Category Archives: education

Comics In The Classroom: Grand View University

By Greg Goode

Watchmen, the seminal graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, appears on Time magazine’s 100 Greatest Novels of the 20th Century list.  In 2009, The New York Times began publishing a graphic novel bestseller list.  The same year, Heath Ledger wins an Oscar for his portrayal of The Joker, Batman’s arch-enemy, in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.

The comic book, long considered a disposable object exclusively for children, is finally getting some respect. Further validation for the art form can be found on college campuses, where graphic novels are becoming an increasingly common part of the curriculum, including at Grand View University in Des Moines, Iowa.

Matt Plowman, Grand View’s associate professor of history, first experienced comics in the classroom at another institution as part of a critical thinking class on the Holocaust. Plowman said one of the most powerful texts the class read was Maus by Art Spigelman, a graphic novel about Spigelman’s father’s experience in a Nazi concentration camp.

“I’ve seen [graphic novels] used very effectively, and communicate things that just weren’t alive on the page of a history book,” Plowman said. “Literally, it’s graphing reality for them, picturing reality and playing with it.”

Later this semester in his European Cultural & Intellectual History class, Plowman will be using V For Vendetta by Moore and David Lloyd, a graphic novel about an anarchist’s war against authority in a near-future totalitarian England.

“With European intellectual history, you kind of have to show where society’s moving,” Plowman said. “So I was looking for something that was late 20th century, and particularly with where a lot of European thinkers were going, there’s a lot of dystopia. And the graphic novels tend to be on the edge of that.”

Plowman said he picked V For Vendetta partly because of the students familiarity with the story from its 2006 film adaptation.

“I wanted them to be able to see the original intent of Alan Moore and what he’s really trying to say about society,” Plowman said. “Sometimes it’s easier for some students, rather than trying to find a movie that has a traditional novel, where they have to do more literary criticism. Especially for the visual learners.”

Kevin Gannon, professor of history at Grand View, said he’s always been intrigued by the use of graphic novels in class. Two years ago, Gannon took part in a summer reading program for the Grand View freshman class that used Gene Luen Yung’s graphic novel American Born Chinese.

“I had never taught with that before and in my discipline, it’s not very common. We use pretty standard vanilla textbooks. I was intrigued with the idea,” Gannon said. “I was a bit intimidated by the idea, too, because I had no idea how to teach it. What I learned is that it’s just like any other text.”

This semester, Gannon is assigning A People’s History of American Empire, a graphic novel that adapts writings by radical historian Howard Zinn. Gannon said students have responded to the text enthusiastically.

“For me personally, a graphic novel fits right in with the way I structure my courses and what I want students to be able to do with the texts that we read,” Gannon said.

Other Grand View instructors utilizing comics include Ken Jones, who assigned the zombie apocalypse story The Walking Dead in his Introduction to Ethics class this semester and Jim Whyte, who has given students the task of creating their own comics in his Principles of Management class.

Gannon said he sees the use of graphic novels in his class as a way of expanding his students’ ideas of what materials can be used in the classroom environment.

“I ask my students to be open-minded and look at different things as text, not just the standard printed page,” Gannon said. “If I’m going to ask my students to look at a text in that way, I should be willing to do the same myself.  And that’s where graphic novels help stretch me as a teacher.”

“Why I’m An Athiest” by Ricky Gervais

I enjoy the various comedy projects of Ricky Gervais, but I also appreciate his interest in rational thought and scientific reasoning. This week, Ricky wrote an essay for the Wall Street Journal explaining why he’s an athiest. Whether you agree or disagree with his views, I think it makes for an interesting read.

Check it here.

– Greg


how awesome is this guy?


Mickey Mouse in the Gurs Internment Camp

There was once an internment/refugee camp in France that went by the name of Gurs. During WWII, after France joined up with the Nazis, Camp Gurs became home to non-French Jews and other “dangerous” people. Although this was a concentration camp, and obviously not a nice place to live, the people within Gurs were able to create for themselves a community that thrived on the arts. One prisoner, named Horst Rosenthal, created a couple of comic works before his death. One was titled “A Day in the Life of a Resident: Gurs Internment Camp, 1942”. I can’t find much about this one, but the other one, which a lot of people seem to love, is called “Mickey Mouse in the Gurs Internment Camp – Published without Walt Disney’s Permission.” Here are some panels:

you can read more about it in a paper titled: Mickey Mouse in Gurs – Humour, Irony and Criticism in Works of Art Produced in the Gurs Internment Camp.


via Boing Boing, Scribd, and Disney History.

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Comics in the classroom: an ongoing mission

In a couple of months I’ll be a certified K-6 teacher in the State of Florida and a year after that I will have my Master’s Degree and finally enter the workforce.  One of my private missions is to increase the acceptance and presence of comics in the classroom.  This issue has been coming up a lot lately as my ‘Reading in the Intermediate Grades’ professor is very open to the idea and I’ve been showing her examples from my own collection that I think would be well suited to the classroom.  Here are some of the books I’ve presented to her:


Jim Lawson is my favorite illustrator ever but all biases aside this is a great book for a classroom because 1) it’s well-researched, 2) it’s meticulously illustrated, 3) kids love dinosaurs (especially boys, who supposedly don’t like to read as much as girls).

Magic Trixie

This book really feels like it was made for schools and it probably was. Most of the story takes place in an elementary classroom, the main character is an elementary student living with a non-nuclear family. The main twist is that all of the characters are monsters. This is part of a series of three books.

Usagi Yojimbo

I know a lot of libraries keep copies Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo series but I don’t think many schools do. However, this is a very intelligent, well-researched series with great art. The whole thing takes place shortly after the Tokugawa Shogunate took power in Japan, meaning the countryside is lousy with out-of-work soldiers that have nothing better to do than make mischief. A perfect series for boys in 4th grade and up but there are a lot of strong female characters for girls to relate to, as well.


Out of everything I’ll list in this post, Jeff Smiths’s Bone is the only property that’s made any actual headway into the classroom, thanks to its republication, in color, by Scholastic. The series starts out like Carl Barks Disney comics and ends up like a darker Lord of the Rings, all with great art. My professor already has a few of the books in her classroom-type library.

Victorian Murder

Rick Geary has made a career out of portraying horrific crimes in completely dispassionate and analytical ways. He has also created graphic adaptations of several classic novels and biographies. Almost all of his comics are ideal for the classroom given their detailed, thoughtful presentations. However, some of the Victorian Murder books describe rather graphic or REALLY FRIGHTENING situations (like the H.H. Holmes book) while others are rather ho-hum and nonthreatening (like the Death of the Abraham Lincoln book).

Dr. Seuss and Hitler

In the years leading up to World War II, Dr. Seuss was a political cartoonist and this book collects it all. It’s almost surreal to view illustrations of Hitler by Dr. Seuss but you’ll get over it. This book would be perfect for high school students that are studying the WWII era. I mean, talk about reactivating background knowledge, it’s Dr. Seuss, the guy that drew all of your favorite kids’ stories about cats, elephants and Loraxes!

I think these books are great and don’t require an excuse to be included in the classroom, however if I were forced to justify including them I would say that they can be used to entice reluctant readers into actually giving it a shot. Additionally, they can be used for students that have difficulty with comprehension and visualizing what they read. You don’t want to hold their hands all the time and always use illustrated materials but comics are like movies on paper, sort of a transition between picture books and text-only books (although they can certainly be as sophisticated as a text-only book).

The End (for now)

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Theodore Adorno – On Popular Music

I just got done reading this essay by Theodore Adorno. According to wikipedia, he “was a German-born international sociologist, philosopher, musicologist, and composer“. But who cares, right?!

stop being so cool, ted!

The essay is called “On Popular Music”. Basically… it’s an essay written in 1941 about “popular” music compared to “serious” music. It starts of as just a sort of comparison of the two, but ends up as an analysis of the popular music industry and its consumers. Although I don’t agree with everything he states, I found the whole thing to be an interesting read.


(and then we’ll have a scholarly discussion in the comments section)


Reading Rainbow: The Final Chapter

Yes, it’s official as Ryan first told me.  Reading Rainbow aired it’s final episode Friday.  It was something that always was in the background of my life, having first aired in 1983.  I even remember watching my first episode “Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain” and how my mother was abuzz about some new show on PBS we were going to watch. Then summer after summer during the 80’s, anxiously waiting to watch new episodes.  Strangely in the late 90’s, RR became sort of an obsession for me.  Slowly, I tried to add a complete list of guest narrators  to the Reading Rainbow entry at the Internet Movie Database.  I would gather info from the internet or happen to catch an episode and then write down the name of the narrator, episode, and year of the original airing.  Then in 2006, when I opened my first account on youtube,  I posted probably 20 or more clips from the show after getting my hands on some tapes from my parents. Both are teachers and had used Reading Rainbow in their classrooms for many years. So here’s a big salute to you RR, and as Levar would say at the end of each episode “I’ll see you next time!”

Below are just two of my favorite Reading Rainbow moments, both from my newer youtube account.


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