I have been fortunate to take in some workshops sponsored by the U of MN College in the Schools Program, and one such workshop occured last week for the CIS Literature course. The guest speaker, Ryan Cox, is an English Studies Graduate student. He gave a talk (to about 25 CIS Lit. that included: a) a brief history of comics, b) the problem of reading comics, and c) recommended graphic texts to use with high school students. Listening to Ryan was a good "teaching media literacy" experience for me. As a child, I never really was a big fan of comics. As a teenager and adult I read "Peanuts," and I read Dilbert (Scott Adams was my brother-in-law's best man) but until I was introduced to Persepholis, I really was not that aware of the genre "graphic novel."
It was eye-opening for me to sit in a roomful of English teachers and learn that many (most?) of them are teaching graphic novels and finding it a very good experience for themselves and the students. Here are some highlights of that workshop for me included: 1) talking about how to help kids learn to "read" comics - size and number of panels in the comic controls pace, signal message and meaning; larger panels sometimes contain more meaning (words,) but some bigger panels are used to offer more color, more artwork, to slow the pace down... also, some comics don't read from left to right, top to bottom, i.e. Japanese, for example. I have some students who are very interested in these. I have much to learn about the terminology; 2) thinking about how gutters in a comic strip matter - require readers to "fill in" with imagination and ask "How much time passes between frames, what happened during that time...?" I had to rethink my paradigms - don't most English teachers shudder at the idea of "Macbeth" in comic book format? Of course Ryan Cox began with the illustrated "Tyger, Tyger Burning Bright" by William Blake. How can one argue with that?
I enjoyed the history, but I also found it very enjoyable to hear some analysis and receive a list of graphic novels / comics to try in the classroom. Here are a few Ryan Cox recommended: 1) Sandman, by Neil Gaiman; 2) Blankets, by Craig Thompson; 3) Ameridcan Splendor, by Harvey Pekar (features the anti-superhero.) I have not read these; I haven't even seen the movie Persepholis yet, but I have been encouraged by many to go and see it.
What did motivate me greatly was seeing the students' comic strip work that one of the workshop participants brought along to show us at the CIS Lit. workshop. My seniors are working on a project that requires them to try some different avenues (besides writing a paper) to show the universality of, value of, and popularity of an author they have recently read. Some are working on ideas for podcasts, vlogs, videos. I am hoping to encourage a few to try creating some comic strips work. I went back to Chapter 3, and I was looking at the comments about how "comic book artists vary their images to position the reader in relationship to the unfolding story through changes in focus--moving closer to an object or person (close-up shot) versus further back (longshot), or positioning readers as looking down on an object or person or up at an objec tor person" (Beach 23.) It gave me some more ideas about how I could use comics to teach film techniques. Good stuff. It pushes me out of my comfort zone, too. I have been thinking about some of the "trends" research the seniors have been doing this year. There might be some opportunities in those topics too for a "message" comic. What is the key message your comic could project about fast food, obesity, "going green," and so on?