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So I introduced 36 teenagers to comics . . . An Experiment


#1

Hello all, it’s been a while since I’ve posted but I’ve been lurking forever. However, a conversation with Jim O’Hara (great to see you again, Jim!) this evening inspired me to get more involved in the boards again.

So anyway, something that’s been on my mind as I approach the big 4-0 is wondering how people get into the comic reading habit today. This is especially relevant to me since I am a high school English teacher. I recently did a graphic novel unit in my honors Freshmen class and really enjoyed watching and reading their reactions. Only half the class had ever read a graphic novel before, and only 3 of them identified themselves as regular comic readers. It was very interesting, partly because of the limitations I had: 1. All books had to be school-age appropriate, meaning “PG-13” at worst. I’m sure many teenagers would enjoy reading Preacher, but I wasn’t going to deal with angry parents! 2. All the graphic novels had to come from my own collection, since school-funding is a joke, and 3. I wanted ones that could be understood on their own and could be compared to other classic epics like the Odyssey, since we have been studying “The Hero’s Journey”, etc. all semester.

Here’s some of my choices: 2 Ultimate Spider-Man vol. 1s (The Peter version and the Miles version); Millar’s Ultimate X-men vol. 1, Starlight, and Red Son; Claremont/Miller’s Wolverine; Batman Year One, Batman Earth One vol. 1; Takio, Locke & Key vol. 1; Johns’ Justice League vol. 1, Morrison’s JLA vol. 1; New Frontier, 1602, The Marvels Project; Superman for All Seasons, Superman: Secret Origin; Green Arrow: The Archer’s Quest; Green Lantern: Secret Origin; I Kill Giants, and a bunch more. I really went for diversity but it was super-hero heavy because that stuff is is general a lot more tame than non-super-hero comics.

Mark, you’ll be happy to know that your stuff was a big hit. Later I will have to post a picture from Starlight that one of my young ladies drew as part of a project. Red Son really blew the minds of a few boys who read it; a couple went out and bought their own copies.

The boys liked it the most, unsurprisingly. I made sure to include a few female-friendly choices, but more of the ladies enjoyed simple origin stories like Ultimate Spider-Man for instance, than some female-led series like Takio and Mind the Gap. They hated any story that required a lot of geek knowledge to fully understand and appreciate, like 1602 and The Marvels Project.

Geoff Johns was a big hit as well. His stories are pretty straight forward and told in a blockbuster style that appeals to that age group. Any Morrison super-hero story does well too. I don’t think they’re ready for his weirder stuff yet. Same goes for anything Gaiman. They really don’t “get” Hickman, Ellis, or Vaughan yet either. Maybe sophomore year!

On a related note, my sophomores read Maus at the beginning of this year as well. It’s still their favorite thing we’ve read all year, and half of them had never read a comic before either.

So I’d love to discuss two things: 1. If you have any suggestions for my experiment, as I repeat this every year, I’m all ears. 2. I’d love to hear stories from you, especially those under 30, of how you got into comics. I bet it’s a lot different than most of us Gen X’ers in here. I love this art form and I want to know how we can keep it going for a long time. Thoughts?


Graphic Novels or Comics good for Tweens
#2

What a cool idea!


#3

This is great to see, wish there was more of it. I’ll have to link it to my English teaching friend for a look.

It’s true that non-superhero stuff is usually more aimed at a mature audience, which is a pity from this perspective. What about maybe using some webcomics that have strong crossover appeal too?


#4

Cool idea Nathan.

As to the suggestion. I think obviously since this has no budget and is coming from your collection it’s appealing to the boys more. I think ‘I Kill Giants’ is the only one there with a female lead.

Of mainstream PG-13 stuff I can see Ms Marvel obviously appealing to teenage girls (I’m trying to translate ‘honors freshman’ into English and it seems to mean 14 year olds) :smile:

A lot of the others I can think of though that are known to appeal especially to women are probably more R rated (like Saga, Queen and Country etc).


#5

I think Ms Marvel has a really great teenage appeal in general for both sexes. Kamala makes for a pretty good everyman character for teens because of how her family treats her. Runaways and Avengers Arena would work well for both boys and girls too, I’d imagine.

There’s Bat Girl aswell, though in more recent stories, that whole trans-gender debacle may be an issue. Alot of Gail Simone’s output has female readers in mind but also has strong youngling and gender cross-over appeal because of the tone of her writing itself.


#6

This is an amazing idea, Nathan. Fascinating from a writer point of view too as newbies and mainstream are the groups we must always be working towards. Great to see you back too, btw.

Gonna post this up on Twitter in a sec, which seems to be down for the moment.

MM


#7

That’s really interesting. My wife works as a school librarian and is currently trying to update the books available. She had already asked me about graphic novels and I had made a couple of suggestions ( I think that they already have some Judge Dredd), but I will show her your post @NathanGardner as I think that she will find it very useful.


#8

Coolest Teacher of the Year Award! :trophy:
If my English teacher had introduced me to something like Red Son, I’d still have their picture on my wall. :sunglasses: :thumbsup:


#9

I can only echo the comments of the guys above. It’s a great idea and wish you every success in continuing and like @Bigdaddy says if you were my English teacher you would be my hero… In fact you kinda are :wink:


#10

Welcome back, Nathan. I’ve missed you. This is an amazing idea.

My sister is a also a high school English teacher at a school with less than stellar funding. She tries to do whatever she can to get her students to read for enjoyment. So she vows to read any book that her students suggest just to encourage them and be able to talk about it with them. She tries to keep a small library in her class of books they may want to read. To help with this, she was able to get a grant a few years ago to help buy books for her classroom.

She has considered doing some comics because of my influence and there are some resources out there that she has encountered. Most of it seems to be geared toward the standards like Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen though. Would you have any suggestions for implementation? She would have a similar restriction with the PG-13 material. Since you were pulling from your own library, how did you get enough copies for the class to read?


#11

Great idea, Nathan!


#12

It doesn’t sound that hard when he says he has a class of 36. I think most of us have many more trades than that.


#13

I think Ronnie was assuming (like I did) that everyone would be reading the same book.


#14

I was assuming they were reading a single book as a class assignment. Maybe that is the wrong assumption.


#15

I’m not entirely sure how I got into comics, but there’s a rough list of events that I can fit into an order. As a kid I saw episodes of the 90s X-Men and Spider-Man cartoons. I absolutely loved Spider-Man. He was my favourite.
Then I was with my auntie and cousin on the day that they bought the first X-Men movie on video, and I watched it with them. I must have been 6? I remember liking it but being disappointed that my favourite, Cyclops, didn’t do much.
Soon after, I started to read this UK monthly comic called Spectacular Spider-Man Adventures. My first issue had Killer Moth and some old guy who played the violin. It printed original stories and I remember some of them fondly, like when Peter thought the old guy getting close to May had something he was hiding and it turns out that he was the original Angel. They then teamed up and went on patrol together.
Anyway, I read those for years before moving on to the “Marvel Collector’s Editions” which reprint Marvel material that’s approximately 2 years old at a great price. I managed to soak up most of the Marvel Universe from those.
So yeah, it was a gradual increase but I’m here to stay.

Edit: Ultimate X-Men was a great choice. I got the first omnibus of that when I was 11 and I loved it. Looking back I think it’s the first full graphic novel that I owned. The Tomorrow People blew my mind, and the comics felt pretty edgy which made it cooler to me that my parents would buy stuff like that for me, remaining blissfully unaware.


#16

Sure, if I had iPads in the classroom every day!

It’s a great idea, but just don’t have the funds sadly.


#17

Gar, in addition to I Kill Giants, I also used Takio and Mind the Gap, which all have female leads. Some of the others had important female characters. You’re right about the best female led series being mostly “R” rated. I would have loved to use Lazarus, for example, or anything by Rucka. Batwoman is probably the closest I could do.


#18

Thanks, Mark! I think a lot of writers could benefit from hearing how this “fresh” audience views their work.

I had some great papers on how Duke McQueen, Wolverine from Ultimate X-men, and Superman from Red Son are classic examples of epic heroes and “the Hero’s Journey” from J. Campbell. My favorite was a paper where a young man made a pretty convincing argument that Lex Luthor was the true hero of Red Son!


#19

Asterix was one of the most influential books for me to want to keep reading, with the jokes, the adventure and the nonsense. Other than that, Akira would work too, i guess. Others would be Runaways, Ms. Marvel and the DeMatteis-Giffen JLA - THE BEST JLA EVER -


#20

I think it’s a mistake to start non-comic readers with things like DKR or Watchmen. They’re way too sophisticated for neophytes to truly understand them. They just come across as difficult or weird. Plus you’re just spoiling it for them. Imagine if Watchmen was the first comic you ever read. Everything else would be a letdown after that!

As you guys figured out, they couldn’t all read the same graphic novel in this case. While I did that with Maus and my sophomores, that’s because the school paid for it. In this case, they read 4 different graphic novels of their choice, trading with each other as they finished.