Search
  • Season 1

Reading and teaching 'El Deafo' with Dr. Sara Kersten Parrish (Part 2)

Season 1 Episode 3

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]


Dani Kachorsky

In our last episode, we spoke with Dr. Sara Kersten-Parish about the graphic novel, El Deafo, and representations of deaf and hard of hearing in comics and graphic novels. In today's episode, we pick up with part two of that interview with a discussion of representations of deaf and hard of hearing in mainstream comics.

Dani

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


Ashley Dallacqua

And I am Ashley Dallacqua.


Laura Jiménez

And I'm Laura Jiménez.


Dani

So, with the comics, Laura, that you were talking about [in the previous episode], was it No Mercy and Daredevil and Hawkeye?


Laura

No Mercy. Yeah.

Dani

Were the authors or illustrators deaf?


Laura

None of them.


Dani

None of them.


Sara Kersten Parrish

University of Nevada, Reno

Website: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Sara_Kersten_Parrish

Ah.


Laura

None of them.


Dani

That doesn't really surprise me at all.


Laura

No, I know, I know. Dani does not look surprised right now.


Dani

No, but I definitely wanted that on tape.


Laura

I will say that the authors of No Mercy did the most research and they spent time with people who are native ASL users. They presented their sketches of how they were going to produce the comic. And I think they did, they absolutely did, the best. They actually— Much like Cece Bell's book, they had some humor in it. The main character, who is deaf, you look at the back of his jacket, right, and it says, "Deafo." He is multi-lingual so he signs. He uses ASL as his modality, but he's able to write in English so he texts people. And he texts in English and in Spanish. I think the interest in representing the community—the Deaf community—shows in that book. Whereas the other ones, no. They're there as a decoration.


Echo, that's her name. Echo is a sub-story in the Daredevil universe.


Dani

Okay. Yeah.


Laura

Right. You know how Daredevil's superpower is so that he's not really blind?


Dani

Yeah.


Laura

Yeah. Echo's superpower is that she can mimic any physical movement she witnesses, and so she can act and speak as if she is not deaf.


Dani

I don't know about that.


Laura

They were just [inaudible] right now.


Ashley

Yeah. Again, the podcast can't capture our faces, but...


Laura

I know. We need that. We need—


Sara

Hmm. Okay.


Laura

Alright, so Sara, when I described that, what do you think?


Sara

So, she's mimicking deaf people.


Laura

Yes.


Sara

All sorts of issues with that. Okay. Interesting. I need to look this up.


Laura

Yeah. Echo. It's the Daredevil series, but the character's name is Echo. Get it? Echo?


Ashley

Yeah. That's so clever. Ugh.


Ashley

Sara, you've done [El Deafo] with younger readers, too, right? You watched them read it and worked with them?


Sara

Yes.


Ashley

I'm curious about reactions. If there are differences between some of the older readers that you've worked with and some of the younger readers, and how they've approached this book and their perspectives and responses to it?


Sara

Yeah, there's definitely a difference... I've done it with a group of fifth-grade students—only about six fifth grade students, so I definitely want to keep pursuing more younger children.


Laura

I'm sorry. They're hearing?


Sara

Yes.


Dani

Okay.


Sara

Yeah. I would love to do this book with a group of children that have hearing loss but finding them, right, like the whole ethics of me looking for... figuring that out. I need to figure that out. But I'm really curious. Yeah. Sorry. That's just an aside, but I would--


Laura

I wanted to push on that just so that our—not viewers—listeners would know who the participants were.


Sara

Yes. Thank you.


So, they're all hearing and if I remember correctly, only one of them had read a graphic novel before. When I found that, I did somewhat the same thing that I did with my college students in terms of helping set up the novel. Again, I go through the graphic novel format. And I was surprised that only one of the six had read a graphic novel just because [graphic novels] are much more common, more prevalent in elementary schools now. Right?


Laura

Yeah.


Sara

It just shocked me, so I really spent the time going through that, and then, going through picturebooks as well.


But I would say, almost the big[gest] difference, I felt like...with the college students… I think because they had developed those years of experience. They're older, right, so they've had more exposure with people and with different types of people.


I remember my college students having a lot more, "Oh, I know someone who is," or "I have a family member who is," or "I heard of," or "I've seen that." In terms of, they were able to at least pull from some sort of background knowledge around disability, whether it was hard of hearing or deaf people.


My younger students were not. They did not have that. They never expressed that to me. They never expressed that, so because of that, I did notice with the picturebooks, it was harder for them to maybe see and problematize some of the things that were going on in those picturebooks, right?


So, things that my college students and I would have some really in depth conversation about: "Okay, what are we noticing? What [are] they saying about deaf people? Okay, what's wrong with that? What are the words that they're using? Okay. What is good and bad about that? Okay." Because we're—"What picture is being painted?”


I was not able to do that as well with my younger students and looking back, could there have been different things that I could have done? One hundred percent, but that is something—I don't know if I anticipated that.


[The younger students] went into El Deafo with maybe just one clear idea of what deafness was versus with my college students. I had been able to start troubling the waters a little bit for them, and by doing so, I think they were more open to seeing the different nuances in the story, of how she can take away that she was able to explore it.


I had to get a little bit deeper [with the younger students], and we had to go read a couple of chapters together and really dig in, "Okay, what are you noticing? What?"

And they loved the graphic novel format. They absolutely love reading the speech bubbles, reading the panels, reading the narrative boxes. They would constantly refer to those. There's definitely an excitement for them, so I am hesitant to say that their reading wasn't as deep. I feel like that does a disservice to what they could and could not have done. But I do feel like if I had more time with them—Unfortunately, I had a very short amount of time, and it was during a testing period, which made it fairly hard—but they really did[n’t] get into the nuances of a book more.


And another thing I noticed [was] that they spent more time—because they were close to her age, right?—[on] just her normal experiences. My college class never really brought up the sleepover, or being new to a school, or her crush on Matt Miller? Mike Miller. Yeah. They're never really talked about it.


Laura

Oh. The fifth graders...


Sara

My fifth graders, that was what they connected to. I loved that they were immediately able to. They wanted to connect to the sleepover. I remember we spent one whole class period talking about the sleepover. Was it right for her to leave the sleepover?

“Well, that's not how sleepovers are.” “They're watching movies... the girls are supposed to be sitting there and talking together and aren't they supposed to be…” You know?


All of the boys were like, "I've never been to a sleepover like that."

It was interesting to me that they chose to connect to the book on areas that had nothing to do with the deafness.


Laura

Right.


Sara

Right, which I really appreciated. That it was more about Cece being part of that group. Are they treating her nicely just because she's a person, not because she has a hearing loss.


Like, "Why didn't they invite her to more sleepovers? She seemed really cool. Haven't you read the other chapters? You know? Oh, she needs new friends. These friends aren't very nice to her because of how they've been treating her."

It had nothing really to do with her being deaf, where the college students, that was what they focused on.


I don't know if that could have had anything to do it, the way I scaffolded those lessons, but I thought that was really interesting.


And my young kids, they did not like the ending at all. The reason why is because they wanted her to get with the boy.


Laura

Oh, well, yeah.


Sara

I mean, it's such a fifth-grade response.


They're like, "Why didn't you get with him? They just ended and they're friends, but this other girl. Who cares about Martha? I want love.”


Dani

This is a love story, come on.


Sara

Yeah, it was.


So, I think just because of their age, they found a thing to just connect to.

I remember one boy had been in a new school almost every year and he connected to that. He's like, “I understand the bubble of loneliness because I've often been new in a school.” He didn't necessarily see it as a bubble of loneliness because she was deaf. He saw it as a bubble of loneliness [because] she's in a new school, new environment. “I've been there too so I get that.”


So, I thought it was really interesting. I think it speaks volumes of the book.


Laura

It does.


Sara

Just that they were able to find those connections that had nothing to do with disability. That they were able to say, "Yes, I see myself in this story, too." And it had nothing to do...


They all have hearing, you know? But, "I saw myself in this story" whether it was from-


Laura

And again, it's just another point. This is not--


Ashley

Yeah.


Laura

--a story about the Deaf community. And it's our—and I'm saying “our” meaning the three hearing people here, right? It's our inability to understand that Cece Bell is more than one thing, that the story is more than about her deafness.


Sara

Correct.


Laura

And I think the kids saw that.


Sara

Yes, I agree.


Laura

Yeah.


Sara

Yeah. Here, let me pull out the book. Yeah, that would be the big difference I've noticed between the age groups in terms of teaching it.


Laura

Love that they didn't think it was fair that the girls didn't include her more.


Ashley

Yeah.


Sara

Right? Right?


It's exciting to share this book with people, because I don't think... Just the different ways that you can get into the novel, which is what I wrote about. Just all the different layers of narrative that are in there. I think that for people who especially aren't familiar with graphic novels, it’s just sort of astounding the different ways that you can get in there.


Yeah. And for students to be able to say, "Oh I saw myself in this book."


Like you just said, Laura, that it's not about this one particular Deaf community. You know, that in a way it’s about belonging. Yeah. I thought it was interesting.


Laura

And again, she's writing a memoir. It is her story. It's not in service of a community. It's her expressing her experience, although it's not something that most people go through, right? But you were able to connect with it, and on a very personal level, because this is very common. This was basically your experience, like you said.


Sara

They're both interesting. That both groups, that the older students and the younger students, sort of then used me as a means of fact-checking. It was really interesting. For instance, the bathroom scene when [the graphic novel] talks about the little box in the bathroom. For both groups [asked], "That really happened?"


I had to go, "Yes, I've had that happen to me." (Sorry, middle school teacher.) I had that happen, so I had to be, "Yeah I've had that happen." So, yes, it was really interesting and there were a couple of things…


I had some students [ask], "Is it really like this?" or "Can this really happen?" Because they were still, again, whatever their conception or beliefs were about that challenge. They're like, "is it true, is it true?" Yes, because it's a memoir. But, because the characters are rabbits, it does... Some people can be very confused by that possibly. No, there's true information in this.


So, it was interesting [that] both group of students definitely fact checked some of these things in here that she did. For the most part, I was able to go, "Yeah, I've experienced the exact same thing.”


Like this time with the teacher, 100%. Like when the teacher leaves the room and the students get loud: “Oh, she's coming back you guys.'" I totally did that in elementary school.


It was just really funny to me to be like, "I can give you guys my personal experience of having also worn a phonic ear in this setting."


Laura

And a warning to teachers. Turn off the mic.


Dani

Right.


Sara

I had a few teachers take them home. They would forget they were wearing them all day because they got so used to it. They'd take them home and they would be like, "Oh wait a second."


But, yeah. Anyways.


Dani

Have you ever got any pushback from students while reading the book?


Sara

I honestly don't think so. I do sometimes wonder if as much as I try to remove myself… I try not to share too much of my own story before we read this.

Students did know I'm deaf when I read this, and as much as I try to allow that open space, if also they go, "Okay, we can't possibly say anything negative."


But the youngest, they have pushed back about, like I said, the ending, and they had pushback about just a few of those little things in a story. But that's the extent of the pushback I've got in terms of working with students younger and older.


So yeah, I would be curious, like Ashley, has read the book with her students, like if they've had [pushback], if they would be more vocal about, “I don't like this.” But I haven't really gotten that.


Ashley

I've taught it only with university students, and this is a book I like to start classes with just because it's such a great example of [a] structural graphic novel. The ways in which Cece takes up the structure, I think, I just really like.


Laura

Yeah, and again, mostly hearing students?


Ashley

For me? Yes.


I have had one other student a few semesters ago who wore a phonic ear and I think had a similar [experience] when she got that book. She walked up to me, and was like, "Oh my gosh." And then gave me a hard time for leaving the room with the phonic [ear] because I was wearing it, and left the room. It's just like, “Come on, Ashley, you know better.”


Dani

We just did this in the book.


Ashley

Yes, I do know better. Yeah.


But only one student, so mostly with hearing students. But again, I think when I teach it too, it's usually a structural example about graphic novel representation of the comic form. Yeah.


Laura

Right. Yeah, I've used it with...


Again, because we have a very robust Deaf Studies program and I have deaf colleagues. Again, I really hate that. It's not like I'm saying I have a deaf friend, therefore, look at me, but whatever.


I know that some hearing teachers that have taken the book into schools for the deaf thinking this is something that these kids are going to love and they're going to relate to. It's been a problem because if you're a native ASL speaker, it's not a great look. I mean [CeCe’s] pushback against learning ASL, and her disinterest in being part of the Deaf community. It can be like, "Oh that's not really my experience. That's not really me. That's not..."


And again, I think it's more about the ways that we as hearing people take up this one story rather than the text itself. I think if teachers do a better job at presenting here's this woman's story of losing her hearing as a young child, and dealing with that hearing loss, instead of here is a big D Deaf community. Right?


Dani

I did have one thing I wanted to ask since we are talking, for this podcast, [about] bridging that gap between comics and education as [to] what recommendations you would have for teachers who are wanting to use this book. You mentioned having to give students tools—the graphic novel tools and then tools to understand different representations. So what kind of recommendations would you make for teachers who are teaching all grade levels to use the book?


Sara

Alright, so just recommendation for teachers with reading.


So, I think obviously the first one would be to make sure they have an understanding of the graphic novel format. Don't just assume that they know how to read it because if you just rely on the other speech bubbles, you're missing so much from the format of the book, and in this particular instance, just the content.


So, I would spend time going over that or allowing students to work with other graphic novels beforehand to give them that practice, and that time to touch and experience and figure out the different ways that you can read. What’s the—That’s the visual nature of a graphic novel. I think that is the most important thing.


So, I think also from there, I think you need to...


We talked about just this idea, this single story idea is, again, I think it's an important book to read, but making sure to spend time beforehand, whether it's addressing the conception of our people with hearing loss, people who are deaf, so it can get away from this idea of, "Oh, deaf people could have friends too, or deaf people tend to be made fun of. I've been made fun of." Okay, you want to...


I think that [there] can still be very easily, those types of reaction[s] can very easily happen with this book. I won't say that those are wrong, but they are still somewhat shallow, so help [students] understand and explore those.

And especially in the way [Cece] gets in here. They need to have those conversations about, "Okay, what is wrong with that?"


And I realize for some kids that you can't really get into medical and social models and disability. It’s just too much at that age. But you can begin with an understanding that, “Okay, let's talk about...” Just show them images. What are some things that society does that make it more difficult for deaf people? Or what are some things that...


Let’s talk about emotion, whether it's exploring books. I think having that will help them get into El Deafo... They'd be more willing to go deeper because now that they've then thought about and they now have the background knowledge of just how disability is typically represented and seen—"Oh, okay, wait a second.”—you know, seeing this.


But I think knowing, they're probably the two most important things.


And this may seem silly, but I know in a lot of classrooms, funds are very difficult or a lot of students share books, but I think especially with graphic novel[s], give students their own books if possible so they can take the time to have their own books, and they can really get into—take the time to closely read. I mean, you guys are graphic novels scholars, just having that close reading. That ability to have your own book to even touch that book, I think would be incredibly important to help students with this.


And another thing, this may seem, I thought it was interesting with my younger students that I did this with. I, at first was like, "Okay, read this chapter and the next week we're going to meet, and we'll read this chapter." They all just read the book [inaudible]—


Because in a way, depending on how you read it, a graphic novel can be a faster reading experience but depending on how you read it, a slower reading experience.


I think for teachers allowing for multiple readings and I think not breaking it into chapters like we typically do with alphanumeric, which is why I made the mistake of doing it at the beginning, and then I realized, "Wait, why am I doing that?" I'm sort of—I'm stopping and I'm not allowing that fluidity in terms of the reading experience with this.


With this book and with other graphic novels, find a way, if you have a time—“Okay, I'm going to give students a week to really just read into it and go back to it, go explore it.” Because there are so many things that you don't catch on the first read around. Addressing it as a first chapter with the summary, second chapter with the summary, there's a complete disservice to the entire tonality and totality of the book.


Those would be the big things I think would be incredibly helpful.


Laura

So, here's a question I have about that, about how to move forward when you have this in a classroom, when you have this in a K-12 classroom is…


I think her afterward, her author's note, is gorgeous, and it is such an important piece of it, but it's tucked in the back. And so, and I think... And I understand that's the tradition, right? And I'm almost wondering if it would be better to have people read that before reading the text.


Sara

That's a good point. I'm looking at it now. Because I agree, I think I had to tell my students. They didn't even read it.


Laura

Of course not.


Sara

Yeah, no, please read it.


And we had to talk about it just so, “Oh, okay.” Again, they weren't understanding unintentionally of having... They had their own single story, and then, reading this, they somehow saw this as another single story, and not realizing it, again, that there's more than one [inaudible]—


But I agree. It would be interesting if you read that at the beginning. Actually, I like that idea.


Laura

Yeah, and I say this because I'm a terrible reader, and I refuse to read forwards, prefaces, authors notes. I can't be bothered with them. And then, there's all this really important information. It's terrible. I'm a terrible person, and I have a lot of guilt about it.


But I think in books like this, where we're reading far outside of our own communities, right? The authors are doing an enormous... They're doing a lot of work in that book, and that author's note helps set up that work so well in that.


Ashley

Yeah.


Sara

Yeah, no, I agree. That would be great.

Beyond Refrigerators


Laura

We're going to end today's podcast with a section we call Beyond Refrigerators. And we came up with the name because so much of comics, and especially superheroes, you know, the superheroes are always doing things because of their dead girlfriends, because they're inspired, because they're trying to make up for their stupid mistakes that caused their girlfriends to die. And often, these girls are shoved in refrigerators, and that's how they die, and we just want to make sure that we leave with positive, good notes that aren't trope fests or, horror, and retribution.


So, Sara, do you have any recommendations for your favorite comics or graphic novels?


Sara

Other graphic novels? I am loving…


Wow. Ashley, you can help me with this. The science series.


Ashley

Science Comics.

Sara

I know they're nonfiction, but I've actually been checking them out. We had to read them for that column and I hadn't read anything about them. So, I remember reading them, and then, I got as many as I could at that time. Now, I just want more.


Laura

Right.


Sara

I'm learning so much, you guys. [laughter] And this is why… If this had been our science texts, our social studies text in middle school, oh my word. Anyway.


Laura

I love that. I love them. Great series.


Ashley

Me too, oh my gosh, they're so fun.


Sara

Yeah. that would be, yeah, I read— I have to be perfectly honest. I have not done much reading lately, but yeah. Those are the ones I've checked out recently.


Laura

Those are good.


Dani

Alright, how about the rest of you? Laura, what are you reading right now?


Laura

I just finished New Kid

Ashley

Oh!


Laura

—and I'm getting ready to review it, by Jerry Craft.


Ashley

—in our high schools—


Laura

Oh my God, it's so good.


Ashley

I haven't opened it yet. It's like sitting there waiting for me. I'm so excited. Okay.


Laura

You will, absolutely, you will love it. And it's great. It's about a kid who's new to school. He's at a prep school. He's an African American boy at a prep school, so it's a predominantly white prep school. It's got classism, and racism, and inner group tension. It's got it all. And I just got a chance to talk to Jerry Craft today actually. We were both at a conference and he's coming out with a second one.


Ashley

Nice.


Dani

Very cool.


Ashley

That's awesome. I just finished reading Deer Woman: An Anthology. So it started as a single comic.

Dani

I haven't seen that one yet.


Ashley

And it's a series now. It's out of Albuquerque. So, it's a series and there's a series of editors, so I brought it up here to make sure that I say all of the names of the editors. Elizabeth LaPensée, Weshoyot Alvitre, Patty Stonefish, Allie Vasquez, and Rebecca Naragon are the editors.


It takes up the idea of the deer woman. And, I was reading it as this beautiful reaction to the Me Too Movement, but also the ways in which people can just easily dismiss violence against indigenous women and a disappearance of indigenous women. So, it's like a voice back, which is what the deer woman, the idea of the deer woman is anyway. So each chapter is a different author, a different artist, and they take up comic styles in very different ways.


Laura

They really do.


Ashley

So, you read it too, Laura?


Laura

It's gorgeous. I love it.


Ashley

Yeah. So, they just—


Laura

It's very disturbing. It's—


Ashley

Very. Yeah. It plays with the multimodalness in ways that are similar to #NotYourPrincess.


Dani

Ok.


Ashley

It's just very intimate and they all take up the theme of the Deer Woman and, I think, women empowerment. That multivocality, that is just really, really lovely. Actually, I'm going to be getting a set of them so I can bring them into the high school where I'm working.


Laura

Oh, excellent.


Ashley

I’ll report back on how the high school students react to it, but yeah.


Laura

Cool. Dani?


Dani

I'm trying to figure out where I stuck them. But have you guys seen… Boom Studios has a new series called The Avant-Guards.

Laura

No, I love Boom Studios.


Dani

I know, I'm obsessed with them. But it's a girl who is a basketball player and an art school kid, and they don't have a basketball team at the art school and she wants to do both. So it's fun and upbeat, but still deals with like serious issues and things too.


Laura

I get it, Avant Guards.


Dani

Yeah. Get it. Avant, and then, like basketball guards. It's fabulous.


Ashley

Oh, that's...


Dani

I'm hard-pressed to find a Boom Studios comic that I don't enjoy.


Laura

Oh, yeah.


Ashley

Nice.


Laura

I would have to agree with that. Yes. I think Lumberjanes should be in the new canon. Yeah…

Dani

And it's just a wonderfully diverse cast of characters, too.

Dani

Alright, well I guess that will close us out.


Ashley

Yeah, thanks, Sara. Thanks for making time for us.


Sara

Yeah, good luck with the rest of your podcast!


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 at RITG podcast.


Special thanks to Dr. Sara Kersten Parrish for her contributions to this episode. For information about or 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 is provided by the Alibi Music Library and licensed through PodcastMusic.com.


#eldeafo #cecebell #teachingcomics #teachingeldeafo #deaf #deafness #hardofhearing #disabilitystudies #deafrepresentation #disabilityrepresentation #owncopy #multiplereadings #nosinglestory #singlestory #nomercycomics #daredevil #echo #sciencecomics #newkid #deerwomananthology #avantguards

14 views

© 2023 by The Book Lover. Proudly created with Wix.com

Special thanks to Jason Labret for the banner art.

  • Grey Twitter Icon
  • Grey Facebook Icon
  • Grey Instagram Icon
  • Grey Pinterest Icon