Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Are Comic Books Real?

Teaching can be maddening, frustrating, exhausting, rewarding, surprising, and rejuvenating, and Are Comic Books Real? captures those emotions in a visceral way I've not seen another graphic novel do. This series of stories from teaching and glimpses into the lives of elementary school students and their teacher, captures the good days and bad, the days when you question your sanity/life choices, and the times when something happens to make everything seem worthwhile. Some times nothing seems to go right. Others, the students amaze you with their work or crack you up with their observations of the world and/or ways that they interact with each other. There is a certain sense of capriciousness that goes with teaching, and this book depicts that roller-coaster ride with great acuity and empathy.

I loved how it incorporates lots of different sorts of representation, from more traditional ink drawings (both in black and white and in color) to color pencil drawings to single page portraits of students to actual student comic work. I loved seeing how all these various images combined to portray the realities of teaching and learning and how art affects it all. It captures the tenor of the controlled chaos of a classroom as well as the unique politics of students and how their behaviors affect their teachers. Just check out this moment:

I loved this book and found it incredibly moving. It made me laugh and cringe, empathize and recall some of my toughest days, and also called back some of my most memorable students. It made me remember what being a school teacher was like, and I think that it should be read widely by folks who would like to be educators or educators themselves, but perhaps especially by those who purport to know what teaching is like. I think ignorance and abuse of the profession and those who sacrifice much (both financially and mentally) to practice it are some of the biggest issues facing education in our country today. This book entertains and enlightens.

This book's creator Alex Nall is a teacher and an artist. He has published a number of other comics and books, including Lawns, Teaching Comics, and Kids with Guns. He speaks about his comics and teaching in this interview, and there is also more about his work on his (maybe no longer updated?) blog.

Are Comic Books Real? was published by Kilgore Books, and they offer a preview and more information about it here. This book was one published via a Kickstarter campaign this year. I gladly backed it and would hope others might also in their future ones.

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