18 February 2015

Time to bury the word Normal

"You should cut your hair. You should wear nicer clothes. Those are toys for girls, you should play with toys for boys.  Don't you want to fit in? Don't you want to have friends?"
"Don't you want to be NORMAL?"


It's a word that we all use.  One single word.  Just one.  But what a horrible and deadly word it is.

We use it to describe our day. To describe someone else...or to describe how we want to be.  Society encourages this.  All while telling us to be embrace our uniqueness and differences, it tells us that we should strive to be NORMAL.  To fit in.  In school, in work, in church...wherever we go.  Society tells us that we should all strive to be NORMAL.  That it's better to be NORMAL.  NORMAL is an ideal.  And that ideal is absolute and total bullshit.

I heard the word NORMAL a lot growing up.  Hell, I heard it a lot even after I was done growing up.  People tossed the phrase at me like it was candy.  "You need to look like them.  You need to act like they do.  Be more like them.  FIT IN!  Be NORMAL!"  I heard that from people that meant well and wanted me to be happy and successful.  I heard it from people that didn't give a shit about me at all and were disgusted that I couldn't be shoved into a box.  Whatever they meant, it had the same effect.  I started not to stand out.  To not embrace what made me, me.  I started fading into the background.  To slowly have my spirit die.  To slowly kill me.

I'm sure some of you are thinking that maybe I'm going a bit over the top with this.  That "fitting in" and "normal" aren't the same thing.  But stop and think about it for a moment.  How many times has someone told you that you should fit into the norm? How many times have you wished you could be NORMAL like a friend of yours?  They may sound different, but we often use the word "NORMAL" to mean to fit in.  And how horrible is that?  Why should we hide what makes us, us?

And I get it, there are some things that are norms that are good, like not being a sociopath or a bully.  But as to the rest?  Normal is bullshit.  It causes the death of identity. Death of a spirit. Death of a soul. It bullies us until nothing is left but despair and darkness.

So what do we do?  Do we continue to tell people to be normal?  Or do we let people soar? To discover who and what they are.  To discover what they might be. It is time for the word normal to die a quick and painless death.  It is time to give it a funeral and to move on. To encourage people to be themselves.

17 February 2015

I'm teaching a class on comics, sign up!

I'm excited to announce that this August I will be teaching a class for Library Juice Academy called "Comics, Literacy, and Standards."  It's a 4 week class and here's what we'll be covering:

Comics have made their mark upon the world of entertainment, from movies, TV, to even music. Now they're beginning to show up in discussions on promoting education and literacy for students of all ages. How is this possible? And how do you make the argument to administration and teachers that comics have value beyond just entertainment? This course will give you the basics of terminology, standards that comics meet, and ways to sell these important works to the administration and faculty that you work with.
By the end of the course you will be able to:
  • Define basic comics terms, such as gutter, panel, border, caption and more.
  • Outline a basic argument of how comics:
  • Support literacy and critical thinking skills
  • Support and meet the common core standards in multiple areas
  • Promote both verbal and visual literacy for readers
  • Match standards to comics
  • Match comics to programs and readers, based upon content, images, style and purpose.
If this is an area of the comics world that you'd like to learn more about then sign up and we'll get started in August.  Hope to see you all in August!

16 February 2015

Why The Guardian's piece on comics is worrying

If you follow comic folks, creators or just about anyone with a passion for comics and graphic novels you might have seen them...vent (and that's putting it lightly)...about this piece from The Guardian by Jonathan Jones.  Basically Jones says that R. Crumb is the only true standard for comics, all current comics are bland, and all of the artists need to learn how to create art again.  

Excuse me for a second. I'm going to go curse, you go read the piece and then come back.

*clears throat* OK that feels a bit better.  Where was I?  Right why Jones and The Guardian's piece cause harm.  

Let's go ahead and get the obvious out of the way, Jones is writing an opinion piece.  He's entitled to his opinion that R. Crumb is only true artist and the gold standard for one. And if Jones were to go out and tweet that or post it on his personal blog, more power to him. He's standing on his own two feet saying it.  

The problem is here he isn't...he's standing on the coattails of The Guardian and using his position to say something as if it's fact.  And Jones does have a position that is listened to.  He writes The Guardians art section, he does reviews of books and shows, and he's served on national prize committees which doesn't just happen unless you have a voice that is listened to.  And Jones does.  He's done a cursory glance through the local bookstore, sized up what's on the shelf and said that this what's been doing everywhere in comics.  Let's ignore the fact that the local bookstore has probably done some selective buying, Jones hasn't bothered to actually look at the world around him and see what's really out there. To see the diversity and the range that exist, not just in published graphic novels at bookstores, but ones at comic shops, at conventions, on the web, hell even those just being handed out on the street corner.

I'm sure some of you are saying "Oh it's just one paper, what harm does one piece do?" The problem is in this day of social media and newspaper closings, that one piece suddenly becomes much bigger as its shared numerous times.  People will ignore the fact that its opinion and see something from an established paper and a known name and take it as fact.  Papers, news organizations, will run with it and claim that comics are banal and boring and not worth the time and energy.  Soon it will get tossed in with some of the other arguments against comics that we so often see as well. And that one piece will spread much further than it should.

While this may not be "that piece" the question remains what should we do about it?  While some prefer to ignore it and let it die, I feel the better solution is to talk about it.  Keeping silent only gives something power.  Speaking about it, presenting other opinions and sides, lets other voices be heard.  In this case Jones and The Guardian, since they published this piece they have to take responsibility for it as well, need to actually examine what comics are out there.  That comics are as diverse and numerous as the stars in the heavens, and that each person that creates them has their own style and way of telling a story.  Some of them are just beginning, some are at the hight of their powers, and some are nearing the end of their stories.  But all of them, no matter if they even look similar to another one, are different.  All of them have their own way of creating.  And while Jones and The Guardian may not like some of them, there are others out there they may.  And if they don't, if they want to continue to insist that R. Crumb is the only true standard, that's fine.  They are allowed that opinion.  But...and this is important, but they need to acknowledge that while they don't like something, while they think artists are bland and boring, others won't.  And it isn't a problem, it isn't something to moan about it, it's something to cherish that everyone can find something they enjoy.  

There's is a much wider world out there than what's found on the shelf of your local bookstore.  Comics are only bland if you move in the dark.  This is your flashlight.  Go forth and explore what's out there.  And share what you find. 

04 February 2015

Library awards and graphic novels


Although it may seem strange to some folks the Superbowl was not the only big event in the world this week. No, in libraryland and in the publishing world ALA Midwinter occurred. And why is this a big event that people should care about? Because it's where the winners and honors of some of the major book awards, such as the Caldecott, Newbery, Printz, and many others are announced. And this year...this year some fantastic graphic novels won some of these awards. And yes...yes this is important and I'll explain why in a minute.

Some of the winners include:

  • This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki and published by First Second which won the Caldecott honor, which is awarded "to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children." It is the first graphic novel to ever win such an award (although The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick did win the award in 2008, it does not typically get classified as a true graphic novel, since it mixes written chapters with illustrated chapters.) Not only that, but the book also won a Printz honor, which is given for excellence in writing in young adult literature. It is only the second ever graphic novel to be given this award, the first being Gene Yang's American Born Chinese. This One Summer is a beautifully written and illustrated work by the Tamaki cousins and you can find my review of it here.
  • An award that I don't hear much about, but is important none the less, is the Batchelder award, which is given to the best book published in another language and then translated into English. And one of this year's honor winners was Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust by Loïc Dauvillier, Marc Lizano (Illustrations), Greg Salsedo (Ink), Alexis Siegel (Translator) and published by First Second. As far as I can find (and I maybe wrong on this) this is the first time that a graphic novel has ever been honored with this award. This is a moving and powerful book on what it's like to experience the Holocaust from the a child's perspective, something that I don't see much of.  You can find my review of it here.
  • The last major award is the Newbery award, which is given to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.  Think about that for a second...distinguished contribution to American literature for children.  And for the first time ever a graphic novel won a Newbery Honor.  El Deafo by Cece Bell, which is written and illustrated based upon her experiences growing up with hearing problems and getting a hearing aid for the very first time and discovering it is like a superpower!  One that can be used for good, or for evil.
OK so graphic novels won awards, yay! Happens all the time right?  True, they do....but not generally from the library awards committees!  And why is that important?  Here are some of the previous winners of the Newbery awards:  The Giver by Louis Lowry, Holes by Louis Sachar, The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman, and Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan among countless others.   Caldecot winners? The Lion & the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney, The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg, Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg, and Ox-Cart Man, illustrated by Barbara Cooney; text: Donald Hall, among many others.  How many of these titles do you recognize?  How many have you read or your kids read?  Probably close to all of them.  And why is that?  Oversimplifying a bit, but its because libraries typically buy and promote award winning books.  They know they've been vetted, have name recognition, and an award that a lot of folks will recognize.  And now graphic novels have cracked into the Newbery and Caldecott award winners.  This not only gives them instant recognition and status among libraries, but also allows them to start finding their way onto more shelves into more libraries.

These awards are like Hollywood status among books.  Rock stars, movie stars, famous athletes, etc. It gives them an instant cache among many people and a front of the line pass of "Oh you won that award! Well sure we can let you have a table now."  Should it take graphic novels winning awards to make their way onto library shelves? No...they shouldn't.  But it's a start to make inroads.  It's a start to get people to realize that graphic novels and comics aren't just superheroes or Archie comics.  That they are so much, much more.  And that even superheroes and Archie comics have changed drastically in the last 10 years! But that's a post for a different day.  

One day it will be common place for graphic novels to win awards like the Newbery, Caldecott, and Nobel Prizes.  But today is not that day.  Today we celebrate the books that are not only great works of literature, but have started breaking the barriers of awards.  That are proving that illustrated works are just as important as straight prose books.  That are finally allowing many authors, illustrators, educators, librarians, publishers to shout "Booyah! See we told you graphic novels were fantastic!" and then get back to work to continue the fight.

Congrats to the winners and may we see many, many more graphic novels in the years to come.