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.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday is Art Day: The Stellar Squad

Between testing, two field trips, and a pep rally, we had no Creative Reading class to speak of on Friday. Then yesterday I was busy. That's why I missed two days of blog posts but hey, here I am now. 

Sunday is the day when I post one of the many random drawings I have done. Let's see what we have . . . 

The Stellar Squad! There is no backstory to these characters, just a drawing and a name (though I think maybe the guy in the front is a martial artist . . . ?) Please feel free to create an elaborate series of adventures for the Stellar Squad in your imagination, and let me know how it went. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Ice Haven Factor

Remember yesterday, how I didn't know what I was going to do in class today? Don't worry, I figured it out. You knew I would figure it out, right? I'm a professional. I have training and stuff.

I took in a big pile of comics and had the students get into groups and look through them for examples of Scott McCloud's seven different types of word/picture combinations. I mainly took in Tintin and Uncle Scrooge books, because I know they don't have offensive content, and they're thin, and it's easy to carry a big stack of them. I also threw a Kamandi Archives and a Fantastic Four Masterworks on the pile. Herge, Carl Barks, and Jack Kirby . . . does it get much better than that?

The whole "offensive content" thing has been a real limitation. There are many, many books I almost took in to show students, until I looked through them and realized they had a few words or images that might upset parents. Do you remember the news story a few years ago about the English teacher who lost his job because he assigned a graphic novel that a student's parents found offensive? I sure do. The graphic novel in question was Ice Haven, which is really good, and which I could easily imagine myself teaching, in a better world. But in this world, I have to play it safe.

If you assign a novel, and the novel includes a scene where characters are naked, no one will mind. But if you assign a graphic novel, and there's a scene where characters are naked, then people freak out, even if it's tasteful and/or relevant to the story, because they can see it. Okay, not everyone will freak out, but there's always the danger that someone will. So we have not delved very far into the world of literary comics.

Anyway, today's assignment went pretty well, though there were some difficult judgment calls. It turns out the line between Additive and Interdependent can be pretty blurry.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Sometimes You Just Don't Know

We finished watching Batman Year One today. Here is my criticism of the movie: The scene where Gordon begins his affair with Essen is immediately followed by the scene where Gordon breaks off the affair. It happens so fast you say, "What, really? It's over already?" They should have put another scene in between. Something with Bruce Wayne.

I liked it overall. And this concludes my discussion of Batman Year One on this blog. For real! For real.

Now I have a logistical issue. I have two days left in the week. I had planned on reviewing for our Understanding Comics quiz on Thursday and then giving the quiz on Friday. But there's a pep rally Friday, which means one of my classes won't have time to take the quiz. I don't want the other class to be a full day ahead, so no quiz on Friday. And I make it a policy not to give quizzes on Monday, since they tend to forget things over the weekend. So Monday will be review day and Tuesday will be quiz day. You follow me so far?

That leaves me with two days to fill with valuable academic content. Well, one day, and then a pep rally on Friday, but there will be one class that's not during the pep rally, so I need something for them to do that the other class can miss. Also I have to plan the pep rally, but that's a concern outside the scope of this blog.

The next book we're going to read is Persepolis. I picked up the books from the library today, so I'm ready to go . . . except that our first Persepolis activity is going to be going to the computer lab and doing some research on Iran in the 1980s. And the computer lab is already booked for tomorrow and Friday.

So, as I write this, I'm not sure what we're going to do tomorrow. Rest assured, however, that I will figure it out before class begins.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Book Is Better than the Movie

Can you believe I didn't post anything yesterday? How embarrassing. In case you were wondering, we spent yesterday finishing up the last chapter of Understanding Comics.

Overall, the students are not big fans of the book. You would think teenagers would be eager to read an investigation into an art form's history, mechanics, and aesthetics, but . . . okay,  no, you probably wouldn't think that. Why would you think that? I should have realized they would find it boring, but I was blinded by the fact that I loved Understanding Comics when I was their age. It was published during my senior year of high school. I remember reading previews of it in Amazing Heroes and The Comics Buyer's Guide, and I couldn't wait to get a copy. I bought it as soon as it came out and probably read it in one sitting. It blew my mind. I guess I had hoped it would have a similar effect on my students, but sometimes I forget that I was not a normal teenager.

In other news, the animated adaptation of Batman Year One just came out a week or so ago. This is serendipitous, as we just finished reading Batman Year One a couple of weeks ago. It was clearly a sign, perhaps from the gods themselves, so I bought the DVD and we're watching it in class. I'm having them list differences between the book and the movie, but it's a very faithful adaptation, so we haven't found many so far. One thing I noticed is that Gordon smokes in the book, and so far the movie is tobacco-free. And they cut narration and dialogue. Some of that old school Frank Miller writing works great on the page, but is not so hot when spoken aloud.

Blah blah blah. It seems like every one of my blog posts ends up being about Understanding Comics and/or Batman Year One. Soon, dear reader, soon I will move on. Starting in just a few days, every blog post will be about Persepolis.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday is Art Day

This picture is called "Mortimus Potolmic." I probably drew it in 2006.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Jack Kirby Saturday Presents: Kamandi #23

My cousin gave me a copy of this comic for Christmas many, many years ago. As a young lad I preferred superhero comics, and didn't much care for shirtless characters like Conan or Kamandi, so I didn't have very high expectations. And, though it pains me to say this, I found Jack Kirby's artwork strange and off-putting. But when I read it I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Years later I dug it out and read it again, and liked it even more.

I recently started reading Kamandi through from the beginning and, let me tell you, it is a lot of fun. It's really well drawn, too. When I was a kid comics fans mostly looked down on Kamandi--I'm pretty sure my cousin got a thick stack of Kamandi comics for less than a dollar. The problem is that it's overshadowed by Kirby's other work. If he had only done Kamandi, it would probably be remembered as one of the all-time classics (though if Kirby hadn't come along until the 70's the history of American comics would have been completely different, so who knows how it would have been received.) Also, people claim that Kamandi just a Planet of the Apes rip-off. But the Avengers is just a Justice League of America rip-off, and no one seems to mind that.

Anyway, here's a cool picture of a big scary shark! Enjoy!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Training Horses

The other day I saw the movie Buck. It's a documentary about a man who travels the country giving horse training clinics. I know, it wouldn't have been my first choice either, but it's good. You see Buck go up to a horse that's giving someone problems, and he rubs the horse's neck, and maybe swats at the horse with a thin pole, and in minutes he's got the horse under control. He can train horses to do basically whatever he wants. And you watch him, and you see everything he does, and you cannot understand how he does it. It appears to be supernatural.

It would be easy to say that Buck has a natural gift, that he is spiritually connected to horses. But further into the movie Buck talks about his mentor, the man who taught him to train horses. Buck explains that he how he didn't know how to do it at first, but he wanted to learn, so he practiced and practiced. When he was good enough to start running his own clinics he still felt uncomfortable, like he didn't know what he was doing, but he kept at it, and eventually he mastered his chosen discipline. What looks like a natural ability is actually the result of hard work; what looks like magic is actually Buck picking up on cues that an untrained eye doesn't catch and responding appropriately. I find that encouraging. And, like most things, it made me think of teaching.

It's frustrating, because when you watch really good teachers in action you can't pinpoint how they do it. They have presence, they take command of the class's attention, they speak with authority, they make instant decisions and act on them. They make it look so easy and then when it's your turn to try you learn just how hard it is. The most important teaching skills are the ones that can't be taught, that must be practiced over and over and that only slowly develop.

When I was student teaching I watched my supervising teacher tell the class to be quiet, and they got quiet. When I told them to be quiet I used the same words he used, and tried to use the same tone, and it did not work at all. The students did not care what I had to say; there was a secret ingredient that I lacked. As I said, frustrating.

This is my fourth year teaching. At times I feel like I've finally gotten the hang of it, and at times I feel like I still have no idea what I'm doing. Today I looked around during one of my classes and thought, "This is going well." The students were working diligently and everything was going according to plan. It was tempting to feel like I'd finally figured out this teaching thing. But a week ago that very same class was awful--noisy, inattentive, disrespectful.

We like to kid ourselves that it's all about us, that when the class goes well it means we're doing a great job, but there are so many other factors. Some days a kid comes into the class angry and anything you say is going to set her off. Some days a group of students is willing to learn; some days they're not. You never really know how it's going to go. That's probably why I always feel so much dread on Monday mornings. I can plan lessons, and I can show up ready to do my best, but at a certain point it's really out of my hands. All I can do is keep showing up, keep trying, and gradually the good days will keep outnumber the bad.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Under a Bright Yellow Sky

When I've asked the students to describe different artists' styles, the most common descriptions are "detailed" or "not detailed." I figured I should show them what detailed really means, so I took in some Geof Darrow. He's one of those artists whose name has become a shorthand explanation. Any comics artist who uses lots of detail is inevitably compared to Geof Darrow--"it's hyperdetailed. . . .you know, a Geof Darrow kind of thing." But, unlike so many, Darrow makes it work. I took in Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot, because it is appropriate for all ages, unlike Hard Boiled. I told the students how long I expect it took for Darrow to draw a page, and they didn't believe me.

The class finished drawing their examples of the seven types of word/picture combinations, and we moved on to Chapter 8, which is about color. I have read many a black-and-white comic in my time, and in many cases have preferred black-and-white to lousy coloring, so I forget how hung up on color most people are. Some of the students have complained from the beginning about how Understanding Comics is black-and-white. Today their dreams came true, though, because we made it to Chapter 8, the chapter about color, which is the only color section in the book.

McCloud makes some good points about how color changes the way we see the image, and how it emphasizes specific objects. He also talks about how the two main factors in the history of color in American comics were "commerce and technology." Color is expensive and hard to pull off. (This is something I used to have to explain regularly to my Journalism students, who constantly insisted that the only way to make our school newspaper worth reading would be to print it all in color.) McCloud explains why, historically, American comics had such lousy color reproduction. And since there were such limitations to the color, the artists who did the best work with flat coloring were "masters of form and composition." McCloud specifically mentions Jack Cole, Winsor McCay, and Jack Kirby.

Here's an example of a page by Jack Kirby:

Even though the coloring is basically terrible--an orange monster against a yellow sky? Blue people standing on white ground?--the power of the drawing remains intact. It's still a satisfying picture, because it's Jack Freakin' Kirby.

Tomorrow I'll give them handouts with questions about Chapter 8. I know, I know . . . "Handouts with questions? How is that challenging them to learn in new and exciting ways? You've got to move higher on Bloom's Taxonomy! Instead of giving them sheets of questions, you should be assigning them to write and perform puppet shows that express their feelings about the material you've covered!"

Well, Straw Man, what you have to realize is that we teachers in the real world face many limitations. You can't do puppet shows every day; sometimes you've just got to get them to demonstrate that they've read the material.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

They Can't All Be Winners

In class today, the students split into groups. Each group chose one of the seven types of word/picture combinations I mentioned yesterday and drew a panel demonstrating that type of combination. They didn't all finish, but once they do I'll hang the drawings up on the wall. Won't that be festive? 

We're skipping Chapter 7 of Understanding Comics, and Chapters 8 and 9 are short, so it's possible we'll make it through the book by the end of the week.

I had wanted to share some more thoughts on aesthetics and pedagogy, but I'm very sleepy. I've been staring at the screen for ten minutes trying to think of something to make this blog post about. Now I'm afraid I'm going to cut my losses, give up, and hope for something better tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


And in class today, we read the second half of Understanding Comics Chapter 6. In this section, McCloud describes seven different ways that words and pictures can be combined in comics. They are . . . parallel, and additive, and . . . uh . . . I didn't bring a copy of the book home, and I don't know them off-hand. I'll probably have them memorized soon, though, since we're going to do an activity with them tomorrow.

Right now my daughter is menacing me with a stick, so I'm somewhat distracted. Why does she even have a stick in the house? Who's in charge around here?

Okay, you're right, I can probably Google "McCloud word picture combinations" and get a list. And . . . yes, that worked. Here you go! Seven types of word-picture combinations.

Right now there is thunder outside, and my daughter is very excited. It's hard to focus on writing. Now she's playing with a tiny toy Wotan. Not the god, the comic book villain. He's pretty obscure, but I bet I can find a picture . . .

There we go. We got our Wotan toy at Target. He came packaged with Doctor Fate.

What was I talking about? I don't know, but my daughter is kind of scared of thunder, so I gotta go. See you tomorrow.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Aesthetics & Pedagogy

We're midway through the semester!

Overall, grades were good. And the grades had enough of a normal distribution that I must be doing something right.

Last week we finished Batman Year One; next week we begin Persepolis. In the meantime it's back to our old standby, Understanding Comics. Today we started reading Chapter 6, Show and Tell, which is about the relationship between words and pictures.

McCloud writes, "Traditional thinking has long held that truly great works of art and literature are only possible when the two are kept at arm's length. Words and pictures together are considered, at best, a diversion for the masses, at worst a product of crass commercialism."

He goes on to trace the history of words and pictures, from their mutual beginning as cave paintings, up to the 19th century when words and pictures had grown extremely far apart. Then, according to McCloud, they started to move back together. Eventually we begin to see a fusion of art and literature.

If you're going to talk about comics, you need to think about the relationship between words and pictures. The problem with this chapter is that it assumes a familiarity with at least the concept of the Western canon, of great works of art and literature, as opposed to junk with little artistic merit. Most of my students aren't really familiar with the Great Art/Disposable Trash dichotomy; they think more in terms of That's Okay/That Sucks. I'm pretty sure that not only do the references to art history go over their heads, but the whole concept that certain works of art are aesthetically valuable or historically important is foreign to them.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I wish they all loved gazing at portraits by Rembrandt. I just wish they had   some kind of aesthetic sense about something, to the point that they could articulate why they enjoyed a particular piece of art. I wish they would get excited about art and writing. But now I'm getting into Crazy English Teacher Wonderland. What was I even talking about originally?

Understanding Comics. We read the first half of Chapter 6 and discussed it, and I gave them a handout to guide them through it. Tomorrow we finish Chapter 6. Then Chapter 7 . . . man, I don't know about Chapter 7. It's mainly of interest to aspiring artists. I may skip it.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Here's Another Picture I Drew on an Index Card

Need some swirly squiggly stuff drawn? I'm your man.

(You can view the first in this series here.)

Friday, October 14, 2011

Lo, There Shall Come a Halfway Point!

Aaaaaand it's Friday. Man, that was a long week. I don't know what it was--sunspot activity making people crazy? Maybe.

Yesterday was the Batman Year One test that wrapped up the first half of Creative Reading class. I've graded half the tests, and so far the students have done very well. This just goes to show you: assign a book about Batman, and you'll probably get a better response than if you assign, say, The Scarlet Letter. I don't know about you, but I did not like The Scarlet Letter when we read it in 11th grade. Maybe I should reread it, now that I'm older and wiser. Regardless, the point remains: people like to see Batman beat up criminals.

Today we played a review game. The class split into teams and I asked them questions drawn from the material we've covered. They could also, if they wanted, choose a general comics trivia question. The comics trivia questions were really easy--"What is Superman's real name?", for instance, and "What is the name of Charlie Brown's dog?" The hardest question on there was probably the one that asked for the name of the artist who drew Tintin, but we talked about that on Monday.

In my first class, the winning team got a bag of candy. At the end of the day I was out of candy, so the second time I did this I gave the winners a few points of extra credit. In both classes, the score stayed close the whole time. It was some pretty thrilling competition.

Next week, the second half of Creative Reading class begins! Get ready for thrill-packed action like you've never seen before!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Play Along at Home

Batman Year One Test

Directions: Answer each question to the best of your ability. (50 points)

1. Who wrote Batman Year One?
            A. Bob Kane
            B. Frank Miller
            C. David Mazzuchelli
            D.Richmond Lewis

2. Who drew Batman Year One?
            A. Bob Kane
            B. Frank Miller
            C. David Mazzuchelli
            D.Richmond Lewis

3. At the beginning of the book, who is the police commissioner?
            A.James Gordon
            B.Arnold Flass
            C.Carmine Falcone
            D.Gillian Loeb

4. Batman Year One is mainly about the relationship between:
            A.James Gordon and Bruce Wayne 
            B. Bruce Wayne and Selina
            C.Selina and Holly
            D.Holly and James Gordan
5. Describe Gordon’s first meeting with Flass. What kind of person is Flass?
6. What event inspires Bruce Wayne to dedicate his life to fighting crime?
7. What event inspires Bruce Wayne to dress like a bat when fighting crime?
8. At first the Commissioner has no problem with Batman, but he quickly changes his mind. Why?
9. Describe the events leading up to Batman being trapped at the end of Chapter 2.

10. Compare and contrast Gordon’s and Branden’s approach to police work.

11. Who are Selina and Holly? Describe them.

12. What does the device Batman has hidden in his boot do?

13. What does Bruce Wayne decide while he is skiing in Switzerland?

14. Who is Jefferson Skeevers? Why does he testify against Flass?
15. How does Bruce Wayne behave when the Gordons come to visit his home?
16. In Chapter 4, what does Selina do to The Roman’s face?
17. When he goes to save James Gordon Jr., why does Bruce not wear his costume?
18. Describe how Bruce saves James Gordon Jr.
19. Describe the relationship between James Gordon and Bruce Wayne/Batman at the end of the story.
20. Describe how James Gordon’s relationship with Sarah Essen grows and changes over the course of the story. Give examples.
21. Describe the police department in Gotham City, at the beginning and at the end of the story.

22. Describe the art style of Batman Year One. What do you like or dislike about the art style? 

23. In your opinion, is Bruce Wayne/Batman a good person? Why or why not? Give specific examples.

24. In your opinion, is James Gordon a good person? Why or why not? Give specific examples.
Extra Credit
What does Barbara Gordon make for dinner on the night of April 9th?

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bears Love Whistles

Let me say, for the record, that I really like Gumby, and I'm glad Google decided to honor Art Clokey's 90th birthday with cool little animations of Gumby and his friends. When my day went off the rails I found some solace in clicking on the little multi-colored blobs of clay and watching them spring to life.

You know what was a great comic book? Gumby's Summer Fun Special, written by Bob "Flaming Carrot" Burden and drawn by Art "X-Men and New Mutants and lots of other stuff" Adams.

Read that, if you ever get a chance. There are Space Bears in it.

Today was a very frustrating day, for a variety of reasons not all related to Creative Reading class. By the end of the day I felt physically exhausted, and unsure whether the exhaustion was the result of sickness (I pick up all kinds of viruses at work), or psychological stress, or just plain old fashioned not sleeping enough. Probably a mix of all three.

Whatever the case, today was one of those days where, no matter how hard I tried to communicate, it seemed like my students and I were speaking two entirely different languages. To me, phrases like "If you are not in the classroom when the bell rings, you are tardy" and "If you are not in the classroom you are supposed to be in, you are skipping class" are completely clear and self-explanatory. Some of my students, though, find endless layers of nuance and ambiguity in these concepts and strive to deconstruct my simple black-and-white worldview. And get really angry when I assign them detentions.

Tomorrow is the Batman Year one test. Which reminds me, I haven't finished writing the Batman Year One test. Pardon me, I should go do that.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Time for Punching

Today we wrapped up the patterns of organization and reviewed for the Batman Year One test. I originally scheduled the test for tomorrow, but the juniors are going to be taking the PSAT, so I postponed it to Thursday.

Since this is the end of our time with Batman Year One, I returned the library's 8 copies, only a few days overdue. The other copies I own. Two of those copies were generously donated by Mr. Joshua LH Burnett, a man who cares about educating our nation's youth, and who knows a thing or two about comics.

If you enjoy comics that are funny, you should read Josh's web comic Adventure Jeff. It's about "a big-hearted mountain man who travels the world with his pet bear Max in the constant search for ADVENTURE!" And punching--sweet, sweet punching.

Adventure Jeff is not normally a robot, so the picture below is misleading, but I like it, so there it is.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tintin and the Mysterious Patterns of Organization

Today begins the last week of the quarter. Ideally, we should be at the end of a unit as the quarter ends, so that the semester's academic content divides up in an aesthetically pleasing fashion. This is my fourth year teaching and I think . . . I think . . . that for the first time ever, each class will be wrapping up a book right on schedule. Shazam! It's like I almost know what I'm doing.

Malcolm Gladwell tells us that if you want to become an expert at something, you need to practice for 10,000 hours. According to my rough calculations, I'm another four years away from teaching expertise, but at least I'm continually improving.

I started today's class by talking briefly about Herge's The Adventures of Tintin books, and his influential ligne claire drawing style. I own three Tintin books, so I passed those around the room. I did not get into question of whether, and to what extent, Herge was a Nazi collaborator, because once you start throwing around terms like "Nazi collaborator," it becomes difficult to focus on the clear-lined art style.

(Belgium was occupied by the Nazis, and just because Herge continued on with work as usual, that doesn't make him a collaborator, does it? A guy's got to make a living. Of course there were some anti-semitic cariacatures, and some other questionable content . . . it's complicated, that's all I'm saying, and I urge you to research the topic further.)

We went on to read some tips about reading informational text and about patterns of organization in text. Since the class is called Creative Reading (I didn't name it, or it would have been something like Introduction to the American Comic Book, and I could have had a ridiculously narrow focus, and come to think of it it's probably for the best I didn't get to choose the name) I've been intending, since the beginning of the year, to focus on some other types of reading. Today I finally got around to it. The patterns of organization we looked at are: Main Idea and Supporting Details, Chronological Order, Comparison and Contrast, Cause and Effect, and Problem and Solution.

What do you mean, that sounds boring? I'm an English teacher; this is what we do. It can't be all Batman all the time.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

High Level Pedagogy

Since tomorrow is 10/10, I figure I should show the kids some Tintin. That makes sense, right?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Random Quasi-Related Thoughts GO!

My Top Five Favorite Batman Artists:
5. Jim Aparo
4. Neal Adams
3. Bruce Timm
2. Dick Sprang
1. David Mazzuchelli

In other news, we had open house at school last night. Two sets of parents told me that their kids were saying good things about Creative Reading class, which is good to know. They generally don't risk saying anything positive in front of their peers.

They are now writing essays about Batman Year One, specifically about Jim Gordon. I was going to let them choose a character to focus on, but I realized that Gordon is really the only one with a character arc. He's miserable at the beginning, he screws up a lot in the middle, and he's better off at the end. The assignment is to write a six paragraph essay that tracks how Gordon grows and changes through the four chapters. Some of them are doing a great job, and have already made good progress; some of them are not taking the assignment seriously, and have done very little, and apparently don't realize how close the end of the quarter is. Hopefully they'll figure that out tomorrow.

There was a period of time when I grew sick of Batman and couldn't stand the character, until those five fellows I listed at the top, and Christopher Nolan, reignited my interest. I still like the character, and I have a great deal of love for Year One, but I'm kind of Batmanned out at this point. I'm looking forward to moving on to Persepolis.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

I Hope You're Happy

Creative Reading is a one semester class, and next semester I will be teaching Film Studies. I'm a little worried about that, because I'm not nearly as obsessed with movies as I am with comics, and because showing a movie in class is more frustrating than you might think.

If you ask students what they would like to do in a class, they will often answer "Watch a movie!" Then when you show a movie, and you ask them to watch, there are always some students who won't even bother looking in the direction of the TV until you've specifically told them to do so 6 or 7 times. The problem is that people watch movies for fun, so when a movie is shown in class, there's an instinctive response that it must be fun time, and so you don't have to do anything. Worse, many students go to the movie theater to hang out with friends, or do other things while a TV is on in the background, and have trouble actually paying attention to a movie for any stretch of time. So while "Watch the movie" seems like a simple task to ask someone to perform, it's surprisingly difficult for many individuals.

Today we finished watching Batman Begins. I had wanted to spend three days on this, but apparently I can't count, because it took four. Since some people were having trouble paying attention I gave them a handout of questions to answer, which helped most of them focus. There were still a few, though, whose eyes kept drifting away from the screen. I kept telling one particular student to watch the movie. The third or fourth time she responded, "It's boring!" I turned to look at the screen. There was a massive explosion, as the train tracks tore apart and a train raced toward the ground. It was all motion and noise and excitement.

Before I could say anything she admitted, "Okay, it's not boring." She forced herself to watch then, at least for a few minutes.

Tomorrow we're back to Batman Year One, which we'll wrap up just in time for the end of the quarter.