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  • Writer's pictureDani Kachorsky

Superheroes and social justice with Dr. Francisco Torres...

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

Note to Readers: Again, we apologize for the length of time between episodes. As with many of you, the pandemic has very much impacted our personal and professional lives. While we love creating this podcast, we often find ourselves having to prioritize other responsibilities over this production. Thank you for your patience!

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]

Francisco Torres

Penn State Berks

They weren't reading elementary versions of superhero texts--which I find kind of insulting to kids because they just dumb down the material, dumb down issues of race, gender, and sexuality.

Laura Jiménez

I feel like as scholars we need to give teachers more of that evidence.

Ashley Dallacqua

And I think that because educators… We get so afraid of this idea of... If we're having fun, we're doing it wrong.


And it was just amazing to see children take up the genre, shape the genre in complex ways, and really center themselves.



Dani Kachorsky

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


And I'm Ashley Dallacqua


And I'm Laura Jiménez.


And today we are here with a good friend of ours, Francisco Torres, who I originally met at a conference. He showed up to a Graphic Novels and Comics Study Group that we host, said really interesting things in the conversation, and then, we started to chat afterwards. He's absolutely one of my favorite people that I've met at LRA. So, welcome Francisco. We are happy to have you.


Thank you so much for the invitation. I appreciate being here.


Alrighty. So, can you start us off by just telling us a little bit about you as a scholar, what brought you to comics, and what are the things that you're interested in studying related to comics and education?



Yeah. I think what brought me to comics was my fascination with manga when I was growing up. I actually did not read single-issue comics. I didn't read any Marvel or DC or anything like that. I read manga. It was free--maybe illegal--but it was free. So, I enjoyed reading manga online and that sort of brought me into that world.

I didn't know you could research this. This was not part of my trajectory when I thought about academia and I thought about my BA and my Master's. Then, I met some fantastic people, like yourselves. I met one of my advisors in my Master's program that told me I should study pop culture, that it is something that matters, that we can learn a lot from it. I didn't think that could be possible, but everything about me was entwined with popular culture and trying to navigate that space, especially as a Latinx man in this country, in this society. I think that's really what brought me to doing this work and then continuing this work.

What brought me to specifically the elementary level was just knowing that at that age, nothing around me had to deal with the things that I actually enjoyed to engage with. I actually enjoyed reading, so I thought my work should try to bring some of that into those spaces that I felt so denied when I was growing up.


All right. So, I know you're working on your dissertation right now* and you sent us one of the chapters. I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about that project and what you're finding with the students that you're working with right now.



So that project was fun.

It's a two-part project. The first part was very much centered around social justice issues. I first came in--it's a bilingual school--so I first came in with the social justice issue of language as a right, just to have a common context--especially [with] it being a bilingual school, especially having students that were multilingual with students that were “monolingual". So, I began with that, and we talked a lot about issues of language, issues representation. And then, we finally got into comics.

One of the sad parts about this project is that the comic book project was forced to be after testing rather than a part of the normative curriculum. So that's just something, I think that us--as a community, especially as educators--have to continue thinking about: When is it appropriate? When isn't it appropriate? What do we mean by appropriate? To bring in these materials that are rich, that our students really want to engage with.

The work that I did with kids was really trying to get them to center who they were and their full complexities in comics. One of the things you tend to notice, especially if you're not a comic book reader--and these kids read comics, but they only read comics that were purchased for them in their libraries, so most of the comics ended up being ones that have won awards, and nothing associated with some of the superhero things that they already knew about when they watch movies (like all the Marvel movies that are still a part of their lives at this point, whether they want it to be or not).

So, I wanted them to center who they were. We started off by saying that you have to use your own language. That has to be present in your comic. Your age has to be present in your comic. I don't want you to act older. I don't want you to get older. I want you to be a kid. I want you to be in this comic as who you are on a daily basis. Bring in your culture. Bring in all of who you are and then, fight a social justice issue that matters to you.

So at this point, we've already had a few weeks of talking about social justice issues. They brought up different things that matter to them. So one of the examples I can give is that one of the kids was really into language, especially from that first part and thinking about how in her school, there was only one Spanish class out of the whole day, and she found that to be an injustice. So, she made a comic with her as a Latinx woman, Mexican woman, in this space trying to combat monolingual ideologies through the comic book genre.

And it was just amazing to see children take up this genre, shape the genre in complex ways, and really center themselves, which is…

I don't think they see it as radical as it is. And I tried to highlight that it is very radical to center yourself, to center your language in these pieces. But it was really radical work on their part to really put themselves in the genre, mold the genre, and play with: What does a panel mean? What does it mean when we do something that's outside of the panel to give it more emphasis?

They really played with those ideas in really complex ways for social justice means--so fighting an injustice and then, trying to think of a solution after that.



I love the way that you're talking about structure too as a way of thinking about addressing these really complex issues. Will you talk a little bit about what you did to kind of prepare them to think about how they can use the structure to bolster these messages that they wanted to get across?


Yeah. So one of the things--

So first, it's worth pointing out that I had a limited amount of time because it was after testing and they said, "You have six hours with the kids." And I was very appreciative of those hours, but it was also constraining.

So the first thing we did was just talk about superheroes themselves: What does it mean to be “good”? What does it mean to be “bad”? And I'm putting air quotes around those just in case because those are complicated terms. I gave them the example of Magneto. What makes Magneto a bad person? I gave the example of: Did you watch Black Panther? Is Killmonger really a bad individual, or does he have a different way of addressing this inequality? So we talked about that first. We talked about superheroes and tried to complicate them in relation to race, in relation to gender, in relation to those stereotypes associated with superheroes.

Then, we read comics together. We went through actually reading some comics. I introduced them to some terms--only basic terms. I introduced them to the gutter, panel. We talked a lot about inference because I wanted them to know--and I especially wanted their teachers to see--that so much of the work in comics is around inference. So much of elementary is teaching inference, so this is just a perfect genre to bring into this because you are inferring from panel to panel, between gutters, so much movement. So that's one of the things we talked about. Of course, captions, balloons--balloon bubbles--stuff like that.

After we read a few comics together and had a sense of the genre itself--and of course, leveraging what the students already knew about the genre, because many were reading comics before I introduced them to the comic books that we were actually reading. These were a part of their normative texts that they would choose in the library. There's huge circulation in the library--which we already know, and the research is present--but the teachers weren't taking it up in their classrooms. So teachers got to, at least in this case, see that take-up.

But thinking about how we got into the comics: It was really just reading them together, exploring some of these issues, and having them read the comics by themselves. I didn't necessarily tell them you can disrupt how the panel looks. I showed them comics that had different ways that panels were situated in superhero comics--different shapes, sometimes no panel, or the full spread. But, I didn't tell them how to do that, and they just did it of their own volition.

I had a student who decided to put an adult voice outside of a panel, just covering most of the page. So those two panels on the page, but just the adult voice telling them that they couldn't have more language classes. That was just so powerful that she decided to do that of her own self, sort of seeing that the power was there to not hold it in that space of the panel, to sort of let it free and say that that voice is overarching… Especially as a child, trying to talk about huge issues that matter to them and should be. Their voices should be heard in these things yet are so rarely heard.

I think that's the process. I wouldn't say that I taught them or even encouraged them to disrupt the genre or the form of the comic. They did that of their own volition while talking about social justice issues.



I think what's interesting is that you had them dig into this medium as readers, right? You didn't come in and say, "This is what the form looks like. This is a panel. This is a thought bubble. This is a transition."

At first, you had them read and read deeply. What were some of---especially for the kids that did not come with a prior love of or appreciation of comics and graphic novels--what were some of the ways that you got these kids in? Or, did you need to do a lot of encouragement to get them in?


I think the fact that the work and the comics that I brought in... So I brought in about 40 comics--all Marvel, all superheroes, but all superheroes of color. They were seeing characters that look like themselves, so there was interest there already because that was rarely seen in the movies besides Black Panther. Especially Latinx identities are still almost non-existent in the Marvel cinematic universe. So that's one thing.

The other thing--besides students that were already drawn to the genre, they were drawn to superheroes already, drawn to the genre--I think the other thing that was a big component for many students was: even if they weren't really drawn to the genre beforehand, one of the things a lot of students tended to mention to me was that they liked the idea that they knew they were going to create these things and that they were going to be able to take time, to not only write something around their lives and then create a superhero story, but also draw it. They were, many of them, artists that only got to show their artistic expression in art classes, and this was integrating art and the written and who they are into one piece and saying that this is actually literacy. This actually is what counts in this space and is important.

I didn't feel like I actually had to sell this at all to anyone because there was just a lot that for differing individuals to draw on in this work.



Okay. So, thinking about that. Because I'm just kind of envisioning some of the conversations that I've had with teachers and administrators and other stakeholders in education. So, with comics, we always get a lot of pushback. Even though we're starting to see these more and more in classrooms, it's still very minimal. So, what would you say to somebody who would say, “Well, of course, they were interested. It was comics and comics fun. They're not real work.” Or somebody who might say, “Well, of course, they were having a good time. This was just after testing and this was more fun and entertaining than anything they've been doing for a while.”


I think one of the reasons why I emphasized inference so much--besides it being such an important tool--was that I could attach it to standards. I think one of the misconceptions that many educators have is that comics don't somehow align to standards. Yet, we know they're sort of perfect for so many standards. So many of the picture books standards, for example, sort of fit very nicely into understanding an image with text. That's just a perfect part of one. The inference one--the standards are there and they do work with these texts--so I think that's one thing, finding that alignment and making that evident to educators and administrators.

The second thing is I would ask the administrator or educator to read a comic, tell me what they're understanding from this comic, and what are they grasping? And then, have a child read the comic, ask the same questions, and see what they're understanding. And this is not to antagonize the person, but rather to show that these are complex texts and some people at our age--at differing ages--don't understand these texts because comics take tools to read them, and they're tools that are learned over time, that are learned through constantly reading. They’re the same skills that we want kids to use to analyze texts. They're doing it with comics. We just have the benefit that they also enjoy doing it with comics, and that's why they're so skilled with this genre. So that's the second thing.

I think the third thing that I would try to get educators to see is that if we want students to engage with complex ideas of criticality, then we also have to show them research that does that. One of the things that I like about all of our work is that we are engaging with comics in critical ways. We're asking students--we're asking individuals--to think in complex ways around race, around gender, around sexuality, around immigration, migration in these texts. And comics allow that to come out. They allow not only for students to imagine themselves in this text, but also see people like themselves with their experiences in those texts, in the moment-to-moment, because we have the drawings there.

I don't feel like it's as stagnant as when I used to read, for example, one of the books I was forced to read as a kid was The Giver and that's a “canonical text”. And I put that in quotes now because it's just used over and over again.

And it's a fine text. I guess it does what it needs to do, but I can only imagine that if The Giver were a comic--and maybe there is a graphic novel of The Giver. I'm seeing Ashley say, “Yes!”

That would be so much, that could show so much in relation to our societies today. What parts of our popular culture are being dismantled? What parts are still there? The visuals will have so much effect on what students are conceptualizing around their world. What they can imagine is different possibilities than, I think, just words can do by themselves.

So, those are the three things I would really argue.



So I think one of the things you hit on was the complexity of reading comics and graphic novels. And I love the fact that you, instead of just saying it or giving one of our pieces, because I think we all, you know, Dani and Ashley and I, have all written things. We're showing that it takes different reading skills and it pushes on different cognitive abilities for the reader.

I love the idea of simply handing this to an adult and saying, “Give it a shot.” And then, giving them a look at a younger, but probably more experienced reader, because I think that's one of the things that many, many adults in education lose track of is that we as adults are not always the most experienced in the room. And this is different reading. It's not better reading. It's not more complicated reading. It's not anything. Compare it. In a lot of ways, it's incomparable to reading standard text. There's still skills. The cognitive load is still there, but it's different.

And I love the idea of illustrating that to your administration, to teachers, to people like that. I feel like as scholars, we need to give teachers more of that evidence to use with either their mentor teachers or with their administration, with their literacy coaches. Because once you see it, once you see kids just gobble up the complexity and be truly engaged... because that's one of the things you talk about is their engagement and their enjoyment. Right? And we know, if kids are engaged and enjoying, they're more likely to persist through reading issues, right? They're more likely to put more of the cognitive skills and abilities behind getting through those reading issues, but not if they're bored. So that, that was a sort of a little…

That's more editorial than anything.



Yeah. I was just going to kind of reiterate that, as well. That is what I have found with teachers that I'm working with. If I can get them in a room for an hour to do some professional development, where I can hook things up to standards for better or worse, but then, they get to engage with a book, and then, they get a student to explain things to them, as well.

You just watch them, be like “What the heck? This was… I had no idea.” I don't know how many adult adults I've had say, “I had no idea.” But then, even students reflecting… At the end of my dissertation research, talking about the joy of their reading. And I think as educators, we get so afraid of this idea of, well, if we're having fun, we're doing it wrong. And just this idea of embracing the joy of reading is not meaning, meaning anything.

Also, The Giver… I'm showing it, but nobody can see it. It was adapted by P. Craig Russell. It's pretty good. It's not great. But, it plays with the color stuff a lot. The scenes where the giver and Jonas are in the same room and Jonas removes his tunic and there's that hand on the back. Some of those visuals are a little troubling for me. I don't like it. Just…I think, maybe, they could have been handled a little bit more, I don't know, with an eye towards just respect to those kinds of relationships. But, other than that, I think it's an interesting adaptation. So, for those interested…



So, I wanted to connect with something that Ashley, you just said, where this idea that if we're not… If we're having fun, we're doing it wrong. One of the things that I've been noticing because I teach a field experience class, it's like an internship before you student teach, and I'm going into classrooms and I'm seeing a lot of... We all have worksheets and we're all reading the leveled readers, or we're not even reading at all. It's so much phonics instruction. Yay. Science of Reading. But, it's just the killing of all joy related to reading and literacy.

And I think it's kind of funny when you were talking about The Giver because I think when The Giver, before it became canon, was one of those texts that was used to disrupt this idea of a canon because it was YA. And, so I think it's really important for us as educators to think about just because something is connecting with our kids now, that doesn't mean that it's not going to rotate out. The Giver was one of those books that you could use to kind of bring the joy back into reading for our young adult audiences. But I don't know that it resonates as much today.

And I'm wondering too, if that'll be the same with some of our superheroes, further down the line? I don't know, Francisco, what do you think?



I think one of the things I just want to add to that, and thinking of all of our points, is that one of the interesting things--and I don't have any empirical arguments, I'm just going to say some observations--is that the books, the comics that my students were reading were YA texts. They weren't reading elementary versions of superhero texts-- which I find kind of insulting to kids because they just dumbed down the material, dumb down issues of race, gender, sexuality…if they're even bringing them up in the comics at all. But those that do are really brought down in those elementary versions.

But, they were reading YA, texts. They were engaging with these texts in dynamic ways. And one of the things that I think as literacy scholars and teachers we always think about--well, maybe not all of us, but a lot of individuals, especially if you're a practicing teacher--think about where students are in their reading level and how to get them higher in their reading level. If they're reading texts that are YA texts, doesn't that complicate what it means for reading level?

I saw students that are considered--they were in fifth grade and considered third-grade reading level--yet they're reading a YA text that's for high schoolers. So, I think one of the things that this work sort of shows us, and I would hope that educators and researchers alike see--is that these texts complicate what we mean by reading level. Are we--when we assess reading level--are we really assessing reading level? Are we assessing a certain type of reading, a mandated reading, a white middle-class form of reading that won't include the visual, that doesn't include the multimodal, that doesn't include how we make sense of the world on a daily basis?

So, I think those are just important things to also think about when we're thinking about enjoyment. Enjoyment also leads to sometimes acting outside of the ways we tend to label kids because they're so much more capable than we tend to give them the labels for.



So, one of the questions I have for you is: You specify that this was a unit or a time that you spent with these kids and the stories you had them constructing were superhero stories. One of my issues with the superhero genre is the inherent misogyny, the inherent sexism, and very tropey ways that CIS, heterosexual women are shown. We have a lot of, you know…

So, we have the Hawkeye initiative which shows male superheroes in female poses, in female costumes. Most recently, there was “give the woman a hair band”. In other words, let female superheroes that have long hair actually put their hair back in a ponytail. I've always had the argument that I do not think Wonder Woman is a good feminist, third-wave feminist icon, because she was written by a man. And she does reflect that male, CIS, hetero, white gaze.

Did you have anything to fight that? Did you have anything to work against that? Did you bring up anything about the inherent sexism of superhero genres?



I think during our conversations around what made a hero or villain, we started complicating why is it that only certain men, for example, get to be heroes and why do they have to look a certain way? And the same thing with women. Why is it certain women get to be heroes?

One of the very strategic choices that I made was the comic choices. So, I wanted to show comics that sort of broke that binary. The only comic that I couldn't show that I wish I could have shown was America Chavez. And the only reason I couldn't show America Chavez was I don't think I could have gotten past some of the sex scenes at that age group, but I did show them an image of--the America Chavez image is sort of the one that almost looks like she's wearing a US outfit. And she has this really woman of color power image.

I wanted to show them that this is more representative of the superheroes I want you to embody. Someone that is embodying their full selves, not changing it for someone else's gaze, not trying to be… I'm not trying to be monolingual because we know this tends to be a monolingual English space. Even if the comic book character tends to be bilingual, they're only shown in their monolingual status unless they're home, and then, maybe, they throw in one, one little word for the Latinos who would be, “Yay, we got mama with an accent.”

So I think I really tried to choose texts that broke apart those kinds of issues that we were bringing up already in our social justice curriculum thinking about representation. Thinking about, what do we mean to not have certain people seen in these spaces? So that was all informing our conversations of heroes and villains, gender, gender inequality in these comics, sexuality… And then, moving into their own characters and embodying their full selves in those characters.



I'm just wondering too because I'm thinking about teachers. Because I think it's always such a gift when we can come in with so many comics available for students to engage in... Is how do you recommend teachers get access and even just a couple? So, if they can only grab a couple of titles or show visuals from a couple of titles, where would you point teachers who want to do this kind of work? And especially with these superhero comics, what are the titles and the characters and visuals they should be looking for?


I think one of the first things that I tell teachers when in relation to this--before I answer your question is that, it's a shame that they aren't informed that, for example, if they go to a comic book shop and tell them they're a teacher, they actually get some discounts sometimes. So, it's first, informing them that there are some discounts available to teachers when you're buying these products for your classroom. And just telling them you are a teacher, you can get these discounts. So, make sure you know that.

We also have online resources like the Pop Culture Classroom that has some comics around some historical figures of heroes of color. And that was sort of what I was framing my unit as… calling it “Heroes of Color.” So, that's one avenue where you can get free resources.

The other way, I think…well, actually some texts that I would suggest that I found students really attached to and found that those disrupted, were, of course, some of the Kamala Kahn texts. Volume One was an easy one to sell to students. They really liked it and they found it interesting. And they also never see someone with that religious background as a superhero. So, what does that mean? I think it was very affirming for the students that were of Islamic descent to read that text.

One of the other texts, of course, is the Miles Morales text. I love presenting that text and I love complicating it for them. One of the things we did, which was kind of fun during the first initial social justice unit, was we watched a little clip from the Miles Morales: [Spider-Man] Into the Spider-Verse movie…especially the clip where he's singing and he's about to leave. His mom, speaking to him in Spanish, said that he's, you know... He's walking through his neighborhood and then, he falls and his father picks him up in the cop car. We complicated that. We’re like, “So, do you know what his Latinx identity is?” And they're like, “No, we don't know.” Because it's hidden in that movie. But, I showed them a little freeze-frame. They're like, “Look, there's a Puerto Rican flag on his suitcase.” That's how you know he's part Puerto Rican. You get that little symbol. That's all you get and some music. But then also, thinking about the music that was actually played... Did they ever translate the Spanish? Which they didn't, which is powerful. We talked about that.

So, I think there are tools. I'm not just looking at comics themselves, but also looking at the popular culture or the media that it's sort of influenced the movies and things of that sort, and then trying to tie those together.

So, they can find YouTube videos on these superheroes and then also try to find texts or samples of texts. One of the nice things that I also try to tell teachers, and I tell them to do this cautiously is to pay for a Marvel online subscription. Then, do screenshots every once in a while, and make sure you don't do too many, but you are technically protected by your right as an educator to make copies of texts. You just have to make sure with your librarian. The librarian at that space was very informed of all this and telling me what is going on. What can we do? And can't do? So, I think it's really working also with the librarian to make sure that you're on the same page with copyright infringement, but also seeing what texts they can bring in to fill up the library and the classroom spaces.

So, those are just two examples that are my favorite with students. Of course, Nova. I forgot his... Oh, what's his name? Nova from Arizona, not the other Nova. I'm spacing on the name, but those are some of the characters that I tried to bring in.



Thinking about resources and access too. So, my husband works at a high school where they have Canvas is like their platform. I forget what you call them, but they're these classroom management software things that districts can buy. And I don't know if it's true for other ones, but Canvas now has a library feature, which allows them to access books online. And there is a pretty decent chunk of graphic novels on there. Now, I don't know, because I haven't explored all of them. I don't know what the representation is like, but in terms of looking for free comics, they are available on that canvas resource for checkout, which I thought was pretty cool. I don't know.


So I will say a lot of the larger collections that are available online through things like ComiXology, some of them are simply fed by DC, Marvel, Dark Horse, and so, the representation is problematic at best. If they have a different system, if the library's hooked into a different kind of system, then they can, the teachers can go in and look, but they, again, they have to do the work of evaluating themselves. Unless we as teacher educators and secondary educators do a better job of teaching our own students, who are the teachers that are in the field or the pre-service teachers to do that work, we need to work on a system or a systemic way of making lists available. Because the overwhelming whiteness in publishing is no secret to anybody who's taken a look. And I think it is something that we have to keep on the forefront of our mind, you know?

Dani's like, "Well, I haven't looked into that." That's exactly what we need to think. We need to think I have this resource. My next step is to look at the representation of that source because we cannot assume the good intentions of any organization at this point in time. So, yes. Look and see. Have that on the forefront of your mind.


So I think to that too, we have to remember that the ones that become free are often from places that have the money to make things free. So part of what ComiXology--There's often like a couple of issues for free before you have to start paying for them. And you'll notice that it's almost always the heavy hitters, right? It's Marvel. It's DC.

I'm doing a project right now where we're analyzing some kids, digital comics to kind of see what digitizing does to the reading experience. And we're doing the free ones because we imagine more kids have access to those, but it's My Little Pony, Transformers, and Overwatch. We're talking hardcore franchises here. You're just not going to get away from that when it comes to the free stuff, unless it's something like Pop Culture Classroom, right? But then their resources are very limited and they can't produce at that level or that speed with which we need them to do this kind of work.



One of the things I would want to add is to make clear, especially for the educators... The reason why I chose superheroes was--One of the arguments we love to make in academia, and love to make as educators, is that we have to bring in the knowledge that students already have of the world or their spaces into our classrooms. Yet we refuse to engage with the pop culture knowledge that kids bring into our spaces. We sort of pretend that they have all this other knowledge relevant to math and other things. Yet, we forget that they also, that part of that knowledge is also pop culture, and how they make sense of the world through that. I chose the superhero genre as an avenue to talk about the knowledge, to show the knowledge that they already had of the genre because they're already inundated, as I said before with superheroes.

So, it was just that beginning point. I think it's important to think about what the beginning point is for you, and it should always be what your students are bringing to spaces and actually saying, "What are they bringing into spaces?" And not, what you're assuming they're bringing into spaces, or not what academics tell you they're bringing into spaces. Because sometimes we're still--we have blinders on as well in our own field as if they're only bringing in work things. They're only bringing in experiences of trauma. We want to actually say, "What are kids bringing in?" Asking them, "What are the kids bringing?" And, making the environment where that's possible to have those kinds of conversations to actually learn from children, and then, start to build curriculum together. I hope that the kids in my project saw that I was trying to build off things they already knew, and then, push them to think about it in relation to social justice and equity, rather than pushing comics on them, pushing superheroes on them.

And then, if I would've had more time, we could have gone into better representations of what does it mean to be a "good" or "bad" person in our society? What does it mean to sort of complicate historical figures in our society who have been either demonized or who have been--I can't think of the word, but I'm gonna say--God-like and, sort of, put on a pedestal as these very wholesome, good people? But also, very complicated people that some might consider have done some bad things and quotes. So, how do we complicate that and use our pop culture knowledge, use our genres, to sort of blend together and talk about these really complex issues? This is something that I've also been thinking about, and I want to make sure that educators are aware that that's my thought process in relation to this genre.


Beyond Refrigerators



So as with all of our episodes, we are going to end with book recommendations of comics and graphic novels that we are reading and that we are enjoying at this point in time, and may or may not connect with the topic that we're actually talking about for today. I don't know, Francisco, why don't you start us off since you are our guest today.


Thank you very much. As was mentioned by Dani very early on, I am in my dissertation process and on the job market, so I'm not reading as much as I would like it in relation to the genre, but I do have in front of me, one of the texts that I want to start reading because I've heard good things. It is Green Lantern: Legacy, a graphic novel. I really want to start getting into this. I read the synopsis. I read a few pages. I love the idea of a grandmother having powers, putting down information--not putting down, but giving it to a grandchild and knowing that--In my family, for example, that's what my grandmother did. She had powers. I saw her as powerful and giving a tool to me to fight for what I believe in through her learning, through her experiences. I really want to engage with that text a bit more. So that's what I would put out there, Green Lantern: Legacy. And that's for now.


Dude, you totally stole my thunder! So, I agree. I was going to recommend Mihn Le's Legacy. And again, I completely agree, for me, it was the story of an Abuela doing that work of ushering in a grandchild. It connects so deeply with my Chicana heritage that I know that I was in love with it from the cover moving forward. And it does not let you down. It is really great. It's a gorgeous piece. It's one of these graphic novels, comic books, trade papers, whatever we want to call it, that deserves to be in a museum. It is that good. It is that delicately and elegantly illustrated and the story holds up.

And the relationship between, in this case, a grandson and his Abuela is magnificent. Then, it also made me want to go back and read The Shadow Hero by Gene Yang, which is an origin story about a child, at this point, a Chinese superhero. And it's funny and it's sweet and it's the comedic timing of The Shadow Hero is something I marvel at constantly. So, those were two of my recommendations. I'm glad we're on the same wavelength there.



Okay. I'm going to take us to a sharp right turn. I mean, it's still superheroes, technically, I guess. But, I'm bringing it down to a really early elementary level here.

I've been reading the Narwhal books with Narwhal and Jelly Jolt, and then, Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt. That's by Ben Clanton.

I've got Laura and Ashley--you guys can't see them--but they're like making excited faces. First of all, it's a Narwal. It's the hero. It's got a superhero sidekick that is a jellyfish. And I don't know, I think the comic, collectively as a series, like the whole thing... There are some really interesting things with visuals and structures that can show you, even at this very early intro-level comic, how much work the images and things like line and shape do. Because the text is very minimal, but there's a lot going on in the comics. And they're funny. Ben Clanton's a funny guy. So, if you haven't picked those up, I highly recommend them. They're just fun.

Also, everything's better with a Narwhal. I think that's a universal truth. Narwhals and dinosaurs. Everything's better with a dinosaur too.



All right. I kept debating what I wanted to talk about, but since we're all doing the superhero thing, I thought I'd pull up... So I read the first section of Strong Female Protagonist which is pretty good. I mean, it's very white still when we think about representation, but if we want to think about ways that we're complicating what it means to be a superhero and a superhero who identifies as a woman, I think that's a really interesting story. I think in some ways it plays straight into some of the tropes that we're so used to already, and then it takes a couple of them and it flips it on its head. So, I think it's one of those books that I recommend if we want to think about complicating things, but that doesn't necessarily take all those complications across the finish line. I think it's an interesting title just to throw into this conversation.

It started, I think, as a webcomic, so there's some accessibility online to look at some of those images and texts. There are parts of it that I really, really liked and that the ways in which it was trying to complicate the superhero narratives that we know... Someone who's taken themselves out of the superhero realm and trying to think about what it means to be a good person and a bad person. So, it just kind of was ringing true with some of the things that Francisco was saying about complicating those very black and white definitions, even though really, I think most of the characters in it are white that I read. We're going to go there. So, yeah.


All right, well, that closes out this episode of Reading in the Gutter. Thank you, Francisco, for joining us today. I really enjoyed our conversation, and your insights, I think, will be really helpful for teachers who are wanting to do this kind of work in their own classrooms. So, thank you for being here.



Thank you so much.


[Closing Music]

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

Special thanks to Dr. Francisco Torres for his contributions to this episode. For information about or to contact our guests or contributors, please visit the episode transcripts 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 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

*At the time of recording, Francisco was in the process of completing his dissertation. Since then, he has transitioned to an Assistant Professor position at Penn State Berks.



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