I sent inside our webcomic site the other day, just to get a glimpse of the work my students started around their cyberbullying comics. (The activity is to create a webcomic featuring something they learned from our work around the issue). Some of the comics are developing nicely. These are two collages that I created from a handful of student work.
We’re nearing the final lessons in our Digital Life unit and the other day, we focused in on cyberbullying. You would think that students would be getting an earful about this kind of bullying every year, but … no. When I asked how many of my students had ever had a teacher talk about it with them, only a few hands went up. Yikes. More hands went up when I asked if parents talked about it. But not too many more.
We began with an activity around a scenario that involved using a website to attack someone else, and discussed the situation and the possible responses. Then, I shared three videos: a Brainpop video about cyberbullying that did a fantastic job of explaining not just what it is but also strategies for victims (but you need a Brainpop account to access it), and then two videos from the CommonSense Media site. The two videos were personal vignettes from two girls who had been the target of cyberbullying, and how they responded and how they felt.
You could have heard a pin drop in the room as they girls talked about their situations. It was powerful. (And I can’t say enough about the CommonSense Media resources and curriculum around digital citizenship and digital life. I’ve been very impressed.)
Next, we went on the laptops and went into one of our communities: Bitstrips for Schools. Students have now begun a comic activity that is supposed to represent some ideas on how to prevent or deal with cyberbullying. They didn’t get too far and we will pick it back up after our February break (although I suspect some of them will work on the site over vacation). But I am going to poke around in the site and see what they have been up, and share out a bit tomorrow.
I mean, as a teacher of sixth graders, the lead character in the Big Nate comic and books is like a collection of quirks from my own students (in a smaller body). This collection — I Smell a Pop Quiz! – from creator Lincoln Peirce is another funny look at school through the eyes of Nate, who seems immune to most criticism, engulfed with big ideas that rarely pan out, and engaged with his odd assortment of teachers whose patience is continually tested.
Every now and then, I make copies of educationally-related comics and put them up anonymously through the areas where teachers go: in the copy room, in the mail room, etc. Hopefully, it generates a little levity with my colleagues. I have a few panels from I Smell a Pop Quiz earmarked and ready to go. If you are a teacher, you can find plenty to laugh at here. And your students will enjoy this collection, too. While Peirce has also tried his hand at making novelized versions of Big Nate, they don’t work so well, in my opinion.
Big Nate belongs on the very small stage — in those three or four panels of funnies where the confines of the writing actually brings out the very best in Peirce’s writing and art.
At the holidays, I received the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson. And while the story was familiar — I already knew much of Jobs’ history from other books and profiles — I still found it pretty fascinating. Let’s face it: if Jobs were our boss, we would have strangled him. If Jobs were our principal, we might have revolved against him. His temperament and lack of emotional connections, and drive to create his vision or else, made his companies at least very interesting to watch. But I would have hated to work under him.
The bio does a nice job of peeling the outer layer off Jobs, though, and allows us to understanding him a bit more through the very personal interviews that Jobs granted Isaacson. For me, I was most fascinated by his intense desire for design, and how that need for intuitive design elements shaped all of the products he would be putting into the market — from the devices that hold music to the stores that sell machines, and even in the layout of the Pixar offices. Design considerations also went into the insides of devices — things most people would never see. So much of what we see is so ugly, but not Apple products.
Isaacson nicely explores this area of Jobs’ life, and how that need for perfect design affected his dealings with other people. (And it is also so intriguing the parts where we see Jobs and Bill Gates interacting, and how different their approaches were to technology – particularly around design: Gates could not understand the fuss and Jobs could not comprehend how one could not fuss over it. That dichotomy could be a whole book in itself. I’d love to see a bio on Gates that goes as deep as Isaacson goes here, but somehow, I doubt that will ever happen. He’s not that kind of person, as far as I can tell.).
Two weeks ago, I got a comic book biography of Jobs. Needless to say, Steve Jobs: Co-founder of Apple by Bluewater Productions was a lot thinner. But the comic book bio touched on some important moments of Jobs’ life, and accomplishments, and does not quite skirt his explosive personality, but doesn’t dwell on it much, either. Reading the comic book version after Isaacson’s version was like watching a highlights real. I suppose if you have students interested in Steve Jobs, and the biography is just too much, the comic book version might be worth putting into their hands. You can tell, though, that the publisher rushed to get it onto the market to ride the wave of interest following Jobs’ death and Isaacson’s book. I found a few proofreading errors, and the writing is weak at times.
Both of these books give a view of Jobs as someone who has made a mark on modern life, and you can’t argue against that.
This is an annual survey that I give to my students, with some changes each year, to give me a sense of my students. This year, it coincided nicely with Digital Learning Day and an upcoming unit around digital citizenship and safety.
(This post is also a podcast)
I remember well the ink-stained fingers. On Sunday mornings, before anyone else received their delivery of the New Haven Register, I would sit on top of the red newspaper box where the bundles would get delivered. First, I would open up the pack by slitting open the plastic wrapper with my pocket knife, and then I would open up the first newspaper on top, turning quickly to the colored comic section. The rest of week wa black and white, but on Sunday, it was full color. It was early enough in the morning that there was often not much traffic along the main street of my town, and in some seasons, I’d have to use the streetlight above for a reading lamp.
But there I would sit, enjoying the first look at Sunday comics before anyone else. And my fingers would turn a rainbow hue from the ink coming off the news, the black of the front page mixed with the colored ink of the comics. My reading done, I would pack up the bundle and begin my methodical journey around the neighborhood, delivering the newspapers. All the while, though, my mind would be replaying the antics of Calvin and Hobbes, or the adventures of Spiderman, or nutty ideas of The Far Side, some of which I still don’t get.
I was thinking of those Sunday mornings the other day because I have a book collection of the comic, Zits, and along with many great strips that appeal to the comedy of being a father of a teenager, the book includes many short narratives of famous comic creators about their memories of comics as a child. Some write about their parents forbidding them from reading the funny pages, which only made it more enjoyable. Others write about where their inspirations as a writer come from, or where their drawing styles emerged from.
For me, the comics were part of childhood, and when I became an adult, I realized that I wanted to try my hand at creating a comic. I chose the classroom as my setting, and technology as the wedge, and created Boolean Squared. The art is minimal at best (I wish I had a partner) but I loved the writing challenge of a comic, and for a year, it ran in the online edition of our local newspaper, The Springfield Republican. I published about 150 comics during my two-year stretch and then retired it. Writing and publishing Boolean Squared was an incredible joy, and a whole lot of work.
The experience made me think of writing and creating in a whole new way, and I still bring comics into my classroom on a regular basis for teaching writing craft and for students, to write. They may never experience the ink-stained fingers of my own childhood (kids don’t deliver newspapers anymore, do they?) but at least they can experience the genre of comics, and who knows? One of them just might be a budding webcomic creator and they just might remember that teacher who valued comics as a piece of writing and art.
Peace (in the funnies),
If you have a geek on your list (and who doesn’t these days?), you might want to consider the collection from the “Not Invented Here” comic by Bill Barnes and Paul Southworth. The setting for this very funny comic is inside a software development firm where terms like “kernals” and “code” and”interface” form the backbone vocabulary of a funny group of programmers, marketing folks and others. I’m no programmer yet even I had plenty of chuckling moments, particularly as technology goes astray.
Check out the back page description:
Behind every great piece of software is a talented, conscientious team of hardworking individuals dedicated to producing the highest quality product using internationally accepted best practices and industry standards.
And then, there are these guys.
One particularly storyline around a social networking site called “MySpice” that seeks to add a fragance element to connecting with friends had me laughing so loud that my sons needed to see over my shoulder what I was reading. That the storyline ends with a tragic accident involving a user and a perfume spray in the eye, not to mention the mangling of some programming code, made it delightful to read as a parody of the direction of sites like MySpace and Facebook (although I think the Spice Girls should had a cameo).
The characters in Not Invented Here are nicely fleshed out — from Desmond, the overweight programmer whose need to improve every line of code he comes across is a fixation of comedy of errors (so to speak); to Owen, a sofware design guy who has no clue what he is doing most of the time and whose stumbling around in the world is a fine comedic relief; Marketroid, the robotic head of marketing whose fingers are all over every product, and not in a good way; and more.
I’m tempted to send my copy of Runtime Error to my programming friend but that would mean getting rid of the book. Nope. I might have to buy a second copy to send him for the holidays.
We’re shifting into Figurative Language techniques as we move towards poetry — a bit earlier this year for us for scheduling reasons. The other day, we tackled onomatopoeia (the hardest word to spell when your type fast) by using comics as our jumping off point. We began with a Wordle list that I generated of various sound effects.
After talking about the use of sound effect words in comics and its use as an art form to denote action and sound on a flat page, and then looking at a comic page in which onomatopoeia was used, students then had the task of creating their own comic strip about whatever they wanted, using at least five examples of onomatopoeia. They did a nice job with their comics, and you could have heard a pin drop when they were working on them, too. They seemed surprised that we were doing comics for writing class. But any chance to give them a taste of some alternative form of writing and reading is something worth gravitating to. Don’t dismiss comics as juvenile literacy. There’s a lot going on in those frames. See some of the other comics.
Oh, we also watched the short cartoon from the Dr. Seuss story, Gerald McBoing Boing (the boy who doesn’t speak words). The kids loved the video, even though the cartoon is pretty dated. But the show’s art is something I love — it is so very different from any other cartoon, particularly the Looney Toons of the same era. And since Gerald talks in sound effects, it is a perfect example of onomatopoeia. I have the DVD but, no surprise, you can find it online, too.
Most comic collections are just that: collections of some of the better comics from a series as chosen by the writer. This collection of The Underfold webcomic entitled Best Apocalypse Ever is sort of like that, with one outstanding difference. Brian Russell brings us right to the start of his comic — right back to the days when he began writing subversive yet funny comics in the underside of folded paper at his job serving coffee at a church. I know, sounds strange, right?
But if you want to see the genesis of an idea for a comic slowly taking shape, and then transforming over time, this collection — with various written narrative insights by Russell — is the real deal. Which is not say The Underfold isn’t one of the oddest, wackiest comics I have come across in some time (compliment). Between the talking eyeball, the tentacles-instead-of-hands, the breaking of the wall with the reader, and the paper-bag-over-the-face character, The Underfold is an odd assortment of imagination.
From the standpoint of a writer, though, I loved Russell’s ongoing commentary in Best Apocalypse Ever about where his comic started and where it ended up going, and the decisions (sometimes last-minute decisions) that shaped the various narrative and artistic arcs of The Underfold. I felt like we were in a room, drinking beers, and he was giving me an inside look at his creative process, sometimes slipping me a joke on the underside of a napkin.