Sunday, December 18, 2011

Friday, December 16, 2011

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Photo Tour!

Here's one of the bulletin boards from my classroom. I keep stapling stuff up there throughout the year.

Here is a table with some books on it.

I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour.

Monday, December 12, 2011


Last week, in case you missed it, I wrote about the end of Creative Reading class in apocalyptic terms. Now that the apocalypse has come and gone, and the fires are mostly out, let's dig through the rubble and see what we find.

Thanks to semester exams only one of my two Creative Reading classes met today, the one that's later in the day. I decided to show them a relevant movie. I recently realized that, back when we were discussing nonfiction comics, I really should have showed them some of Harvey Pekar's work. To make up for this gap, I showed the class the beginning of the American Splendor movie. Their responses ran the gamut from disinterest to boredom.

"And you're surprised?" my wife said.

It's almost reassuring that, after a semester of this class, I could still be naive enough to think my students would be interested in a movie about a file clerk from Cleveland who writes about his life. Apparently my optimism has not entirely left me yet.

But it's a good movie. And cheap; I got my copy for five bucks.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday is Art Day: Mysterious Dancing Keyhole Guy

My most-widely viewed post ever on this blog, it turns out, is the one where I just posted a quote from Antigone and nothing else. Maybe I should stop writing original content and just share quotes from classical literature? It's a possibility.

Here's a picture I drew: 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Earth-Shattering, Face-Melting, Mind-Blowing 100th Post GOTTERDAMMERUNG!!!

Fire up the engines, get your juices flowing, and transcend your outdated paradigms, as we get ready to ACTIVATE DOOMSDAY DEVICE!!!

Hello, friend, and welcome to the 100th blog post. One hundred! It's like a century of blog posts! Did you ever imagine, back when I made my first blog post, that we would reach this point? Okay, so no one read my actual first blog post, which was just a picture of the cover Flex Mentallo #1, but remember my second blog post, which was the real introduction? Ah, good times! I was so young and inexperienced then.

In my introductory post I wrote, "I will be recording my thinking process, and hopefully people out there will chime in with suggestions. In two weeks—two weeks!—class will start, and then I’ll keep a record of how it’s going. My comics class will be your comics class. So let’s get brainstorming." It looks like I expected you folks out there to help plan the class and, I have to be honest, I feel like I ended up doing the vast majority of the work here. I'm not saying I'm disappointed in you, per se, just, you know, putting that out there. 

While no one stepped up to plan the class for me, I am very grateful to the people who left comments and gave me useful feedback and/or encouragement. Encouragement is a great thing on those days when you feel like your noble comics experiment is doomed to failure. I would particularly like to thank Jeffrey, Josh, and Kim for their donation of real physical books to the cause. They certainly did not have to do that, but they did, and I can't thank them enough. Thanks again!

Early on I posted my mission statement for the class, which I copied from my original course title proposal, here. Sounds exciting, doesn't it? That version of the proposal met with rejection. The second draft was approved, though they want to cut out the whole "our students are constantly barraged by information" part. I don't blame them; that part was probably more rhetoric than useful description.

And while we're strolling down memory lane, remember the time I had the class read Stardust the Super-Wizard? Good times!

Serendipitously this, the historic 100th blog post, fell on my last regular day of Creative Reading class. Today the students who did not go yesterday gave their presentations. I'm pleased to report that every student, with the exception of a couple of people who were absent and will have to make it up next week, had material prepared and presented to the class. Then I thought I gave a short speech about the import of this, our last (regular, not counting testing week) day of class, which was amazing when I imagined it ahead of time, but didn't come out that great. It's a good thing I have a blog; now I can go on and on and on about this retrospective tomfoolery.

Overall my last (regular, not counting testing week) class was pretty anti-climactic. But after work I went w
ith some friends to Terry's Turf Club, and LO! life was good. I tell you what, that place is MAGIC. A big ol' burger dripping with delicious provided a suitable ending to this noble experiment we call comics class.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Presentation ESCHATON!

Ka-Zam! After four days of research and preparation, the students presented their findings on important comics creators.

For the presentation, students were to:
  • Give biographical information on the creator
  • Describe the creator's most important works and art/writing style
  • Describe the reaction to the creator's work, then and now
  • Explain why the creator is important/influential
  • Show examples of the creator's work/use visual aides

They tended to focus too much on the biographical information, but that's expected. They are young, and they place way more emphasis than I do on where someone went to high school. Do I know where Steve Ditko went to high school? I do not, nor do I care. What's important about Steve Ditko is all the great comics he drew.

Anyway, presentations went pretty well. In addition to Steve Ditko we heard about Steve Gerber, Stan Lee, Art Spiegleman, Osamu Tezuka, Alan Moore, Herge, Chris Ware, Dwayne Macduffie, Bob Kane, Marjane Satrapi, Gil Kane, Carl Barks, and Dave Sim. What a fine mix.

Tomorrow: More presentations!

Also tomorrow: Blog post #100! It will be epic!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Self-Reflective RAGNAROK!

And today was the students' last day to prepare for their presentations. At the end of the day some of them seemed ready, and some didn't. Here's hoping they'll all do well tomorrow.

Earlier today my loving wife was telling me about a story on NPR about teachers who got fired and/or investigated because of things they wrote online. That's always a chilling topic. Like the Kindergarten teacher who made a crack about her class on Facebook, and got suspended? Crazy. Loving wife said, "But I think you're doing everything right," in reference to my online conduct, and the fact that I don't write negative comments about specific students here on the blog.

Since I started this blog, I've always kept in mind that students, students' parents, and administrators could read it, so I haven't said anything I would be embarrassed for them to read. This has occasionally made the blog more boring than I would like. Specifically the part about the administrators . . . occasionally I'll want to write something like, "Oh my God, I don't know what I'm doing," and then I think, "My boss could read this. Or my boss's boss. Or the superintendent. Do I really want to go on record saying I'm incompetent?" So I delete it, and say something bland, like, "I am certainly eager to try this new lesson plan." This blog is supposed to chronicle my efforts to create and teach a class, though, so who cares about my personal feelings? They are irrelevant! 

(And really, I mostly know what I'm doing. Much of the time.)

Speaking of me being an ice-cold professional, you may not be aware that this class has been "standards-based." Standards are the big thing in secondary education, the lists of things you're supposed to teach, so the students can be tested, and you can be punished if they don't do well enough on the tests. When I wrote up the proposal for Creative Reading class, I had to include a list of the standards we would cover.

Our final project is specifically based on the following Common Core standards: 


Research to Build and Present Knowledge

·                                 W.11-12.7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
·                                 W.11-12.8. Gather relevant information from multiple authoritative print and digital sources, using advanced searches effectively; assess the strengths and limitations of each source in terms of the task, purpose, and audience; integrate information into the text selectively to maintain the flow of ideas, avoiding plagiarism and overreliance on any one source and following a standard format for citation.
·                                 W.11-12.9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.


Comprehension and Collaboration

·                                 SL.11-12.1. Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 11–12 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
·                                 SL.11-12.2. Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) in order to make informed decisions and solve problems, evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source and noting any discrepancies among the data.
·                                 SL.11-12.3. Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas

·                                 SL.11-12.4. Present information, findings, and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective, such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, alternative or opposing perspectives are addressed, and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and a range of formal and informal tasks.
·                                 SL.11-12.5. Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.
·                                 SL.11-12.6. Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating a command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Research Project ARMAGEDDON!

Research continued today. Well, I say "research" . . . kids these days, I tell you what. I could go into a whole rant about how badly research skills have declined since the good ol' days, but you've probably heard it all before. Blah blah blah in my day we had a card catalog, with cards, and we had to look for books, blah blah blah index cards, blah blah blah microfiche. . . Do you remember microfiche?

I complain about modern research skills, but it's still fun to help kids look up information about Steve Ditko and Neal Adams and other comics greats. Some of them made interesting discoveries. One student, for instance, was thrilled to learn that Alan Moore got kicked out of high school (they don't call it high school in England, but you know what I mean) for selling LSD.

I told that same student, "Did you know that Alan Moore is a wizard?"

He said, "Yes. Look at that beard!"

He's an anarchist, too. And Steve Ditko is a hardcore Randian hermit, and Neal Adams believes that the Earth is expanding. Ah, comics.

So the students researched today, on the internet, and hopefully they have enough information, because they're supposed to be putting it all together into a report, and the reports need to be written tomorrow, and then Thursday and Friday they're presenting to the class, and then we're done. Except for exam week, but as far as the actual content of the course, we will be finished.


Monday, December 5, 2011

Research Project ACTIVATE!

Great news! We got the Creative Reading class title approved. This resolves a problem that none of you were aware of, because I never mentioned it, but believe me when I say that this is a good thing. So far this year the name "Creative Reading" has not appeared in my electronic gradebook or class roster, because it was not an officially approved course title. It always just said TEMP CLASS ONE YEAR, or words to that effect. Now that the class title has been approved, students will be able to get the correct class name on their transcripts. And since it's official, other schools could theoretically add Creative Reading class. Wouldn't that be exciting?

But you are not interested in that. You are wondering how our research project is going. On Friday each student chose a significant comics creator from a list I gave them. I won't share the list, because as soon as I passed it out I noticed some glaring omissions and I'm embarrassed by it. Let me just say that it included cartoonists, artists, writers, and even a couple of editors, and if I get a chance to do this class again, I'm going to cut out the editors. Anyway, students chose names, and we went to the computer lab to begin research. And yes, I let them go to Wikipedia. It's a useful starting point.

Last night I filled a suitcase with graphic novels so I could take in examples of comics by the creators the students chose. Today they looked at the comics and continued to do research online. They are going to use their research to write a short essay and then present their findings to the class. 

One of the cartoonists on the list was Osamu Tezuka, and one of the books I took in was this one:

Hurray for Astro Boy!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Art Day Sunday: Space Pirates!

Here's a picture I drew of some space pirates. Like last week's picture, this was drawn for a book called Rocket Jocks

Don't you wonder what sorts of thrilling adventures these guys have? I sure do.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Taking Stock

And so yesterday--that is, Friday--I assigned the research project. On the one hand, I am disgruntled that we're not going to have much time for it and it's not going to be as elaborate as I had originally dreamed. On the other hand, this is the first time I've taught this class, and it's been a learning experience, so I'm proud that we made it through everything on the syllabus.

Well, almost everything. In an early blog post I listed the texts we were going to read in class, a list I included on the syllabus I gave out on the first day of school.  Let's look and see how I did!

I started off by saying that we would "read, discuss, and frequently refer back to Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud." Yup, we did that.

In the Graphic Novels category, I said that "we will read at least two of the following in their entirety," and I listed five graphic novels, and we did in fact read two of them. One was Persepolis, and the other I promised never to mention again.

Then I listed supplemental reading. Going down the list. . .

Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book, by Gerard Jones - I did share part of one chapter of this. I couldn't really justify spending more time on it but, man, this is one of my favorite nonfiction books. Highly recommended. 
The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, edited by Bill Blackbeard and Martin Williams - I passed this around the room once. 
The Smithsonian Collection of Comic Book Comics, edited by Michael Barrier and Martin Williams - Unfortunately, I never used this, even though it's a genuinely wonderful book. It blew my mind when I found it in the college library, all those years ago. 
Kirby: King of Comics, by Mark Evanier - When we talked about Jack Kirby, I passed this around the room.
The Great Women Cartoonists, by Trina Robbins - I flipped through this for ideas but, to my shame, I never used it.
I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets! The Comics of Fletcher Hanks, edited by Paul Karasik - We read a story from this and I even made them write an essay about it. No, I don't regret that.
A Contract With God, by Will Eisner - When I looked at this again I realized it had more nudity than I was comfortable with, so I never showed it to the class.
The Portable Frank, by Jim Woodring - I got quite a bit of use out of this. Out of two classes, approximately two students didn't hate it. Bless them.
Paul Auster’s City of Class, adapted by Paul Karasik and David Mazzuchelli - I've had this in my classroom, and a kid flipped through it once, but I've never used it.
Little Nemo in Slumberland, by Winsor McCay - I showed them a Little Nemo strip and we discussed Winsor McCay's historical importance.
Krazy Kat, by George Herriman - I showed them a Krazy Kat strip and we discussed George Herriman's historical importance. 
Peanuts, by Charles Schulz - We spent a day or two on Peanuts. Who doesn't love Peanuts? More people than I expected.
“A Dream of a Thousand Cats”, by Neil Gaiman and Kelley Jones - Never got to this one, unfortunately. I wish I'd squeezed it in.
“This Man, This Monster!”, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby - I really wish we'd read this one. It probably would have been heartbreaking, though; I love this comic so much that I probably would have let the students' derision get to me. 
“The Girl in Superman’s Past!”, by Bill Finger and Wayne Boring - We did read this one. It's less exciting than the two previous stories, but it's shorter. I used it as an example of a post-Comics Code comic.

So, overall, I did what I said I would. I can sleep easy tonight. But wasn't I originally going to write about the research project? Indeed I was, but this has gotten too long, so I'll save that for another day.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The End of an Era!

And so, at long last, we come to the end of our time with Persepolis. Today was the test, which means I got to spend both classes walking around the room watching people take the test. Which is boring yet also strangely satisfying. 

The students seemed fairly confident about their answers, and I only got a few looks of despairing confusion. 

When many of us think of education, we imagine a foundation of knowledge, and we imagine ourselves building on that foundation. We introduce concepts so that we can build on them and move on to more complex concepts. When you are an English teacher, you think, "They don't seem to know what 'theme' is. I will teach it to them, and then we can move on and explore the way different authors develop their themes." And you go over "theme," and you define it, and discuss it, and do activities with it. And, for the most part, they correctly answer the questions on the quiz. And then they forget it. And you realize that, there was not a strange gap in their education--all their previous English teachers have taught them what "theme" means, every year since they were young, and when they got to your class they still acted as though they had never heard the world. 

After awhile you get tired of hearing, "Give me the test, quick, before I forget everything!"

Nowadays I don't have unrealistic expectations about these things. I knew yesterday, when I included a theme question in the Persepolis test, that multiple students would ask me, "What's a theme?" The same students who asked me last time I gave them such a question. Since I knew that going in, I didn't let it bother me.

Okay, okay, I'm generalizing here. . . I do have students who know what a theme is, and theme is a trickier concept than plot. But you get the idea. My students tend to be so focused on "What do I need to do in this moment in time, to pass this test?" that they often overlook "How can I internalize this concept so that I might be able to use it later?" Maybe that's a natural side-effect of the way our educational system is structured; who knows?

Still, I am going to hold on to the belief that, by reading Persepolis, they have learned something about Iran, and expanded their understanding of the world. That's totally possible. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Apocalypse Gambit

All went according to plan today and, as mentioned yesterday, we watched the rest of the Persepolis movie. Also, as mentioned yesterday, it's a good movie. The students were engaged and watched the movie without much nagging, which makes me feel guardedly optimistic about the future.

What does movie watching have to do with the future? Only everything, my friends. Creative Reading class is a ticking time bomb that will erupt into fiery shards of nothingness in a little over a week, to be replaced next semester by Film Studies. Film Studies . . . I know, nowhere near as interesting as comic book class, right? I mean, other high schools in the district have film classes. It is not as magically unique. Also, while I could lecture on randomly chosen comics-related topics with one arm tied behind my back and while under the influence of a powerful sedative, I really don't have much more than a casual interest in movies. I mean, I like movies, but I don't know the history of cinema in any real depth. Or the mechanics; I'm not entirely sure what a tracking shot is, for instance.  Or a key grip. And I always forget the difference between panning and zooming . . . wait, you zoom in, and you pan out, so never mind, I remember.

Some of the students are excited about the idea of Film Studies class. "We're just going to watch movies?" they ask, their eyes lit up with glee.

"Don't worry," I tell them, "I will find a way to make it hard and boring." It is important that you establish early on that your class will be based on rigorous academic standards, not just hours and hours of slasher films.

In an earlier post, I described some of the difficulties with showing students movies. Sometimes they just won't pay attention. But today they watched Persepolis, so maybe . . . just maybe . . . they'll sit quietly and watch Citizen Kane. Or The Matrix, or The Incredible Mr. Limpet . . . I'm not really sure what to open the semester with.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Countdown to ANNIHILATION!

As I mentioned yesterday, the end is nigh! The doomsday clock is ticking, and when the alarm sounds, it's the END OF COMICS CLASS!!!

Today we read the last chapter of Persepolis, and started watching the rest of the movie (we previously watched the first 23 minutes). There are two Persepolis books, Persepolis and Persepolis 2, and the movie adapts both of them. So the second half of the movie is material the students haven't seen before. We didn't have time to read the second book, but I'm glad they get to find out what happens next.

What happens next? Well, Persepolis is subtitled "The Story of a Childhood." Through the course of the book we watch Marjane grow up, from a cute little girl to an outspoken 14 year-old. At the end, [SPOILER WARNING!] Marjane's parents are worried she'll say or do something that will get her into serious trouble with the fundamentalist regime, so they send her to live in Austria. The book ends with her at the airport, leaving Iran.

The second book, "The Story of a Return," tells about her time in Austria, her teenage years, and, as you might guess from the title, her eventual return to Iran. So far the students seem to be enjoying part 2, since it's full of adolescent rebellion and poor choices. If you're at all curious about the books, but don't want to commit to reading them, you should watch the movie, because it's good in its own right. If you like that, there's plenty of material in the books that's not in the movie.

Tomorrow: we finish the movie! We review! We prepare for the inevitable END OF ALL THINGS!!!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Lo, There Shall Be an Ending!

Today is Monday. We have the rest of this week for regular Creative Reading class, and next week we'll have a few days of class and then take the semester exam. The week after that, there will be more exams, and probably no Creative Reading class. The week after that, the semester ends, winter break begins, and Creative Reading class is over. So I have approximately eight days of instruction left in this class.

Which is . . . wow, time flies, right? It seems like we just started. There's so much we didn't cover, but at least we hit the high points of the syllabus. Tomorrow we'll finish reading Persepolis, then watch the movie, and then there will be a test. And that will give me a few days to squeeze in that final project, though it will probably end up being less ambitious than I originally planned.

I'm glad I'm on track to wrap up what we're doing, but I wish we could have done more. And I wish I had . . . no, never mind. As I said once before on this blog, regret is for chumps.

Keep watching this space for updates on these, the Final Days! Watch as I try to get everything done on time! Thrill to the conclusion of the class! And let me know if you have any ideas what I should use this blog for, once the class has ended.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Art Day Sunday: Spaceship & Monster

Boy, I certainly haven't blogged much this week. But here I am now, with an illustration I did a few years ago for a book called Rocket Jocks. Tomorrow, comics class resumes!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Let Us Give Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving! In honor of the holiday, here is a list of fifty comics I am thankful for. Each item chosen for the list had to meet three criteria: 1.) It makes me happy when I think of it, 2.) I haven't discussed it previously on the blog, and 3.) No repetition of writers or artists. Some items on the list are classics, some are junk, and some are classic junk. Let's begin!

50 Comics I Am Thankful For

1. Jack Kirby’s Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles 
2. Raymond Macherot’s Sibyl-Ann Vs. Ratticus
3. Cullen Bunn, Shawn Lee, & Matt Kindt’s The Tooth 
4. Chester Brown’s Louis Riel
5. James Sturm’s The Golem’s Mighty Swing
6. Jonathan Lethem & Farel Dalrymple’s Omega the Unknown

7. Alan Moore & Chris Sprouse’s Tom Strong
8. Bryan Talbot’s The Adventures of Luther Arkwright
9. Jim Woodring’s Congress of Animals
10. Denny O’Neil & Neal Adams’s Superman Vs. Muhammad Ali

11. Jay Stephens’s Land of Nod
12. Neil Gaiman, John Bolton, Scott Hampton, Charles Vess, & Paul Johnson’s Books of Magic
13. Steve Ditko’s Shade the Changing Man
14. Peter Milligan & Duncan Fegredo’s Enigma
15. Mark Waid & Ron Garney’s Captain America
16. Naoki Urasawa & Takashi Nagasaki’s Pluto

17. Brian Ralph’s Cave-In
18. Ted McKeever’s Metropol
19. Joe Casey & Tom Scioli’s G0dland
20. Evan Dorkin's Dork
21. Archie Goodwin & Walt Simonson’s Manhunter

22. Don Glut & Jesse Santos’s Dagar the Invincible
23. Scott Morse's Magic Pickle
Landry Q. Walker and Eric Jones’s Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade
25. Dylan Horrocks’s Hicksville
26. Seth’s Wimbledon Green
27. Boody Rogers’s Sparky Watts
28. Garth Ennis & John McCrea’s Hitman
29. James Robinson & Tony Harris’s Starman
30. Tom Peyer & Rags Morales’s Hourman
31. Kurt Busiek & Brent Anderson’s Astro City

32. Ann Noccienti & John Romita Jr.’s Daredevil
33. Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo

34. Kyle Baker’s Why I Hate Saturn
35. Bill Sienkiwicz’s Stray Toasters
36. Steve Gerber & Brian Hurtt’s Hard Time
37. Mike Carey, Sonny Liew, and Marc Hempel’s My Faith in Frankie
38. Sam Henderson’s Humor Can Be Funny
39. Tom Hart’s Hutch Owen’s Working Hard
40. Matt Feazell’s Cynical Man
41. Paul Pope’s Heavy Liquid

42. Bill Mantlo & Mike Mignola’s Rocket Raccoon
43. Tony Millionaire’s Sock Monkey
44. Jay Hosler’s Clan Apis
45. Kaz’s Underworld
46. Eddie Campbell's Alec
47. Kevin Cannon’s Far Arden
48. Grant Morrison & Doug Mahnke’s Frankenstein
49. Jeff Smith’s Shazam! The Monster Society of Evil

50. Don Rosa’s The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Crazy Quiz Show

Ah, bliss. This was a two-day work week, and now we've got the rest of the week off for Thanksgiving. Happy times!

Yesterday we read some more of Persepolis. Today, as a special treat, I took in a ten page story by Carl Barks called "The Crazy Quiz Show." Carl Barks, as you may not know, is one of the all-time great American cartoonists. He's easily in the top five of the Greatest American Comic Book Artists of the Twentieth Century list; maybe even top three. People who obsess over comics tend to revere him. The question I put to my students is, what makes this guy so good? Their answers were . . . unsatisfactory. It's hard enough for me to explain what makes him good, and I love this stuff. Even though I've tried to expose them to a wide range of comics, they still haven't read widely enough to see what separates a great cartoonist from a mediocre one.

Aside from Barks's mastery of the medium, I chose this comic because I thought it was really funny. One class mostly enjoyed reading it, and the other class seemed to think I was crazy to even imagine for a moment that they might enjoy such a thing. Indeed, even after all this time, some of them seemed amused by the very concept that one could enjoy reading a comic. That was discouraging. Fortunately I did not need to stay discouraged long, however, because this was only a two-day week. Woo hoo!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Art Day Sunday: Spifto & Slimo

This weekend has been exhausting but, ultimately, my daughter's third birthday was a big success. Hurray!

Today's drawing is one I did a few years ago. These are two characters from a long comic titled "The Adventures of Spifto and Friends," which Mr. D.F. French and I drew when we were in high school.

Friday, November 18, 2011

And Sometimes I Read Books With No Pictures

But oh, Antigone,
Think how much more terrible than these
Our own death would be if we should go against
And do what he has forbidden! We are only women,
We cannot fight with men, Antigone!
The law is strong, we must give in to the law
In this thing, and in worse. I beg the Dead
To forgive me, but I am helpless: I must yield
To those in authority. And I think it is dangerous
To be always meddling.

If that is what you think,
I should not want you, even if you asked to come.
You have made your choice, you can be what you
want to be.
But I will bury him; and if I must die,
I say that this crime is holy: I shall lie down
With him in death, and I shall be as dear
To him as he to me.

From the Prologue to Antigone by Sophocles, as translated by Dudley Fitts & Robert Fitzgerald

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Thing That Shouldn't Exist!!!

We had parent-teacher conferences today, so I was at work all day. Now that I am home I don't have much energy for blogging. Let's see . . . we read more Persepolis today. The students enjoy when I cast them in parts and they read the story out loud. The classes are small enough, and there are enough minor characters (Teacher, Student, Bearded Guy on TV, Woman in Store, Second Woman in Store) that almost everyone can have a part.  Today we read "The F-14s," about the war with Iraq, and "The Jewels," about the domestic effects of the war.

And I forgot to mention--I graded those Persepolis quizzes from Tuesday, and almost everyone did well. It went much, much better than that last Understanding Comics quiz. Did I ever say how that quiz turned out? No? Well, it wasn't pretty. Let us just say that the students were not heavily invested in the last three chapters of Understanding Comics, and that Persepolis is going much better by comparison.

Please enjoy this picture of ZZUTAK, THE THING THAT SHOULDN'T EXIST!!!, by Mr. Steve Ditko.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Pop-Up" Space

The movie version of Persepolis won a bunch of awards in France but, when it was released here, it bombed. The upside of this is that I was able to buy the DVD at Walgreen's for $5. In the past when I've taught Persepolis I've rented it, but now that there are no movie rental stores I'm glad I lucked into that DVD.

We've read about half the book and we took a quiz yesterday, so I decided to show the students the first part (about 23 minutes) of the movie. The movie adapts both Perseoplis and Persepolis 2, so it breezes through the part of the story that we've read, and leaves out tons of material. It also changes around and adds scenes. Fortunately it keeps the uncle Anoosh scenes mostly intact, and they are as sad in the movie as they are in the book. And I love the animation.

After that we looked at five literary elements of Persepolis, and I'll probably write more about that later. Right now I'd like to tell you about the Jack Kirby Museum & Research Center.

When I first heard about the Jack Kirby Museum, founded in 2005, I was eager to visit.  It turned out, though, that there was no physical location--the Kirby Museum was a website, an educational initiative, and a collection of artwork. Which is good and all, but wouldn't it be nice to visit an actual Kirby Museum? You may think a museum based around a cartoonist sounds ridiculous, but I've been to the Charles Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, and it was one of the most profoundly spiritual experiences of my life. Though that probably says more about me than about the quality of the museum, it is also an excellent museum.

Anyway, yesterday I opened up my Inbox and received a press release from TwoMorrows publisher John Morrow. He said . . . you know what, I'll quote him:

Inspired by recent events, most notably the legal battle between the Kirby family and Marvel/Disney regarding ownership of Jack's work, we believe that it's time for the Jack Kirby Museum to step out of the digital realm and into the physical. We intend to open a physical space on the Lower East Side of New York City, in the same neighborhood where Kirby grew up. Economic realities being what they are, this initial effort will be a "Pop-Up" space of approximately 1,000 square feet that will remain open for roughly three months. Having such a space in one of New York City's most vibrant neighborhoods will allow us to showcase educational programs, lectures, exhibits and more to pay tribute to one of the greatest storytellers of the 20th Century. We are already reaching out to art collectors and educators in anticipation of opening. 

He goes on to ask for donations.  I don't know about you, but I think this is a worthy cause. I can understand potential objections . . . "There's a recession on! I'm too worried about putting food on the table to donate to some comic book museum!" Fair enough. Or, "There's a recession on! If I'm going to donate money, I'm going to give to some charity that feeds the hungry!" And I agree, these are all hard times, and we should all do what we can. Anyone who can spare a few dollars should absolutely donate to a worthy cause, be it their local food bank, Heifer International, the Red Cross, Habitat for Humanity, or whatever charity you prefer.

I also believe, however, that art is important, and culture is important, and that museums enrich our society in valuable ways. And I think the artwork of Jack Kirby is life-affirming and soul-enriching. I think it makes the world a better place. So I'm going to send them a few dollars, and I urge you to do the same.

Unless, of course, you don't really like Jack Kirby's artwork, in which case you're definitely better off with Heifer International.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Iran in the 1980s

Thanks to this blog, people often ask me questions about my Creative Reading class. One thing I have noticed is that people outside the education business tend to . . . overestimate my students' level of engagement with the material. Sure, some of them really get into it, and pay attention in class, do a great job analyzing the material. But in any class, in any school, you're going to have students who don't care so much. The important thing is not to let yourself get too discouraged by those students.

Today we had our first Persepolis quiz. Persepolis, as I have mentioned in previous posts, is about a girl growing up in Iran in the 1980s. This is how I normally describe the book--a girl growing up in Iran in the 1980s. Before we started it, I told the class that they would be reading a book about a girl growing up in Iran in the 1980s, and that to understand it better they would need to know a thing or two about Iran. We went to the computer lab for a day and they researched Iran, particularly Iran in the 1980s. Then we started reading the book, the first line of which is "This is me when I was ten years old. This was in 1980." Since then we've spent weeks reading about life in Iran before and after the revolution, about the history of Iran, the culture of Iran . . . you get the idea. So today, on the quiz over the first half of Persepolis, the second question was, "In what country is Persepolis set? What decade?"

This was an open book quiz. When a student called me over, pointed to that question, and said, "I can't find this one," I have to admit, for a moment I felt defeated. If I haven't even been able to convey that this is a book about a girl growing up in Iran in the 1980s . . . man, that's disappointing.

The good news is that most of the class got that question right. And that is what I must focus on; most of them got it right.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Remembering Uncle Anoosh

Today we read two chapters of Persepolis, "The Sheep" and "The Trip." We are now a little over halfway through the book, so tomorrow we are going to have a quiz over the first eleven chapters. 

"The Sheep" is, in my opinion, the most emotionally powerful chapter of the book. In the previous chapter Marjane met her uncle Anoosh for the first time and they immediately formed a close bond. In this chapter Anoosh is living with Marjane's family. Initially he is optimistic that the revolution is going to work out for the best, and that the Islamic fundamentalists are not going to stay in power, but things go downhill quickly. Before you know it, his old revolutionary friends are being rounded up and murdered.

As I mentioned before, things do not end well for Anoosh. He is arrested and thrown into prison. As he awaits execution, he is allowed one guest. He chooses ten-year-old Marjane. The scene where she comes to visit him is touching and sad, and gets me every time. He tells her she is "the little girl I always wanted to have," a sentiment that probably affects me more since I had a daughter. Shortly afterwards Anoosh dies, and a miserable Marjane, who had previously wanted to be a prophet, tells God to go away and never come back. She feels lost, a feeling that is represented by a full-page illustration of Marjane drifting in the black void of space. Satrapi takes advantage of the comics medium to represent that emotion in a way you couldn't in prose.  

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Art Day Sunday: Queen of the Moon

Here's a picture called "Queen of the Moon" I drew back in 2005. It's from the same series as "Mortimus Potolmic." It was a set of small drawings that I made into a booklet and donated to an auction. The originals belong to some lucky high-bidder, but at least I have scans of them.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Dreaming in Kirby

Last night I dreamed about a Jack Kirby comic book I had never seen before. It was something he created in his later years, around the time of Captain Victory, and he only did one issue. A publisher acquired the rights and hired me to continue the series. It was going to be great, too, not disappointing like Silver Star.

That's the kind of thing I dream about--well, literally, I guess, since I dreamed it last night. It all seemed very compelling, but I can't remember the details. The main character was an alien, and he had a . . . magic cell phone? And urgent mission of some kind? Anyway, it all seemed very compelling. I wish I had more Kirby-themed dreams.

In a way, didn't Kirby spend his whole career creating wonderful dreams?

Friday, November 11, 2011


My favorite comic book series of the last decade, 2001-2010, was Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim. Instead of being serialized in monthly single issues, it came out in larger paperback chunks approximately once a year. There are six volumes: Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness, Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the Universe, and Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour. The story is about a kinda-dumb Canadian slacker, Scott Pilgrim, who wants to date mysterious American Ramona Flowers. To do so, he must defeat her seven evil exes. Hilarity, action, romance, and even poignancy, ensue.

The movie, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, came out last year. It was too beautiful for this world, and was a complete box office disaster. Hardly anyone heard of the movie, much less saw it.

Yesterday almost none of the seniors showed up for school. Perhaps they wanted to begin observing Veteran's Day early, and were out performing good deeds for the veterans in their community. Whatever the case, I only had a few students in each Creative Reading class. I showed them the Scott Pilgrim books, and then we watched the first 45 minutes of the movie (basically volume one). I long ago learned that my students have tastes completely different from mine, so I had no idea how they would react, but they seemed to enjoy it. The second class in particular even laughed at all the right times. When I told them how badly the film had performed when first released, they were puzzled, and one student said, "But why? It's really funny." That warmed my heart.  

Today there's no school, which is a welcome relief. Next week is a full week, but then we only have two days of school and time off for Thanksgiving, and then we're only a hop, skip, and a jump from December, and everything goes crazy in December . . . so basically I need to hurry up and finish Persepolis soon, if I want to have time for that final project I had planned.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


On November 22, 1969, Marjane Satrapi was born in Rasht, Iran.

On January 16, 1979, the Shah left Iran in exile. 

From 2000-2003, the four parts of Marjane Satrapi's graphic novel Persepolis were published by the French publisher L'Association.

In 2003 and 2004, Pantheon published the English language translation of Persepolis, this time divided into two books. 

Today, my Creative Reading class read the "Moscow" chapter of Persepolis. It's about the first time Marjane meets her uncle Anoosh. Uncle Anoosh tells her stories, and explains to Marjane that she must remember these things, because this is her family history. She promises to remember. Anoosh dies in the next chapter, but I'm sure he would be pleased to know that she brought these stories of her family to life for thousands of readers. How strange is it that a random group of teenagers in Cincinnati have read about the Russian woman who broke Anoosh's heart? 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Red Menace

Today we read the next chapter of Persepolis, called "The Heroes." The heroes in question are two political dissidents who are released from prison after the Shah is overthrown. Both of them are communists. You would think this would provoke some kind of reaction from the students, but none of them really seem to know what communism is. I tell you what, things have changed since I was a young lad growing up in the 80's. Without communism, our action heroes wouldn't have had anyone to fight.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Nonfiction Comics

The last couple of years I taught Persepolis in senior English. This year, since I'm teaching a comics class, I figured I should incorporate Persepolis into that. So this quarter I've spent less time planning Creative Reading, since I already have Persepolis materials made up, and more time planning senior English, since I'm doing something brand new.

Most of my Persepolis plans so far have involved reading passages from the book aloud, discussing it, and answering questions about it. Pretty straightforward stuff, but this morning I couldn't shake the feeling that I needed to mix it up. Doing the same thing day after day gets boring. And, contrary to what you may have heard, I don't deliberately set out to bore my students. So I looked around the house for some interesting book to show the students, and I hit on a theme.

We started out today talking about nonfiction comics. Most of the time when you think about comics, you think about fiction, be it Superman, or Charlie Brown, or Uncle Scrooge or whatever. But Understanding Comics and Persepolis are both nonfiction. I took in three other books to show them:

Art Spiegelman's Maus is, you know, the most famous and celebrated of graphic novels, and it's a real life story about the Holocaust.

Will Eisner's To The Heart of the Storm is an autobiographical story about Eisner's youth and about his parents' lives in the old country. It probably contains some fictional elements, but I wanted to include it because Eisner was one of the early autobiographical cartoonists and because this book is one of my favorites. I would have taught it, if I could have gotten enough copies from the library.

Joe Sacco's Palestine is a piece of comics journalism. Sacco listened to news stories about Palestine and wondered what they were leaving out, so he went there, talked to people, and made a comic about his experience. Comics journalism isn't ideal for up-to-the-minute reporting, but it can give you a different perspective on a complex situation. Palestine is great; if you get a chance, check it out.

I passed out the books, we discussed them, and then I gave the students an in-class writing assignment: Write a short essay about the advantages and disadvantages of nonfiction comics as compared to nonfiction prose writing. So, for instance, they could point out that comics can make a subject more accessible to the reader. At the same time, many people think of comics as kid stuff, so you might have a hard time getting people to take your nonfiction comic seriously.

That took up most of class. Afterwards we read the next chapter of Persepolis, "The Party."

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Art Day Sunday: SPUDD 64

On Monday I wrote about the excellent small press comic SPUDD 64. Remember? For issue #4 Matt Kish asked people to contribute Spudd-related drawings. Here's mine.

Saturday, November 5, 2011


Man oh man, this has been a long week. I was in charge of planning the homecoming dance, which ended up taking a whole lot of my time. Also, my wife, my daughter, and I have all been in various stages of sickness throughout the week. Which is why I'm writing my Saturday blog post about fifteen minutes before midnight. Except the clocks are going to fall back, so I'm still going to make it, right?

I have no particular ideas for a blog post but I feel like I ought to write one. How about I list some random thoughts? If I add bullet points, it should look coherent, right?  

  • So far my favorite comic of the year is Forming. Here's an interview with the creator, Jesse Moynihan. Warning! That comic is chock-ful of profanity. Not recommended for young or impressionable readers. (Overall I'm glad I'm an educator, but one downside is that I can no longer unconditionally recommend things that are filled with profanity without adding in a disclaimer.)
  • I rented a [THING] for the homecoming dance. My loving wife was kind enough to come in and blow up 80 balloons for us. I tell you what, that cafeteria looked like a magical wonderland. When the dance was over, though, I forgot about the [THING]. Now it's locked in the school, and I need to return it by tomorrow in order to get my deposit back. Let's hope I can get in the building tomorrow. 
  • I was wondering today, Why are there so many TV crime dramas? Don't people get sick of crime dramas? My wife likes watching Bones, which is about an FBI agent and the eccentric scientist who helps him solve crimes, and Castle, which is about a cop and the eccentric novelist who helps her solve crimes, and Numbers, which is about an FBI agent and the eccentric mathematician who helps him solve crimes, and after a point don't you just get tired of watching them solve crimes? I get bored with watching people solve crimes. Couldn't they take an episode off from crimesolving and do something else? That is what I was thinking, and then I remembered that, while I may not fully understand the appeal of this genre, there are genres that I love that, conceivably, other people may not care about. You may love watching eccentric duos solve crimes, but wonder why the world would ever need more than one super-hero team. We all have our weird biases. 
  •  If I had to narrow it down, I would say my top ten favorite runs of super-hero team comics are:
    10. Legion of Super-heroes by Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen
    9. Avengers by Kurt Busiek and George Perez
    8. Legion of Super-heroes by Jerry Siegel, Edmond Hamilton, and John Forte
    7. Fantastic Four by Walt Simonson (This is surprisingly underrated; you never hear people talk about it, but it's great.)
    6. Doom Patrol by Arnold Drake and Bruno Premiani
    5. Avengers by Roy Thomas, John Buscema, and Neal Adams
    4. Defenders by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema
    3. JLA by Grant Morrison, Howard Porter, and various artists
    2. Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (This is the World's Greatest Comic Magazine.)
    1. Doom Patrol by Grant Morrison and various artists
  • Can I put a numbered list in my bullet points? Does that throw off the whole format? 
  • The first few chapters of Persepolis are pretty dense with Iranian history. We've been discussing them, but I don't know how much of it the students are retaining. Hopefully enough to keep up with the story. 
  • No one reads this on the weekend, right? 

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Lost Gospel of Kal-El

My pal Jana Riess has a religion-themed blog called Flunking Sainthood. I wanted to write about the connections between Superboy and the Gospel of Mark, and she was kind enough to let me write a guest blog post for her. Check it out here!

And that's all I have for today; I have to go set up the homecoming dance.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

This Is Persepolis

We have now read the first two chapters of Persepolis in class. 

Persepolis is an autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi about growing up in Iran in the 1980s. In the introduction she says that many people imagine that all Iranians are crazy fundamentalist terrorists, and her goal is to show people that that's not true.

The main reasons I chose Persepolis are:
1. It's good.
2. It's by a female cartoonist, and so far we've mainly read male cartoonists.
3. It's by a cartoonist from another country, and so far we've mainly read American cartoonists.
4. I want to expose the students to an unfamiliar culture.
5. I've taught it before.
6. The public library has lots of copies.

Reason #6 is probably the most important one. If I want to check out a class set of a graphic novel from the public library, my two choices are basically Maus or Persepolis. Persepolis wins out over Maus for the reasons listed above and also, crucially, because I get depressed enough in my daily life without teaching a book about the holocaust.

But if you haven't read Maus, you probably should. It's, like, real famous and stuff.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Quiz Time!

We barely had time for Persepolis today, because the Understanding Comics quiz took longer than I anticipated. I haven't graded them yet, but judging from the students' comments, some of them did not do very well at all. There was no multiple choice or matching, so if you didn't know the material, you were pretty much out of luck. I'm hoping that the students who didn't pay attention in class and then bombed the quiz will learn a valuable lesson. We live in hope. 

Here, let me show you the quiz . . .

Chapter 6
1. Describe the transitions people make, according to McCloud, from the books they read as children to the books they read as adults.

2. Describe how words and pictures drifted apart over time.

3. What is “the curse of all new media”?

4. Draw an example of a Word Specific panel.

5. Draw an example of a Picture Specific panel.

6. Draw an example of an Interdependent panel.  

7. Compare and contrast the Duo-Specific type to the Additive type of panel.

Chapter 8
 8. The “reasons for the stormy relationship between comics and color . . . can be summed up in two words.” What are they?

9. Once the standard four color process took over, what became “the look of comics in America”?
10. What effect does traditional flat comic book coloring have on a comic? How does it change the reader’s experience?

Chapter 9
11. Why, according to McCloud, should we try so hard to understand comics?

12. How does comics compare to other forms of mass communication?

13. Why is communication so important?

14. What role do cartoons play in comics? What role does realism play?

15. Who joins Scott McCloud in the last panel of the book?

Bonus Extra Credit Questions!
A. What are the three subtractive primary colors?

B. Name three of the masters of flat-color comics (according to Scott McCloud).

C. Explain Herge’s “democracy of form.”

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Good Times

Today in class we reviewed for the Understanding Comics quiz tomorrow and began reading Persepolis. Before we did that, though, I showed them a couple more small press publications. Yesterday I showed them SPUDD 64, by Matt Kish, and today I showed them Taproot and Spandangle.

Taproot is a collection of color drawings by Matt Kish; Spandangle is a collection of drawings by me. That's right, me! Gaze upon the majesty of this book:

It's got some fun drawings in it. I put it together in 2006, shortly before I started grad school.

Something you may not be aware of is that I have significantly less teaching experience than most teachers my age. Most of my colleagues majored in Education and started teaching right out of college. I didn't take any education classes, got a degree in English, and then, almost ten years later, decided to become a teacher.

Sometimes when I remember that other teachers my age are eleven years closer to retirement than I am, it's easy to think, "Man, I should have started teaching sooner." But regret is for chumps. If I'd become a teacher right out of college, I wouldn't have moved to Columbus and worked at Barnes & Noble, and my life would be a lot less interesting.

I worked at B&N for six years and met all kinds of great people, many of whom were writers and artists and musicians. There were lots of us who were in our twenties and had college degrees, creative ambitions, and no idea what to do with our lives. Thanks to my time at B&N I met superstars like Xan and Chris Sprouse and Matt Kish.

Disclaimer: Yesterday, when I was raving about how great Matt Kish's comics are, I probably should have mentioned that he's a good friend of mine. You could argue that I'm biased. Fortunately this is just a blog, so I don't have to worry about maintaining journalistic integrity, and anyway the comics really are awesome.

Back in the days when I lived in Columbus, Matt and I got into the small press comics scene around the same time, and went to the Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo (SPACE) to sell our wares. Matt sold SPUDD 64 at SPACE, and I sold (among other things) Spandangle. I have no idea how many copies I made, but since I only have a couple left, I must have managed to sell most of the print run.

You don't go to SPACE to get rich; you go because you love making comics and you want to share them with people. Even if you don't make enough money to pay your printing costs, you get to talk to like-minded people who are obsessed with the same stuff you are.

So sure, I could have started teaching earlier, and I'd be making more money now, and blah blah blah. But I'm glad I didn't.

Whoa, wait! What's all this autobiographical stuff? I thought we were talking about Persepolis? Yes, we were. And we'll talk about it more tomorrow.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Small Press Spotlight!

So I realized that, when I've shown the students comics, it's always been mass-produced stuff. But part of the magic of comics is that anyone can make them--all you need is some paper and a pen, and if you have access to a photocopier, you can make your own small print run. I wanted to show them some small press comics, so I took in issues #1-4 of one of my favorites, SPUDD 64

These four comics were written, drawn, and produced by Matt Kish between 2003 and 2006. SPUDD 64 is hard to describe, but I would say it follows in the tradition of George Herriman's Krazy Kat, Larry Marder's Beanworld, and Jim Woodring's Frank. That may sound like I'm over-selling it, since Krazy Kat, Beanworld, and Frank are three of the all-time great comics, but bear with me. SPUDD 64 is like those other three comics because it has no interest in anything as mundane as recreating the real world. In comics, where artists are bound only by the limits of their imagination, why should they limit themselves to the real world? Why even imitate it? We see the real world every day; art can take us to places that are much more interesting. Comics, more than any other medium, allows artists to create new worlds, worlds that follow their own rules.

SPUDD 64 is the story of a vegetable-creature named SPUDD, the 64th in his line, spawned in a god/tree/spaceship named Tzadkiel, and sent out to find his place in the universe. That description doesn't do it justice, but no description would. You can't read about the story; you have to read the story, and enter into the fictional world that Kish creates. Once you let go of your preconceptions and allow the story to work its magic, the world of gods and monsters and magic tree beings all makes perfect sense, and seems to be communicating some deep spiritual truth you can't quite put your finger on.

Look at those covers! So lovingly hand-crafted. Each one is unique, so if you got your own copies, they would look slightly different. I like a well-produced hardcover book from a major publisher as much as the next guy, but there's an unmistakable charm to small press comics like these.