Fighting the Crowds at Free Comic Book Day

Free Comic Book Day Comics

Well, I have to admit: I was pretty surprised to see the line of people waiting to get into our local comic book store yesterday for Free Comic Book Day (which fell on the May the Fourth Be With You Day, too, so the geeky stars aligned). My 8 year old son and I rounded the corner, timing our visit right for when the store would open because I knew he would not want to wait, only to find a line of people stretching around the corner of the building.

By my count, there were about 170 people waiting to get in, in front of us.

This is the fourth year or so of bringing one, some or all, of my boys to Free Comic Book Day, and while it has grown each year, it was never like this. I don’t know if it is marketing by the comic book store, or the Facebook effect, or if comics are becoming even more popular than I thought, but it was pretty amazing to have to wait to even enter the store (it has an occupancy limit) as if we were waiting for a rock concert or something.

Unfortunately, the store also limited the number of comics each person could get to make their supply last longer (a line had formed behind us, too, so that made sense), and my son and I each only grabbed three titles. I used up my three for what he wanted, of course. And we bought a book (and got a free graphic novel, which was  a nice bonus touch by the store).  We got Tick, Batman, The Simpsons, Smurfs, and a few more.

What did you get?

Peace (in the frames),


Ger Yer Comics on Free Comic Day

This Saturday (May 4), it’s Free Comic Day. Find a store near you that is participating, and even better — tell your students! (use the Store Locator tool to find a store near you) It’s a day when loads of free comics (mostly samplers) are given out to celebrate the art and storytelling of comics. I usually grab a bunch for my classroom. You should, too.

Peace (in the frames),

When Trademarked Products Enter the Testing Environment

Product Placements and Testing

I wrote this comic after reading a piece at the Washington Post about the creeping (creepy) influence of trademarked products into standardized testing. The article notes that Pearson does not appear to have gotten paid for including the names and trademarks of commercial products, and its inquiry found that the products were references in the original texts used for the assessment .. yet how can we NOT wonder about the influence? We have to. Testing situations have to be above reproach when it comes to our kids.

Peace (in product-free assessments),


Book Review: The Comic Book History of Comics

It took me a few months to get through this “history of comics,” told in comic form, by Fred Va Lente and Ryan Dunlavey, but it was worth it. The Comic Book History of Comics is an insightful ride through the history of the graphic story which has its roots way back in storytelling with images, and has now pushed its way into the digital sphere (when a recent comic distribution site — ComiXology — offered to make free some old archives of Marvel comics, the rush by folks to get there caused the entire site to go down.)

What’s great about this book is how the history is told as comic story, with funny and insightful jokes scattered throughout the frames even as the ups and downs of the comic world are told. The illustrations and artwork are witty, with tons of tongue-in-cheek references to politics and pop culture, and more. (In this way, the book demonstrates the kind of storytelling power that comics are about.) Topics range from the stereotypes of early comic strip characters, to the “investigations” by the government of the moral influence of the comics, to the emergence of new forms of comics in Japan, and more.

That said, this book is probably not all that interesting to most young readers. It is pretty dense, coming across more like a textbook for a college classroom than a readable history. (That’s why it took me a few months to read.) In some ways, this history comic is for the diehard comic fan, or for that person who wants to go deeper into the impact that graphic storytelling is having on our world. You can see the influence of comics in movies, books, and popular cultural, in general. The Comic Book History of Comics does its job well, but it is not for the casual reader.

Peace (in the frames),


Comic: The Teacher of Reading is All of Us

I grabbed this from  blogger Andrew Wales, who does a wonderful job with creating graphic stories and panels that captures his views  of the world (mostly art, but also, teaching). This one is about reading, and comes from his notes after reading a book about the teaching of reading. It connects nicely with Common Core’s push that everyone is a teacher of literacy.

Peace (in reading),

Slice of Life: Teachers Who Made a Difference (in my life)

This is for Slice of Life, although the idea began over at our National Writing Project iAnthology site, we’ve been writing about teachers who made a difference in our lives. I created the following comic to remember three teachers whose philosophies and styles linger with me.

Influential Teachers

Peace (in the past),

Playing with Pixton Comics and Audio Layers

I’m reviewing the Pixton Webcomic site for some work that I am doing and want to see if the comic embeds OK here in my blog (if not, here is the direct link). I also used the interesting feature in Pixton that allows you to add sound to a comic. I used it for audio narration. I like that feature. (Hover your mouse over the text box and you will see the little flash icon for listening to sound).

Peace (on the strip),

Connect the Pop: Exploring Webcomics for the Classroom

Bitstrips for Schools1 Comics Creation & Critical Thinking: From Doctor Who to Bitstrips

Peter Gutierrez, over at Connect the Pop blog (part of the School Library Journal site), has been running an interesting series of posts in which he is interviewing the folks behind some of the more popular webcomic creation sites. Gutierrez, always thoughtful, is trying to explore how comic writing is different from traditional writing, and how webcomic platforms might allow entry into writing for some students through non-traditional transliterate ways.

He began with an interview with one of the founders of Bitstrips (and I use Bitstrips for Schools fairly regularly in my classroom). Bitstrip’s Shahan Panth explains where the idea for the site came from and how it connects to literacy.

I liked this observation from Shahan:

“Making a comic is not simple. You need to figure out the visual composition of each panel, the sequencing and pacing of your story, the body language and facial expression of each character in each shot. It’s a synthesis of so many different things, and for most kids, these are elements they haven’t had to think about before. Suddenly they find themselves in the role of comic auteur, responsible for considering and communicating every detail of a story.” — Shahan Panth, Bitstrips for Schools

Gutierrez also talked with my friend, Chris Wilson, of The Graphic Classroom (where I do reviews of graphic novels through a classroom lens), and Chris talked about the balance between students writing and reading traditional (paper-bound) comics and graphic stories, and digital platforms.

“Electronic comics creation is especially helpful for students who are not artistically inclined. In such a case, the differentiation of the online comic offers those students a chance to focus more on the story, characters, setting, plot and style more than the art. Online comics do not require expensive art supplies. Assuming the technology is readily available, students can create comics electronically as a way to demonstrate learning of any particular topic. Those can easily be shared on a teacher’s website. If technology standards are part of the objective, then online comics would be the way to go. I recommend varying the approach depending on the objective, class culture, student needs and resources.” Chris Wilson, The Graphic Classroom

The next interview was with Bill Zimmerman, whose Make Beliefs Comic site is a great way to introduce students to comic creation. The site is very simple to use, and has a translator built in for multiple languages. Bill also regularly posts a “rewriteable” comic that you can adapt right off his site, and then print out.

Bill notes that comics tap into the graphic culture that permeates the world of kids.

“All educators are desperately looking for ways to encourage youngsters to read and write and have discovered that comics, with their glorious drawings and the wonderful talk balloons that help move stories along, provide a vital resource to engage young people. We live in a very graphic society where children constantly see moving, comic images – sometimes on television and movies, sometimes on computer games. Kids feel very comfortable with these comic images and are hungry for more. ” — Bill Zimmerman, Make Beliefs Comics

MakeBeliefs Civil Rights 479x500 Comics Generators and Literacy: Edtech and Nontech Insights from Bill Zimmerman

I am really enjoying Peter’s exploration of comics, and look forward the next post.

Peace (in the frames),



The State of Webcomics and The Economist

There was an interesting article the other week in The Economist magazine (which we get at our home through some free subscription that some kid was selling as a fundraiser) that talked about the growth of Webcomics. It was pretty fascinating, as it showed another example of how the flexibility and individuality of the web as a publishing platform is chipping away, quickly, at newspapers and magazines (irony that I read it in a magazine but can share it online? yeah).

The article – entitled “Triumph of the Nerds” — notes that as the comic sections in many newspapers have remained predictable and stale, the quality of webcomics has pushed new limits. In my view, sometimes those webcomics work; sometimes, they don’t. What the article points out is how successful webcomic artists are using social media to nurture an audience, without the restraints of a publisher breathing down their neck, and to try new ideas, new approaches that might not otherwise work in a traditional format.

The article gives a nice historical overview of comics, too.

“Cartoons go way back before newspapers. They have their origins in the caricatures and illustrations of early modern Europe. In Renaissance Germany and Italy, woodcuts and mezzotint prints were used to add pictures to books. By the 18th century simple cartoons, or caricatures, circulated in London coffee shops, lampooning royalty, society and politicians. Popular engravers such as William Hogarth and James Gillray came up with tricks we now take for granted: speech bubbles to show dialogue and sequential panels to show time passing.” — Triumph of the Nerds, The Economist

And it reminds us of the present circumstances.

“The decline of newspapers and the rise of the internet have broken that system. Newspapers no longer have the money to pay big bucks to cartoonists, and the web means anybody can get published. Cartoonists who want to make their name no longer send sketches to syndicates or approach newspapers: they simply set up websites and spread the word on Twitter and Facebook. ” — Triumph of the Nerds, The Economist

And there is the warning note, too. Making a living as a webcomic artist is difficult and making a living off it … fraught with unknowns.

“This new world, in which humour spreads instantly and globally, threatens webcomic artists at the same time as it liberates them. Cartoons can spread around the web without crediting their creators; copyright thieves can sell unlicensed merchandise. Cartoonists need to be entrepreneurs, as well as artists. Online cartoons can be lucrative, but unlike working for a syndicate, they hardly provide stable work.” — Triumph of the Nerds

Peace (in the comics),