Teachers and Our Important Relationship With Publishers

Over the past few months, myself, and the other members of The Comics Education Offensive have been busy making inroads with some comic publishers to help us get more comics and materials to teach those comics into classrooms.  Building these relationships is important for two major reasons: publishers need to understand that teachers want to use their books in the classroom; and with an understanding of just how many schools are interested in these types of books, they can create more resources for educators.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s going to be a long road for some publishers to get where they need to go, however, balls have started rolling.

So, I wanted to take a little bit of time today to showcase three publishers that have been willing and excited to work with us as we more forward on our journey to bring more comics and graphic novels into your classrooms.

The first publisher is no stranger to classroom comics: First Second Books.

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First Second Books has been putting out amazing titles for a long time, and if you teach with graphic novels, you’ve probably used one of their texts.  If you are not familiar, check them out here.  They offer books for all age ranges, and they even have a page for lesson plans and teacher resources for some of their materials.  Explore their site and order some books.  Hit me up for recommendations!  I’ve reviewed a couple of their books on this site as well.  They specialize in graphic novels, and most of their material is not of the superhero genre, so if you are afraid of single issue confusion or massive runs of trades, First Second will not scare you away.

We may be constructing a special Meet & Greet with peeps from the First Second family at New York Comic Con this coming October to celebrate their ten year anniversary, so stay tuned for more info on that!

The second publisher that I’d like to send a special shout out to is Valiant.

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I was connected with Valiant this past March at C2E2 in Chicago.  I heard that they were interested in getting into the educational game, so I went over to their booth and set plans in motion!  Since my initial visit to the Valiant booth this past March, they’ve been at a couple of our educator Meet & Greet sessions to talk to teachers (and they gave out free books), we’ve been in talks to team up on educational panels at NYCC and Rhode Island Comic Con, and their excitement about working with teachers inspired me to read almost every title that Valiant has to offer, allowing me to become sort of an expert on which books of theirs I think make excellent classroom titles (more info to come on that, but I will tell you to start with Faith…sooo good and one of the best-selling books out right now).  Unlike First Second, Valiant puts out single issue comics and collects them into trades.  But don’t let that scare you away!  Many of the trades contain one story line, and with lots of character cross-over, Valiant offers a number of ways for readers to jump in and out of titles as they wish.  Also, if you frequent the comic book store, you can find new Valiant issues every week!  With any luck, they will quickly see the benefit of expanding and shaping their library for school/classroom use.  You should for sure check out some Valiant books (hit me up for specific titles), and communicate to them through social media, telling them that you want to see Valiant comics and resources in your classroom!  Here’s a link to their site; they have some neat stuff in their store!

The final publisher that I’d like to recognize is Action Lab.

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We just started our relationship with Action Lab Comics at Denver Comic Con this month, but I’ll say that they were quick to see the benefits of partnering with us and educators.  Like First Second, their library is greatly varied and addresses a broad age range.  Don’t let their initial homepage fool you, these folks have done a great job listing descriptions of their titles with age appropriateness.  Here’s a link to the shop page where you can click on a title to check the info for specific books.  There are a few titles that might scare you away like Zombie Tramp, but I assure you, there are a ton of books for kids!  Check them out.

There are other publishers that are working to break into the classroom market, but I just wanted to highlight three that have made an effort to work with us.  I appreciate them, and I hope that over time, their commitment to education grows and grows.  Marvel and DC may sell lots of issues, but if these publishers start selling class sets of books to schools, the gap between Marvel/DC and these guys will deplete.  Also, their willingness to work with us in conference panel construction and staffing could say a lot for their exposure.

Show some love!  Check them all out, order some books, hit me up for recommendations!  Your voice is important, so support publishers that want to support the classroom!

Happy reading!

@comics_teacher

http://www.thecomicseducationoffensive.com

 

Denver Comic Con: A Top 5 Reflection

I have lots to talk about in this post, but it all stems from this past weekend’s trip to Denver Comic Con.  We were graciously asked to present our panels by Pop Culture Classroom, a partner of ours and an organization also working to make the classroom a more approachable place for students and teachers alike.  Please check out their offerings here.

And here, in no particular order are the Top 5 highlights from the con and the trip to Denver.

1.) I must say, the cosplay at this con was some of the best I have ever seen!

Here are just a few examples of the awesomeness:

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And while I heard some teen call Robot Itchy and Scratchy “Robot Ninjas from Hello Kitty,” I must forgive the teenage ignorance and embrace the ingenuity of the Denver cosplayers.  Kudos to you, creative peeps of Denver!

2.) We were able to bring our expertise to seven different panels at DCC.

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As you can see, we had packed rooms and amazing panelists.  Above from left to right: New Literacies panel with Ronell Whitaker, Jason Nisavic, Tod Emko, Michael Gianfrancesco, Adan Alvarado, and Adam Ebert; me waving in front a packed house on the “Creating Safe Spaces” panel; an amazing STEM line-up including Matt Brady, Tarek Cattan, and Mike Espinos.  Add these panes to the other amazing panels that we ran and were a part of, and add that to the number of amazing people we met at these panels, and you get a nice little world of people dedicated to making the world better with comics!

3.) Tod Emko and A Piggy’s Tale

If you do not know about A Piggy’s Tale and the work of the group, please click the link above.  Tod Emko and the people that work for this fabulous non-profit deserve props.  Not only because Tod is one of the nicest dudes that I’ve ever met, but because their work is important, and we can all learn a thing or two about being selfless.  I had one emotional moment of the weekend, and that came after I acquired a special Piggy themed tribute print recognizing the victims of the Orlando shooting.  Here is what the print looks like:

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It’s a very powerful image.  And even as I type this sentence, I am pausing due to a lack of words describing how this print and the situation makes me feel.

4.) I had some great experiences at the con that were a bit more organic, and these can be some of the best experiences.

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Here are a few more of the highlights from left to right: Jason and I caught an early panel Sunday morn with some 7th graders and their teacher explaining how they use role playing to create stories (see Jason there on the right playing the game with other volunteers?); the second pic is me helping my homie Chris Prunckle…I was helping him run his booth so he could assist on other panels (check out his art here); and finally, an X-Wing (how cool is that?).  These three pics can only begin to layer the experiences that I had this past weekend at the show.

5.) The show gave as a reason to start www.thecomicseducationaloffensive.com

Yep, our little group finally has a web site dedicated to helping educators join the fight for comics in the classroom.  The site is young and underdeveloped, but it will grow a bunch by the end of the summer, and we look forward to the process.  Also, we are always looking for peeps to join the fight, so let me know if you want to know how you can be more involved.

I could have done more than 5, but let’s start there, and I will push out more experiences from the con in more specific content later in the week.  By Friday, I will post an article about the importance of comic publisher/educator relationships spawned by our budding relationships with three comic publishers.

Happy reading!

Looking forward,

Eric

@comics_teacher

mr.kallenborn@gmail.com

Boob Capes and Feminism

I’m guessing that many of you clicked on this post from its title.  Good, and thank you!

Yesterday I was out to dinner with my wife and a couple of friends, and the conversation, as is usually does, to the chagrin of my wife, turned to comics.  But, this conversation was not the typical “which universe is better”…”what type of bone does Wolverine have now”…type of conversation.  We happened to stumble into a comics’ conversation that dealt with the representation of women in comics.

The conversation started with a reference to the “boob cape.”  The “boob cape” was the title given to a certain type of dress that the four of us had seen on a hero statue in a comic book store in Austin last summer.  I don’t remember the exact statue, but it was an Emma Frost statue, and it looked something like this:

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And the point was made that comics can’t ever be taken seriously if this is the way that women are constantly portrayed.  I quickly came to the defense of comics stating that there are a bunch of amazing titles featuring awesome, fully-clothed, powerful women…and that the women at the table just didn’t read enough titles to know what I was talking about.  Then the argument came up about how the poses of women heroes are ridiculous compared to their male counterparts, with artists forcing absurdly sexy positions onto women characters.  Here are a couple of links to support that argument.

 

Even then I went on the defense, stupidly stating that “Well, women naturally stand differently than men.”  I know, I was just aching to sound stupid, right?  BUT, I’m sincere in saying that the majority of comics I read with women characters portray the women in ways that (I would assume…although I can’t speak completely on this since I’m not a woman) demean no one.  I’m speaking of comics such as Ms. Marvel, Paper Girls, She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, Lumberjanes, etc.  I guess I tend to stray away from the books that portray women negatively…I thought.

In the wake of the DC Comics’ Rebirth two weeks ago, I decided to pick up a couple of the new launch titles that came out this past Wednesday: Green Lantern and Batman.  I have not opened the Batman yet, but the Green Lantern was good, until I got toward the end of the book and I saw this page:

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In the shadows of yesterday’s defense, I was speechless.  WTF, DC???  Why does Wonder Woman’s ass have to be hanging out in the middle of the page?  I mean, anywhere on the page is unacceptable, but in the middle adds insult to injury and makes it hard for comic fighters to convince society that comics have turned that corner.  But wait it gets worse.  Check out the last page of the comic:

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This image, heavy handed in its innuendo, makes me and my argument look like a bigger idiot!  Today, I brought this issue to the two women I argued with last night and apologized, seriously.  I was wrong; we have a long way to go.

I guess I just don’t get it on a few levels.  DC, if you are trying to build readership, why?  Why with the Wonder Woman ass?  Why with the cat between the spread-eagle legs?  Why not be better?  Is THIS how DC wants to portray its women characters?  I mean the woman Green Lantern in the issue is cool…fully-clothed and all, but the last few pages ruin it for me.  Does DC know what their artists are doing?  Do they care?

And I’m sorry to pick on DC like this.  I’m guessing with some very slight digging, I can find culprits at Marvel, Image, etc.  This just hit me as I was doing my duty as a student of comics, trying to get into something new.  Once again, if you’ve read this far…not picking on DC.  I’m just using them as an example.

I know that I’m not a saint, but I do know that we need to do better with the construction of our media.  I don’t have kids.  However, I know that if I did, I would not give them this issue of Green Lantern or any future issue for that mater.  And you can be damn sure that I’m going to use this issue as a seed for debate in my AP Language class next year, and I know my kids, and I know they will not be happy with the portrayal of Wonder Woman or the ridiculousness of that last page.

Whether this is a representation issue, a gender issue, a feminist issue, whatever…we need to agree that this is not the way to empower readers of these mass books targeted at a young audience.  Argue against me here, but the rating is “TEEN.”  And I know that there’s an obvious argument about the appropriateness of  PG-13 rated films, and the film Airplane (rated PG) had boobs scurry across the screen, and yes, your argument and voice are valid; I’m just saying that books like this are making it damn hard for me to justify to people that the comics’ medium portrays women characters with the integrity and equality they deserve.

I’ll close with this: vote with your dollar.  Let companies know that you will buy books based in a world filled with characters that empower you, and turn away from books that don’t.  Believe me, there are plenty of amazing books out there that do not have ass hanging out in the middle of a page.  THIS is why many comics still get a bad reputation.  THIS is why some parents still fight comics out of classrooms.  THIS is why Marvel can get away with having only one major woman role in their films.

If some of this was scattered, sorry, not sorry.  It’s a dense, tough issue that I can only begin to scratch the surface of.

Thanks for reading.  I hope something here resonates with you in a positive way.

Happy reading!

Superman American Alien: A Review

Those of you that know me, follow me on Twitter, or are friends with me on Facebook know that I have been obsessed with Max Landis’ Superman American Alien.  The series ended last week, and I’m totally bummed.  And before reading it, I wasn’t even a fan of Superman!

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For those of you not familiar with the mini-series, there are seven total issues.  Each issue captures a segment of Clark Kent’s life growing into the person we know as Superman.  Each issue is penned by Landis but the art for each of the seven books is taken on by a different team.  Landis has said that he wanted the art style of each issue to match the tone of the issue: a brilliant idea; not only is the writing absolutely stellar, but the switch in art every month gave the reader yet another thing to get excited about.

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I will not list all of the artists, but I will say that if you have not read this series, the initial book, drawn by Nick Dragotta, has an 8-10 year old Clark figuring out how to fly, and the art style of Dragotta captures the whimsy and innocence in a way that’s perfect.  The second book (art by Tommy Lee Edwards and Evan Shaner) is completely different, drenched in a sketchy art style that accompanies the brutal violence that Clark is faced with in the issue.  The books give us Clark in high school, college, and as a young adult figuring out his way in the world – sometimes nice, sometimes absolutely ruthless.

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The trade (combined seven issues) of Superman American Alien is set to release on October 18th, 2016.  I already have a request in to my department chair to order 35 copies so that I can teach it in my Graphic Novel/Comics class next year.  This book allows one to teach anything they’d want to teach: tone, mood, symbolism, irony, character, motivation, author intent…the list goes on and on.  It’s literary.  No doubt about it.  And if you do doubt me, then you have not yet read it.  I will be making a study guide for teaching this series, and I will share it for free because I want you to steal it and teach this book in your own classrooms.  And if you are afraid of teaching comics because of the massive universes and confusing on-going story arcs, you have nothing to worry about; another great thing about this Superman book is that there is nothing you need to know before jumping in.  This story arc stands alone.

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I recently had a teacher challenge me on the appropriateness of comics in the honors classroom, just because…well…comics.  This title kills that argument, and not that there haven’t been hundreds of titles before this that have killed that argument, this one just does it again, and with gusto!

I have to thank Max Landis for an amazing few months.  American Alien was by far the most excited I’ve been to see a book come out of my pull list pick-up…ever.  I’ve had love affairs with comics: Locke & Key, Archie, Manifest Destiny, Saga, Spider Man, etc.  But none of these titles got me as excited as American Alien.  Is it my favorite comic of all time?  That’s hard to say, but there are so many things going for it, it’s top three for sure.

So, read this story!  Let’s chat about it!  I’m curious to see what you think about it…

Happy reading!

@comics_teacher

mr.kallenborn@gmail.com

March Book One: Thoughts, Resources, and a Discussion

Hey, everyone!

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In late March, I took a trip to Memphis with my wife and some friends.  It was meant to be a nice little road trip to a town that I had never been to for some new BBQ and warmer weather.  What I found was an amazing place filled with history and emotion, and while a bunch of that history was music related, what really stuck with me was the National Civil Rights Museum.

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I had no idea that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, and I’d like to think that I’m in the minority, but after spending four hours at the National Civil Rights Museum, I’m not so sure because one of the lasting impressions that I walked away with is that we, as a nation, do not discuss the realities of the Civil Rights’ Movement.  Not in schools, not in our homes.  We don’t discuss it.  It is for this reason that everyone that can travel to Memphis to visit this museum…should.

Exiting through the gift shop, I finally picked up a copy of March: Book One.  A book by and about Congressman John Lewis.

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The amazing thing about this book is that eaching this book (and hopefully the trilogy…there will be three books, book two is out now as well) is teaching the Civil Rights’ movement.  Last semester, I used I Kill Giants as the book I had my seniors write their final exam on; however, having taught I Kill Giants earlier in the semester, and being moved by my trip to Memphis, I decided to use March: Book One as this semester’s final exam book (I will link to materials in a bit).  I gave the students a total of fifteen questions and two graphic organizers as their final exam, and my final question of the fifteen was…

  • How do the events of March connect to your life personally? Has this book changed your perspective in any way?  If so, explain.

Out of the 95 responses, about half of the students related to being a victim of some sort of prejudice, but on top of that, about half expressed disbelief that they did not really know anything about the Civil Rights’ Movement.  They were shocked; I was shocked; American should be shocked.  I don’t like to get political up here on this blog, but after reading the student responses, I was instantly reminded of a line that Michael Che on an episode of SNL said on Weekend Update; he was discussing Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.  I can’t find the clip, but he said something to the effect of…”great again?”  “For whom?”  He went on to explain that for large groups of people, America still hasn’t been great.  Believe what you want, but he has a point, and the fact that we breeze over this part of our collective history is a travesty.

Read it.  Teach it, all aspects of it.  Let our students get this information from somewhere.  If you live near Memphis, I’m sure your students have been to the National Civil Rights Museum, but if not, take them.

What follows are three links:

This link will take you to an amazing study guide/lesson plan written by Meryl Jaffe for the CBLDF (Comic Book Legal Defense Fund).

This link will take you to a teachingbooks.net March Teacher’s Guide PDF.

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The final link above is to my three day final exam questions.  I compiled them from the two study guides I’ve linked to, and each section tackles about 40 pages of the book.  I also used the two graphic organizers found in the PDF.

You have homework: read the book, check out these resources, figure out how you will teach the book.

Let’s talk about it.

Will you answer the call?

Happy reading!

Eric

@comics_teacher

mr.kallenborn@gmail.com

TOMBOY: A Student Guest Review

Hey, everyone!

It’s been a minute…I know, and I’m eternally sorry, but I’m making it up to you today with an amazing post!  What I am featuring today is a student review of the graphic memoir Tomboy written and drawn by Liz Prince.

For one of their assessments, my students are allowed to review a book of their choosing from my classroom shelf, and it’s no surprise that one of my students selected Tomboy.  I’m not here to tell you how great the book is…I’m let Radwa do that:

Tomboy Book Review

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The graphic memoir Tomboy by Liz Prince is a nonfiction autobiography.  Liz Prince talks about her childhood and how difficult it was just being herself.  Prince was a tomboy and was judged because of that.  She was bullied and talked about mainly because she is a woman who dressed like a man.  She didn’t care about looking pretty; actually she didn’t want to be “pretty.”  She loved playing with boys, dressing like boys, acting like boys; she just wished she was a boy.  Liz didn’t like the color pink or wearing dresses, not even a bra when her mother thought it was the time to.  Prince wore her father’s large clothing and people would make rude comments about it.  Some people thought she was gay because of her choices even though she is not.

This is one of my favorite books.  I am really into non-fiction.  I like to read about things that really happened.  I also feel like I could somewhat relate to it.  I wasn’t a tomboy growing up, but I got judged for being who I am, and Liz Prince definitely did too.  I feel like Prince has a very strong personality, and because of this, other people’s opinions do not affect her as much. I’m sure it bothered her that people judged her, talked about her, bullied her, and kept messing with her, but she is strong.  We can all learn a lesson from this.

In the story, it was difficult for Liz to make friends.  She liked to communicate with both boys and girls, and because of that, she had a hard time fitting in to one group.  She wasn’t a super princess, pretty, glitter type of girl, but she also wasn’t accepted as one of the “guys” either.  She was somewhere in between.  Liz Prince was also often mistaken for a boy.  She felt that she was supposed to be one too, and whenever she would play pretend, she was always a boy character: Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker, Dennis the Menace, etc.

My favorite part of the book was when she finally found a guy that really liked her, and the relationship lasted for a while, giving hope to any of us with the thought that we may never find someone.  My least favorite part would have to be when some kids threw her hat away when she was swimming, and she went home sad.  If I could change something about the book, it would be to add a little color to the illustrations.

I would definitely recommend Liz Prince’s graphic memoir Tomboy.  I would specifically recommend it to people that could relate to her, or people that get bullied or judged.  I would also recommend it to people that feel like they need to change because of the way people look at them for who they are.  Liz Prince stood up for herself, continues to stand up for herself, and does not let anyone control her mind or the person she truly is.  I feel that the book could help people that go through the things that she went through.

I wanted to know a few things about the book and the author herself, so my teacher contacted Liz Prince, and she was awesome enough to answer some questions for me!

Here are the questions I asked with her responses:

R.M.: After you grew up, was being a tomboy as rough as it was when you were younger?  How is it different now as an adult?

L.P.: Being a tomboy was definitely easier as an adult, because I had gained an understanding that someone else’s perception of you doesn’t define who you are.  Meeting more people who didn’t buy into gender stereotypes made my support network grow, and having reinforcement from outside factors can help a lot in becoming more comfortable in one’s own skin.  That’s why representation in media is such an important issue for many races and genders.

R.M.: It looks like the actual writing/lettering could have been yours.  Is it?  If so, why did you choose to handwrite it?

L.P.: I did hand write the text in tomboy, as I do in all of my comics, because my drawing style is so imperfect, that pairing it with a computer generated font really makes the text look out of place.  I believe that an autobiographical story should really be penned in the writer’s hand (even if you’re like me, and your lettering actually isn’t that great!).

R.M.: Who are your major inspirations…as a writer and in life?

L.P.: The woman Ariel Schrag, whose book Potential I mention in Tomboy, is one of my autobio inspirations.  Her comics are like reading her diary, complete with all the embarrassing parts that you can tell she wasn’t proud of.  I really strive to show my faults as well as my strengths in my comics, because that’s what real people are: a mixture of good things and not-so-good things.  In life, probably my biggest inspiration is my cat Wolfman, because she’s the best.  Also, all of the women that I dedicated Tomboy to: that wasn’t just lip-service.

R.M.: What inspired you to write this graphic memoir?

L.P.: I had never seen a book, comics or non, that really dealt with this aspect of gender in such a personal and concise way.  It isn’t an academic book, because I’m not an academic person, it’s just a story that I wanted (and in some ways needed) to tell.  I’m hoping that people realize that it’s wholly personal experience, and that I don’t intended to speak for anyone other than myself, but a lot of people, both young and old, have written to me to say that Tomboy really resonated with them, and that is the best kind of gratification.

R.M.: What does the success of the book mean to you?

L.P.: The success of Tomboy means that my story was one worth telling!  It can be difficult to put your personal experiences into a book like this, especially when readers can judge you solely on what you’ve written, so to know that Tomboy has inspired a lot of conversation with its readers, is extremely validating.

I’d really like to thank Liz Prince for taking the time to answer my questions.  She is seriously the best!

The Stratford Zoo: Macbeth…A Review

If you’ve been teaching graphic novels, or if you’ve been exploring graphic novel titles to teach, you’ve come across the books of First Second Publishing.  They have been putting out amazing titles for all ages for years.  Actually, it is their 10-year anniversary!  Since I’ve been such a big fan of the publisher, I’ve decided to review five First Second titles over the month of February: my anniversary gift.  I will kick off my month of First Second reviews with The Stratford Zoo Midnight Review Presents: Macbeth, written by Ian Lendler.

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The graphic novel tells the tale of zoo animals that perform the classic story of Macbeth after hours when everyone has left the zoo, with the exception of some zoo keepers that stroll the grounds (causing the plays’ only intermission).  Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are lions, and all heck breaks loose as they decide it best to “eat” their problems.  The witches are silly animals with masks attempting to perfect their “witch cackles,” and the animal audience is very active in the book, cracking jokes about the performance, and explaining more difficult vocabulary such as “conscience” to the reader, very reminiscent of a Lemony Snicket.

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I’m in the process of directing a 30-minute version of Macbeth right now, so the timing of it all is serendipitous.  After receiving the book, I flipped through the pages to quickly realize that the language is not Shakespearean, and the book is fairly short at 74 pages; however, once I began reading it, I quickly understood that the adaptation is nothing short of fantastic story-telling.

Immediately after reading it, I decided to introduce my Macbeth cast to the story with this graphic novel.  My co-director and I brought our cast into a classroom and proceeded to do a dramatic reading of the graphic novel as we showed the illustrations on the overhead projector.  Within twenty-five minutes, we were done, and the students had a solid working understanding of Macbeth.

This is the first reason why the book is great: while it lacks the Shakespearean weight of language, it makes up for it in its simplicity of story-telling.  I’d be willing to bet that this book would make a fantastic entryway into Shakespeare for the eager 5th, 6th, or 7th grade student.

The book is honestly funny with laughs for all ages, and while I’d say this book would work best with younger students, the images and writing are cleaver enough for any adult to enjoy as well.  The art, drawn by Zack Giallongo and colored by Alisa Harris, not only helps in adding to the humor, but also helps in the telling of the story, using large panels (including many full-page), and bold/contrasting colors to allow the reader to get very detailed windows into this world.

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And, First/Second, if you’re listening, I’d be more than willing to help you develop educational lesson plans for your titles that yet to have them; I have ideas.  I’m just sayin’…

There is also a Romeo & Juliet from the Stratford Zoo (published by First Second), and I’m excited to read it!  I’m a fan, and if you are a grammar school or middle school teacher looking to get kids excited about Shakespeare, start here.

I’m excited to review move First Second books this month…stay tuned!  And remember to head to First Second to check out their library of titles.

Happy reading, everyone!

Eric

@comics_teacher

mr.kallenborn@gmail.com