Grids and Gestures: A Comic Make


Nick Sousanis, whose work as a graphic story/artist is always intriguing (see Unflattening) and interesting, is hosting an informal week of Grids and Gestures, his activity that invites you to make a conceptual comic built around time and design. Nick did a Make with Me hangout with CLMOOC this past summer, and we all did the activity. He also wrote a great piece for Digital Writing Month about the art of comics.

The image — done in the Paper app on my iPad — above is my first Grid and Gesture attempt for the week .. tracking my weekend day over time.

Here, Nick explains how Grids and Gestures works:

Give it a try this week. I’ll be doing mine, too, as I think about my days in terms of conceptual design. You don’t need to be an artist or a writer or a comic creator. That’s the beauty of Nick’s activity. Anyone can enter, at any level, and still come out with an understanding of the world.

Comics space time

Peace (inside and beyond the grids),

Graphic Novel Review: Mouse Guard (The Black Axe)

Story and narrative are at the heart of the Mouse Guard graphic novels by David Peterson, and this prequel to the first two books is as powerful in that regard as the others. Mouse Guard: The Black Axe feels as if Peterson has created his own world and history, with fonts and maps and text bubbles and art design all contributing to the overall experience of the reader immersed in a world that seems real and alive.

It’s been some time since I read the first two Mouse Guard books, to be honest, but I was quickly drawn right into this story of a mouse sent on a mission to find the lost weapon of lore. The Black Axe, a weapon of lore, is bestowed to a hero of the mouse world, and less you think that the world of mice in Peterson’s imagination are small and fragile … think again. These mice are fierce and courageous and live in a dangerous world.

The artwork is spectacular here, right in tune with the writing. I had meant to only read the first section and found myself glued to the chair, reading the entire book in one long, enjoyable sitting. Here, in The Black Axe, the mouse hero Celanawe is sent on a quest by his only kin, an elderly mouse, and battles storms, ferrets, fisher cats and a fox. You will root for Celanawe, even as you mourn with him for the cost he pays, and you will sit in wonder of the fabric of this fictional world.

This graphic novel is suitable for middle school and high school students, but it may be a bit violent for some elementary school students. My youngest son is turned off by the different fonts and text bubbles, and the rich language, of Mouse Guard, for some reason. Those are among the things I like most about the series. Go figure.

Peace (for even the smallest of us all),

Where That Sound Comes From

Poem day ten

It’s interesting … the concept of where ideas come from. I was watching this performance by Colin Hay (formerly of Men at Work) of an excellent song called Waiting for My Real Life to Begin, and thought of where our Muse comes from.

Where does music come from? Where are the seeds of sound planted in all of us? That’s where today’s poem emerged from — the wondering.

Peace (planted and nurtured),

Book Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Now, here is a novel with quiet power. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly is not just the story of a young Texas girl, growing up in the late 1800s and realizing that she has a desire to become a scientist. The novel tells the tale of the social confines that hemmed in girls for so long while also celebrating the independent spirit that pushed against those walls to (eventually) force change and gender equality (still underway, right?).

To put it like that, however, steals away the real power of the writing here, as Kelly does a masterful job of bringing us into the mind and world of Callie Vee, who connects with her rather aloof, mysterious grandfather, who has made his fortune with a cotton gin and pecan farm and now intends to spend the rest of his life observing nature, documenting science and if possible, discovering a new species of plant in the world. Calpurnia, armed with a notebook, joins him in his scientific inquiries in rural Texas, even as her family is getting her ready for the age when she should be attracting a husband for her ordained future as a housewife.

Calpurnia has no interest in that at all.

She wants to be a scientist in a world and age when few women were allowed those opportunities. Luckily, she has her grandfather and that connection with him grows stronger throughout the book as he does his best, in his own way, to educate her in the sciences. As writer, Kelly does a fine job of bringing this Texas family from 1899 to life, and it’s nearly impossible not to root for Calpurnia to break free of the gender constraints and follow her inner voice that seeks to make sense and understand the natural world around her.

I started reading this book only a whim. Someone donated it to my classroom and it has been in the bookshelf for a year. I was intrigued by the title itself (Yes, Darwin’s theories play a role in shaping Callie Vee’s view of the world), and I am glad that I took the plunge. Calpurnia’s voice has lingered with me for days after putting down the book. (Oh, and I see there is a sequel: The Curiosity of Calpurnia Tate. I wonder what Callie has been up to.)

Peace (in change),

I Write Slanted

Day nine poem

I saw this quote from EB White about writers writing slanted (or something like that), and while I suspect White was after the metaphor of politics, I was stuck with the imagery of the writer, leaning over.

“I have yet to see a piece of writing, political or non-political, that does not have a slant. All writing slants the way a writer leans, and no man is born perpendicular.”

E.B. White

Peace (off-kilter but still stable),

Graphic Novel Review: Cleopatra in Space (Target Practice)

This graphic novel has bandied about our house for nearly a year. I don’t know why it took me so long to read, but I know my youngest son had read it a few times and said he liked it. I think that’s why it took me so long … I couldn’t find the book and only recently did I find it during a “clean the bedroom or else” sweep.

I’m glad I did (find the book).

Cleopatra in Space, by Mike Maihack, is a series of graphic novels about, yes, THAT Cleopatra as a budding teenager who gets herself zapped not just into the future (where she is destined to change the fate of the Universe) but also to an entirely new galaxy altogether (where many of the character are intelligent cats).

The mechanics of her transformation from Ancient Egypt (ancient to us, anyway) to outer space is less important than knowing that Maihak is attuned to character development and to using humor to tell a full-on action story. We don’t get a ton of backstories to the friends that Cleopatra is making but I suspect that might be coming with other books in the series. The artwork is colorful and engaging, and the story moves at a solid pace, without sacrificing characters and plot gaps.

Cleopatra is no fool and she’s pretty handy with her laser gun, too.

This is just the first book in the series (entitled: Target Practice) but I am intrigued and want to know more about this feisty heroine. This book is well-suited for boys and girls in the elementary and maybe middle school years. The boys won’t be turned off by a girl as protagonist because of the sense of adventure and action, and the girls will be excited to see someone their own age as the hero of a graphic novel story. Win-win.

Peace (connecting across time),

Snug Inside the Baseball Glove

Day eight poem

Today’s poem is inspired by a patent I saw shared via the Library of Congress for a baseball glove. Our house has lots of baseball activity — from players to fans. In April, before any game has started, anything is possible. You can dream of the season ahead.

Peace (in Spring’s potential),

Book Review: Who Is Jeff Kinney?

I can answer the question in the title of this small book for you rather easily enough: Jeff Kinney is the author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. If you teach in an elementary/middle school, or have young readers at home, ’nuff said. This short biography — Who is Jeff Kinney? — gives more details about Kinney’s life as a budding and aspiring cartoonist/novelist, and how his hard work and vision for story eventually paid off.

Who Is Jeff Kinney? is a quick read, but it could be a solid companion piece for those readers who want to know more about how Kinney and his series became the blockbuster that it is. Kinney seems like a regular guy who loved to draw, but realized that his drawing ability would not likely get him far. He turned that weakness into a strength with his books, though, and got a few breaks along the way.

What I found most fascinating is how Kinney worked hard for a handful of years to gather together stories and drawings, with no publisher in sight, and when he was done, he had a mountain of ideas from which to work from (which is why he can publish a book a year now). Also, the first iteration of Wimpy Kid were aimed at adults, not children (I’d love to see some of those) but the publisher who took a chance on Kinney (all the way to the bank) saw a market for young boy readers, so Kinney reworked his ideas for a younger audience.

This biography is written by … his younger brother, and so it is rather flattering (not that I have any dirt on Kinney or anything … he seems like a genuinely nice guy and who couldn’t like a guy who used his fortune to open a bookstore in his hometown?).

Peace (in the bio),

Poetry: Writing by Modem’s Flickering Light

Day Seven poem

I was off daydreaming about something — trying to put together some ideas on a project — when I realized I was staring at and being mesmerized by the blinking lights of our modem on the floor of our living room, by the television. So odd. The mathematical phrase of “mean, mode ..” came late, first as an alliterative stretch but then as something more … I also went for the “found poem” look here, on purpose.

Peace (in the movement of ideas),

Dreaming by Day

It’s April and I am writing poems, with different visual media apps and platforms and whatnot.

Peace (in the share),