Monday, May 12, 2008

Supergirl Interview & Princess at Midnight

Interview: Landry Walker of Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade

Sarah broke out the happy dance when I told her that Little Gloomy and Super Scary Monster Show super team Landry Walker and Eric Jones were going to do a new Supergirl comic. Sarah has always loved Supergirl, but has had a hard time finding reading material featuring her favorite superheroine: “I read a couple issues of Justice League Unlimited that she was in. She’s the girl Superman, and she’s just as good, so why don’t they make more books about her?” When I showed her the character design, she felt like DC must be doing this just for her! So, naturally, she had questions for the writer, Landry Walker. And, yes, Sarah really did make up all the questions herself.

Sarah: Is she gonna have normal girl problems, like friends and stuff, or is she gonna be just fighting crime and villains and stuff?

Landry Walker: Mostly normal problems, but normal problems as seen through the eyes of someone with a new set of super powers. Not so much crime, but she will also have an enemy or two.

Sarah: Where's her school, on Earth or somewhere else in the universe -- 'cause it's called 'Cosmic Adventures.'"

Landry: Earth. But there will be a bit of 'cosmic' in the book, too. And of course for Supergirl, Earth is a strange and distant alien world.

Sarah: Will it be one big story or will it be six different stories?

Landry: Kinda both. If we do our jobs right, each issue should be able to be enjoyed independently. However, there is a progression from issue to issue.

Sarah: Will it look like Little Gloomy -- will she have a big, cute head and a little body?

Landry: When we had our first meeting with DC, Eric produced three different drawings of Supergirl. One in a similar style to the Little Gloomy and Kid Gravity material, one as a more adult version, and one that is basically what we're using: the somewhere in-between style, more akin to traditional western animation.

Sarah: Will there be new characters that aren't in the other Supergirl and Superman comics?

Landry: One of the nice things about doing a DC book in the Johnny DC line is that we're not beholden to continuity, so we have the option of having familiar characters appear in unfamiliar ways.

Sarah: Will Carl be in it? He could be a dorky kid at her school that likes bunnies or something. (Note: Carl is a character from Little Gloomy. He’s a cthulhu and he likes bunnies and cookies.)

Landry: Carl is everywhere. No one can deny that which is Carl.

Thanks to Landry for making a little girl very, very happy. Check out Super Scary Monster Show (which was just released in trade), Little Gloomy, and Kid Gravity – Walker and Jones are two guys who get how to make comics for everyone. And shhhhhhhhh…don’t tell anybody, but they’re working on animation.

Review: Princess at Midnight, by Andi Watson (Image)

Tracy: I have to admit up front to an Andi Watson bias – I love pretty much everything he does. Part of it is probably because I have been an Anglophile since childhood and Watson’s work makes me feel all British inside. I’m so hooked on Glister that I keep both volumes on my nightstand and re-read them nightly. So, of course, I love Princess at Midnight. If I look at the book objectively, take off the Andi Watson-colored glasses, I have to say, it’s still fabulous, and the girls think so, too. I actually tried to discourage them from reviewing this because we reviewed Glister fairly recently, but they liked it so much they insisted.

Shelby: Holly and Henry are twins. They were born early so they were immediately hooked up to oxygen tanks and that is why their dad home schools them – he’s overprotective because of that. Holly’s always bored; Henry is competitive. When Holly goes to bed every night she wakes up as the princess of Castle Waxing. She decides to go on a picnic, but the Horrible Horde are there so she declares war. When the cockatrice crows at Castle Waxing it’s time for the princess to go to bed, and then Holly wakes up at home and begins her boring day at home school with her dad. I liked the art because it’s cute and it’s simple but it’s shaded in a kind of odd way, but it works. It looks a bit three-dimensional and two-dimensional at the same time. I like the way that Holly’s dad is talking but you can’t exactly read what he’s saying because the speech bubble isn’t big enough to fit all the words. It kind of tells you that Holly isn’t listening to him. I like the story because it’s original and it’s funny at times and it’s kinda weird at other times. I think everyone would like it because there’s entertainment for all ages.

Sarah: I liked the pictures and the story ‘cause it was very interesting. I like the pictures ‘cause they weren’t exactly perfect – it looks kind of rough, like a dream would be. It’s really cool. I liked the story ‘cause she had many different types of emotions; at one point she was calm and happy, sometimes she was angry, sometimes she was kind of sad, sometimes she was frightened and stuff like that. The characters that are in her world are really funny. I think probably everybody, even boys, would like this book. The girls would like it because it’s about girl power and stuff and it’s a good story. Adults would like it ‘cause it’s a good story. And boys would like it because of the surprise ending.

Tracy: A twist on traditional children’s fairy tales, Princess at Midnight is almost like something I remember from my childhood, only better. I would so love to be the Princess of Castle Waxing and give the Horrible Horde a good drubbing. Who wouldn’t? I can empathize with the overprotective parents’ fear of sending their fragile little ones into the big, bad world, while at the same time feeling Holly’s frustration at being smothered by her parents and annoyed by her little brother and needing an outlet, even if it’s in her dreams. Kids will enjoy the sauciness and strength of twins Holly and Henry, while adults can tarry awhile in a world that evokes the best kind of childhood.

The war against the Horrible Horde is mostly fought with mud and rocks that never hit anyone, so violence isn’t a problem – though Henry does take a nice soccer ball to the face. The final showdown against the most horrible of the horde involves much displaying of weapons (The Flail of Wailing and the Breadknife of Strife being my favorites), but no actual wielding of said weapons. Watson’s dialogue will certainly stretch most readers’ vocabularies – praetorian, cacophony, annihilative, and baneful all appear on the same page – so some adult assistance with the text may be required. I’d say Princess at Midnight is a must-read for anyone who likes good stories, be they kindergartner or college student, mom or dad, Princess of Midnight or Rendslaughter Sinewsplitter the Third.

Kid-Friendly Comics News and Notes

Owly Lesson Plans
Andy Runton and his mom, Patty, have written a great set of Owly lesson plans. If you’ve at all wondered, “How can I use comics in my classroom?” this is a great resource to get you started! At first glance the lessons seem to be for younger students, but as I read through them I could see that almost every lesson could be quickly adapted for use with many different grade levels, from Kindergarten to high school. The booklet includes some wonderful illustrations and student work pages drawn by Andy. And it’s all FREE! Download this great teaching guide here.

Riverside Reads
Scott Tingley of Comics in the Classroom has a new project:
What happens when you take a classroom full of comic loving kids, give them access to a web designer, art supplies, a giant stack of comics and a government grant? You get Riverside Reads, the newest comic book website, created almost entirely by kids, for kids.
"My students have just launched a web-publishing site for their comics, stories and reviews and I couldn't be more excited!" states Comics in the Classroom EiC Scott Tingley. "The purpose of the site is to get kids excited about school work in general and the whole process of writing specifically." The site will feature brand new, original comics created by Tingley's third grade class. Each kid will have the chance to contribute original comics, original artwork, reviews of existing comics and stories in various forms.
This is a great example of innovative teaching using comics. Check out the site for the kids’ interview with Andy Runton of Owly and their Free Comic Book Day reviews. Congratulations to Scott and all the kids!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Unpublished Interview about Kids and Comics

Months ago, I did an interview for a book about All Ages comics that has not been published. I recently re-read it and thought it might be of interest because it covers a lot of ground, so here it is.

Please tell me a little about yourself and your role in comics and books.
I came to comics fairly late. As a kid, I can remember reading Asterix at my grandma’s house and a few Donald Duck comics, but not much more than that. About 5 years ago my best friend, who has always been a comics fan, got me started on Fables and I was hooked. I think I’ve been to the comic shop almost every week since then! Once I started bringing home comics, my two daughters wanted to read them too, but most of what I was reading wasn’t suitable for them. So we all went looking for comics and graphic novels that we could read together. The hunt continues to this day. I’m also a teacher and I’ve seen how comics can change a reluctant reader into a rabid reader in a very short time. I’d like to see it happen for more kids.

What are some of the reasons that comics for kidsand "all ages" have made a resurgence in the pastdecade or longer?
In the beginning, comics were seen as only for kids and it was mostly kids who read them. When those kids grew up, they wanted their comics to grow with them, so the cry became, “Comics aren’t just for kids anymore!” Now, as the folks who grew up reading comics become parents (and grandparents) themselves, they want to share their love of comics with their children. I think the people having the biggest influence are the creators. A lot of people who write and draw comics want to reach a broader audience and want to write for their own kids. Interestingly, librarians are one of the biggest forces at the other end – they’ve seen the way comics draw in reluctant readers and are clamoring for more high-quality all-ages work for their children’s collections. The popularity of manga is certainly another influence. Kids feel like they’ve discovered a whole new type of reading! Once they are comfortable with the manga format, it’s not a far jump to American or European comics and graphic novels.

Do you believe this resurgence will soon peak andfade, or are all-ages comics here to stay?
I think that the comic format is here to stay, but maybe not in the way we are used to. Graphic novels and books that are a hybrid of prose, illustration, and comics will probably be the way this generation gets their comics, not the traditional, serialized, pamphlet-style books that most people think of when they hear “comic books.”

What do you think about the role the Web andwebcomics play in the lives of kids and teenagers?
Webcomics just aren’t on the radar of any of the kids we know. Most kids use their computers to play games, do homework, or keep in contact with friends, but not to read for pleasure.

How do you address concerns over the content ofcertain graphic novels/manga with parents, teachers,kids, etc.?
This is the biggest challenge. At this point the only thing I can say is that adults should read the material first to determine whether it is suitable for kids as there really is no other reliable way to tell. One of the reasons we write our column is to address this issue and let parents, librarians, and teachers know specifically what is contained comics and graphic novels that we believe are all-ages.

Do you believe comics publishers should adopt astandard rating system similar to the one used in thefilm industry? Or are we already overclassifying thesebooks?
Ratings systems only work when they are specific and consistent. Right now, each publisher has its own system, so something that is rated “Youth 7+” by one company might be very different from something rated “All Ages” by another publisher. Archie and DC (the Johnny DC line) are using the Comics Code and those books are certainly suitable for everyone, as are the Disney Gemstone comics. Beyond that, it really varies. I’ve read plenty of books labeled “All Ages” that contained just a few inappropriate words or images which lead me to not recommend them for children’s libraries or classrooms. Some people wonder what the big deal is –prose works don’t have ratings, so why should comics? There are three reasons that a standardized, voluntary rating system would be beneficial to comics and graphic novels. One, it is a visual medium and it’s much easier for a child to be exposed to inappropriate material just by flipping through a comic than a prose novel. Two, many of the creators who are making “all-ages” comics and graphic novels are not children’s book writers and sometimes are not aware of what most parents, librarians, and teachers would consider “inappropriate” for kids. And three, some librarians and teachers are looking for guidance on shelving graphic novels appropriately. Honestly, it’s not the kids that I’m worried about – they hear those words on the playground – but the parents. All it takes is one word in one book to create a lawsuit, a media frenzy, and a bad reputation for comics and graphic novels.

What role does/might the reviewer/critic play inall-ages comics?
At this point, I feel like there are two important roles for the reviewer. One is to bring attention to good books that might otherwise get overlooked by the comics press because they are all-ages. The other is to not only talk about the quality and appeal of a book, but the age-appropriateness as well.

What role does/might the librarian, teacher, andparent play in all-ages comics?
Librarians have been instrumental in the rise in popularity of graphic novels. They’ve seen so many kids come in and get hooked who would otherwise not pick up a book at all. I’m hoping that teachers will be the next to jump on board, but it may take a while. Parents tend to be great supporters if they read comics, but otherwise many are still hesitant and don’t see graphic novels as “real” books because they don’t have enough text. I hope we can get parents and teachers to see that comics can be good for kids.

Do you think reading works in the comics form canbe beneficial -- or even detrimental -- to a child'saquiring verbal and reading comprehension skills?
Wordless comics are wonderful for pre-readers. Kids must learn to track left to right and “read” each panel in order, all while becoming familiar with story structure. Young children must move from concrete to abstract in their interpretations of the world; at first a dog is a furry thing that barks, but then children learn that it can be represented by a photograph of a dog, a drawing of a dog, and finally by the letters “dog.” “Reading” the pictures and symbols of a wordless comic is a good intermediate step between the real world of their experience and the abstract world of reading text, where ink on a page conveys meaning.

The comic format can work magic with beginning, struggling, or reluctant readers. First, the text tends to be in word balloons and captions, which are much less intimidating to beginning readers than pages filled with words. More importantly, in my opinion, kids can read much more complex stories than “See Jane run” because much of the story is told visually. Especially for older kids who are still struggling with decoding and comprehension, graphic novels can provide all the elements of literature while supporting their text reading with visual cues.

Accomplished and fluent readers benefit from the comic format as well. Reading comics sometimes requires the reader to be more actively engaged in decoding the author/illustrator’s message than prose. Readers must not only decode text, but also decode the visual elements and symbols, then synthesize the two to “read” the story.

Certainly, graphic novels should not replace prose in a child’s life, but it can definitely be an added element. It’s another tool that teachers can use, just like film or video, computer programs, or educational games.

Creating comics can also be a great tool for learning. In order to write/draw a comic, the creator must be very clear about the story, break it into panels in a way that conveys meaning to the reader, and tell the story using both visual and text mediums. Many times the experience of creating comics helps kids improve their text writing.