Here Comes Your Man – Time For Some Smiling Superheroes?

I’ve been thinking a lot about heroes and villains lately – here in Parkes we just ran an event called Big Box Battle where teens made Godzilla-like monsters and kids built heroic cardboard robots to fight them; last month in Sydney I spoke at an event about monsters and villains in children’s literature; and, on a darker note, my Twitter stream just yielded Dean Trippe’s comic Something Terrible, courtesy of Dylan Horrocks. Trippe’s comic shows how fantasy heroes can be a beacon of hope and goodness in even the most terrible of real-life circumstances.

Meeting your heroes - Splash page from Dean Trippe's SOMETHING TERRIBLE
Meeting your heroes – Splash page from Dean Trippe’s SOMETHING TERRIBLE

Given the huge part protagonists play in our own notions of what it means to do the right thing, I find myself exhausted by the long and seemingly unending trend for dour superheroes on our movie screens.

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Here Comes Your Man: Re-Imagining Superman and Batman

Has Matt gone mad? Is he trying to take Zack Snyder’s job, or turn this website into a den of fanfiction?

Nah – at least, not yet. This post contains an outline for a Superman/Batman movie that would fit within the argument I’ve made in “Here Comes Your Man”, my post on superheroes, masculinity, and fun, which you can read on this site.

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Dark Night: Bromance Coda – Carol Borden on Superman and Masculinity

As a coda to my series  for Auckland Libraries’ Dark Night, I’m reposting a great essay on the Man of Steel from Carol Borden, editor of Canada’s great online arts journal The Cultural Gutter.

As Man of Steel hits our screens and offers us a pretty brutal take on the boy from Krypton, Carol finds new and exciting ways to affectionately explore gender identity in…“Loving the Alien”.

Read Loving the Alien: Superman and Masculinity at Carol’s website, Monstrous Industry.

Library Chat Podcast – on Nerf guns, literacy and boisterous play

This week you can find me talking about libraries, literacy, and immersive play on Corin Haines’ Library Chat podcast.

Corin is head of digital services with my current employers at Auckland Libraries in New Zealand, where I’ve been encouraging youth librarians to embrace play, performance, and forms of literacy which needn’t involve books on shelves.

One of the first things I did on arrival in Auckland is arrange for the library to purchase a number of Nerf guns – toys which shoot foam darts – with the aim of encouraging librarians to create activities which combined literacy with more boisterous forms of action and adventure.

The message I’ve been trying to get across is that roleplay and activities which immerse you in a story are just as valid for libraries as anything involving books on shelves.

UNESCO’s Missions of the Public Library don’t even use the word ‘book’ once – but they do mention providing access to cultural expressions of all performing arts, stimulating the imagination and creativity of children and young people, and providing opportunities for personal creative development – alongside reading!

Corin has been, to his credit, an early adopter of the Nerf gun in Auckland – that’s him in the final frame of this YouTube video, which shows staff getting to grips with the toys:

But Corin did ponder the moral implications in a blog post on gunplay and libraries at his own website, concerned that we were encouraging children to celebrate violence through this kind of activity.

This is the kind of problem that keeps a decent librarian awake at night – especially in the light of recent news from the US.

When creating Heroes and Villains activities for the school holidays, how scary should we dare to go?

Should we be allowing kids to identify with explicitly villainous figures? (Somewhere in my mum’s house there is a photo of me dressed as Darth Vader – but I alternated that costume with Spider-man pyjamas and my favourite hero outfit, Batman).

If kids use play to make sense of the world, do we have the right – or the power – to stop them thinking through violence and its consequences using play?

In the light of recent events, I’ll be following up on these questions after a pause for contemplation and acknowledgement of the tragedy in Massachusetts.

In the meantime, you can hear Corin and I chat about literacy and immersive play over at Library Chat.

Guest post: Neill Cameron on pirates, dinosaurs and comics in the classroom

Neill Cameron writes and draws for The Phoenix, Britain’s new weekly comic for children, as well as giving illustrated talks and workshops for young comics creators. Neill Cameron giving a comics workshop

When mainstream comic companies sometimes seem to neglect younger readers, it’s exciting to see a publication like The Phoenix aimed at an earlier age range. Neill’s work for the comic includes a gripping pirates-versus-dinosaurs adventure and a series teaching readers ‘How To Make Awesome Comics’.

Neill joins us now as part of my site’s discussion of comics in education, which you can browse via the comicsedu tag.

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Comics in the classroom: supporting female students, part 2

This is the second part of a discussion about engaging female students using comic books. Read the first part of the girls in comics discussion here, or browse all posts on comics in the classroom.

Queen and Country by Greg Rucka

Reflecting on girls, comics and education are comics commentator Dee Pirko from Girls Read Comics Too, educator and editor Lisa Fary from Pink Raygun, and Carol Borden, editor of The Cultural Gutter, as well as children’s writer Louie Stowell and Adele Walsh, who runs Melbourne’s Centre for Youth Literature.

I concluded the discussion by asking our panel to recommend good comics for educators and librarians to use with girls and young women.

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Comics in the classroom: supporting female students, part 1

This week, our discussion of comics in the classroom turns to the question of how we can engage female students using comic books.

I’m joined by comics commentator Dee Pirko from Girls Read Comics Too, educator and editor Lisa Fary from Pink Raygun, and Carol Borden, editor of The Cultural Gutter, as well as children’s writer Louie Stowell and Adele Walsh, who runs Melbourne’s Centre for Youth Literature.

Michelle Bai of Alfriston College drawing her own comic

I started by asking the panel, “What are the benefits, and challenges, of using comics in education?”

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Comics in the classroom guest post: Nick Sousanis of Teachers College, New York

American artist and educator Nick Sousanis is one of the experts interviewed in this month’s education article on Comics in the Classroom. Nick made his name on the Detroit art scene before beginning a Ph.D. at Teachers College in New York.

Unusually, Nick’s own doctoral thesis takes the form of a comic book – putting into practice his belief that the medium can be a powerful tool for intellectual inquiry and the communication of complex arguments.

Possibilities comic by Nick Sousanis
A page from Nick Sousanis’ ‘Possibilities’, a philosophical and historical examination of games

Nick is currently speaking at the Rocky Mountain Conference on Comics and Graphic Novels. In today’s guest post, Nick shares his thoughts on making the most of comics in education.

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The Petrie Museum, University College London: Using comics to bring ancient Egypt to life

This is the first of a series of posts supporting my article on comics in the classroom, which appears in the June 18th curriculum supplement to the New Zealand Education Gazette. Find more posts on comics and education under the comicsedu tag on my site.

One of the most exciting comic book education projects I’ve discovered takes place in the Petrie Museum, where University College London holds its collection of archaeological findings from ancient Egypt.

Supergods workshop flyer from the Petrie Museum, University College London
Image property of University College London.

It can be a tall order attracting children and young people to an academic museum, especially with a capital city’s attractions on your doorstep. Since 2010, artist and educator Kel Winser has run workshops at the Petrie, using ancient Egyptian culture as an inspiration for children and young people to create their own superhero characters.

Kel and the Petrie Museum’s education officer Debbie Challis joined me to discuss their innovative use of comics as an education tool.

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April update: Science tattoos, teen bloggers, copywriting, and comics

It’s been a little quiet on the blog lately as I ploughed through a swathe of writing assignments and tried (only partly successfully) to stay clear of the Internet.

I have a couple of articles out later this year for the Australian science magazines ScienceWise and Australasian Science, profiling scientists who featured in Carl Zimmer’s book Science Ink. Carl uncovered the weird and wonderful world of researchers who have their work tattooed on their bodies after he spotted a DNA helix inked on the arm of a respected neurobiologist at a pool party in the States. This led to a great book collecting photos of striking, beautiful and downright bizarre science tattoos from around the world.

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