much whatever ends up in our routine purchases. That means she too has undergone a transformation towards accepting more mainstream comics. No, she didn’t need Minx to get into comic books, but it took a lot of patience, conversations, and trust in the local comic store guys to get to a place where either one of us are interested in comics beyond the snob’s canon.

There is a whole ‘nother argument to be made about the thrill of serialized storytelling, its potential impact on teaching & learning, and the reason it makes reading easier. However, I wanted to focus primarily on Minx at the moment, so that will have to wait.


At the Comic-Con this year, had the pleasure of randomly stumbling across the Igloo Tornado booth. Last year, I bought the awesome Tom Neely book, The Blot, and have enjoyed some great mailing list fodder as a result.

This year, I was excited to discover that Jason Shiga was perched at the booth. Shiga’s Bookhunter is easily one of the funniest, most entertaining books I’ve read. A detective action thriller, Bookhunter follows a determined agent on the lookout for library related chicanery.

Based on this book alone, I pretty much bought the other Shiga titles on the table. Including this:

It wasn’t until looking through the book, later, that I realized that this is easily a contender in my newly created genre: Books So Ridiculously Awesome You Don’t Even Know What To Do With Them (BSRAYDEKWTDWT). Really, look at this book. It looks awesome and you won’t know how to read it (the book will in fact chastise you if you program it incorrectly).

See, the book is divided into two smaller sections. As a result, the book is a programmable comic story run by a “paper engine.” The directions are intuitive and fun. The result is a surprisingly difficult set of puzzle adventures.

I went back the next day to buy as many copies of Hello World as I could afford for friends. Unfortunately, that only meant two more. Self published, printed, and bound, Hello World can’t be the easiest book to produce on a large scale. However, considering the amount of complex thought that has gone into revving up this engine, I’d hope more people will get to see this at some point.

Well done, Shiga.

Apparently Elite

Stay tuned for a couple of Comic-Con related tidbits.

Yes. It was ridiculous.

Yes. We spent most of our time in lines and crammed between aisles.

Yes. I will be going again next year.

Fact: shortly after taking the above picture, a Con attendee walked by dressed as Rorschach.

And then we saw two Silent Bobs.

One was talking.

On a cell phone.