EN/SANE World

Monday, December 21, 2009

Just Read: _Cancer Vixen_

Comics and graphic novels have a penchant for being excellent vehicles through which to tell difficult stories or through which to handle delicate topics.

Certainly this holds true when it comes to disease, and cancer seems to be a particularly notable source of inspiration for graphic novelists. Consider Pekar's Our Cancer Year, Fies' Mom's Cancer, Engelberg's Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person: A Memoir in Comics.

I even considered chronicling my own experience dealing with cancer via comics form. As a new member of the "missing lefty" tribe in 2004 (by which I reference the fact that a few months prior to entering my doctoral program I had a testicle removed because it was cancerous), I was in talks with the American Cancer Society about doing an information comic book on the subject. I even IM-ed with Marvel's Joe Quesada about putting a small informational comic about self-examination in Marvel's comics on month, my rationale being that the age ranges for comic book readers and those who are most likely to be diagnosed with testicular cancer overlap greatly (it didn't go over well).
So, when I saw Marisa Acocella Marchetto's graphic novel Cancer Vixen at an excellent airport bookstore in Dallas, I had to add it to my collection. Pink and purple cover be damned; Big "V" in "Cancer Vixen" right where the vagina of the skinny girl on the cover should be? No problem. I proudly made my purchase and began reading immediately.

The book, which started out as a serial, details the author's experience with breast cancer, which she discovers right before her marriage to a dreamy, well-off Italian restaurateur. Marchetto, a high-society type caught up in the glamor and glitz of New York fashion and "in" society, suddenly comes to terms with mortality and modern medicine while examining spirituality, a reality without children, and anxiety about her worth as a woman and mate with an intensity and range she never knew she had.

While my cancer was less aggressive than Marchetto's, I could easily relate to scenes where she visualizes what she thought would be the spirit forms of her future children dissipating, never to be realities. I also revisited my own psychoses regarding my gendered identity as she did the same. I knew her pain when she considered how in the world she'd pay all those bills.

I was not, however, able to relate to Marchetto's "Sex and the City meets Carsinoma" vibe, though my hunch is that many readers, especially female readers, could and would. I left the text thinking that it could possibly be considered, among other things, "a graphic novel for girls that don't usually read graphic novels," an accessible and "hip" book that could help other cancer patients and their young relatives or friends understand what might be coming once they or someone they know is diagnosed. Sort of "what if Elle Woods was a cartoonist and wanted to talk about breast cancer?" In a good way.

I should also say that Marchetto's cancer was much more aggresive than my own, so when I mention being able to connect with the text, there are caveats. Caveats exist with the elements that distanced me as well. Though she's depicted as a struggling cartoonist, Marchetto's base of family and friends come through for her such that she never really seems threatened with bankruptcy (medical exigencies being a major reason many Americans go broke) or too far removed from her previous lifestyle. She adds depth to what she comes to see as shallow aspects of herself, but she never really has to give up the rides in great European cars, the nice shoes, the vacations permanently. There is a lot of anxiety that these things and even more important things will be lost, but in the end, Marchetto retains almost everything she had before, including her breasts.

That's not to envy her, just to say that the book illustrates that every cancer case has similarities and differences in regards to every other. I had to sell my Pontiac GTO, a present from my dad for being the first in our family to graduate college, to offset medical bills (and this was with insurance!), but I've sired two healthy boys since my operation. I didn't do any chemo; Marchetto goes through that gruel and acknowledges that not everyone in the patients waiting rooms she visited handled it as well as she was able to -- or even survived it.

So, for me, the book is one rife with text-to-self connections while also constituting a study in contrasts. Overall, I'm glad to have read the book and recommend it to others. I hope that educators or school councilors might consider it as a book to recommend to those who are experiencing cancer or those young people who might have relatives who are. In the end it is a survivor's story, which means some readers will experience different endgames in their own cancer experiences, but the text is informative, emotional, feminine, and, dare I say it, tres chique.

p.s. I totally prefer this image to the right, which I assume is an alternate or previous cover for the book (?). This one has more attitude and is taken from a scene where the author/character is kicking death in the face! From "Sex and the City" to "You go, girl!" :)


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Friday, December 18, 2009

Chris Wilson Talks Research, Standards, and Comics

The Graphic Classroom has a pretty good piece regarding an article citing a "study" by a University of Illinois professor that made the rounds on the blogs about a month ago. The "study" is actually another advocacy/informative-type piece on comics and learning. I know because I hunted down the original article, printed it out for my records, and even contacted the author, who was herself a little worried about how the media had been interpreting her writing.

TGC's Chris Wilson does a good job of articulating some of the points and counter-points of comics in education in his reaction, though, so click this post's title and enjoy!

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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hernandez Wins Rasmuson Grant, Named USA Fellow

Gilbert Hernandez wins $50,000 and recognition of his amazing talents. Read more by clicking the title to this post. Thanks to Comics Reporter for breaking the news.

Oh, and did I mention that Gilbert's brother Jaime Hernandez will be speaking at UTEP on February 23, 2010? :)

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Visit MSU's Comics Collection Via Youtube

Thanks to Ryan Claytor for the great link to a story -- with video -- on Michigan State University's Comic Book Library Collection. Can you say, "travel grant here I come!"? :)

Other universities that I know of with comics book collections: Stanford, Duke, Ohio State, Bowling Green State, Nebraska.

That's a pretty impressive list, eh?

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Announcing High-Level Plans: SANE journal

Because I am beginning to talk to corporate and other organizational entities about it, and it is always good to have a record of these things, I find it as necessary as it is exciting to inform you that I am currently trying to create an on-line, open-access, peer-reviewed journal that focuses specifically on issues related to sequential art and education. So far, I've been talking with High Wire Press, out of Stanford University, to make this dream a reality.

Pulling from the "fiestiness" behind the naming of this blog (EN/SANE world: "some people might say it is crazy to use comics in the classroom. I'm here to tell you it is quite sane!:), I'm calling it SANE journal: Sequential Art Narratives in Education. My hope is that the journal will publish twice a year and be available to anyone with Internet access, free-of-charge.

The journal would accept research-based articles, practitioner-based articles, reviews of book and articles associated with comics-and-literacy, reviews by way of rationales for teaching graphic novels, and would also list outside resources.

As I've noticed a trend of "appropriation" and redistribution of voices in the growing field of comics-and-education studies, manuscripts will not be stripped of author's names in review. If a writer is an established presence in the field who seeks to move the argument in one direction or another, the editorial/review teams wants to know the article came from someone who has already proven him/herself an influential voice. No more of this having your arguments blocked by reviewers who ask you to give hints at your identity while also working under a journal that requires all author-identification be stripped away. No more noticing authors with established reputations in other fields publishing articles that reinvent the wheel while possibly using their sudden interest in comics along with their name recognition to stifle what might be your more informed thoughts on the subject. No more worrying that a journal might not even be amenable to work on comics and education as trends change and new buzz words develop and new irons get hot. No more worrying that you can't find a place for your work because gatekeepers have worries predicated on sales or saving face or being seen as an outlet that accepts comics in the classroom.

I seek for SANE journal to become the central academic source for articles and thought on sequential art in education, whether it be pre-school, middle school, or graduate school.

The review board will pull from folks in the social sciences/education studies, the humanities, and comics scholarship. Due to my connections in the field, I already have a list of possible review board members. I hope to get the journal associated with Reading with Pictures, Institute for Comics Studies, NACAE, The Center for Cartoon Studies -- heck, maybe even ICAF, NCTE, and NAMLE eventually. I am also hoping to make connections with corporate entities dedicated to producing comics with educational/literacy value.

If you know anyone who might be a good review board member, feel free to e-mail me his or her name, as I'm happy to add to my list. I'm not at the "contact individuals for invites" yet, as I want to have as much information available to them before I ask them to join up with a nebulous construct.

Also, if you are associated with or know of an agency that might be a good source of funding, please let me know. I'll be spending some time writing grants for the project and working with my institution's Development Office in the coming months, but any and all leads are welcome.

At the very least, wish me well in this endeavor, which I feel is needed, necessary, important, and timely.

(*draft. may be expanded later. already expanded several times)

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Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Documentary on Jeff Smith on PBS

The Beat has the scoop on a television show featuring Bone creator Jeff Smith. Looks awesome!

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School Library Journal's GN Picks for Kids 2009

Link courtesy of The Beat.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Teacher Uses Mobile Apps to Teach Smith's _Bone_

"Teacher Eric Federspiel earned a grant that allowed him to bring 15 iPod Touches into the classroom. Here’s how he loaded them with comics-related learning opportunities." -- Comic Book Reporter.

Sounds pretty awesome! Bone is great enough to use in the classroom on its own. Add some tech, and wow!

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Want To Publish A Comic?

Jason Thibault has a rather comprehensive list of submission policies for comics and manga publishers the world over. Click this post's title, and thanks, Comics Reporter, for the lead!

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DC Reboots of Supes, Bats to be GN's Only!

The Beat reports that DC will offer "Earth One" origin reboots for Superman and Batman. Reboots in comics are used as brand new jumping on points for new readers or established readers wanting a clean slate approach to their favorite characters. While the characters will continue to appear in other comics, does this mark THE moment in comics history when the move to graphic novels/trades paperbacks took over the biz? We'll see. The Beat covers the story nicely if you'd like more details.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Fightin' Fallacies: Mythbusting w/ Bucky on Pop Culture and Appropriation

While at NRC this weekend, I heard an argument/precept about teaching comics that I've heard before but have never directly commented on herein, so I thought I might finally do so.

The idea is that teachers need to be careful about how they teach comics because doing so overtly and directly in a way that might fully explicate the text might be a way of subsuming students' popular culture. The assumptions underlying the directive, as I understand them, are that youth culture shouldn't be appropriated by adults and that more children read comics than adult teachers.

There are a number of fallacies at work in such a statement, though careful teaching is always a good thing, of course. One myth is that kids read more comics than adults. American comics seem to have a history directly tied to youth culture. This is undeniable. But, since the 1930s, there have been moments when the reading market was comprised mostly of children and moments when the reading market was more diverse. For example, the crime and horror and romance comics of the 1950s were supposedly not marketed directly to child readers (but sort of the same way that Joe Camel wasn't marketed to children) but to older readers.

In the contemporary moment, the average comic book reader is believed to be an adult male in his mid-thirties. Many industry leaders are at this exact moment bemoaning the lack of child-centered comics, and companies like TOON BOOKS have sprung up to fill the void left by aging super-hero comics readers, more intellectual, graphic novel reader, and those who have always preferred the indy, not-for-kids stuff in the first place.

So, it may not be true that more kids are reading comics than adults. And if comics readership is no longer the cultural domain of children, then teaching them isn't appropriating their culture and thinking that it is can be viewed as misinformed thinking pulling on schema from a bygone era.

Another fallacy that I see as inherent in the argument is that popular culture = youth culture. While it may be true that youth culture is often, if not always, intertwined with the popular culture, that relation can not always be reversed. When Ray Browne pioneered the study of popular culture (and let us remember that there are scholars beyond education professors who study popular culture. It is its own field), he was focusing more on the elements of society that academics and others found to be "mundane," not exclusively on elements of youth and childrens' culture. Bumper stickers, advertisements, housing floor plans, wallpaper -- these are elements of popular culture that have been studied that may or may not have connections to youth culture.

I'd also like to point out that another way of viewing a teacher who integrates the study of popular culture and/or youth culture is to see the teacher as acknowledging kids' interests. Overt, direct analysis of those texts can be a way to show respect for their interests and to show how "their" texts are just as valid and important as older, more traditional texts, each of which was at one time part of the popular culture as well. As well, since adults consume youth culture too, "their" culture can be said to be "our" culture anyway.

So, I think direct, overt instruction on comics and high-level literary/artistic analysis of them in the classroom should be approached with the same care as anything else that gets taught, but I wouldn't worry too much about anyone's culture being subsumed or taking anything away from students. Sure, I've had a student tell me "You can even make a comic book boring!" during an analysis of metaphor and symbols between a comics text and a traditional text, but some students are going to balk at anything that examines things seriously. That student held the minority opinion in his class, by the way. All the other students were excited to be reading a form of literature that they viewed as valid but had never thought would be considered valued in the school setting.

Ah, when the school world and the real world mesh, it can be a wonderful thing!

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

My En/SANE Christmas Wish!

Hi, readers. Recently EN/SANE received so many hits that the clustermap program decided I needed a new map. That's a very good thing, and neat too! Instead of seeing blended-together red blobs, I get to see the hits stack up in terms of country, region, etc. one at a time. Depending on how long I've known some of you and where the dots pop up, I can almost bet on who some of my exact readers are, which is even cooler for me, as I love it when my colleagues use my site for their own information or with their students.

I do have a request, though: En/SANE world has been in existance since late 2006 and has been trying to synthesize the best comics-and-literacy information available on the web while also providing comments and analysis based in my own understanding of the sub-field. If you use my blog for information, especially in writing your academic papers, please cite the blog.

It is easy for me to cite via hyperlink where I get most of my information for my posts. Even if you use EN/SANE world as a starting point to other sites, it would still give me great pleasure if you'd offer a mention via a sidebar or in the works cited. Again, it'd really mean a lot to me and to the growing readership/reputation of the blog.

Announcing 2 Projects Under Development!

I am pleased to inform my readership that I have two projects in the works with Maupin House Press, which just published Katie Monnin's great new book on teaching graphic novels.

While I can't say much, I can say that one project is under contract and combines word study, language exploration, and comics to further students' curiosity in language and vocabulary development.


The second project has a contract in the works and involves me and a group of teacher educators and practicing classroom teachers in a collaborative effort to help teachers do something to protect against the recent and on-going rash of censorship cases concerning comics in the classroom.

Both projects have tentative release dates of Fall 2010. I'll keep you informed of more as more develops!

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

My First NRC

Tomorrow I'm off to Albuquerque, NM, for my first-ever National Reading Conference presentation. I'll be presenting with professors from Hunter College-CUNY and the University of Tennessee. I'm sort of playing this one by ear a bit, but hopefully it will be another success. I'll be talking more about comics in the contact zone, which has been a major focus of my work for the last few years. Wish me well!

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Trailer/Review for _Infestacion: The Mythology_

I hate zombies like Indiana Jones hates snakes. They're just not my thing. Marvel zombies, Kirkman zombies. Zombie movies with Woody Harrelson or cheeky Brits. Doesn't matter. I hate'em.

However, I do respect that the zombie mythos has had a resurrection in popularity over the last ten years or so, and I also acknowledge that often zombie-related media projects are laced with allegory. This is certainly the case with the graphic novel Infestacion: The Mythology, by 656 Comics, which features insidious ticks infecting living beings, killing them, and then reanimating them into flesh-eating undead.

Worse yet, these undead are Mexican undead, and they're "dead set" on crossing the American border! It's Lou Dobbs' Halloween nightmare come to life as citizens of Ciudad Juarez try to escape dangerous living/undying conditions by fleeing to El Paso, a city in a nation that may or may not see them as worthwhile living beings even if they're not infected.

While some of the nuances of its allegory may be lost to those who do not reside in the Borderland, what makes Infestacion: The Mythology scary, and thereby an intriguing read, is the same thing that makes all great zombie thrillers scary: the fact that with some minor tweaks to the plot here and some slight alterations of the setting there, what is a work of regional horror fiction about the walking dead reveals sometimes unpleasant global truths about the walking living.

Infestacion: The Mythology is available now via 656 Comics. Here's a trailer (for mature audiences) to further whet your appetite:

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_The Comics Journal_ Now Online

One of the best magazines to successfully play in the fruitful cavern of the popular-scholarly divide is now upgrading its online content, favoring the web over print. This looks to be an exciting development, if not a little sad in that the paper issues won't be be printed as often as they once were. I'm most curious about costs and subscription services. So, I'll spend more time on the TCJ site. I recommend you spend some time there too!

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

12.31.09: MLA Debuts _Teaching the Graphic Novel_

Yep, that's yours truly in the orange highlighter there. (I know, this is a bad scan). This image is from a recent MLA publications booklet. Comics is a growing area of interest within MLA, and I'm very honored to have made it in this collection. I've got an essay on teaching Watchmen in there. Sorry, it was in press before the movie came out. So, if you find yourself with some Christmas cash, feel free to order this beauty. I can't wait to get my copy!

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