Maureen Bakis is a teacher at Masconomet Regional High School in Topsfield, Massachusetts.
As a Johnny-come-lately into the comics world, I was impressed by the intensity and grandness of the activity at this year’s New York Comic Con. I wish I had had more time to spend learning about the variety of events that attracted so much attention from so many obviously adoring fans!
I arrived Friday afternoon to present on the “Rationalizing Graphic Novels” panel with three other panelists, an instructor at the Parsons School of Design and a 5th grade teacher and middle school librarian tandem. I was most surprised at how many people came to hear our rationales for bringing graphic novels into our three very different curriculums, and it was really great to be among other educators who are as passionate as I am about graphic novels and our respective students. The attendees asked great questions and exhibited genuine interest in how we panelists had overcome some of the difficulties of working graphic texts into our schools’ curriculums, mine being the most rigid as a public high-school English teacher.
After the panel ended, I got to chat with John Shableski, the No. 1 graphic novels guy in my estimation, as well as meet a number of people face to face with whom I have been chatting online about graphic novels and education. It was wonderful to see so many educators and librarians in the crowd and to make new friends. A gentleman from Israel was visiting New York for the first time and asked me for ideas about using comics to bring young people from diverse communities together. Collaboration, of course, is one of comics’ best features! Since I’ll be participating this month in an online discussion group called Graphic Novels, the Middle East and Muslim Communities Book Group, sponsored by Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies, I recommended he look into a web comic called Zahra’s Paradise along with Marjane Satrapi’s Chicken with Plums, G Willow Wilson’s Cairo, and Rutu Modan’s Exit Wounds.
Speaking of collaboration, I attended the “Will Eisner’s New York” panel, a timely topic for me since my students are currently working on a research project about the history of comics and also reading Eisner’s A Contract with God and A Life Force. It was fascinating to see Eisner’s artwork interspersed with photographs of New York City in the 1930s and 1940s on the large screen. It was awesome to hear Denis Kitchen talk about his personal relationship with Eisner and to get to know a bit more about the generous and self-effacing kind of person this talented artist really was. I found it especially interesting what a grand collaborator Eisner was and how personally devastated he had been about the Comics Code and its surrounding controversy. It was great to share all of this information with my students when I returned to school, though they were miffed they didn’t get to come with me to hear all of this for themselves. There’s nothing like a first-hand experience at Comic Con!
Saturday saw the Javits Center sold out and absolutely jam-packed. With so many great panels happening at once, it was disappointing to not be able to attend them all. What especially struck me were the lines upon lines of costumed people waiting patiently for autographs from their favorite comics artists. I was able to snap a few photos with a couple of transformers and The Joker on my way down to hear Katie Monnin talk about teaching graphic novels. If Katie ever decides to leave academia (though she should NOT!), she would definitely give Conan O’Brien and Ellen Degeneres competition! Katie’s presentation was engaging, informative, and “super-awesome-entertaining,” as she might say. She is so enthusiastic about teaching graphic novels and sharing her experiences and knowledge with everyone, it’s difficult not to get excited when she’s around. I look forward to sharing many more Comic Cons with her in the future, as I will be following in her footsteps with my own book about teaching graphic novels being published in the spring by Corwin Press.
I left New York on Saturday night with two things in mind: Technology is going to redefine the way we read and visual literacy instruction will be in serious demand, both of which were clearly illustrated at this fall’s New York Comic Con. Lots of people are overwhelmed by such change, but along with the folks that I met at Comic Con, I am excited to be a part of it! As Katie Monnin said, “I sure don’t want to be left out of this revolution, do you?”