"Year in Review" Stuffs Popping Up
I was glad to see Heidi at the Beat notice something about graphic novel publishing that I too had noticed after visiting the exhibitor's booths at this year's NCTE:
"Plus, if you look closely, most of the books coming out from Random House, Simon & Schuster, Hill & Wang and so on, are beginning to slide into two camps: non-fiction “teaching” comics, such as the bestselling 9/11 Report graphic novel, (which had a little-noted, low-selling sequel this year), and bestselling fiction adaptations, like Tokyopop/HarperCollins’ manga adaptation of Erin Hunter’s The Warriors, which have sold thousands and thousands of copies."
Heidi is speaking generally, of course, but her conclusion was one I reached at NCTE. There were some great exceptions. The :01 booth was chocked full of great books, and I know of many wonderful graphic novels that weren't being marketed to the ELA educators at the convention. But, if one looked at what was there and excepted the :01 excellence, one saw exactly what Heidi noticed.
Heidi goes on to say that the graphic novel tidal wave has bottomed out but not been destroyed.
I worry that companies will continue to market graphic novels that were made specifically for "teaching purposes," because those books are usually of the worst quality.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: what we need are graphic novelists being graphic novelists. Art Spiegelman has no obligation or responsibility to create comics for the middle or high school classroom. He should simply go about creating his art as he sees fit. It's up to educators to learn about the graphic novel and look at those excellent works and find the pedagogical potential in them. (caveat: Spiegelman and Mouly have been doing some excellent comics work for kids, though. But they're doing it because they want to and can do great work. I'm not suggesting comics artists shouldn't create kids or teens-centered work if they want to, just that they shouldn't feel bound to in any regard.) Teachers teach. Artists create art. Informed teachers know how to integrate art -- and everything else of relevance -- into their classrooms.
Recently I was interviewed by someone who asked me how important lexile scores were when it came to teachers using comics. I told the interviewer that if I were looking for graphic novels, and I saw some with lexile scores and pre-packaged with associated AR points or grade levels, I'd be very dubious of their quality. I'd know they were made and marketed directly to me, the teacher, playing off what marketers thought of as "flash points" to draw my attention and "make my job easier" rather than crafted with quality of material in mind. I told the interviewer, good teachers already know how to level texts.
Better for teachers to look at the sort of themes or big questions they are exploring in their classrooms and look for the high-quality comic art that can help their students further explore said themes and questions. Otherwise, what will happen is eventually folks will catch wise to the poor quality of graphic novels marketed to teachers, and the backlash against them will gain considerable ground, consequently mask marketing to teachers the idea that no comics art is worth teaching, which is the thinking that many already have anyway.
I maintain that only good comics material will have what it takes to help teachers and students build learning connections. If I were a teacher and saw a company trying to sell me graphic novels based only readability or lexile score rather than on theme, big ideas, and excellence of story-telling, I'd be wary.