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A little about why we're doing this...

Updated: Mar 2

Season 1 Episode 1

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


[Opening Music]


Francisco L. Torres

Comics are one of the ways that children of color can actually see heroes of color actually being agentive, being able to change and fight against injustice, where I don't see that as much in print texts.


Alejandra Ojeda-Beck

University of California, Berkeley

We can't go to school, any school (kinder through high school), and see kids who aren't reading them.

David E. Low - @DLow_Literacy

California State University - Fresno

Website: https://csufresno.academia.edu/DavidELow

Within 10 seconds, I've seen one child wearing a Deadpool sweatshirt and the next one in Batman shoes and they're carrying these books under their arms and talking about the movies that they saw over the weekend and which super power they would have--if they could have a superpower--and they're analyzing the imagery and they're drawing their own. I mean, it's inescapable.

[00:51]


Dani

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

Ashley

And I'm Ashley Dallacqua.


Laura

And I'm Laura Jiménez.


Dani

Alright, since this is our first episode of Reading in the Gutter, we thought we would talk a little bit about who we are, what brought us to comics, to our interest in comics education, and why we are doing this particular podcast. So Ashley, why don't you get us started?

Ashley

Yeah, so I'm Ashley Dallacqua and I am currently an assistant professor at the University of New Mexico, but I have my educational roots in Ohio--OH! So, I came to comics... I did not grow up reading comics. And so, I don't feel like I'm always in the club when people know all the Marvel characters and the backstories, but I loved listening and learning. My first comic was Bone, so Jeff Smith's work--and he is from Ohio, so I think that was one reason I loved it. But my husband--I was dating him at the time--gave it to me, and he saw it as this bridge of…this is something that he loved, and he knew I love to read…that this was something we could read together. And I loved Bone. I loved the whole series, and how complex-- Have you--you've read it?


Dani

Yeah, I definitely have read Bone. If you haven't read Bone, you should read Bone.


[02:23]


Ashley

Go read Bone. It is a great starter comic for so many reasons.


So, I was also in my educational prep and I started teaching fifth grade and I think that's where the comics came in to the educational part is… I put the entire series on my classroom bookshelf and I could not believe how ripped apart, how many times we had to retape the Bone series back together, or how many times I would find it like hidden in someone's desk so they didn't have to share it with somebody. That's what started my interest in researching it and figuring out what else is out there that young readers seem to enjoy so much and that it's more than just... something simple or easy like people like to talk about [comics]--at least when I started reading these in my classroom--that there was really something to it that I wanted to know more about… why my fifth graders are so obsessed with it. So yeah, it was very exciting.


Dani

It's interesting that you say that you didn't read comics when you were younger and that you don't feel like you're part of the club when people talk about all the Marvel characters and history because I did read comics as a kid, and I still don't feel like I'm part of the club in terms of like understanding all of like the DC and Marvel backstories [be]cause there's a billion different storylines and things.


Ashley

Do you, do you think it's because you're a woman?


Dani

It's entirely possible.


Ashley

Yeah. [laughter]


[04:00]


Dani

I also--okay, so I talked to my husband about some of this stuff because I can remember details about universes for fictional universities or whatnot, but he has this thing with sports. He remembers all the stats and everything that this football player did 800 years ago--which I know, football is not 800 years old--but it's the same sort of thing that you'll get sometimes with conversations, especially with male fans of DC and Marvel through all the history of it. It's all of these details and the minutia of it, which I think is wonderful and great, but I--it's just not where I like to spend like my mental energy.

Ashley

Yes. Yes, yes, yes.


Dani

For me, the comic that made me a comics reader was actually Elf Quest by Wendy and Richard Pini. (And if I screwed that up, I'm sorry you guys.) It’s probably a comic my parents wouldn't have wanted me to read because there's a lot of nudity and I was reading it--

Ashley

Yeah, how old were you?


Dani

--when I was in sixth grade.


Ashley

Sixth grade. Okay.

Dani

And it was like the only comic in the local library and they were the hardbound collected ones and they were in full color. So, it was just these elves and it was fantasy and that was--my thing was fantasy, so this was the transitional piece. And then, I picked up all the weird comics. I wasn't a, you know, X-men or Spiderman reader. I was reading Johnny: The Homicidal Maniac in high school and things like that. I really enjoyed Spawn, but got more into the Marvel stuff as I got older for various reasons. I liked the X-men cartoon, but I never read the comic [until] I was much older.


Ashley

Interesting.


Dani

So yeah, I don't--I think that [not] being part of the club does have a little bit more to do with being a woman.


[05:52]


Ashley

So, I think back to too my love of Bone and my love of Jeff Smith and right on the cusp of between my teaching and the research side of things, I went to see a talk with Scott McCloud and Jeff Smith at Ohio State before I really could appreciate--again, if you're interested in structure of comics, Scott McCloud is a great place to start--but they were also filming a documentary on Jeff Smith and Bone and--have you ever seen it?


Dani

No. I haven't.


Ashley

They interview the archivists at OSU at the Billy Ireland Museum and all of these things. But, they were filming there and I was a woman in the audience. And so before they did anything, Joe looked at me and he's like, "they're gonna come for you."


I'm like, "No, do you think?"


"Oh, yes. Oh, yes."


I am in that documentary. I was one of their: "Look, comics are for girls too. There's one here in the audience." Um, yeah.


Dani

Yeah. And I always felt--because I never felt comfortable as like a six or seventh grader walking into a comic book store as a girl.


Ashley

Yeah. Yes.


Dani

And part of it was because if you ask for like an issue of something and you aren't aware of the minutia and you don't know which universe you want the comic from, the criticism that you get--


Ashley

Well, yeah, yeah.


Dani

--at least back in the 90s. I don't--I don't get that experience as much any more, maybe because it's more mainstream.


Ashley

I agree. I agree.


Dani

But it was--it was... Being a comics reader was--especially a girl comics reader--was like a dark little secret that I got made fun of for by the comics people if I went into the store and by like the kids in my class if I was reading them in class. So when I became a teacher, it was important to me to include all of the things that I loved and I felt marginalized for as a reader in my own classroom. So I brought in comics, I brought in graphic novels, I brought in movies, like other pop culture-y stuff. But then watching my kids actually struggle to read comics made me really interested in them as a researcher.


[08:04]


Ashley

Or watching someone who felt like an expert show someone who didn't know where to start. The collaboration that happened there too is really interesting.


Dani

Yeah, I had one girl. This was the only one who would identify as a quote unquote "comics reader", but she only read Manga. She did not like American comics.


Ashley

Yeah, which also sometimes its own club.


Dani

Right.


Ashley

Yeah.

Dani

I would've thought she would've been able to be a mentor when we started reading comics, but since she rejected them so much and was like, "Only manga is the only thing."


We didn't really have--other than myself--we didn't have somebody in the class who was like, "This is how comics work."


The kids have been trained so much to only pay attention to the text that they were ignoring images entirely. And I was like, "You can't do that. You have to look at the pictures. They're there for a reason."


And so that was what made me like, "Why are we struggling to read these things?" And then, when I became a doc student and started all of this journey, that's where I got my interest in multimodality and new literacies and multiliteracies. It-it's our world now.

Ashley

Yeah. Well, it also makes me think too about like the right and wrong ways to read.


I remember sitting down with a group of my fifth graders, and interviewing them about like, "Okay, when you look at this page, where do you start? How do you--can you read this page out loud to me?"


And I remember this one of my really just--I mean they were all really smart, but one of these super smart fifth graders were just like, "Well, I know I'm supposed to start here." And she points at the printed text at the top left hand corner of the page. She's like, "Really? I wanted--I wanted to look here first."


And like how... I'm interested too in how comics can help break the rules that have been so ingrained in what reading is, you know, and that students, that these young readers, they just embody them. Like, "I am supposed to start here." Like, "there's a rule I have to follow."


[10:04]

Dani

Right. And it's even in our standards. I am now a first year assistant professor at Texas A&M--Corpus Christi, so I'm reading the state standards for Texas, which are, I'm not familiar with [be]cause I was a teacher in Arizona and I did my teacher training in California. And I'm not an early childhood person either. I'm a secondary teacher, so I'm looking through their standards.


It's the--you're expected to teach these conventions of traditional reading. You do start at the top left and you go from left to right, and then, you know, the book goes this way and comics tend to disrupt that a lot and they play a lot with design layout and things like that. And with Manga it's because it's from a different culture. We have to flip the book, it goes the opposite way. And that's what's so fascinating about them because they aren't just, they're not just texts, they're not just art. They're also these cultural artifacts. They're transmedial [be]cause fans take these things up. There's movies and TV shows. So there's just--the level of complexity that these things have because they aren't just one thing. And granted traditional models aren't just one thing either, but comics tend to push back, I think, against certain expectations by virtue of what they are.


Ashley

Yeah, I wonder too if that brings it back to the club thing too--of thinking about how precious they become to very particular students. I don't know if they feel like an insider into something when you figure out the ways you can read them, that you need to keep them in the back of your desk so that they just--they get to belong to you. I like the ways in which comics do that for readers too.


Dani

Alright, Laura, why don't you tell the audience just a little bit about yourself?


[12:02]


Laura

So, let's see. I work at Boston University and I'm in the literacy department, which means that I teach teachers how to use books, how to select books, what they can use them for in classrooms. So that's sort of my day job. My research, which is really where my sort of heart and soul of this, lays in two areas and I'm trying desperately to get them together. One is this idea of what it takes, the comprehension of graphic novels. It's different. I've done the research. We know it's different, but we don't know the particulars yet. And so that's one area of research that I'm doing. And then another area of research that I do is I study the representation of mis- and under-represented minorities or communities in children's and YA literature.


Dani

Okay. So did you read comics as a kid?


Laura

No.


Dani

How did you come to comics?


Laura

No, I've actually got a reading disability. And so reading comics never appealed to me as a kid.


Dani

That's interesting.


Laura

Yeah. Which is interesting considering what we're doing with them now. Right. And I'm not saying they're bad for kids with reading disabilities, but I'm just saying that my reading disability does not make it advantageous.


So I was looking around--I was in graduate school and I was looking for a dissertation topic and I had--I really went to grad school to figure out this link between motivation, perseverance, and reading comprehension. And I was interested in doing something with that. But that's like an enormous--I mean, it doesn't sound like it, but that's just an enormous area. I started looking at motivation to read, and at the time--this would have been about, probably about 10 years ago. At the time, people like Sterg Botzakis were just really hitting, you know, The Reading Teacher and JAAL and other places and this idea of comics being easy to read, right? Or, comics being the silver bullet for kids that don't read really it caught my attention.


And so I thought, "Well, that's interesting. If they're easy to read, I should be able to pick one up and boom, boom, boom." And I actually, I picked up Mouse--Art Spiegelman's Mouse the first time and I probably read it in 30 minutes. And when I say read, I'm using scare quotes, right? [Be]cause I didn't really read it, but I blasted through it and I was bored by it. And when I look back, I can't believe it, but it's because I wasn't really reading it.


And then I went and read something else. I think it was probably V for Vendetta and I was like, "This is just dumb and muddy." I did not understand why people kept saying these were easy to read because I was having a really hard time making sense of it.


And so that's where my dissertation came out of this--How do people--how do people literally make sense? How do they make meaning with these images and this text and the sequence and the design elements, you know? There's all this stuff going on. How do they make sense of it? And from there it's just been, you know, every time I do a study, every time I read a study, I think, "Oh, that's really interesting. Here's what we need to find out next." Right? There's always that what's going to be next.


[15:44]


Dani

What about the podcast though? I mean, we have been talking about doing this for a while now.


Ashley

I know. I know.


Laura

So doing a podcast is not something I've dreamed of. It's not something that's going to make my life complete. I've never, you know, I'm not looking for that kind of fame. I'm not sure there is fame in podcasting.


But what I've noticed is teachers have limited time. They have--we're asking them to do so much in their days. We're asking them to change the ways that they do what they do every single day. We're asking so much of them. And I know a lot of teachers that are in the classroom, a lot of my students, a lot of my former students, a lot of my colleagues that swear by podcasts, right. And the format of, "Okay, I can get this quickly. I can do this on my run. I could do this on my drive."


It's a way for them to dip a toe in a new area. I don't think this will ever be the end all be all. I think this is a great place for people to start and I think that that's really important to me...I'm always trying to figure out different ways of reaching teachers and being really cognizant of that limited resource they have that we call time.


Dani

For me, I listened to podcasts and I listened to comics podcast, but the thing--there's two things I've noticed. There are a few academic podcasts where people talk about comics, like the texts, from academic perspectives and they analyze things--like representation and whatnot--in the texts, but it's very text-based. And it seems a little more like if you're an English teacher, you're the one reading the book and talking about it.


And so for me, I wanted to get to this intersection of comics and education and how we can use these things in educational context. So that's what germinated for me to kind of come up with the idea. Why did you want to be involved in this?


[18:03]


Ashley

Yeah, that's a great--that's a great question. Some of it is just because I like and respect you.


Dani

[laughter] Ah, thank you. That's very kind.


Ashley

You're welcome. And so I liked... to think about being able to schedule time to think and talk. It feels like a gift that we don't always get to give ourselves in these spaces to just think and digest and talk.


But also as we've been talking about this podcast, I've started to reach out to people that teach about and use comics and are interested in what's happening in schools and with their students as well. And their enthusiasm back to me about--"Yes, I want to tell you what happened with this book or with these students"--just made me feel very excited about kind of sharing that enthusiasm for comics and how they work with and for teachers, and with and for young readers. I like that kind of perspective of not just about breaking down the text, but what they are doing in these spaces that are very exciting. Like there's--there was such a warmth--


Dani

That's good to hear...that we've got an audience.


Ashley

--to how people were not responded to me when I chatted with them about it. So that felt exciting to me.


Dani

So what do you--what are your goals then for the podcast? What are you hoping that we can do for ourselves, for other people, for our audience, for the teachers that we talk to?

Ashley

Yeah. I think in connection with--one of the things I love about comics is thinking about multiple perspectives and I think that this is a space where we can just enjoy multiple voices and perspectives, I think, that show up in the comics that we read, but also the other people that have interests that are similar and different than ours. And just that collection of voices I think helps to create interesting challenges and tensions and generative discussion. So I'm excited about kind of the breadth of voices that we can get in here: young readers, teachers, things like that. Yeah.


[20:17]


Dani

Yeah. And so I guess that's something we should probably tell everybody who's listening.


Ashley

Yes.


Dani

Some of the things we're planning to do and why-- We are academics, so--


Ashley

We are.


Dani

So we will be talking about these graphic novels and comics from different analytical perspectives and talking about how they work. But, we are also going to be reading research that's been done, talking about how the comics are being used in that research, and the findings of those things to kind of help get this out there. Because a lot of the research that we do, it gets into these journals, and then the teachers never hear about it. And so we're hoping this might be an avenue for them to get to hear more about what they can do.


But we're also hoping to talk to teachers who are doing these things in classrooms and hearing their experiences and why it's challenging or exciting or whatever it is [be]cause sometimes I think we put like a golden ticket, kind of rose colored sunglasses on the research that we do and we don't see the struggle part.


Ashley

Yeah, we hear--we hear the good stories.


Dani

Yeah. And I do think there are some struggles, but when you come out of the other side of the struggle, you have something great too. So we're hoping that this will be a learning space for people who are using these things.

Ashley

And then for me, too.


Dani

Yeah. And for me. So I'm sure we're going to learn a lot from the teachers who come on about what this really looks like [be]cause we have ideas but they're the ones who have to implement all of it.


Ashley

They're on the ground and to stay grounded we need to be in those spaces and respecting those spaces. Yeah.


Dani

And then also we want to talk to the kids [be]cause that's sort of one of the big reasons we're advocating for these things in classrooms is because we think they can do a lot of different things for students. And so hearing if whether or not the students are getting those things or if they even agree with us will be interesting. So I'm excited about all the different kinds of people we're going to be able to talk to. Like you said, voices. Who knows, maybe we'll get some artists and authors on here too.


[22:22]


Ashley

Some other scholars. Just a breadth of voices.

Dani

Alright, ladies and gentleman, that is all for our introductory episode of Reading in the Gutter. Feel free to visit our website, which is ReadingInTheGutter.com. You can comment on the show. You can suggest topics for the show. You can suggest books that you would think we should be reading. And actually, that's the way we're planning to close every episode is with a section we're calling "Beyond Refrigerators".


Ashley

[laughter] Yes!


Dani

Which...we will get into what being in a refrigerator means at a later date on the podcast.


Ashley

Yes. Yes.

Beyond Refrigerators


[23:10]


Dani

What books [...] or what comics we were reading and why we're reading them.


Ashley

Yes.


Dani

So, Ashley, what, did you--


Ashley

Did you have a recommendation?

Dani

Yeah. So one of the things I'm reading now, which would be for maybe--would be definitely for like a high school aged group is a series called Niobe. The art is just absolutely beautiful and so I came to--I discovered the book by looking--by seeing a poster of it at a Phoenix Comic Con and it was like, "I don't care what the story is. That's beautiful art and--

Ashley

I'm reading this.


Dani

I want to read it. And it's been interesting because I am not part of the culture of the people--as a white woman--I am not part of the culture of the people who wrote it. So I'm having to do a lot of research and learn a lot of things so that I can understand some of the interactions between the characters. So it's been kind of a nice way to see how of much of an outsider I am of that culture. And so it's been really interesting and fascinating and it's such a beautiful, beautiful series.


[24:20]

Ashley

Yeah. Yeah. One of the books that I am doing a lot of work with right now that I'm excited about is Yummy by G. Neri and illustrated by Randy Duburke and it-- I feel like I'm late to the party as far as it's been out for awhile, but I'm bringing it to a group of high schoolers who are like, "Thank you for not giving us a sugarcoated book to read. Thank you for the--this is a real book."


And so it's been exciting to read something that students see as such an authentic way to tell a story. And that the text and the visuals of the nonfiction piece feel very believable to these students, very grounding to these students. Yeah, so that's [what] I would recommend.


It's about gang violence in Chicago and particularly one young man who murders his neighbor, but it's an accidental shooting. But there was still a target to the shooting and then his own gang members ended up gunning him down a few days later. So it's a powerful story, but also just very black and white in both literal visual work, but also it really gets into the grays of this narrative and kind of how power is working in these spaces. So that is one that I'm currently very excited about, but it has been filling my brain so much that I feel like that's the one to read today.


[26:05]

Laura

So I'm actually going to recommend a book that I just finished reading maybe a month ago, three weeks, and I immediately blogged about it because I loved it so much. And it's called Photographic. The Life of Graciela Iturbibe. Garciela Iturbibe is a Mexican photographer and I've always loved her photographs. She only did black and white. She did portraits. She did landscape, portraits, gorgeous work, always in Mexico. Although, she did one series in East LA in an area right next to where my grandma lived in East LA, in the white picket area East LA. And so, I've known her work and when I saw that Isabel Quintero and Zeke Peña did this graphic novel, I got super excited about it.


And so I looked at it and the beauty and maturity that they handled her photography. And so it's like a love letter to her photography. It's partly a biography of her professional life and the illustrations that Peña did. He takes some of the elements in her photography and he puts it in the pages that end up leading you to the photographs.


So she has a very famous photograph of a Muxe woman in Oaxaca. And those are--you could or we can talk about being a third gender. And so they are biologically male. They present as women and they live in these towns, mostly they're in Oaxaca. And there's this very famous picture of this woman with a set of iguanas on her head as if she is wearing a halo of Iguanas and it's gorgeous and it's hysterical and it's beastly and it's beautiful. All of these things.


And so what Peña does with that image is about four pages before you see the photograph, he starts giving you hints of the photograph in his illustrations. In the, you know, in the Cactus, you see some iguanas and you see, right? And he does that throughout with all of the work. And so it's a wonderful--


Like I said, it reads like a love letter to that. And I think it was really important for me to see something, you know... There's not a lot of work out there about undervalued and underrepresented minorities that's not about the struggle, right? And it's so important that we see art and beauty and life in, you know, and la vida around our communities. And so that's why I really, really love it.

[Closing Music]


[29:04]

Dani

Alright, well, thank you everyone for tuning in and check out ReadingInTheGutter.com and we'll see you-- You'll hear us, I guess.


Ashley

You'll hear us.


Dani

You won't see us--next time.


Ashley

Thank you.


[Ending Credits]


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 Francisco L. Torres, Alejandra Ojeda-Beck, and David E. Low for their contributions to this episode. For information about or to contact our guest 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 necessarily represent those of their affiliated institutions. Our intro and outro music is provided by the ALIBI Music Library and licensed through PodcastMusic.com.


#firstepisode #becomingacomicsreader #comicsboysclub #girlsreadcomics #teachingwithcomics #obsessedwithcomics #noteasytoread #readingdisability #complicated #multimodal #transmedial #niobe #yummy #photographic

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