EN/SANE World

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Operation G-THOOM a Success!!


Today I crossed the Mississippi River into Louisiana on my way to Texas, and the wife followed a few hours later, meaning we now have no obligation to EVER return to Mississippi. About a year and a half ago, once I ascertained that USM was not a good place for me to be, I named my desire to leave and goal to do so "GTHOOM," for "Get the hell out of Mississippi!" After traveling the northern part of the state and Jackson today, maybe I was too harsh on the state and not hard enough on USM, but "GTHOOUSM&H" is pretty awkward. At any rate, it'll take a few days for the family and I to make it to El Paso, where Operation Successful Career at University with Excellent Colleagues and Good Understanding of English Education" is underway already. :)

Wish us well, and I'll be back to posting and commenting on SANE issues soon!

Best,
JBC

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

D.at's N.ot A.rt!

Looking for a new book to help students in your science class? Try this one!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Comics in Mainstream Mags

June has been a big month for comics and graphic novels in regards to major mainstream press. Both Time and Playboy have done recent articles on how Hollywood is looking to sequential art more and more for marketable films, and then there's this must-read story from Sports Illustrated, which recently featured an issue with a comic book-style "Bizarro world" cover. According to the SI.com story, custom-made comics helped several top football recruits choose Oregon as their academic institution (and football home) of choice. Comics, persuasion, football and college -- all working together in effective, if not a little dubious (just ask the NCAA!) manner.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Two Recent Articles on Education and Comics

Both these articles were mentioned in this week's NCTE inbox, but I found them cruising other blogs as well. Good to see NCTE keeping SANE fresh in members' minds, though! This one is yet another article on the comics being used in Maryland's public schools. This one from the UK considers comics as a conduit to more reading, especially for boys. Note Nick Seaton's oversimplification of graphic novels as mere "picture books." It's always great when the opposing viewpoint speaks out of ignorance, isn't it?

From Baltimore to Britain, educators are taking note of the transformative power of sequential art when it comes to their students' literacy development!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Father's Day Fun with Comic Life (2008 and 2006)

(click for larger-resolution images)





Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Super Heroes and the Koran

Thanks to Lou Novacheck for bringing this to my attention:

The Washington Post has a great feature on a Muslim comic book creator's attempts to model new super heroes after attributes of God. Just goes to show that the religion-sequential art connection isn't only intertwined with Christianity. Details about the project, entitled The 99, can be seen here. The site offers character details and some pretty cool free downloads.


Why George Washington Went to Japan


Thanks to Mike Rhode for bringing this to my attention:

Manga CVN 73 USS George Washington (2008) has been released by the US Navy. The 204-page graphic novel is available for download and tells the story of the USS George Washington's stationing in Japan. A forward from RADM James D. Kelly, USN, the commander of naval forces in Japan, extols the beauty of Japan and seems to read like a rationale for the vessel's presence. Available in both Japanese and English, the Manga is free to whomever cares to download and is published by the Public Affairs Office of the Navy.

So, it appears to be a work that offers a rationale, educates, and informs. And probably persuades, or attempts to, anyway. The ship's history and services are detailed via the experiences of a new soldier named Jack, a Japanese America, who is walking its floors for the first time. The USS Cole and terrorist attacks are mentioned, and the work of men and women on the ship is portrayed as honorable and impressive. The soldiers work as a team, look out for one another, and drill constantly so they're prepared for any dangerous situations. They attend seminars on Japanese culture and language. Upon entiring the port at Yokosuka, they are reminded by their commander to be good neighbors.

A hero on the ship after putting out a dangerous fire, Jack immerses himself in Japanese culture with awe and respect, especially mindful that this is where his grandparents live. "Japanese blood definitely runs through my veins," he says. After meeting up with his grandparents, Jack asks his grandpa if he'll ever visit the states. His reply comprises the last pages of the story before the ship's stats are given. "I can go anytime. We're neighbors across the ocean, right?"

The military has a long history of using sequential art to help train and educate its troops, and other governments have used the format as well, one notable example being the guide to immigrating to the states that the Mexican government published a few years ago. This seems geared towards wary citizens of Japan and is a very interesting piece of proactive public relations work.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Counter Added!

I Didn't Teach You THAT!!

Perhaps you've heard about the Japanese man who went on a murderous rampage in Tokyo. The man is being described as a "disturbed young auto worker" but also as a comics and video games fan. His stabbings did take place in the part of town that caters to those with those interests, and his slow unveiling of his master plans via his cell phone do seem the stuff of movies, comic, and games.

But, there was a time when the idea of collapsing buildings with jets seemed the stuff of Hollywood imagination or super-hero comics as well. After 9/11, some comic book creators were asked by the government to help think of ways terrorists might attack the USA. Our technology, our politics and our environs simply aren't so far removed from what people think of when they hear the word "comic books" anymore. To focus on this man's affinity for comics and games without acknowledging the violence and scariness of the real world seems irresponsible to me. But, we often try to look for any possible link to help us make sense of senseless crimes. Here, it seems to me the emphasis needs to be on mental illness, first and foremost.

Yet apparently some media are making much of the young man's comics fandom. I dislike hearing stories like this because detractors do not need much to spin their dislike for comics as teaching tools into a crisis of illiteracy, dumbing down, and danger. I remember an anecdote from Wright's Comic Book Nation in which he details how to two young boys stole an airplane and piloted it cross-country. When finally caught by authorities, they asked the two where they learned to do stuff like that. "In the comic books!" the boys replied. Now that's delinquency, sure (theft), but it's also education!! (assuming there's any truth to the story, of course. Wouldn't it be great to learn how to fly a plane from a comic book?)

Let's focus more on this man being disturbed first than on his being a comics reader. Young people and adults can get ideas to do all sorts of horrible things from any number of sources, their parents, teachers, history and humanity in general, but it takes a specific mindset to actually carry out random acts of violence. I think it would reveal a pretty weak faith in the intelligence of mankind to assume that a previously mentally stable adult sees such acts in the media he consumes and then copies it without there being other issues at play beyond and prior to the media stimulation.

Kids are more impressionable, sure. I certainly pile-drove and clothes-lined my brothers more than once after watching WWF (as it was called back then) and NWA wrestling on the television. And, my oldest son never wanted to pull our cat's tail until he saw kids do it to their cats in children's books No No Yes Yes and Mittens. Kids often try out what they see or want to do so -- in any and all facets of their lives -- which is why they need adults to help them make sense of possible influences.

My prayers to the victims, the families, and the young man with the hopes that the future surrounding him and those he harmed will hold a focus on justice, aid, and healing rather than on an interest in comics and gaming. Though, let us not forget that justice, aid, and healing are concepts found in many comics and video games as well...........

Monday, June 09, 2008

Nadda Genre

In a future publication scheduled for fall release, I'm going to explain why the term "genre" is inadequate and somewhat inaccurate when applied to graphic novels. On the heel's of yesterday's post about markets and GN's, here's another tidbit where thinking about markets can help us understand terminology. Though "graphic novel" is a marketing term, it is not a genre term within the markets. As ICV2 points out in another article on sales, graphic novels make up their own publishing category and can be compared to "genre" categories like horror, mystery, and sci-fi. Compared to them, but not considered one of them.

In her recent article "Comics as Literature? Reading Graphic Narrative" (in PMLA 123.2) Hillary Chute treats "comics as a medium - not as a lowbrow genre" (p.452) I think terms like medium and format are better used to describe comics and graphic novels.

I'll publicize the article more once it gets closer to its release date, but these two recent pieces deserved some attention, even if the article was submitted before I could add them to my reference page!

Friday, June 06, 2008

NCTE Lows and Highs

Today I received an e-mail from NCTE telling me I did not garner enough votes to be elected to the Secondary Nominating Committee. To make the news more official, a letter restating this failure is on the way to me via parcel post.

I didn't exactly campaign for the nomination -- I don't think I even mentioned it on ENSANEWORLD -- and though I was honored that someone thought enough of me to at least nominate me for consideration, I admit I was always a little nebulous on what the responsibilities of the position would entail.

It did require freeing up some time at the national convention in November. Though I'm saddened not to have gotten the nomination, it might work out for the best anyway. Currently, I'm scheduled to be at 3 different NCTE sessions as a presenter or group leader of some kind, so garnering the nomination might have meant dropping out of something. I'll be busy enough in San Antonio, it looks like, so no need to be too sad.

As well, in addition to being a speaker at NHCTE in Manchester this past April, I'm on tap to speak at NCTE state affiliate conferences in Iowa (which I've previously announced), Oregon, and my homestate of North Carolina. I'm excited about all three of these engagements, though being the keynote speaker for the NC branch, in the state where I was born, raised, and taught middle and high school and community college, is a special delight.


On top of that, I've got an article forthcoming in a volume of The ALAN Review that I'm excited about, and apparently so are the editors, who have told me the piece is of "feature article" quality. On top of all this, I just sent a project proposal to NCTE that may turn into something very major, and I've got another NCTE-related big event being planned sometime in September, but I probably can't speak too much about that now, except to say it will be web-based.

So, all in all, it always stings a little to be rejected, but in the karmic scheme of things, if I have to accept a small bit of negative news so that I can focus on and maybe see to fruition other future successes with NCTE, I guess that's fine by me. I'm sure the person nominated will do a great job. I wish him or her success.

Proof that Manga Rules the World?

A number of folks have written on how many teens are attracted to Manga, Japanese import comics/graphic novels or those sequential art narratives done in that style. Often Manga are paperback-length and -sized books with each title spanning multiple volumes in a series. Brent Wilson has done some research on Manga and literacy. So has Michael Bitz, and the Manga explosion is yet another area where librarians' empirical research as revealed in their periodicals and conferences has helped inform our thinking. Yet, there are many who still think that this Manga thing is just a fad.

Perhaps, but it is worth noting that Manga titles have been dominating the graphic novel sales market for some time now. See ICV2's most recent top 20 graphic novels by monthly sales, and you'll note that only 3 titles are American graphic novels, meaning that they're published by American companies. Since two of the three are penned by Brit genius Alan Moore, we could say that only one of the books, an Indiana Jones book hitching a ride on the summer blockbuster movie, is a top American seller. As well, the two Moore tales, as ICV2 mentions, are over 20 years old.

Of course, sales do not equate to quality (though the ranked Moore titles are pretty darn good), and there's not a demographic breakdown on the ICV2 website to tell us who is buying these books, but a trip to the local bookstore and a glance down the Manga isle or isles can be pretty telling. I know there are many academics that want to separate the market from their work. I'm one of those realists who understands that's something that just can't be done. We can pretend and hope by pretending we makes it so, but we're just living a "consensus charade."

Since "graphic novel" is somewhat of a marketing term, I don't think we can avoid the marketing influence as fact of life, even academic life, when we consider them and their readership and their pedagogical potential. Consider that a teacher's awareness of the market can help him or her understand the reading habits of his or her students, help him or her make choices of texts to bring into class, suggest to students, or accept when students read them independently in class. I've been in classrooms where students snuck Manga in and out of their bookbags because the teachers didn't see it as appropriate reading material -- at any time (as the students themselves told me). Perhaps some knowledge of young people's authentic reading interests and habits might have softened these teachers' outlooks.

According to the sales figures, that would mean accepting that a whole lot of somebodies are reading Manga and enjoying it!

Thursday, June 05, 2008

More Comics Goodness from Texas


So, as I prepare for my move to El Paso, I am worrying about the big fuss over Texas' English Language Arts standards. Apparently, after 3 years of informed experts revamping the state's policies concerning ELA, a small but powerful group of leaders has decided to ignore tons of hard work and effort, favor the opinion of one or a handful of consultants, and accept a bare-bones curriculum plan that favors basics.

But, as good teachers everywhere have done for decades, some teachers in the Lone Star state are working under the impression that any and all education standards only represent the bare minimum of needed competencies. I was very pleased to see this story out of Texas from the most-recent NCTE Inbox: "Comics, Seriously," which details the work of some teachers in Fort Worth. Keep teaching those graphic novels and illuminating those multiple literacy skills, Texans!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Playing Around with Comic Life for Windows

(click the images for larger resolution)


Monday, June 02, 2008

Graphic Novels Shine at BEA

ICV2 reports that though the economy's slowdown is affecting even book markets, graphic novels had a strong showing at the recent Book Expo America convention. Read more here.