So I was enthusiastic when comic-book writer Josh Elder invited me to present on one of his panels at the world-famous San Diego Comic-Con this summer. Outside Hall H, the biggest theatre at Comic-Con, over 130,000 fans waited in line for popular panels, like a Q&A with the cast from Avengers: Age of Ultron. Many were dressed as their favorite villains or caped crusaders, eager to celebrate their love of not just comic books (an increasingly small part of the convention), but also anything related to pop culture and science fiction: Panels related to Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Frank Miller’s Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, were all big draws.
In smaller rooms, away from screaming crowds and the mainstream media, panels like “Creating Comic Books with the iPad,” “Popular Media in the Elementary Classroom,” and “Calling All Heroes! Comics and the Crisis of Higher Education” certainly didn’t generate as much excitement. But making my way to as many of those panels as I could—more often than not in busy rooms, a few with standing room only—made one thing very apparent: More educators are paying closer attention to comics in the classroom.
I realized as much last year when I first connected with Elder, a talented writer behind several titles for DC Comics, including Scribblenauts Unmasked and Adventures of Superman #10. Elder is the founder of a non-profit called Reading With Pictures (RWP), which, according to its website, aims to unite “the finest creative talents in the comics industry with the nation's leading experts in visual literacy to create a game-changing tool for the classroom and beyond.”
Elder says his cause is both professional and personal. As the child of a single parent, he had to wait in line for government-issued cheese. He struggled at home, but in school teachers encouraged his love of comics, which played a large role in his success in the classroom (he went on to become a National Merit Scholar), at DC Comics, RWP, and beyond. “Comics made reading easy and fun,” he told me. “Once that happens, learning everything else becomes easy and becomes fun, too.”
Last month, the organization released Reading With Pictures: Comics That Make Kids Smarter, an anthology featuring 180 pages of original content by top industry talents, including George Washington: Action President by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey, Doctor Sputnik: Man of Science by Roger Langridge, and The Power of Print by Katie Cook. Each story is aligned with Common Core Standards to justify classroom use. A 150-page teacher’s guide, with a lesson plan for each comic, is available for free download at the publisher’s website.
At Comic-Con, I spoke with Tracy Edmunds, RWP’s curriculum manager, who played a key role in crafting content and overseeing production. A former elementary school teacher, Edmunds has been working in educational publishing and curriculum development for over 20 years.