Governor’s Hall A/B
Topic: R, L, T
Challenging Texts: Reconsidering Comics/Graphic Novels and Genre
Paul Thomas, Furman University
Beth Day, Furman University
This workshop will open with a brief history of the comics/graphic novels genres/ mediums. Then, participants will examine samples of comics/graphic novels to generate the conventions that characterize the genre/medium. Supported by lessons/units provided on the blog Adventures in Genre! (http://comicsasliterature.blogspot.com), participants will be guided through creating text sets anchored by comics/graphic novels as explorations of “genre” and “text.”
Annotated Resource List
Carter, J. B. (Ed.). (2007). Building literacy connection with graphic novels: Page by page, panel by panel. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
This edited volume includes ten practical chapters that help teachers implement graphic novels into the ELA curriculum. The chapters present arguments for incorporating graphic novels broadly along with describing some specific applications of the genre. "There is a graphic novel for virtually every learner in your English language arts classroom," claims Carter (p. 1) in the introduction, and this sets the stage for a wide range of helpful chapters that any teacher should find useful when learning about comics and graphic novels or hoping to expand their use. See Carter's related link for lesson plans: http://www. readwritethink.org/about/bio/james-bucky-carter-201.html
Cary, S. (2004). Going graphic: Comics at work in the multilingual classroom. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
"Superman made me a reader," opens Cary (p. 1). Recognizing the gulf between school reading and his enjoyable, chosen reading, Cary offers a book-length look at integrating comics in the ELL classroom. Cary explains that the book explores using comics to enhance language development and content. This is a practical and informative book designed to support classroom teachers addressing ELL learners.
Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (Eds.). (2000). Multiliteracies: Literacy learning and the design of social forces. New York: Routledge.
This work includes the foundational work by The London Group addressing multiliteracies along with a number of chapters looking at the implementation of the ideas in the seminal work over subsequent years.
Dyson, A. H. (1997). Writing superheroes: Contemporary childhood, popular culture, and classroom literacy. New York: Teachers College Press.
Dyson offers a book-length consideration of mining the literacy of children with children composing through the lens of superheroes. This work examines critical literacy, challenges our views of childhood and their literacy, and expands ideas of children crafting and composing their own original works. Dyson situated her students in their worlds, acknowledging the importance of fantasy and popular culture in children's ways of knowing.
Eisner, W. (2008). Comics and sequential art. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.
Eisner is viewed as one of the masters of the comics field, and this is one of the primary works of the field as well. Comics and Sequential Art appeared first in 1985 and was followed by Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative and Expressive Anatomy for Comics and Narrative. This 2008 edition is part of a reissuing of all volumes with edits and greater concern taken for the quality of the artwork since the passing of Eisner. Eisner is credited with the term "sequential art," and this work is an excellent insider's view of the genre from one of the giants of the field. In the Foreword, Eisner states well his purpose: "This work is intended to consider and examine the unique aesthetics of sequential art as a means of creative expression, a distinct discipline, an art and literary form that deals with the arrangement of pictures or images and words to narrate a story or dramatize an idea" (p. xi).
———. (20008). Graphic storytelling and visual narrative. New York: W. W. Norton and Company.
Following his Comics and Sequential Art, Eisner explains, "In this work, I hope to deal with the mission and process of storytelling with graphics" (p. xi). While the first educational work on comics is possibly a sure-fire essential for anyone studying or teaching comics, this second volume may seem to be only for those wanting to write and create comics themselves. But I feel this second educational work by Eisner is very useful as we consider the craft of comics, suggesting how best to integrate comics and graphic novels in our classrooms as part of our quest to teach student to read like writers, mining any text for the craft that writers implement to raise the effectiveness of their expression.
Gorman, M. (2003). Getting graphic! Using graphic novels to promote literacy with preteens and teens. Worthington, OH: Linworth.
Gorman offers an introduction to comics and graphic novels as well as "a collection development tool for both school and public librarians" (p. xi). This book offers basic information on the genre along with a listing of a number of comics/graphic novels recommended for the classroom and libraries. Gorman also aids librarians in selecting, shelving, and maintaining a comics/graphic novels collection. A number of practical resources are included in the book.
Gravett, P. (2005). Graphic novels: Everything you need to know. New York: Collins Design.
Gravett, who has extensive experience within both the comics industry and mainstream publishing, offers an oversized and visually engaging work that introduces the reader to the graphic novel form by looking directly at 30 chosen works and a number of related graphic novels tied to the anchoring 30. Gravett offers excellent definitions, clarification, and historical context for his discussion. The book is divided into 13 chapters, most of which are sub-categories of graphic novels arranged by Gravett. Educators are well advised to read all graphic novels suggested, taking into account that Gravett makes little effort to explore whether or not works are suitable for children and young adults (Chapter 12, in fact, explores pornographic graphic novels). The "In Focus" and "Following On" elements of this work are ideal for educators, as well as enhancing the books value as a gateway into the graphic novel genre.
Groensteen, T. (2007). The system of comics. Trans. B. Beaty & N. Nguyen. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.
The translators, in the Foreword, describe Groensteen's work as "a ground-breaking analysis of the operation of the language of comics, offering the most important semiotic analysis of the medium to date" (p. vii). Groensteen offers a semiotic analysis, expanding the rigor, some believe, of Eisner's and McCloud's similar analyses of the genre. The translators do caution that English-language readers are likely unfamiliar with many of Groensteen's examples drawn from European works. Groensteen concludes, "In approaching comics as a 'system' I wanted to signify that it constitutes an organic totality that associates a complex combination of elements, parameters, and multiple procedures" (p. 159).
Hajdu, D. (2008). The ten-cent plague: The great comic-book scare and how it changed America. New York: Picador.
Hajdu's work is an extended history of the backlash against comics in the mid-twentieth century. This is a fascinating work about comics and their place in popular culture in the U. S. For anyone interested in the art form and how the country viewed (and still views) comics, this is an invaluable read. Few know about the impact of McCarthy Era dynamics on the comic industry and the people whose lives were changed forever, just as this era impacted Hollywood and political figures.
Kannenberg, Jr., G. (2008). 500 essential graphic novels: The ultimate guide. New York: Collins Design.
This packed volume literally identifies the top 500 graphic novels for readers. It is well designed and practical, including a top ten for ten genres—adventure, non-fiction, crime mystery, fantasy, general fiction, horror, humor, science fiction, superheroes, and war. The reference section includes several very useful indexes, including categorizing the works by appropriate ages of readers, writers, artists, titles, and publishers. This is an outstanding resource for teachers and for the classroom as a resource for students who want to explore the genre further.
Klock, G. (2002). How to read superhero comics and why. New York: Continuum.
Klock explains that he is addressing what he calls a third movement in comics, after the Golden and Silver Ages. His book-length discussion looks at superhero comics in the context of psychology and literary analysis. He also considers comics as an element of popular culture and cultural studies. In short, this is a discussion of taking superhero comics serious as intentional art, as a genre worthy of the analysis often reserved for traditional text only. See Fleming (2010) for a review of the book.
McCloud, S. (2006). Making comics: Storytelling secrets of comics, manga and graphic novels. New York: Harper Paperback.
McCloud has three outstanding books for helping anyone who reads, teaches, or creates comics and graphic novels. This is the third in the series, and here he continues his engaging look at comics, manga, and graphic novels by writing a graphic novel exploring the forms. Making Comics is focused primarily on those wanting to be comic book creators, but his accessible and sophisticated discussion is valuable to readers and teachers of the forms as well.
McCloud, S. (2000). Reinventing comics: How imagination and technology are revolutionizing an art form. New York: Harper Paperback.
Reinventing Comics is a sequel to McCloud's foundational Understanding Comics. He explains himself that this second work is simply a continuation of his own evolving musings about the genre and where the genre is heading. Like all of his three works, so far, this is a graphic novel about comics as a genre.
McCloud, S. (1994). Understanding comics: The invisible art. New York: Harper Paperback.
This is McCloud's first and possibly most important work for teachers. Here, McCloud offers nine chapters that carefully introduce novices and veterans alike to the genre of comics. His work is both sophisticated and entertaining, making his work ideal for teachers preparing to teach and for student preparing to read and even create comics. Many, if not most, discussions of comics as a genre refer to McCloud's claims in this work.
Reynolds, R. (1992). Super Heroes: A modern mythology. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.
Reynolds explores the superhero as pop culture mythological types. In the opening, Reynolds defines the superhero by examining the creation of Superman and Batman. Next, Reynolds discusses the role of the costume in forming the mythology of the superhero. In the third chapter, he looks closely at Thor, Superman, Batman, Captain America, and Wonder Woman. The fourth chapter is very useful for teachers as Reynolds focuses on what he calls three key texts—X-Men from the 1970s and 1980s, The Dark Knight Returns, and Watchmen. Reynolds concludes by discussing the criticisms of the superhero genre that began to increase in the late 1980s into the early 1990s.
Rhoades, S. (2008a). Comic books: How the industry works. New York: Peter Lang USA.
Rhoades, a former executive and publisher at Marvel and executive in mainstream publications, writes an insider's view of the comic book industry. That said, this is slightly different than a discussion of the genre. As Rhoades notes, the industry is dominated by two publishers, DC and Marvel, and considering the industry has a distinction from considering the art—notably the power structures, the role of profit, and the influence of other media (such as film) on the comic industry itself: "Comic book publishing is an industry that started by accident in the early 1930s. Nearly eighty years later, comics have evolved from 'throw-away escapism' for kids into a multimillion-dollar business encompassing movies, television, music, toys—and, of course, publishing" (p. 3).
———. (2008b). A complete history of American comic books. New York: Peter Lang USA.
This volume by Rhoades is more directly valuable to educators than Comic Books above. Here, Rhoades provides a detailed and engaging history of the field of comics, but readers should understand that Rhoades skews this history toward the history of superhero comics primarily driven by DC and Marvel. This view of history is augmented by Gravett's (2005) work above that acknowledges a broader range of sub-genres.
Rosenberg, R. S. (Ed.). (2008). The psychology of superheroes: An unauthorized exploration. Dallas, TX: Benbella Books, Inc.
"As an adult," Rosenberg (2008) explains, "I saw that superhero stories are about morality and loyalty, about self-doubt and conviction of beliefs" (p. 1). This edited volume includes eighteen essays exploring how many well-known comic superhero characters and storylines "illuminate how superheroes reflect—or don't reflect—what we have learned from psychology" (Rosenberg, p. 2).
Sheyahshe, M. A. (2008). Native Americans in comic books: A critical study. Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, Inc., Publishers.
Acknowledging the social stigma associated with comic books, Sheyahshe (2008) confesses, "I will be the first to admit that comics are a (not-so-secret) guilty pleasure of mine" (p. 1). This is an excellent and useful resource for examining how comic books portray Native Americans. Sheyahshe concludes this study by explaining that he did not attempt to be exhaustive but "to give readers the tools to identify stereotypes and misrepresentations themselves" (p. 188).
Thomas, P. L. (2008). Reading, learning, teaching Ralph Ellison. New York: Peter Lang.
This volume is an introduction to the works of Ralph Ellison. But Chapter Five includes a section on incorporating comics and graphic novels along with works by Ellison. This discussion also addresses some of the genre considerations I am approaching in this book.
Varnum, R., & Gibbons, C. T. (2001). The language of comics: Word and image. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi.
This volume includes ten essays that explore the interaction between words and images as forms of expression in the genre of comics. In the introduction, the editors explain the essays grew out of interest in McCloud (1994) as a focal point for arguing with and against the ideas expressed in Understanding Comics.
Wright, B. W. (2001). Comic book nation: The transformation of youth culture in America. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.
"Long before I became a historian, I read comic books—many comic books," confesses Wright (p. ix). This look at the role of comics in the culture of the U. S. is an excellent companion to histories of comics, such as the work by Rhoades.