Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Picks for 2010.

Having been away from the Teach Comics blog for a year and a half, I thought I'd compile a short list of some of my favorite graphic novels from the past year. While I could go on and on about ALL the great graphic novels and comics of 2010, I thought I'd limit it to those that I've added to my own classroom library, or that my colleagues at the middle and elementary level have had success with.

So, without further delay, here are the Teach Comics highlights for 2010:
BOOK #1- The Stuff of Legends, Book 1
Villard Books

Part Toy Story, part Dean Koontz's Oddkins, and part Jim Henson's The Christmas Toy, this sweeping action/adventure from indie creators Raicht, Smith, and Wilson appeals to readers of all levels.

The basic premise is both original and vaguely familiar- It's Brooklyn, 1944, and a young boy is stolen away to the mystical realm known only as THE DARK, by it's ruler the Boogeyman. The boy's only hope? -A band of misfit toys including a lead soldier, a ballerina, an Indian, a piggy bank, a wooden duck, a jack-in-the-box, and a stuffed bear, as well as his puppy. This unlikely group of heroes ventures after the beloved boy, battling the Boogeyman's forces in a race against time.

This is only the first volume of an on-going series, so while it is not a complete story, it sets the stage for a sweeping adventure.

While this story has been insanely popular with both high school and middle school students, I would avoid using it at the elementary levels. The sepia-toned eerie illustrations and battle scenes might be a bit too heavy for that age.

Overall, the book is a really fun read, with crisp illustrations and believable dialog- no easy feat for a story about a group of kid's toys battling the monster in the closet.

BOOK #2-Thor: The Mighty Avenger, vol. 1
Marvel Comics

Thor, a beloved Marvel Comics character (yes, based on the Norse god), is banished to earth after centuries of brash, selfish behavior to learn what it really means to be a hero. As he wanders middle America with his new friend (and possible love interest) museum curator Jane Foster, Thor encounters heroes, villains, monsters, and average folk on his quest of rediscovery.

The beauty of this book is that it works on so many levels. For young readers the story is broken up into chapters (originally published as thirty page single issues) which each feature self-contained stories with flashy characters and plenty of action and humor. For the more sophisticated reader, however, the overarching theme of self discovery and the subplot of a budding romance keeps us flipping the pages. This is an easy fit for any middle or secondary classroom.

All this appeal rests squarely on the shoulders of the capable prose stylings of Roger Landridge and the modern-yet-vintage pencil wok of Chris Samnee. In a market where writers and artists change on titles all the time, once in a while the creators of a book develop such a unique and powerful vision that you can't imagine the character, or it's universe, carrying on without those creators. It doesn't happen often, but this is one of those times.

Which brings me to the great tragedy of this book. Sadly, due to poor sales in a brutal direct market, this true gem has been canceled as a monthly series as of this month. That means that after this volume, there will be a volume 2 collecting the second half of the series and that's it. I could go on and on about the comic industry and how it's shooting itself in the foot by canceling such a brilliant title, but I fear I would be replacing my "teacher hat" with my "fanboy hat," and one must always remember their purpose when blogging.

Suffice to say, in this humble bloggers opinion, any middle or high school teacher building a graphic novel library would due well to add this title (both volumes) to their bookshelf. The appeal crosses age groups, genders, and reading abilities...How often can we say that about a text?

BOOK #3- Reading With Pictures
Reading With Pictures/ The Comic Book Project

Tapping over thirty of the hottest mainstream and independent creators in the comic book world, the nonprofit organization Reading With Pictures has put together a compilation of stories targeted specifically at elementary, middle, and high school student with the goal of building literacy skills through the comics medium. While lesson plans and literacy terms are not discussed explicitly, the book is meant to engage and motivate readers of all levels with short 2 to 6 pages stories. For younger grades the stories like G-Man: Reign of the Robo-Teachers and The Goblin of the Deep are bright, colorful, fun, and easily digestible (meaning that for a reluctant reader the length of the story is not overwhelming). For higher level students the stories in this anthology like Introduction work great as inference building tools, while also providing complex subjects for discussion around visual rhetoric.

ALL teachers interested in using comics in the classroom should definitely pick up a copy of this book.

BOOK #4- Kill Shakespeare, vol. 1
IDW Publishing

Okay, if you grew up on a diet of action adventure stories as a child and now found yourself teaching literature (I know I can't be the only one), you've probably thought at one point or another, "What if Hamlet hung out with Juliet and Othello?" or "Who's worse- Lady Macbeth or Richard III?"

-Welcome to the world of Kill Shakespeare- where all the Bard's most famous characters co-exist in one world. Join the forces of good (Hamlet, Juliet, and Othello) as the struggle against the forces of evil (and man did Shakespeare have some evil characters) to find the mysterious sorcerer Will Shakespeare.

This is a fantastic book for students and teachers alike. I've had fun sharing the text with students as they read Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet because for them it's a dynamic action/adventure version of these classic characters to connect with, while for me it's a collection filled with "easter eggs," or small allusions from a variety of Shakespeare's works.

This book is just absolute fun from beginning to end, but I'd reserve it for the high school crowd as the visual depictions can be a bit intense for the younger crowd.

BOOK #5- Superboy: The Boy of Steel
DC Comics

It wouldn't be a true Teach Comics list without at least one book related to the greatest superhero ever: Superman. Luckily, this year DC has really stepped up their game when it comes to the big blue boy scout, by releasing multiple noteworthy trades including Superman: Earth One and Superman Secret Origin, but for this blogger one title stands out from the pack- Superboy: Boy of Steel by Geoff Johns and Francis Manapul.

Released originally as a series that ran for the past two years, this collection focuses not on a young Clark Kent, but on his teenage clone, who shares genetic traits with not just Superman, but his greatest enemy: Lex Luthor.

A true teen drama, The Boy of Steel focuses on Superboy's questioning of his own place in the larger world, set against the backdrop of one of the greatest superhero universes to ever exist. We've all felt alone and confused in our lives, but how does that play out when you come from both the greatest hero and villain in your world? How does family play into that? How do our friends figure into the tough decisions we make as young people on the cusp of discovering our own identity? -This book has it all. Geoff Johns is truly a master writer who captures the voice of a believable teenage protagonist struggling with a universal problem- "Who am I?"

An ideal book for middle and secondary students, I can't recommend Superboy: The Boy of Steel enough.


  1. Hi Mr. C.,

    Thanks very much for the kind words about Kill Shakespeare. If there is anything Anthony, Andy or I can do to help you bring the Bard to life for your class we'd be happy to. We did a Skype "Q and A" with a University in Germany recently.

    All the best,

    Conor McCreery

  2. Thank you for sharing your list of favorite graphic novels. I think it's a great genre for reluctant readers. I blog on getting reluctant readers to read extensively and wanted to share that link with you at

    I hope you find it helpful!

    Pragmatic Mom of CoffeeShopBloggers