Young Adult Lit/Crit

February 4, 2008

On Comics…

Filed under: comic/graphic texts — keithward @ 12:30 pm

This is my first post… my nerves will inevitably show… my god, it is as if we have been friends for a long time you and I, and it is only now that we are able to discuss the joy of comic books together. My name is Keith Ward and I am an English teacher at East Syracuse-Minoa high school. Karen has asked that on Thursday we meet, finally, and figure out how the comic book relates to both Y.A. and canonical literature. It is rather exciting isn’t it? Please feel free to bring all questions to the table. I am happy to discuss method, standard relevance, technique, and even apologetics if need be. I will bring several texts with me and share my approach to teaching the comic book/graphic novel and how these texts serve high school students in in ways that have been truly unexpected. I would be remiss not to mention that while the genre is itself as worthy as any other i know, my course is not strictly about comics. Rather, it is a study in semiotics and the comic books connection to ancient writing systems including the Egyptians, Mayans and a few Asian scripts. While the cultural value of ancient language seems a heavy weight compared to Superman and Maus,it is my contention that the comic book helps to preserve a contemporary connection to the semantic determinitives of early linguistics (Specifically Egypt). Subsequently, my students must wrestle with these before we ever crack a comic together. It seems this is always our quest… to understand language in a way that we (you and I here) are compelled to share its value with those who are and will be our students.

In closing I must say that teaching, reading, and loving comics/sequential art is quite like loving film; no matter how much of the medium is digested there is always more to read/see and completing the task is quite frankly new friend an impossibility. I have read many graphic novels, but not all- I know a few things about the topic, but not everything, so please forgive me for the occasional blank stare, “I don’t know” or “let me look into that”. And if by some miracle I am able to make a lick of sense then we will know that it was only by the power of Greyskull. Until Thursday… keith ward

feel free to check out the class website, it is all use with permission. (Although if you steal from me I will never know…)  



  1. I’m really looking forward to meeting you. Your class sounds fascinating, and I’m sure we can all learn a lot from what you do.


    Comment by scrollman — February 4, 2008 @ 7:27 pm

  2. Thanks for taking the time to meet with our class. I’ve worked with MAUS in both 8th and 11th grade classes and have enjoyed enthusiastic and thought provoking responses. Looking forward to learning more about the connections to early civilizations you mention above, your adminstration’s support of this course and especially your students’ responses to the work you and they do.

    Comment by sostrom — February 4, 2008 @ 8:02 pm

  3. Wh-wha-what’s this? Sarah? Jonathan? Kieth? What we talking about here? Comic books? Well, yes, I’m into that. The guy (Art Spiegleman?) who created MAUS will be speaking up at SUNY Oswego March 11th. I haven’t read that, but I’m reading Persepolis and it seems to follow suit; political-historical. What is Bone? My students seem to like that.
    I’m not sure that making sense is one of the powers of GReyskull. I thought the power of greyskull just reduces Prince Adam from his lavender outfit down to his loin cloth to do battle with Beast-man, Fistor, and Stinkor. But I do know that the guy who wrote Friday the 13th part 4, modeled a He-man character after a head of broccoli because that’s what he thought of Jason as Corey Feldman sliced into his head with a machete. OK? OK

    Comment by jwill7 — February 4, 2008 @ 10:00 pm

  4. As someone who cringed a bit when I had to read a graphic novel, thinking that it would relate or be of interest only to those who read comics (and therefore not me), I have to say I did enjoy both of our class reads. The idea of tying the graphic novel genre in with ancient writing systems sounds interesting. I can’t wait for class and to hear more about it.

    Comment by ebrazee — February 4, 2008 @ 11:53 pm

  5. Josh, amazing that Spiegleman is going to speak at Oswego. I wish some of our class could go…that’s a Tues night I think. Corey Feldman and machetes–what are you thinkin’ man! KES

    Comment by sunyprof — February 5, 2008 @ 12:40 am

  6. Oh, Josh, you asked about BONE. Take a look–#3 here in this list of the top 100 graphic novels. You can see why your kids love it. KES

    Comment by sunyprof — February 5, 2008 @ 12:47 am

  7. Hi Keith,
    Thanks so much for coming to our class! I’m excited to hear about your course, since I’ve yet to see comics implimented to this degree in high schools.
    I am like Erica, and cringed at the thought of reading a graphic novel. It seemed… like a short cut. Then I read Persepolis. I read it because I saw that it was made into a movie. I wish they could make movie trailers for all books. Anyways, I read it and loved it. I learned so much- it was quick and digestible. It made me realize that I should not disregard this genre. I still have my hesitations (i would not want to see it as the only genre used in an ELA classroom) but I think it last a valuable place in young adult reading lives.

    Comment by allison — February 5, 2008 @ 1:09 am

  8. Keith: I look forward to meeting you this week and hearing all you have to say about graphic novels, as I was only introduced to them this past fall. However, at the NCTE conference (which I attended with some of you ESM co-workers) I bought a graphic novel focused on the events of 9/11, and it was truly a wonderful book. It reminded me alot of the movie Flight 93, as both are packed with information about that tragic day. Howver, I finally understood some of the advantages of the graphic novel. As opposed to the incredibly fast-paced movie, I was able to read the text at my own pace, and appreciate the characters and all of the information that was being conveyed. As Sarah mentioned above, I to am interested to hear how the kids have responded to this class, and also how the administration has as well.

    Comment by mandygrl101 — February 5, 2008 @ 1:45 am

  9. Keith, your class sounds incredible. I’ve been reading comic books for many years now and always wondered why people never took them seriously. Now, with all the comic-to-film adaptations, I think that people are beginning to get a sense of how meaningful some of these stories really are (ie. Ang Lee’s much maligned, terribly underrated adaption of the Incredible Hulk, is considered a masterpiece by certain critics). You mention the connection of comics to ancient Egyptian writing and I had never once considered that connection. I’m really looking forward to hearing more about that and comic-book characters’ connections to epic heroes from ancient mythology. As other posters have mentioned, I can imagine the difficulty you may have had in getting this class going, but kudos to you for fighting the good fight. Comic books rule!


    Comment by traverse02 — February 5, 2008 @ 3:08 am

  10. Keith:
    I look forward to meeting you, and I am very interested in the idea of a concentrated course in the graphic novel. Do you feel like a revolutionary? I can assure you that when I went to ESM there was absolutely no choice about which English courses I could take, and I certainly was not exposed to the genre of the graphic novel! The only comics I read growing up were Archie and Jughead, but perhaps that little amount of exposure still prepared me to read the graphic novels in this course. I am especially interested in reading some of the titles that have been previously mentioned such as Maus. As a commuter from East Syracuse, I thank you for the time you are taking to come to our classroom. Please know that we truly appreciate it!

    Comment by kariredmond — February 5, 2008 @ 3:47 am

  11. Keith,

    Thanks so much for coming to visit our class. This sort of thing: REAL LIVE AUTHORS! makes a class with reading so much more fun. I like what Raph mentioned about film adaptations, and I agree- and I’ve noticed there’s a lot of mainstream comic heroes on the big screen now. They have somehow bridged the gap from comic print to actors and special effects. This new kind of comic-hybrid in film, and in the graphic novel, I think has something to do with symbolism and simplicity. As a kid a was a total spiderman freak, and I think I still have a spiderman transformer knocking around in the closet somewhere. I’m off track now. Just wanted to say I’m looking forward to our class.


    Comment by joycehansen — February 5, 2008 @ 10:34 pm

  12. Thanks for coming to visit our class. I’m really interested to hear what you do in your class. It’s great to hear how people are actually using the non-traditional texts in real classrooms.

    Comment by katefrazer — February 5, 2008 @ 11:50 pm

  13. Mr. Ward,

    Thank you for your blog! There is a remarkable amount of humility in your posting, which I commend. You have not become jaded by your teaching of such an up and coming genre of reading. I enjoyed the honesty and humor that you put into your posting, as well.

    Over the weekend I was discussing comic/graphic texts with my sister and future brother-in-law, and discovered a lack of knowledge that people outside of the “English world” have for the genre. Both questioned the integrity of the text and the substance that it truly can have when 50% (or more) of it is composed of illustration. Also, are we asking too much of young adolescents if we assign a comic/graphic novel? I ask this, because essentially they are reading TWO stories (i.e. the words + the illustrations) at once. Is this too complex for young students, or a discreet way to challenge them without being aware of it? When you visit tonight, hopefully these curiosities will be answered. I look forward to meeting you tonight.


    Comment by jexter1 — February 7, 2008 @ 3:07 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: