The best reviews ever

These aren’t really the best reviews ever, I just think if I say so, more people will read this post. The following reviews are for comics I received on September 25.

ASTRO CITY #27 (DC, 2015) – Not my favorite issue. American Chibi’s origin is very cute, and the chibi Honor Guard members are very kawaii. Joe Infurnari is better at the anime style than Brent Anderson probably would have been, making him a good choice for a guest artist (or alternately, this story was a good choice for the issue where he was the guest artist). And also, the villains, besides He Who Lies Buried, are pretty cool. But the story was not very compelling.

RUNAWAYS #4 (Marvel, 2015) – One of the happiest comic books I’ve read this year. Given that this is Runaways, I was expecting that one of the main characters would get killed. And I was right, but it was Bucky, so whatever. At the end of the series, all the characters are still alive, and the two couples (Amadeus and Delphine, and Jubilee and Sanna) are together. The Jubilee/Sanna scenes are the clear highlight of the issue. I was initially skeptical about that comic, but it’s one of the best things that’s come out of Secret Wars. I hope that it gets revived as an ongoing series, or that Marvel gives Noelle Stevenson some other work, because she’s clearly one of the top writers in the industry.

HARLEY QUINN & POWER GIRL #4 (DC, 2015) – Otherwise known as “Guilty Pleasure Comics #4.” This comic book is just a long series of fight scenes, bad jokes, and sexual innuendoes, but it’s funny, and that’s all it’s trying to be. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t realize Vartox was based on Zardoz until someone told me. The giant caticore thing is pretty cute.

PRINCELESS: BE YOURSELF #4 (Action Lab, 2015) – I still don’t like this series as much as Raven: The Pirate Princess, and oddly, the lettering is one big reason why not. It’s ugly and the font is too large. It makes the entire comic look unprofessional. Other than that, this is an effective conclusion to the series, though the pacing was too fast and there were a lot of weird plot twists. I look forward to volume four.

POWER UP! #3 (Dark Horse, 2015) – This is probably the best issue yet; it’s exciting and it seems much less compressed than the previous two issues. I didn’t realize until now that the pet shop woman doesn’t have any powers herself; she’s just the custodian of the goldfish. The two apathetic teenagers are funny.

BATGIRL #44 (DC, 2015) – This issue is missing Babs Tarr, who is usually the best thing about this series, but Bengal is a reasonably good replacement, and appropriately named considering that this story is about tigers. I actually can’t recall whether last issue was drawn by Tarr or Bengal. The conclusion to the Velvet Tiger two-parter is reasonably satisfying.

SECRET WARS #0 (Marvel, 2015) – In the first story in this FCBD issue, Valeria and the Future Foundation discuss their plan to save the world. This story isn’t anything great, but it’s nice to see the Future Foundation again; I miss these characters. The backup story, a crossover between the Marvel Universe and Attack on Titan, is forgettable.

DRAWN ONWARD #1 (Retrofit/Big Planet, 2015) – I’d like to write a palindromic review of this comic, but I do not have the talent. Like much of Matt Madden’s work, this one-shot is an Oulipian experiment; in this case, the entire comic is a palindrome where the first half mirrors the second half. The similarity to Watchmen #5 is obvious, but in this case the story is built entirely around the palindromic constraint; it’s about the growth and decay of a relationship. And the two characters’ roles reverse from the first half of the story to the second half. Overall this is an impressive piece of work that effectively combines experimentation with storytelling, and I won’t be surprised if it picks up an Eisner nomination. The only disappointing part is that because the next-to-last panel says to “read back through what you just read,” I thought the story would make sense if read backwards, and as far as I can tell, it doesn’t.

TYSON HESSE’S DIESEL #1 (Boom!, 2015) – For some reason I didn’t order issue 2 of this, and it won’t come out in time for me to get it at NYCC. I guess based on the solicitation, I must have thought it looked unimpressive. But this debut issue turns out to be quite interesting. It’s a steampunk story that takes place on a floating island whose inhabitants don’t know that there’s land beneath the clouds, which is pretty cool. The main character is a serious brat, and I assume that her character arc will involve her becoming more mature.

At this point I realized I had every issue of Shutter except #5, so I went back and read Shutter #1 and #2, allowing me to read:

SHUTTER #3 (Image, 2014) – This issue introduces Shaw the assassin and Harrington the skeleton butler. It also establishes that Alain is a transgender character, althoug this fact slipped my mind. Alain Vian is the name of the brother of the noted French author Boris Vian; I assume Joe Keatinge knows this, though I don’t see what the joke is. In general, this issue is primarily setup for future stories.

SHUTTER #4 (Image, 2014) – This issue begins with an explanation of why Harrington is a living corpse. This scene might be the first time in the series that we meet the Prospero characters. Subsequently, we meet the General for the first time, and Christopher is introduced on the last page. At this point I was finally starting to understand what was going on in this series, and I was enjoying it much more than I had when I was reading the issues out of order. This is definitely a series that would read better in collected form.

A-FORCE #3 (Marvel, 2015) – This series has been a huge disappointment considering the caliber of talent involved. This issue has too little characterization and too much plot, and the plot is not interesting. Again, the only thing I like about it is the mysterious starfield girl.

THE SPIRE #3 (Boom!, 2015) – I hope they do a sequel to this series called PROUD STANDS THE SPIRE, because that would be an awesome title. I previously wrote that this series reminds me of Miyazaki, and I’ve seen other people make that comparison but without necessarily explaining why. The specific reason is because Spurrier’s linework resembles Miyazaki’s linework in Nausicaa, and also, his designs, especially the costumes of the desert people, look very much like some of the designs in Nausicaa. As for the story, it’s fairly exciting, although it’s sometimes difficult to remember what happened in previous issues.

HELLBOY IN HELL #8 (Dark Horse, 2015) – I have not followed Hellboy regularly in a long time, so I didn’t quite know what was going on in this issue, although Mignola does provide some useful background information. The reason I bought it is because it’s a by-now-rare example of a Hellboy story drawn by Mignola. Mike is one of the most influential artists of his generation – he’s a master of mood and atmosphere, and he achieves such powerful effects with such economy of linework. It’s a pity that he doesn’t draw more comics.

WORLD’S FINEST COMICS #196 (DC, 1970) – It’s sobering to realize that all the people credited on page one of this comic book are now dead (Bob Haney, Curt Swan, George Roussos, Mort Weisinger, E. Nelson Bridwell and Carmine Infantino). “The Kryptonite Express” is a blatantly idiotic story, even allowing for the fact that Haney wrote it. After a deadly fall of Kryptonite meteors, the U.S. government decides to send a train around the country to collect all the Kryptonite. And Superman is stupid enough to ride on the train himself, instead of staying at home in a lead-lined room until it’s safe for him to come out. And then Clark Kent also has to ride the train, so Superman has to change identities repeatedly, and also Jimmy Olsen and Robin are on the train but it turns out they’ve been replaced by spies. It’s a story that just does not stand up to logical scrutiny.

CAPTAIN AMERICA #246 (Marvel, 1980) – This is not a bad issue, though it was completely overshadowed by the following issue, which was the beginning of probably the greatest run in the history of this series. In this issue, Peter B. Gillis reintroduces A Guy Named Joe, one of the more obscure villains from the first 38 issues of Spider-Man, and this results in a rather touching story about disability and poverty. There’s also some nice art by Jerry Bingham, who was very talented but never fulfilled his promise.

WEIRDWORLD #4 (Marvel, 2015) – The art in this series continues to be more interesting than the writing. Arkon is a very flat character; he’s just like Conan but less interesting. Still, I love the idea of a forest full of Man-Things, and I was delighted to learn that the Queen of the Man-Things is Jennifer Kale, a mostly forgotten Steve Gerber creation. I plan to keep reading this series when it’s rebooted.

TARZAN #153 (Gold Key, 1965) – This was one of the last issues drawn by Jesse Marsh, who died the following year. I know there are lots of people who love Jesse Marsh, but to me his artwork just looks crude and basic. I do get the impression that his artwork was better in the ‘40s than in the ‘60s. What’s much more exciting to me is that this issue includes a Brothers of the Spear backup story with artwork by Russ Manning. In this story, Dan-el goes off on a mission to kill some lions, and tells his wife Tavane to stay home because “this is man’s work,” but she follows him anyway and saves his life, which is rather progressive for 1965.

MIGHTY SAMSON #16 (Gold Key, 1968) – Apparently I have two issues of this series, but either I haven’t read the other one, or I completely forgot about it. This is a post-apocalyptic science fiction series which reminds me a lot of Kamandi, except without the animals, or more specifically Hercules Unbound. In this issue, which is by Otto Binder and Jack Sparling, the title character defends a teenage girl and her father from some primitive “gnarly men” who live in the ruins of New York. It’s a fairly average comic; I think it’s worse than Hercules Unbound, let alone Kamandi. The primary appeal of this series is that Frank Thorne drew some of the earlier issues. I hadn’t realized that Otto Binder was still writing comics or even still alive in 1968 – it turns out he died in 1974.

GREEN LANTERN #130 (DC, 1980) – This issue is guest-written by Bob Rozakis, a seriously terrible writer. The only story of his that I like is the Bat-Mite backup from Detective Comics #482, and even that story isn’t that great. This issue is a typical example of his work. The best thing about it is the revelation that Sonar’s homeland of Modora is no bigger than a city block, although I think some earlier writer probably came up with that idea. A more interesting thing about this issue is the backup story, which introduces Arkkis Chummuck, and ends with the disturbing but funny revelation that he ate the previous Green Lantern from his sector. This appears to have been the first Tales of the Green Lantern Corps backup, although TGLC didn’t become a regular feature until later.

ATOMIC ROBO: THE KNIGHTS OF THE GOLDEN CIRCLE #1 (Red 5, 2014) – Somehow I failed to collect this series when it came out. The premise of this miniseries is that Robo has been sent back in time to the Old West, I assume because of whatever Dr. Dinosaur did at the end of the previous volume. This should be a fantastic premise, but it’s really not; this issue is basically just a litany of Wild West cliches, with few genuinely funny moments.

SHUTTER #6 (Image, 2014) – Prior to reading this issue I read issue 5 on my Kindle, but I’m not reviewing it here, because these reviews are only for comic books that I have read in print form and that will be stored in my boxes. I realize that’s an arbitrary distinction, but whatever. In Shutter #6, Kate and Christopher spend the whole issue running from Shaw, and Christopher shoots Shaw’s henchman in the chest with a shotgun, which is one of the more disturbing moments in the series. And then Kate and Christopher are attacked by a giant antlered dragon with a skull head. It was at this point that I started to see why Tof Eklund compared this series to Saga. Both Shutter and Saga take place in a world full of bizarre and unexplained phenomena belonging to multiple literary genres, and both of them rely heavily on shock value – like, every issue of each series contains at least one massively shocking moment.

At this point I went back and read Shutter #7 through #11, all previously reviewed.

SHUTTER #12 (Image, 2015) – This issue explains Prospero’s origin: they’re a cabal of secret manipulators who are collectively responsible for everything that’s ever happened in human history. And then they ask Kate to join them and she refuses, and they erase her from history, which is depicted in a fascinating way. In a series of five panels, Kate turns from a fully colored drawing to a black-and-white sketch to a pencil sketch and then to a thumbnail, reversing the creative process. She wakes up in Venice, with no memory but determined to kick some ass. This issue is an excellent conclusion to the first story arc.

SHUTTER #13 (Image, 2015) – This issue begins the second story arc, and introduces two new characters: Madam Huckleberry (who we haven’t seen much of yet) and Kate’s twin brother The Leopard. At this point, I was really starting to get into this series, but I didn’t have the energy to read any more of it.

And here are reviews for comics I read starting on October 2. This was a rather light week.

REVIVAL #33 (Image, 2015) – Dana does not appear in this issue, which focuses on Martha’s life at the Farm. It also introduces some new characters: an interracial lesbian couple with a young son. It’s a bit of a letdown from the extreme tension of the last few issues. I found myself thinking that if Janae is having trouble writing about food, she should interview some of the local Hmong people about their food practices. I probably had this thought because I just used a chapter of Kao Kalia Yang’s book in my food studies class.

ZODIAC STARFORCE #2 (Dark Horse, 2015) – This was probably better than the previous issue. I’m having trouble distinguishing between the characters or keeping them straight, but Kevin Panetta writes some good teenage dialogue. Kim, the one with hair over her eyes, is easily my favorite character in this series.

ARCHIE #3 (Archie, 2015) – This was an excellent issue, though I was so exhausted and busy on Saturday that I wasn’t able to enjoy it much. This issue breaks with tradition by depicting Veronica as a truly awful character with no redeeming qualities. It occurs to me that Betty and Veronica are kind of similar to Applejack and Rarity respectively, except that Rarity is a far more positive character.

JEM AND THE HOLOGRAMS OUTRAGEOUS ANNUAL #1 (IDW, 2015) – Maybe the most exciting comic of the week. Some cute and funny writing from Kelly Thompson, and some entertaining film parodies. This issue provides some useful insight into Aja and Shana, who have been overshadowed by Jerrica and Stormer. My one complaint is that the “Jem Wolf” segment could have been funnier; there could have been more wolf jokes.

TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE #45 (IDW, 2015) – The highlight of this issue is the first page, which depicts a bunch of panels from previous issues of Transformers: Scavengers, a comic that never existed. The nonexistent comics summarized depicted here include one about a planet that turns speech into song, and another one about a two-dimensional world. In comparison to that, the rest of the issue is a bit disappointing. It focuses on some Decepticons who are hiding from the DJD, and the Lost Light crew does not appear.

FROM UNDER MOUNTAINS #1 (Image, 2015) – This debut issue is very disappointing. It’s a boring and unoriginal high fantasy story with crude-looking artwork. After reading this, I chose not to order issue 3.

SHUTTER #14 (Image, 2015) – One cool thing about this series is Leila del Duca’s ability to imitate lots of other kinds of comics, and this issue is a good example: it starts with a two-page spread drawn in a manga style. Later in the issue, Kate and Leopard meet their grandfather Nero, and we learn that there are seven total Kristopher siblings, including three we haven’t met. One of the backup stories is a one-pager by John Workman which appears to be an homage to Jeff Jones.

SHUTTER #15 (Image, 2015) – This issue begins with Kate and Nero’s acid trip, which includes one page that depicts Leila del Duca drawing Shutter. Then we’re reintroduced to some of the characters we haven’t seen in this story arc, including Christopher, Shaw, and Alain. At this point I’m finally caught up on this series, and while I don’t agree that it’s the third best comic on the market, I see why my friend Tof Eklund loves it. I’m looking forward to #16.

SANDMAN: OVERTURE #6 (DC, 2015) – Otherwise known as “Cynical Cash Grab Comics #6.” I suppose that’s unkind, but I still feel that Neil could have used his time more productively than by returning to Sandman yet again. However, JHW3’s artwork this issue was as stunning as ever. I continue to be amazed by his ability to draw in many different styles and even to blend multiple types of artwork in a single page – an example of this is page 3, which includes random Kirby machinery, realistic drawings of Sandman and Hope, and lots of other stuff. It was lovely to see Delirium again, though I don’t think I’d like piggables either. I don’t understand who Glory is – I assume he’s based on a real person, but I don’t know who. (Surprisingly no one has produced annotations to this series yet.) One of the best moments in the entire series is Glory’s line “But perhaps her name will be there for you, when you need it most.” I love this because it explains the reappearance of the line “I am Hope” in an earlier issue, and it adds an extra layer of depth to Sandman #4. It’s pretty cool that the main story ends with an actual panel from issue 1. In the epilogue, when Desire has the idea of getting Dream to kill a family member who’s also a vortex, she must be referring to Rose Walker.

SAVAGE DRAGON #207 (Image, 2015) – I have put up with a lot of crap over the last few issues of this series, but this issue is the last straw – it begins with a scene of Angel and Mr. Glum having sex, and then there’s another such scene later in the issue. Mr. Glum was Angel’s pet when she was a little girl, and I think this might even be the same Angel who appeared in the early #100s of this series. (I’m not quite sure of this because I don’t think anyone, even Erik himself, understands the relationships between the parallel worlds in this series.) On top of that, this story depicts both Angel and Mr. Glum as horrible mass murders and tyrants. This comic has always relied on shock value and deliberate excess, but Erik has lost all sense of restraint or good taste. I’ve had enough. I’ve already ordered the next two issues, but #209 will be my last issue of Savage Dragon.

SANDMAN #18 (DC, 1990) – “A Dream of a Thousand Cats” is one of the best issues of the series, mostly because cats. There are some lines in this story that grate on me when I read them again, like the cat’s description of her lover. But in general, this story is a fascinating exploration of the difference between what we think of cats and what they think of themselves. I suspect Kij Johnson had this comic book in mind when she was writing Fudoki.

ATOMIC ROBO: THE GHOST OF STATION X #2 (Red 5, 2011) – I just read the trade paperback that contains this issue, so I’m counting this as a comic book that I’ve “read.” The original issue includes a couple of pinups that aren’t in the TPB.

INVINCIBLE #27 (Image, 2005) – This issue continues the story with Nolan and the insect planet, but what’s almost more interesting is the scene on Earth, with the other superheroes battling a villain called Omnipotus. One of the cool things about Invincible was its large supporting cast, which included a lot of weird and nontraditional superheroes. It’s too bad that Kirkman decided to have Robot kill about half of these characters.

ACTION COMICS #370 (DC, 1968) – This is a surprisingly fun issue (and also my copy is in unusually good condition). “100 Years… Lost, Strayed or Stolen!” is a story that takes place during baby Clark’s flight from Krypton to Earth. According to this story, Kal-El landed on another planet where he grew up, got married, had a son, and then was deaged back to a baby. This is impossible to accept at face value and is probably best forgotten, but it’s unexpectedly poignant – it reminds me of the Star Trek episode “The Inner Light” (which I don’t think I’ve actually seen, come to think of it). The backup story has some very cute art by Kurt Schaffenberger, but a ridiculous plot: Supergirl falls in love with a man who turns out to be a complete heel, but feels obligated to marry him anyway because she already accepted his proposal. The unanswered question is why Supergirl agreed to marry this obviously horrible man in the first place.

And now, for the first time in several months, I have no unread comic books that still need to be reviewed.

Comics Evangelism: Strategies for Encouraging Students to Love Comics

This is my MPCA/ACA paper: “Comics Evangelism: Strategies for Encouraging Students to Love Comics.” The accompanying Google Drive presentation is here: https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/15kXKesL24EfZNo7Zr-9yPlDW9jXFfmCLI_8TU7lGAQ8/edit?usp=sharing

I’m grateful to the conference staff for willing to accommodate my rescheduling request. I was supposed to give this paper on Friday but that time was unworkable for me because of my teaching

So this paper is called “Comics Evangelism” and it’s about how to get students to love comics, especially if they don’t come from the demographics that the American comics industry has historically targeted. To explain my personal stake in this, I’m a visiting assistant professor in rhetoric and composition at Miami University, and I previously taught at Georgia Tech and I received my Ph.D. from the University of Florida. One of the primary reasons I became an academic in the first place is because I have a lifelong passion for comics and I always wanted to read and write about comics as a profession. Since getting my Ph.D., I’ve taught primarily composition, ENG 111 and 112, and I’ve used comics in nearly every course I’ve taught. I’ve worked with widely varying student populations. And I’ve found that all these student populations have vastly different ideas and expectations about comics, and approaches to teaching comics need to differ accordingly.

So the challenge I face when working with these different student populations is how to get them to share my love of comics. These students are never going to love my topic as much as I do, except in a very few cases, but I want them to at least understand why I love comics so much and to see why comics are relevant to their future academic and professional lives. Surprisingly, this is basically the same challenge faced by a professor who tries to teach Shakespeare or Milton or Cervantes or whatever. There is a common perception that comics are an easier subject to teach compared to more traditional forms of literature, because comics are fun and because students naturally gravitate to them, but this is only partially true; among some students there is a surprising amount of resistance to comics. This is partly because of apathy and also partly because of cultural prejudices that say that comics are for social misfits. SLIDE Also, again surprisingly, some students believe that in English class you’re supposed to be reading things like The Great Gatsby and To Kill a Mockingbird and Ulysses, and they feel disappointed when they learn that they’re going to be reading comics instead. So getting students to love comics is a harder task than you might expect. So this presentation is a description of how I’ve tried to adapt my comics pedagogy, not always successfully, to overcome students’ resistance to comics and to encourage them to love comics. It’s going to be based mostly on anecdotal evidence, but hopefully it will be useful to others who are in the same position. And in this presentation I’m basically taking it as a given that you want to teach comics, and I’m not going to discuss why you might want to do this – the question I’m asking is, assuming you do want to teach comics, what’s the best way to get the students excited. And I realize that this may not necessarily be a safe assumption because this panel is mostly about television and so it’s possible that some of you are not interested in comics, but if you want to know why teaching comics is a good idea in the first place, I’d be happy to talk about that afterward or in the Q&A.

And I’m going to proceed by discussing various different types of students and how you can adapt your pedagogy in order to reach them. I can’t say that I’ve always implemented these recommendations successfully myself, so this paper is partly a description of what I should be doing rather than what I actually do.

Now in a class focused on comics, perhaps the easiest group of students to work with is what we might call the comic geeks, the students who already know everything about comics. This type of student might already read comics outside of class and might have signed up for your class specifically because it’s about comics. At Georgia Tech I had a lot of students like this; at Miami, significantly fewer. Now with these students, you don’t need to worry about encouraging them to love comics, because they already do. The first thing to keep in mind is that even if students already have a deep knowledge of certain types of comics, that knowledge is often limited. Students who are already comics fans are much more likely to have read Captain America or Thor or The Walking Dead than Fun Home or Persepolis or Maus, which are the kinds of texts that are usually taught in comics courses at the university level. With students who already think they know about comics, your job is to expose them to other kinds of comics and to expand their knowledge of the field. The other important consideration is to not allow these students to dominate the discussion and to make sure that the other students know what they’re talking about. Don’t let the class become a dialogue between you and that one student. Like, if one student starts talking about the new female Thor, you need to ask them to tell the rest of the class what they’re talking about.

Now there are other students who don’t specifically read comics but who are interested in other areas of what we might call geek culture, such as video games, anime, and science fiction. And at Georgia Tech, students like these represented the bulk of my domestic students. Again, these students tend to be fairly easy to reach because they’re already predisposed to be interested in comics, and they often are glad that they get to read comics for English class because they could have been reading something much less interesting. At Georgia Tech, obviously, most of the students are going into STEM professions and English may not have been their best subject in high school.

But when I moved from Georgia Tech to Miami, I encountered a very different student population in which most of my students had no knowledge of or interest in comics at all. At Miami, I encountered many students who had no particular interest in geek culture and who had literally never read a comic in their lives – at least they didn’t think they had, and I’ll explain that point in a minute. Many of these students have internalized the prejudice that all comics are superhero comics SLIDE and that all comics fans are like the Comic Book Guy SLIDE. Also, these students are often skeptical about the notion of studying comics in English class. ENG 112 at Miami is called Composition and Literature, and when these students hear “literature” they think of books that consist entirely of words with no pictures and that you read because they’re good for you, not because they’re fun. I assume that’s because this is the view of literature that their high school teachers have drilled into them – and also they’ve been told that you need to read Shakespeare and Hawthorne and Wordsworth as preparation for college English courses. As a result, these students are often surprised by the idea of an English class that focuses on comics rather than traditional literature, and they don’t necessarily believe that comics can be educational. Last semester I asked my students what they thought about using comics as a teaching tool in elementary school or high school, and some of them said that they didn’t think this was appropriate because English class is where you read things like Shakespeare and Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

So the first and most obvious way to deal with this belief is to explain the pedagogical rationale for why you’re using comics, and this is something I haven’t always done effectively. It’s useful to say, like, we’re using comics because of what they teach us about multimodal communication, or because comics help us interrogate the concept of literature and expand our understanding of what literature means, which is the way I’ve been trying to frame it this semester. But another important move to make is to realize that most students already do read comics, they just don’t realize it. If you ask a random domestic Miami student what his or her favorite comic is, the most likely answer will not be a comic book like Superman or Batman or Watchmen SLIDE, but a comic strip like Calvin & Hobbes or Peanuts or Fox Trot. It’s just that students don’t always identify comic strips and comic books as the same thing – they don’t realize that Calvin & Hobbes is a comic book in the same way as Superman is. Also, they believe that comic strips like Calvin & Hobbes are only for kids, even though empirically this is not true. And I think this is a common cultural prejudice. In Raina Telgemeier’s autobiographical YA comic Sisters, she includes a scene where she at fourteen years old is talking to her cousins Josh and Jeremy, and she says she likes comics, and Josh asks “Yeah? Like Batman, Hulk, X-Men?” and Raina says, “I like Calvin and Hobbes, For Better or for Worse, Fox Trot” and Josh replies “Pssh. Those aren’t real comics.” So her cousin believes that only superhero comics like Batman and Hulk are “real” comic books, and comic strips like Fox Trot or For Better or for Worse are fake comic books, they’re just for girls. And many people have internalized this mentality, which is an example of a fairly widespread mentality which says that only the types of popular culture that appeal to men are truly valid. This is the same logic that says that chick lit and chick flicks are not “real” literature or “real” films. SLIDE I think this perception is going to change because currently young adult comics are extremely popular, and in a few years, many students will have grown up reading the work of Raina Telgemeier and Kazu Kibuishi and Cece Bell. And even superhero comics are becoming much more diverse, as I’ve talked about elsewhere. But for now, there is still this prejudice that “comics” only means superhero comics which are only for boys. So the important thing to do here is make students realize that they already read and enjoy comics, and that the comics they already read are just as valid as what they think of when they think of comics. And that the analytical skills they already have from reading Calvin & Hobbes or Garfield can be applied to longer examples of comics. Similarly, lots of students read webcomics like xkcd or Cyanide & Happiness SLIDE, or websites like The Oatmeal or Hyperbole and a Half that blur the lines between comics and other kinds of texts. SLIDE I would guess that far more students read webcomics than printed comics, and even if they don’t intentionally seek out webcomics, it’s basically impossible to avoid seeing webcomics on social media. And again, these students need to realize that those are just as valid examples of comics as anything else.

A related issue is with international students – this semester I’m teaching a significant number of international students all of whom are from China. Now these students also have preconceptions about comics, but those preconceptions are completely different from those of domestic students. My knowledge about the comics scene in Mainland China is rather limited, and so I don’t know what specifically these students are likely to think of first when they hear the word “comics.” But in a Hooded Utilitarian blog post, Nadim Damluji writes that “besides […] a few rare exceptions, there aren’t any contemporary Chinese artists producing comics. However, this doesn’t mean that Chinese people aren’t avidly consuming comics on their iPhones and knock off iPhones alike. You see, the comics that are popular in China aren’t made in China, they’re translated Japanese imports.” And I have the impression that that’s true of my Chinese students – that the comics they’re likely to be familiar with are things like Naruto and One Piece and Attack on Titan. SLIDE There is a substantial comics industry in Hong Kong and I have no idea if my Chinese students are familiar with those kinds of comics.

Now here again it’s important to have some basic familiarity with and openness to manga, because the prejudice I mentioned earlier, about comic strips not being “real” comics, applies to manga as well. Among American comics fans and even journalists and some scholars, there is a widespread lack of knowledge about and/or resistance to manga. As Shea Hennum points out in an article called “What Our Failure to Cover Attack on Titan Says about the Comics Industry,” “Book after book continues to regularly dwarf the sales of Marvel and DC output … but their success is overlooked. Regardless of how many units are sold, Marvel and DC are mainstream and everything else is “other.”” And manga is perhaps the most common victim of this sort of othering. The antidote to this mentality is just to realize, and to reassure students, that comics are a global phenomenon and that North American and East Asian comics are two different versions of the same thing, and that as with comic strips, students can apply the analytical skills they’ve learned from reading manga to reading American comics. It’s important to have an expansive view of comics and to communicate that view to your students.

And another part of that is to have a basic knowledge of comics on a global level. Here’s an example of why that’s important. In class the other day, one of my students mentioned that he wanted to write his paper about a comic book called “Clump Hair” and I Googled that phrase and couldn’t find anything, but then he told me that it was about an orphan growing up in Shanghai in the ‘30s, and I Googled that phrase and realized he was referring to Sanmao, a very famous Chinese comic by Zhang Leping. SLIDE This comic has never been translated into English but I’ve heard of it because I’ve read about Chinese comics. So just doing some basic research can help you understand what your international students are talking about and can also help you build a rapport with them.

So again, I haven’t always implemented all these recommendations successfully in my own classes, but I think the basic recommendation here is that you need to be open-minded about comics yourself in order to be able to share that open-mindedness with your students. And next semester I will try to adopt this approach when I teach a section of ENG 122, Popular Literature, with the topic of Graphic Novels and Comic Books, and I’m excited to see how well that works out.