The Three Comic Book Commandments

I went to a college known for giving students a lot of reading.  The main library stays open until 11 on Friday and Saturday nights.  If that wasn’t enough, there were five bookstores within walking distance of campus.   The best bookstore of the bunch was in a church basement that was so big and so confusing it had a map.  

 

So here I was in book paradise, where everybody had opinions on books down to which translation of the Iliad was most legit and which edition of Shakespare’s plays had the best commentary.  But no kinds of books could get us as worked up as comic books could, and it was comic books we were trading with abandon, not different versions of Troilus and Cressida.

 

As passionate readers, we realized that books can do many things, including feed the soul.  Comic books fed our souls.

 

We were not “smart” with comics the way we might be “smart” with Heidegger.  We did not underline, post-it note, highlight, or read with a lens for character or theme.  Instead, we just read.  And after we read, we traded.

 

Comic books (or graphic novels, I use the words interchangeably) are a crucial part of my reading life, and I urge you to make them a part of yours, too by honoring three comic book commandments:

  1. Resist temptation to privilege text over image in conversation with students.

 

 

I can hear a well-intentioned adult telling a teen, “It’s great that you’re reading The Walking Dead, but when are you going to read a real book again?”  Similarly, I cringe a bit when teachers suggest that graphic novels are a good book to read when a student left a book at home.  When we say things like this, we send a message that graphic novels are not considered legitimate forms of literature.

 

Similarly, students may be afraid to pick up a graphic novel because they fear you or others will judge their reading choices as “too easy.”

 

  1.  Read at least two graphic novels this year.

 

If you’re a graphic novel newbie, I’d recommend reading Nimona, American Born Chinese, and March: Book Three, which have all received major literary awards.  If you want a list of recent greats for kids  and teens, I’d recommend the Cybils Awards lists and YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens lists.

 

  1. Pick up some graphic novels for your classroom library.

If you don’t already have a collection, I encourage you to start one this year!

 

Amy Estersohn is an English teacher in New York, and the best translation of The Illiad is from Robert Fagles.

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4 thoughts on “The Three Comic Book Commandments

  1. adventuresinhighschoolworkshop February 16, 2017 at 7:33 am Reply

    Those are great titles – some of them I know and some are new to me. My students have really liked Palestine by Joe Sacco, so I book talked his latest one this week.
    Our learning commons has a pretty great collection of graphic novels, so I try to include one in each themed selection if I can. I also try to add novels and memoirs written in verse when possible.
    I did a “boarding school” theme and the graphic novel I wish I’d added to it was Supermutant Magic Academy, but I got it into this current selection. 🙂

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  2. […] new learning happened to coincide with a recent blog post by Three Teachers Talk about appreciating the literary merit of comic books, and also appreciating that some of our […]

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  3. adventuresinhighschoolworkshop February 15, 2017 at 12:09 pm Reply

    I am feeling the same way about graphic novels. They are out of my comfort zone, but it’s important to meet students where they are and not make them come to me.
    It’s funny – I’ve been doing themed book talks this semester, and tomorrow’s theme happens to be female superhero comics (I draw the themes at random). I posted a pic of the collection on twitter if you are interested.
    It was easier to collect a bunch of books on that topic than I had anticipated
    Also, as I put books into my other themed collections, I do try to add graphic novels and memoirs. I just did one on “setting in the Middle East” and it was quite easy to get some great titles for that one. The fact that I’m in Amman probably helps, but there are a bunch of great ones. Happy to share titles – I put them on twitter, and occasionally on my blog.
    I love that you are bringing attention to the graphic novels. I just had a conference with a student who was passionate about a couple of them that he read recently, and it helped me to see their value. As someone who used to think that the canon was where it’s at, it’s nice to have that validation and push that other types of books are still really great literature and worthwhile reads.

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    • estersohn February 16, 2017 at 7:23 am Reply

      You can also do a graphic novel inquiry around perspectives on the Middle East and cultural exchanges.

      Sarah Glidden is a Jewish American who has traveled to Israel and other places. Joe Sacco is a Maltese American. Both draw emotional, political nonfiction.

      Ozge Samanci wrote DARE TO DISAPPOINT about growing up in Turkey.

      Ms. Marvel is a Pakistani American living in Jersey City.

      And those are just graphic novels from major publishers … I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the more indie comix publishers had even more perspectives!

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