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A brief history on comics in education...


Note: The following transcript has been edited for coherence. Excessive "ums", unnecessary "likes”, and the like have been removed for your convenience. Fragmented sentences and missing words have been edited to make the podcast transcript more readable.


[Opening Music]


Stergios "Sterg" Botzakis - @sbotzakis

The University of Tennessee Knoxville

Email: sbotzaki@utk.edu

Blog: Graphic Novel Resources

Website: https://utk.academia.edu/StergiosBotzakis

Podcast: Comics Alternative

Judge: Excellence in Graphic Literature Awards

That’s a frustrating thing because I hear it all the time, "Comics aren't real reading." And it's like, what is real reading then?


Dani

When something's for kids, it's automatically assumed that it's easy or simple.


Sterg

I mean, it's the history thing, and it is, I think, what it is.


Ashley

By positioning the text, we are positioning the readers as well, and not positively.

Dani

Hi everyone. Welcome to Reading in the Gutter, a podcast that bridges the gap between comics and education. I'm Dani Kachorsky.


Ashley

And I'm Ashley Dallacqua. Thanks for joining us.


Dani

We do not have Laura Jiménez with us today. We are out at a literacy research conference, and she isn't in attendance, but she is still with us in spirit, I think.


Ashley

That's right, here in Tampa.


Dani

Also with us today is Sterg Botzakis.


Sterg

That's right.


Dani

And we're going to be talking a little bit about comics and why they seem to be rejected in educational settings oftentimes. Before we get started, Sterg, do you just want to tell us a little bit about you?


Sterg

Sure, sure. I'm Sterg Botzakis, Stergios, if you want the whole thing. I'm at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where I'm a professor in theory and practice in teacher education. And I work with middle and high school teachers in general, content-area literacy, middle-grade literacy, literature, graphic novels, and pop culture. Those are my areas that I'm passionate about and do research and teaching about.


And I've been reading comics forever since I was a wee lad, which was a long time ago.


Dani

All right, so since you've been reading comics for a really long time, and I know the first time we met, we talked about our own personal experiences as readers and kind of being shut down, so what is it about comics that you think that educational settings seem so unopen to?


Sterg

When I was a kid, my parents were both immigrants, and they didn't know a lot about American schooling, and we didn't have a lot of books in the house. And it's one of those things where I eventually became an educator, and I took all these children's lit classes, and there were books I didn't read until I was like 20, like Bridge to Terabithia or Dr. Seuss books, because I never read any of these when I was a kid.


And I almost held back in kindergarten because I didn't know my sounds. I remember in kindergarten, we would sit around a circle, and everyone would be holding letters, and you had to do the sound. And I got some sounds, but I didn't get other ones. Like I remember E, short E, I never could do that sound. And if you couldn't do the sound you had to go sit in a goose pot in the middle, and that was me.


Dani

That sounds awful.


Ashley

Oh.


Sterg

I wasn't a fan of that teacher. But they wanted to hold me back, and they decided not to, but I remember getting to first and second grade, and back then they had the Peanuts paperback books. And I would read those, read, I'm doing air quotes.

Ashley

Hah. Wow.


Sterg

Yes, I know. I’m kicking myself for the air quotes, because I think-


Ashley

You’re a comic scholar, man.


Sterg

Right, right. It's like you read the pictures.


But that's kind of my entree into it. And then I went on to other parts of reading. Those are more respected and more valorized. It’s expected that you can start with comics, but you'd better go to books without pictures.


Dani

Quote-unquote real books.


Sterg

Right, "real books."


Ashley

Yes.


Sterg

Right, and that's a frustrating thing because I hear it all the time, "Comics aren't real reading." And it's like, what is real reading then? Because those are the things that got me into reading, but then you expect them not to.


And I remember... This is a horrible story. When I was in fifth grade, I remember we had to do a book report and we were all doing things, and I remember one kid did a Garfield Treasury. And I remember distinctly because at some point the teachers were... The teacher had like a partner-teacher next door, and they were talking. It was fourth grade, actually, not fifth grade, when I think about it. My fifth-grade teacher is off the hook. But I remember them, they were next door to each other, and they would talk. And I remember they were talking about in general this one kid who was kind of like a problem kid, I know.

But at some point when they were talking about the book reports, the one teacher leaned in and said it in a whisper so none of us heard, but I totally heard. And she was like, "Have you read a Garfield book?" She was saying it in a derogatory way, like, "Okay, he did a book report, but he did it on like a fake book or an easy book."


At this point, that's like more than 30 years ago, but I think that sentiment persists. I work with teachers now, and a lot of them still think of comics as something that are easy or just for kids. And that's a hard thing to shake off, I think, in America, because of… I mean it’s a history thing is, I think, what it is. It used to be when comics first came out there’s statistics that 95 or 96% of children read comic books. Almost every kid read comic books--boys, girls, across racial demographics, across everything. Kids read them—from little kids to teenagers. I mean during World War II that was one of the major exports. If you Google “soldiers reading comics,” you can find lots of pictures of GIs reading comic books from the time. And it was not considered childish. And comic books then had different genres. There were westerns and horror books and true crime books and romance books and-


Dani

Yeah, I pulled up... So Gene Yang has a website where he details the history of comic books, and according to what he's written here, is in the 1940s, an estimated 95% of all eight- to 14-year-olds and 65% of 15- to 18-year-olds read comic books. And he's citing, I think it's Sones or Sones, 1944. It's just, it was everybody.


Sterg

Oh yeah. And that's the thing. Part of it was the technology available at the time. Most people didn't have TVs.


Ashley

Right, that’s entertainment.


Sterg

And you could go to movies. But those were kind of it for you. And so comics were something that were cheap. And one of the other things about comics, partly why the old comic books are worth money today, is because kids would read them and then they would swap them. So on average, I think each comic book was read by seven kids. So that's why they're all ratty and worth money, because not many of them survived, because not made of like good paperback then. So kids swapped them and like, "I read this one and then I'll trade you for that one."


But what ended up happening is that in the early '50s there was this rise in juvenile delinquency, or maybe it wasn't even a rise, it was just an unawareness of juvenile delinquency. And then there were Senate trials.


Dani

There's more juveniles.


Sterg

Yes.


Dani

Right, that was a relatively new concept.


Sterg

Because it was the front end of the baby boom, is what it was. There were more kids, so the ones that caused ruckuses stood out. And then there were Senate hearings, and there were Senate hearings on a number of things. They started on movies, honestly, and what the end result was, it's a rating system. And that's why we have G and PG and R and X, because they came up with, "Okay, there are movies. We need to regulate which ones kids can see and which ones kids can't see."


And that was fine. And then a few years later, there was a similar type thing with comic books, because the demographics that you cited, 95% of the young kids reading them, and 65% of older kids read them. They're like, "Oh, the comic books are what's making these kids crazy or wild." And they found the whipping boy of a comic book. The boogeyman is Fredric Wertham, who wrote-


Dani

Good ‘ol Seduction of the Innocent.

Ashley

Yeah.


Sterg

Exactly.


Dani

Which is very like... Just the title of it, like you can't disagree with it, because you're like saying it's cool to seduce the innocent.


Sterg

Oh yeah.


Dani

It's just so sensationalist.


Sterg

It was. And-


Ashley

Bad research.


Sterg

Yeah.


Dani

Well, is it Carol Tilley? She debunked him in 2012.


Ashley

Yeah.


Sterg

Yeah. He picked the cherry-picked examples.

Ashley

Yeah.

Sterg

And he was a psychologist working with troubled youth in New York City, so he saw lots of tough cases, but he-


Dani

It was like Bellevue or something.


Sterg

Right.


Dani

The most cliché psychiatric hospital name in the world.


Sterg

Right. And he just decided, "Okay, what's in common in all these kids? Oh, they all read comic books. So the comic books are what's making them nuts."


And he got into all these weird... If you read it, Batman and Robin is a homosexual fantasy, Superman is a fascist fantasy, Wonder Woman is a weird sex fantasy, and all the-


Dani

He's not entirely wrong about that.


Ashley

Yeah, I was going to be like “hmmm, well…”


Dani

Kinda, kinda is on that one.


Sterg

But [Wertham's] whole thing was like... It's the same thing that some people talk about with video games now. Like, "Oh, they read a comic book, and then they're immediately going to do what they read in the comic book."


Ashley

And be delinquent.


Dani

And that's all new media, right? Every time something new comes out, that's the thing. It's happened with television is corrupting the youth, the comics corrupt the youth, video games corrupt the youth. Like what was it? Music for a while, Marilyn Manson was corrupting the youth.


Sterg

Rock and roll.


Dani

Oh yeah.


Sterg

Can't show Elvis's hips, because that would ruin people.


Dani

Yeah.


Ashley

Yeah, well, yes, it's abuse out of convenience, right. Like you can talk about the Lesko arguments of like how we position youth to be problems to solve.


Sterg

And if you think about, I mean, the one I like to talk about is like, if you go back far enough, Socrates thought that reading and writing were actually bad.


Dani

Hmm.


Ashley

Yeah, yeah. Right... You wouldn't be able to remember it.


Sterg

That's right.


Ashley

Yeah.


Dani

Everything that's new is the problem, you know?


Sterg

Right. But the end effect is that there were Senate hearings. And so Wertham was like star witness number one. And the guy William Gaines was the big witness for the comic world. And he took too many speed pills and he crashed. So he was great before lunch and after lunch he was a mess. And he was defending like a horror cover with a decapitated head and-


Ashley

Wow.


Dani

Make smart choices, people.


Sterg

And he was talking about how it was in good taste, because he could have showed it from like underneath, the bone sticking out and the... You know, he kind of went in a different direction.


Dani

Definitely didn't help the argument.


Sterg

No. And what happened was instead of... What they made was a rating system that was the movie system, except for it was driven by, honestly, market interests, and certain publishers got their way. And instead of like a PG, G, R type thing, there was just basically a G rating. And that was the comics code which was on all the comics. And we weren't allowed to show violence or authority being questioned. They outlawed... You weren't allowed to have a zombie, a werewolf, a vampire-


Dani

Anything supernatural, right?


Sterg

No.


Dani

Yeah, that was all gone.


Sterg

No monsters, no blood.


Dani

Because if you read about a vampire, you will suddenly become one.


Sterg

And so because of that, comics basically became for kids. And that was in the '50s, and we've been living with that since. Well, we have been living with it, even though the code went away in the mid-'90s, where publishers didn't really care about it anymore.


But in America, I think that because of that rating system, that's at least part of the issue, is that people think comics are for kids. There's always been people that have tried to push, even since then. There were the underground comics. There were the people doing independent comics and trying to do their own self-published graphic novels. But none of them were as prominent as... Everyone knows who Batman and Superman and--


Dani

They weren't mainstream.


Sterg

Right. So that's all considered like... And I don't think they did themselves favors, especially the underground comics people. They were all like sex and drugs and violence, and they were kind of wearing it as a badge, all these like-


Ashley

Yeah, they wanted to be subversive.


Sterg

Yeah. And at the time that the general society wasn't going to be accepting that in the '60s.


Ashley

Right. Right.


Sterg

There was still a very large conservative just kind of mass of people. But that thinking that comics are for kids has just latched on, and it's still something we contend with.


Dani

And that's an interesting thing to think about, is that when something's for kids, it's automatically assumed that it's easy or simple.


Ashley

Yes, and no complexity.


Sterg

Right.


Dani

Yeah. And we know... well, maybe we didn't in the '40s, I wasn't around then. But maybe we know that the things for kids are complicated and complex. I've done a lot of work with picture books now, and they're insanely complicated.


Ashley

Absolutely.


Sterg

Right. I think part of it also has to do with that one notion is that comic books are for kids. That was one. So they thought it was that.


Two, I think there was just a general maybe ignorance of what exactly happens with pictures, because there was such a focus on the cognitive aspects of reading and what reading is. Reading was looking at words. Reading was decoding words and tracking print.


Ashley

Right.


Sterg

And so one of the first research studies that's like a real legit research study, who I cannot remember the authors right now, but it was done in the '40s, and looked at kids tracking print. And what they concluded was that reading comics was a potential cause of linear dyslexia, because kids reading, if they started watching the pictures, it would stop their--


Ashley

... reading process.


Sterg

Right. So they wouldn't be tracking the print left to right in the appropriate, I'm doing air quotes again, the appropriate way.


Dani

We’ve had this problem before with the air quotes, yeah.


Sterg

But that's part of... That started, so pictures become something... Now we talk about multimodal and you read pictures, and you can read a story with no words in it. But back then, I don't think that they said that. And Wertham said… They didn't know how to conceptualize it, or they didn't conceptualize it the way we do now, because Wertham looked at that, and he said that comics were too spicy. And if you read comics, they were so like out there and bombastic that when kids tried to read more sedate types of prose, their tastes would be ruined, basically, because they were used to getting all the spicy reading, that then when they got their like regular reading, it would just seem bland and non... Like they wouldn't connect with it at all.


Dani

Okay, so it's really interesting that you brought that up, because it reminds me of the things going on with Bill Maher this past year, about how if you're a comics reader or into the comics movies, you just aren't invested in good literature, by which I assume he means like old, dead, white guys that are part of the literary canon that we all know and love from our high school experiences.


Sterg

Scroll me up with some Hawthorne.


Dani

So it's the same stigma for years and years.


Ashley

And I also think too, because a lot of this is focused on how we position the text, but by positioning the text, we are positioning the readers as well, and not positively. Like, well, if you like this, then you can't like that.


Dani

Why can't you do both?


Ashley

Like how could you have a complex reading taste? And it's so frustrating.


Sterg

And part of that, there's a book that's called... Oh, what's it called? The Immediate [Experience]? Something like that. I'll find that too and send it along. But there was a writer, in a different way, talking about his kid reading comics. And they were catching on to the thing that we know now, when we talk about new literacies and multimodal reading. His issue was kind of... Wertham's thing was that it was too spicy, and it was going to ruin them. His [other author] thought was that when they read comics, when you look at a picture, you suck it in and kind of intuit things from it more immediately. And so because of that, it doesn't give you the time to sit and ponder and reflect in a way that maybe reading traditional print text does.

And so nowadays we would say that's a good thing, actually. It's that you look at it and there's more of an immediate response and immediate comprehension. It's just quicker.

Dani

It's like your visual fluency.


Sterg

Yes, right, right. But instead of thinking it as fluency or something where it's like I'm comprehending a picture and doing it quicker, they looked at that as a negative, like it's not good that you know something quick. And then instead of quick, it becomes easy.


Ashley

Yes. Quick equates with easy.


Dani

Yeah, there's a big difference there. But what we want most from our young readers is for them to read quickly and fluently and accurately, whether they comprehend it or not.


Sterg

But without pictures.


Dani

Right, but without pictures.


Sterg

Right, because if they're reading with quickness, it's almost the pictures are a crutch. That's what they think. It goes back to that linear dyslexia thing. It's like, "They're just distracting you from the real words, which is the real thing."


Dani

Or they're there to serve the words, right? Like if you can't figure out what the word, look at the picture, right. So it's like first is text and then this image.


Sterg

Which defeats the whole purpose of comics, because I think what makes comics good is that it's a combination of words and pictures. And the best comics meld them both together in a way that you need both. And it doesn't work just by reading the words or just by looking at the pictures. You have to do both, and it makes a certain effect.


Sterg

And my own experience with adult people who read comic books is that... What I found is that most of them are not struggling readers, which is this whole myth, not myth, but there's a whole kind of perception that comics are only for kids who struggle. And what I found is that there are a lot of people who read comics who are actually very capable readers. It's just that they want something that comes out of that combination of words and pictures to fire up in their brain. It's pleasing to them, or engaging to them, or somehow their preference.


Ashley

Yeah, well, and also if we're going to position young readers who are skilled at reading comics as bad readers. Even if they struggle with conventional text, doesn't mean that they're-


Dani

Bad.


Ashley

Poor readers. You know, bad readers. Quote. Oh, air quotes, air quotes. Bad readers. Exactly. Because you have different skillsets. Yeah, it's about how we label our readers, too.


Sterg

Yeah, and it's about the kinds of texts there are.


Ashley

Yeah, yeah.


Sterg

It's like you just bump into that same cannon issue that we've alluded to, too. It's like, okay, there are certain books that are acceptable, and there are certain books that aren't. And people are okay about making those distinctions, because like there's the good book list, which is random and not necessarily holding true. And what was a good book 50 years ago is not necessarily a good book nowadays.


Ashley

Right.


Dani

Or relevant.


Ashley

Thank God.


Sterg

Like it's the arguments that people have with YA lit, like, "Oh, is that worthwhile?" Because it's contemporary or those issues. They deal with the same things. It's like, "This is easy, this is pandering to their interests."


Dani

Ultimately, if you're not the traditional literary canon, if it's not Shakespeare and Faulkner and whatnot, then it's not real reading.


Sterg

Right.


Ashley

Right. Will they be able to survive in the world if they don't have this under their belt?


Dani

With Cliff Notes.


Ashley

Yeah.


Sterg

Yeah, right, and you've got to be able to identify the Christ figure and all the conflicts and, yeah, you maybe do a character map, maybe a subplot map.


Dani

Summarize, stand in front of the class and read your summary. Ugh, no.


Ashley

[disgusted, scoffing noise]


Sterg

Yeah. But that's, I think, something that comics or graphic novels or whatever are part of. There's good ones and there's bad ones. We don't teach every book. Even some good books are not good books to teach on the surface, because of the context or the audience or the topics or whatever you want to talk about. I think it's hard, actually, as a teacher, to teach something that you love, because it's hard not to take it personal[ly] if people have different opinions, you know? And then you're like, "Ugh," get all hurt about it, so it's like, "Ugh, how dare you talk about my book that way?"


Ashley

What do you mean you don't like it?


Sterg

Yeah.


Dani

Yeah, we talked about that.


Ashley

We talked about that in the last podcast. Like, that you're teaching for them to love it, not to learn from it.


Sterg

Yeah. I think that's part of what we should do, but the issue is not everyone loves the same stuff.


Ashley

Yeah.


Dani

Which is okay.


Ashley

Yeah.


Sterg

Right. And that's my argument with why comics? It's not like I think everything should be comics or graphic novels, but I don't think everything should just be books either. Find what you want and what works for you or what you gravitate towards.


Dani

And that you shouldn't be deprived of the opportunity to get that interest because of the stigma. Like if you are in an elementary or middle school or high school classroom and you want to read a comic, it shouldn't be a bad thing.


Sterg

Right.


Dani

You should be able to have all of those opportunities, and be interested in reading YA or Shakespeare…

Ashley

Absolutely.


Dani:

…or whichever issue of Spider-Man is out that week.


Sterg

Sure. And I feel hopeful in some ways, because a lot of graphic novels are getting awards in places…


Ashley

You’re right.


Sterg

…that weren't specifically for graphic novel[s].


Ashley

Yeah. In Albuquerque public schools, they've started school libraries, so culturally relevant texts. At every grade level, they've got a handful of really great comics and graphic novels. That did my heart good, to see that that was happening organically.


Sterg

And nowadays I think it's very helpful because there's such a variety of diversity and voices and who's represented, especially in graphic novels.


Ashley

To see, yeah, being visible.


Sterg

I think kids can see themselves literally in them, or learn about other... It's the whole windows and doors thing. Even though they can see people that aren't like you, you can see people that are like you, more so than ever.


Dani

Well, I've seen three or four publishing company announcements in the past few months that they're opening imprints for children's graphic novels or middle-grade graphic novels or whatever the case may be. So the market is tending towards that. It's just education is not necessarily catching up with it.


Sterg

Right.


Ashley

Yeah.


Sterg

Although I'll be curious see, maybe five, 10 years from now, what the teachers... Because right now, if I talk to teachers, it's like 50/50.


Ashley

Same with me. Or they don't see it as bad, but they feel unprepared.


Dani

Or that they can't, because whatever the adopted curriculum controls what they do every day. So you can't choose to feature the graphic novel because it's not part of the...


Sterg

But going forward, I think we are more likely to have people who have read comics as young people, because the Raina Telgemeiers and the Dog Man books the Dav Pilkey books, a lot of kids are reading those. And a lot of adolescents are reading the books that are out there now. And there are like First Second and Random House and all these companies that are making... Even DC has a whole line of YA comics coming out.

Ashley

They do.


Sterg

So I think I'll be interested to see, in five, 10 years, I'll be teaching my comics class, and there'll be like, "Oh, we know all this."


Dani

Like, "You don't need to explain what a gutter is to me. I know."


Sterg

Right, right. And that's good, in a way. And my only fear is that it turns into a new canon of like, "Okay, we can read graphic novel, so we're going to read Maus, we're going to read Persepolis, we're going to read American Born [Chinese]," which are all good books, but there are so many books out there. And it's like, we can have some variety.

Dani

So if we're recommending for teachers to use comics and graphic novels, but we have this stigma and these issues still, what kind of recommendations can we make for them about how to start approaching bringing these into classrooms and removing that stigmatization?


Sterg

Honestly, right now I think the best thing they can do is, in counter to what I just said about a canon thing, but they need to work those award-winning books. Bring something like March. This won a National Book Award. This is a relevant historical story.

My fear with them is that... What I've seen so far is that a lot of teachers like bringing adaptation, like graphic novel adaptation of a classic work of literature, which sometimes-


Ashley

There are some good ones.


Dani

And there's a lot of bad ones.


Ashley

A lot of bad ones.


Sterg

And my thought with that is it's the same thing that happens with movies. If you see a movie having read the book, usually you say, "Whoa, the book was way better." And it's the same thing. If you get a graphic novel version of a book, most of the students will say, "Oh, I like the book because it's got more in it."


Dani

I think that that's kind of a framing issue because one of the things that I like about different variations or instantiations of narratives is what they can do differently.


Sterg

Sure.


Ashley

Yes. I've been talking about that with a group of students. So you can see which one you liked more, but let's think about how they were approaching this differently.


Dani

Right, because with film, you can't... I mean, now they're like 18-hour-long things, but most movies were around 90 minutes, and it's really hard to bring something that was 400 pages into a 90-minute visual sequence. So just you have to make decisions, and I think that's the interesting conversation to have.


Ashley

I agree.

Dani

It's like, why did they make this decision with the movie version? Why did they make this decision with the graphic novel version?


And we've done a little work with the picturebook, Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which was conceived first as a picturebook, but actually produced first as a film. And then there's an app. There were two apps, but the augmented reality one is gone now. And that was interesting because it was also... We had different experiences as researchers, depending on which one we viewed first. But that was what the conversation ending up being about, it was like what do they do differently? And all three or four being valuable.

Sterg

There's a graphic novel I read last year, or in this past year, it's an adaptation of Anne Frank's diary. It's like gorgeous, and done in lots of different ways. But the guys who did it... I'm not going to say it was like the storyboards were, but they're also making it an animated adaptation. Same people, and it's the same people who made, I think it was called Waltz with Bashir. That was also a graphic novel and then an animated movie.


Dani

Well, yeah, there's an animated movie of Persepolis too, right?


Ashley

Yeah.


Sterg

Yes, right. And so different versions of the text. I think that's interesting, like you say, because those are the best adaptations, the ones that do things differently or are very thoughtful about the medium in which the story is being told.


Dani

Who writes The Odyssey, Gareth Hinds?


Ashley

Oh, Gareth Hinds, yeah.


Sterg

Yeah.


Dani

His are very lovely adaptations.


Ashley

Yeah, thoughtful.


Sterg

Right. And that's one of the ones I usually point to, because I think the first teacher I ever worked with, that we worked with adaptations, it was The Odyssey one. I think it's very well done, and it's great to introduce graphic novels. And it didn't really run into the issue of, "Okay, this one's better than that one." Because I think it all goes back to, one of the problems in education in a way is that there's this thought, like, "We're going to cover it and it's like you absorb the totality of things," or whatever.


So it's like, "I read that book and there's this, and I see this version and this version less because I already absorbed it, and it was great in this format." And it's like you said, depending on the timing, whichever one you see first might color the other one or seem better than the other one.

Talking about the points that you are, it's like we should be looking at how it's crafted and how it's adapted to that medium and how it's represented. It's not one is better than the other necessarily. I mean, you might have preferences.


Ashley

Oh sure, you can have preferences. That's great.


Dani

Yeah, it's all about personal taste, right. We have things we like, and that's okay.


Sterg

Yeah, yeah. But in education there's like this, it's like, "We read it, I got it," kind of thing. And it's like you don't get that love aspect in there. Like when you read something in high school or middle school, it's not like, "Oh, I love The Scarlet Letter." It's like, "I know what The Scarlet Letter is about." Maybe it's more about The Scarlet Letter than... It's a hard book to love.


Dani

All right, so then would we sum up by saying that we think teachers, if they're going to use adaptation, should talk about multiple versions and how they work differently?


Ashley

Yeah.


Sterg

Right.


Dani

And focus on the award-winning books or graphic novels, because their administration's probably not going to be like, "No, you can't do that one." Because you can be like, "Pulitzer Prize."


Sterg

Right, right.


Ashley

Yeah, yeah. I think also, then if they're going to have an appreciation for the translations and versions, I think taking some time to learn and oftentimes demystify the structure. I have found it's really helpful with teachers and administration if you can go to the page and break it down and look at the work that you're doing so quickly, and realize that the quickness does not equate to easiness. That I have seen, like the light bulb and the first switch of like, "Oh, I see what's happening here, I had no idea," and that that starts to shift perspective as well.


Dani

Yeah, I think seeing, almost like in real-time, that level of work that you have to do, and showing that it's complex and critical is, I think, really important.


Ashley

Yeah, yeah. And then I think that helps, then, for them to know how well the medium is taking up the stories or adapting them or working with, yeah.


Sterg

Yeah. In the end, I think that's the best advice we can give people, is to read them, to see what they're about, and also to be really mindful about what adaptation they are going to pick. Not the biggest line would be like, "Oh, this is the graphic novel version of this book that I'm teaching, and I'll just order it and push it."


It's like for some of these books there's multiple adaptations. And I recommend people shop around, and then preview them, and get them in beforehand, and see which ones are well done. Because it's like you said, some of them are... There's a lot of just fly-by-night, not well-done adaptations, where it's just like, "All right, we'll just do some pictures and come up with dialogue."


Ashley

Yeah, six panels to a page and just keep going, yeah.


Sterg

Yeah, right. And it looks very generic.


Dani

There's one series where it's like they've adapted classics, but there'll be three graphic novels of the same story but they're written at different reading levels. I forget what company does that, but it's terrible.


Ashley

I haven’t seen that one.


Sterg

I've seen those, yeah. Because there's like the really low level, and then usually the advanced one is like they literally just take the text from whatever the book is, and just kind of put it in dialogue bubbles.


Dani

Right, so it's like if it's Shakespeare, it's in the original Shakespeare. But it's also a lot more text as you move up the reading level.


Sterg

They're very good at shopping it, because they're like, "This is differentiated, you can give it to your low-level students and your high-level students."


Dani

Yeah, again, back to stigmas.


Ashley

Yeah, yeah.


Sterg

Yeah.

Dani

All right, so we're ending every episode with recommendations of comics and what we're reading. So what's everybody looking at these days?


Sterg

We're talking for kids or for adults or what?


Dani

Kind of whatever.


Ashley

It could be anything, right?


Dani

Yeah, we've had a really wide spectrum so far.


Sterg

Okay. I just read a book called Blood and Drugs. It was put out by Birdcage Bottom Books, and I think the guy who did it was named Lance Ward.

Dani

Not for your first-grade classroom.


Sterg

Not for your first-grade classroom. It's got 12 chapters to kind of echo the 12 steps of recovery.


Dani

Oh, that's interesting.


Sterg

And it's about an artist who has destroyed his life with heroin, and he's trying to put it back together. And it's really rough to read, but it felt very like real. I'm not going to say it's like a happy book, but it's hopeful in a lot of ways. I literally just read it a couple of days ago, so it's really fresh in my brain right now.


Ashley

Yeah, yeah. The book that's most fresh in my brain right now is the one I'm probably going to talk about later this afternoon, but the Lowriders series.


Dani

Oh, I love those.


Ashley

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth I think is my current favorite of the three that are out right now. So it's by Camper and Gonzalez, and they're just stunning and just so complex, and Lowriders to the Center of the Earth, in particular, the ways that they use the Spanglish and the historical and cultural Hispanic narratives throughout.I found in the students that I've been working with that just really connected to them. I love the Bic pen on the parchment feel to it. Yeah, they're great.

Dani

Got a student for final papers writing about the first one. She's really excited about it.


Ashley

Yeah, a lot of people shelve that one elementary, which I think can work, but I've done it with high school students too because that volume, in particular, is just really thick. And even the high schoolers debated who is this book for? Because there's a lot, there are so many layers and allusions throughout the whole thing.


Dani

I use picturebooks in my high school classroom.


Ashley

Oh, yeah.


Dani

Even though we shelve them in certain places, I don't think that they are necessarily for just one audience.


Ashley

Yeah, yeah.


Sterg

Right.


Dani

I'm reading Buffy [the Vampire Slayer], the new Buffy.

Ashley

Nice, nice.


Dani

Just picked up all the Hellmouth ones, because they're doing a crossover between Buffy and Angel, and I love it. But it's like my '90s childhood that's coming back to me, I think. They even have, it looks like David Boreanaz and Sarah Michelle Gellar on the covers.


Ashley

Right, that's great.


Sterg

In my '90s young adulthood, I was Buffy, so-


Dani

Buffy's awesome.


Sterg

... I might have to check them out.


Dani

They're pretty good. I've been pleased with them. The art's a little weird sometimes. The covers are a really high modality, but then inside sometimes it's like they're, not cartoony, but just sort of flattened. And I'm not sure how I feel about that yet, but I'm obviously reading them, so I don't care that much.

[Closing Music]


Dani

All right, well, that is it for episode four. Thank you, everybody, for listening, and we'll talk to you next time. Thanks, Sterg, for coming on.


Sterg

Thanks for having me. I'm glad to do it.


Dani

For more information about Reading in the Gutter and resources related to comics and education, visit our website www.readinginthegutter.com or follow us on Twitter @RITGPodcast.


Special thanks to Dr. Stergios Botzakis for his contributions to this episode. For information about where to contact our guests and contributors, please visit the episode transcript on our website.


Reading in the Gutter is a podcast that is produced in a personal capacity. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed are solely those of the individuals involved and do not represent those of their affiliated institutions.


Post-production for this podcast is provided by Dan Perrine. Our intro and outro music was provided by the Alibi Music Library and licensed through PodcastMusic.com.


#comics #graphicnovels #perceptionsofcomics #historyofcomics #stigmas #notrealreading #becomingacomicsreader #fredricwertham #comicscodeauthority #comicsandcomplexity #comicsforkids #awardwinners #literarycanon

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