NPR and global dishwashing

The dishwasher was replaced, but the leaky pipe keeps me in analog mode. But tonight’s chore flew by as I listened to three shows on NPR- Giving It Away from TEDx, Q, and BBC. Each was inspirational in a good way.  Canada’s Q brought a delightful interview with the great English folksinger Shirley Collins.  She told stories about her relationship with Alan Lomax, their love of music, Folkways and traveling through the south, meeting , recording, and preserving the blues and more. (http://www.cbc.ca/1.3474573)

But the best way that I can describe the BBC show, 100 Women is to say, it was the most [insert your favorite superlative here]! Check out the best of the  BBC 100 Women festival in Mexico City. I was introduced to a wide range of some really extraordinary women-  artists, thinkers, activists, writers, and their ideas about creativity, education, society. There was a discussion with some men and women about positive signs of change in  the traditional macho society there. One woman artist, who has self-identified as a feminist artist  for 40 years said that there is still much to do, but the fact that after thousands of years, a lot has happened.

Dishwashing was never so interesting!

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Prophecy in comics: Revisiting “American Flagg” after 33 years.

Cover of American Flagg #1

Cover of American Flagg #1

This week, I reread the first 11 issues one of my favorite comic book series, the brilliant American Flagg , written and drawn by Howard Chaykin, first published in 1983. Now, 33 years later, the book is still relevant, scary, twisted and funny. It also highly resonates in light of the election. I was especially struck how like other books of speculative fiction, such as Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World, Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and others, it is completely relevant in today’s society. American Flagg is not cut in the same dystopian fabric of those other books, although there is a certain dystopian quality to it. However, reflecting a more contemporary sensibility it tells a twisted tale about sex, drugs, violence, and how a disparate group of characters navigates through a post-breakdown society that as a whole is trying to redefine political systems and alliances, the nature of corporations, technology and culture.

The setting is earth, and the year is around 2031. Several man-made catastrophes and wars have completely changed society, and the USA is called PlexUSA, with cities replaced by giant malls. The narrative takes place in the Chicago Plexmall, governed by Plexus Rangers, whose headquarters are located on a colony on Mars. The city is ethnically divided with groups that are familiar to us, but with the addition of their ethnic militias. There are designer drugs, “Pleasure Zones”, and GoGangs, similar to motorcycle gangs of today that go on weekly rampages fueled by drugs and cartoons project violent subliminals. The violence is so persuasive that characters attending a Jewish wedding there are required to be searched for weapons and then on to be amazed by the large chopped liver sculpture of a Patton tank.

Into this Plexmall comes our hero, Reuben Flagg, a Jewish actor from Mars.  Mark Thrust, Plexus Ranger, the he character that he played on television has been replaced by a technology similar to today’s holography, a video so real and life-like that and actual human actor is no longer need. Without a job,  Flagg is shipped to earth, to become a real-life Plexus Ranger. He is shocked by the levels in corruption throughout all aspects of society. His real-life mission is to try to protect civilians, and provide the law, but it quickly becomes apparent to him that he also needs to root out the corruption in the police (Plexus Rangers), city government and everything else. He does this with the help of a talking cat with an incredibly high IQ, named Raul, the daughters of the mayor (who is black) and his best friend, the Chief Plexus Ranger (who is white).  And in a twist of fate and soap opera, the girls are also step-sisters. A sundry and sometimes bizarre assortment of characters populate the story,  among them:  a group of pre-war intellectuals who run a data mining-porn rental-flesh club; a neo-nazi, racist survivalist group called the ASLC (American Survivalist Labor Committee); and an illegal basketball team. As Flagg confronts and interacts with this cast, the ideal that he was raised with on Mars, as well as represented on Mark Thrust are continually challenged because of the persuasiveness of corruption.

It was at this point that I began to recognize the similarities with the post-election cast of characters and activities of the new president-elect. This is best illustrated in this panel where Reuben shares both his disappointment with the sorry state of affairs that he inherited, as well as his resolve to try and fix things. Sound familiar?

American Flagg, Vol. 1, No 1. Story and art by Howard Chaykin, lettering by Ken Bruzenak. Coloring by Lynn Varley, Editing by Mike Gold. Published by First Comics, October 1983. Evanston, Il.

American Flagg, Vol. 1, No 1. Story and art by Howard Chaykin, lettering by Ken Bruzenak. Coloring by Lynn Varley, Editing by Mike Gold. Published by First Comics, October 1983. Evanston, Il.

Other examples also errily resinate with current events. In AF #6, a supporter of the racist survivalist organization says, “The American Survivalist Labor Committee is the only hope that this country’s got….the Plex is simply a combination of mass-com-technology and Cosa Nostra morality…. On page 1 of issue #8, a top-rated TV show called Public Humiliation is described. As a large group of mixed ethnicities is led into the Mall, only to be rejected by the more conservative people, an un-named character says, “…does anyone at the mall want to be the first to say, ‘No room at the inn'”? There is more in each issue, all resonant to current events. Except that these books were written 33 years ago. They are almost prophetic in their astute observations of society, told with clarity, and a twisted sense of humor.

American Flagg is truly engaging, entertaining, educational. It is an excellent story to use for discussions about where we are and where we may go in the the world. It can be excellent resource to address critical thinking in diverse and dynamic societies, cultural shifts, potential affect of technology in thought and action and can be used in high school and college level classes in history, sociology, and literature, and other teaches, even as critical components in more collaborative, multi-discipilnary project. only limited by the creativity and imagination of the teachers.

It is also interesting for me to a continuum in society between in the 36 years after the writing of the  book,1984, and the 33 years I was introduced to and read American Flagg the first time. It is scary.

 

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4 graphic novels about the effects of war on children

As I progress in my dissertation research about using graphic novels in classrooms to help teach about social justice, as well as community, social and individual identity, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on the meaning of the term, “social justice”. Dictionary.com  gives a short form definition, sating simply that it is  “the distribution of advantages and disadvantages within a society”. Wikipedia expands on this with a more detailed and nuanced approach:

“Social justice is the fair and just relation between the individual and society. This is measured by the explicit and tacit terms for the distribution of wealth, opportunities for personal activity and social privileges. In Western as well as in older Asian cultures, the concept of social justice has often referred to the process of ensuring that individuals fulfill their societal roles and receive what was their due from society. In the current global grassroots movements for social justice, the emphasis has been on the breaking of barriers for social mobility, the creation of safety nets and economic justice. Social justice assigns rights and duties in the institutions of society, which enables people to receive the basic benefits and burdens of cooperation. The relevant institutions often include taxation, social insurance, public health, public school, public services, labour law and regulation of markets, to ensure fair distribution of wealth, equal opportunity and equality of outcome.”

I’ve expanded on these definition in two ways by including education and action.  In order to develop programs and activities improve the lives of the disadvantaged, we need to continue to learn and understand about the roots of the actions that have produced such hate, prejudice, racism, misogyny, anti-semitism. One area of particular interest to me is the horrible fall-out of war on society, especially on the impact to children.

Over the past couple of weeks, I read 4 graphic novels that address the effects of war on children in four different conflicts:

 

 

 

 

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Each story is either autobiographical, or based on true stories and events. Each is powerful and are all essentially horror stories. We have read stories and seen movies about Ann Frank and other children who fought for their survival and had to run and hide from the Nazis, only because they were Jewish.

McKay describes another level of hell as young boys are forced to watch the execution of parents, friends and siblings and are then forced to become killers themselves in order to survive the sub-human conditions and orders of a psychopathic, self-declared general in the Ugandan jungle.

Faulkner describes one aspect of the collateral damage of war- that of what happens to society in countries far away from the actual battle, where the loyalty of citizens who were born and raised there is questioned simply because of their ancestry.

In Paracuelos,  Giménez, describes the horrors of being deposited in a a nightmare of an orphanage in a country whose leader is a psychopathic, paranoid and Machiavellian general who believes that violence against civilians is an effective way to rule. Although for the most part, these stories are directed to middle and high school, they are also powerful learning tools for older students.

Some of the  many benefits for integrating graphic novels such as these in learning environments are:

  • Research shows that comics promote literacy, development of skills for interpreting text and images
  • They are essentially non-linear, allowing readers to move forward, and then to revisit previous sections for better understanding
  • Graphic novels encourage readers to use their own imagination in creating voices, background sounds and other devices to make the narrative both familiar and more real .
  • One of the most critical benefits of these stories is that they are real, told by and about real people. In general, history is often about big events that affect large societies, but pass over the the many people,  who make, and live in it. These stories engage the imagination and help the students see the connections between past and present events, bring the narratives home to the reader, transferring it from the realm of the abstract or purely academic, to the real and present.

Although I only have mentioned four books, there are many other excellent examples of books graphic novels about the personal experiences of people caught in big events. 

 

Posted in Art, Comics, education, Graphic novels, Holocaust, learning, Learning & Education, Learning Innovation, Online education, Social Justice, Society & Community, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Learning and watching @ Stan Lee’s LA Comic Con (aka Comikaze)

At the entrance to the LA Convention Center

At the entrance to the LA Convention Center

The newly renamed Stan Lee’s LA Comic Con (aka Comikaze) at the LA Convention Center was a blast! All comics and graphic novels, people of all ages, genders, ethnicities, all having fun! It made me think of a comment about Star Trek that appeared in the movie “Trekkies 2”. One of the major fans said that the reason that she liked Star Trek because it was about a time and place where people accepted and respected each other. This is my experience at Comic Con, which makes it a perfect venue for moderating a panel about  Comics in the Classroom.

Outside of our room

Outside of our room

Although I had scheduled two high school teachers who used comics, Peter Carlson and Johnny Parker II, Peter invited two really cool and knowledgeable colleagues- Rosie O. Knight, a delightful poet and writer from London, who taught comics to underserved kids over there, and Mom, from Ladybugs, the Los Angeles Women’s Comic Creator League, making a really interesting and dynamic panel.

The discussion was lively and interesting, driven by experience, passion (for comics) and the deep desire to make a difference to society. We talked about content titles, types of assignments, and learning objectives. But, there are comics and are more then just super heroes and talking animals, and many of the stories are about more than just super adventures. Following the tradition of great workd literature, we discussed how many titles and comics  represent archetypes of literature, and metaphors for action and meaning. For example we talked about how the conflict between Magneto and Professor X represent the philosophical conflict between Malcolm X and Marten Luther King.

David, Peter, Johnny, Rosie, Mom

David, Peter, Johnny, Rosie, Mom

Another idea that we spoke about was how comics can introduce non-, or weak readers to all sorts of great literature in some very unusual ways, such as R. Crumb’s brilliant version of Genesis. Crumb used some excellent translations of the story to inspire and guide his book. Peter spoke about how this kind of book can shift the cognitive lead to feed the students’ imaginations instead of simply reading. One of the panelists added this books like these allow students to test the boundaries found in static interpretations of this story, as well as others in classic literature from a black and white understanding, to more of a gray, that allows students to interpret using their own imagination, experience and knowledge.

Towards the end of the session, one of the most important take-aways was brought up. That is that comics in the classroom are not only consumed and used, but are also made by students. Assignments are similar to those that are associated to full-text compositions that are given in literature, history or other purely text-based subjects. But comics are much more dynamic, and personal. They empower students of all levels to personalize their narratives, promote critical thinking associated with the cognitive development of text-image interpretation and understanding, and make the stories real. Students are often overwhelmed with the state of the world, feeling helpless about the possibility of change. They know that they do not have the superpowers of the characters that they read about. But, in making their own comics, sharing their own narratives that define who and what they are, they can shift that sense of being helpless to change the world, to being empowered by being able to serve and save their communities, helping to create a snowball effect.

To my colleagues on the panel- Thank you for participating and I hope that I did your astute comments justice, and look forward to future conversations.

And now, some more images from Comic Con….

The Trekkie family + 1

The Trekkie family + 1

Usagi Yojimbo

Usagi Yojimbo

By buddy Dwight- we are both Pepperdine EdD candidates!

By buddy Dwight- we are both Pepperdine EdD candidates!

Another friend....

Another friend….

The Horn's

The Horn’s

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img_9425 img_9428

3 bats and a sneaky spider

img_9427
img_9447 img_9459
img_9448 img_9378

On a wall, across the street from the Convention Center.

On a wall, across the street from the Convention Center.

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Comics as personal propoganda (not mine)

What do you think about this article in The New Republic about Jack T. Chick’s hateful messages? Personally, I have an extreme dislike that matches the extreme sensibility of Chick. It promotes the hate, fear and arrogance It is also representative of the sensibility of some artists who separate the meaning of their work from the actual art. Once a mark is made on a surface, it does acquire a meaning. The question then becomes whether the artist is honest enough to acknowledge it. I think that Nick Sousanis’ brilliant book “Unflattening” addresses this in its examination of the relationship between text and images.
The article about Chick in The New Republic

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Day One after Debate III- The New York Al Smith Charity Dinner: Hillary and donald

This was truly an impressive event. Trump actually said some funny things, and of course, also spewed manure. Hillary was spectacular! She combined gentle and not so gentle barbs towards DT, she showed her intelligence, strength, passion and care, and even humility, as well as pride

She said the rights things, did the right things, acknowledge the right things. She gave back to Donald in straight, Her words were reassuring by reminding us where we succeeded and pointed to that we need to do. She spoke about the critical need to continue mend the tears of our society,

She described one of the great things about our country: e pluribus unum. I don’t thing that she used that term, but she certainly inferred it. She implied that everyone attending the event came form some other place, or their descendants did (II’m not sure if there were any of Native Americans present), We need to remember that and treat each other accordingly.

I am truly sorry that Bernie is not the candidate- I believe that he would have made a truly great president.  But this speech reenforced my support and my vote for Hillary.

Video of the speeches.

But watching donald’s reactions to her barbs was really scary. Although it looked like he had a few honest laughs, it seems to me the majority of his expressions were really tight, expressing more of an arrogant and adolescent “Just you wait! I’m gonna get you!”. The last time that I saw this expression on him was at the correspondents diner in D.C., when President Obama tossed a few barbs towards him. At first it looked as if he did not understand them. But his grin was just as tight- in that schoolyard bully’s expression of plotting revenge. He really had tried to damage the system for his and only his own benefit. Not a good man.

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Quick announcement- Stan Lee’s Comic Con!

The 2016 Stan Lee’s Comic Con (formerly known as Comikaze) is happening at the LA Convention Center on Saturday and Sunday, October 29 and 30. This will be my first time, and I have heard really good things about past conventions here. If you are in the neighborhood, stop by on Sunday, 10/30 at 11:30 am in room 301 A (although that may be subject to change. I am going to me moderating a panel called Zap! Pow! You got an A!  Comics in the classroom! The panelists are Peter Carlson and Johnny Parker III, experienced educators, and passionate advocates for comics. We will talk about how they use comics in classrooms, some of titles they choose, as well as learning objectives. We will talk about some general strategies that are proven to increase both children’s interest and levels in literacy, through a very wide range of narratives and content.
Come on by! This should be fun and imformative!

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Madaya Mom, a powerful digital comic about the war in Syria

Madaya Mom is a new digital comic, made as a collaboration between Marvel and ABC news is a brilliant and powerful story about the life of a family in the war-torn town of Madaya.

Madaya is a town in Syria, and besieged by Assad’s army since the summer of 2015. People cannot get in or out, and the situation is dire.   Several creative thinkers at ABC used their connections in Syria to  contact a mother of 5 living there. These are her powerful stories, where just surviving makes her a SuperMom. The illustrations by Croation comic artist Dalibor Talajić engage the reader and enhance the story. Bravo to this partnership!

ABC also produced a discussion guide for teachers.

Comics are an excellent way to provide stories about people that contextualizes current events. They tell deeper, meaningful stories about individuals who live in current events. We are used to see news broadcasts, documentaries, re-enactments on different screens. The radio and television provide ample opportunities and opinions of news, and newspapers can provide a level of in-depth analysis of important events. These are all excellent ways of staying informed, providing information for different kinds of news consumers that mirror the different ways people learn. It seems obvious to look at the different ways stories are told, or the same story is told, but through different voices, like in Rashomon.

They remind me of the work of Henry Jenkins and others talk about trans-media, or how narratives can be told across different media, such as movies, books, radio, and of course comic books. Different media are utilized to tell different back stories to larger narratives. Think about the different media used to describe the Star Wars Universe.

This idea of trans-media can be applied to events and issues in really cool and interesting ways, such as in comics and graphic novels. The combination of images and text create narratives that are compelling  as well as personally engaging. What comics loose in special effects, they gain in their immediacy, intimacy, humanity and that they are gently non-linear, and interactive in a non-digital kind of way. Readers progress, but can always stop and revisit previous chapters or panels, reflecting on the meaning, deepening their understanding of the story. As much as I would like to say that I have discovered it, I am happier that it has been around awhile many fine  writers such as Joe Sacco, Gene Luen Yang, Marjane Satrapi, and so many others (I will put a list of some of my favorite authors and stories soon).

 

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Reflections on two recent conferences- Long Beach Comic Con and DML

I just binge watched the entire first season of Luke Cage on netflix, and, all because of the really interesting, engaging and critical discussion between Dr. Henry Jenkins  of USC and journalist Jose Antonia Varga at the recent Digital Media & Learning conference held at UC Irvine. DML has always been one of my favorite conferences for educators and technologists to meet and talk about critical issues that are at heart about how technology can and is used to enhance learning and education. The combination of dynamic sessions and passionate educators always is inspiring and presents a really cool realm of possibilities created by being part of this continuum of dreamers, thinkers, and creators, investigating and celebrating the universe…., er, I digress.

It was a treat to be able to listen to Henry and Jose’s dialogue that was presented as part of their long, continuing dialogue about critical issues that face the US and the world. For this session, they started the dialogue about white privilege, then went on to address global  migrations and diasporas, and the nature of illegal immigration. Some of the questions and issues that they addressed were:

  • How to make migration an issue in different communities, especially the LGBT community
  • Interesting to consider that goods and commodities can move around freely, but people, often the people who make these goods, cannot.
  • White people can travel around the world, often without documents, and are called adventurers, while people of color are illegal.
  • The critical need for white people to own up to and understand white privilege.
  • The role of digital communication in facilitating the true lives and experiences of people
  • “Who gets to tell the story is an important as the story getting told,” Vargas
  • Diversifying entertainment (who is behind the camera)
  • The need for more empathy building and honesty in popular media
  • Ways that we can help undocumented students in education and society
  • Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC)- http://e4fc.org/

Then things got really interesting- they entered the realm of ways that graphic novels and comics can be used to address these issues. Jenkins discussed the nature of dreamers in society, the ones who think and dream of creating a better world for all people, and the ways that educators can help dreamers to facilitate their activities by building bridges between content and action, and that the superheroes can be used to build those bridges. Superheroes help readers look at and imagine all sorts of change- in action, theory and even sensibilities. After all, Superman is actually an undocumented resident.

Jenkins and Vargas went on to speak about the nature of diversity in comics, both the creators and the narratives, and they both looked to Luke Cage as an positive example. Not only are creators Black, the narrative highlights important Black thinkers, writers, musicians, and activists. Conversations in the barber shop where cage works bring up Oscar Peterson, Ralph Ellison, Miles Davis, Malcolm X,  MLK, Walter Mosley and other greats. These names are not just dropped, they are integrated into the narrative in natural and organic ways that also contextualizes them in US society and history, showing them to be the important people they were (and are).

As usual, I left the DML with my head buzzing with ideas for education in general, and more specifically, about my dissertation- using graphic novels and comics in the classroom  to teach critical issues about social justice, communal and individual identity.

As I reflected on these ideas, I began to think about the panel on diversity in comics that I participated in at the 2016 Long Beach Comic Con. I unfortunately arrived late to the session, and missed the names of the other panelists (and they all split to other events immediately after it was done. The discussion was already in progress when I did sit down, and after a few minutes, when there was a break, one of the moderators (there were 2 or 3), asked me to introduce my self, and I was genuinely surprised and pleased when I received a round of applause when I mentioned my dissertation topic. I felt that I was off to a better start.

It was a diverse panel- 3 Black men, a woman (possibly gay), and me. The moderators were a Black man, a White man, and a White woman. The discussion was rich and dynamic and pretty positive. One gentleman in the audience challenged the panel about the lack of Blacks in the industry, but said in a way that felt that he was not given the opportunities that he felt that he deserved. He also ragged about some of the creators who have succeeded, but in a way that downplayed their success. The panel pretty much agreed that we are at a time where we need to support those who can do their work, encourage it and celebrate it, even if you do not particularly like their work. It is important that if we want to create change, then we need to celebrate and support each other. One of the panelists then told his own story. He is a true comics geek and always wanted to create them. As he grew older, he found that the path was incredibly difficult, and that he may not be able to succeed. But rather then give up, he became a publisher and publishes the kids of comics that he wanted to make, primarily about the Black community (and super heroes). I really like this idea, and know of other examples where people modified their personal dreams in order to support and empower others, which also can be considered a great way to engage the community of creators and users.

All in all, it was a very positive discussion, with the participants showing great respect for each other and love of the medium!

But there was a fly here, that I’ve been reflecting and thinking about. At one point, the discussion shifted to the producers of comics and movies and the perception that many of these producers and agents are Jewish. The moderator of that moment, a Black man, leaned over to me and made a comment that can only be described as anti-Semitic.  This so surprised me that I was stunned, and could not really respond, and I have been wrestling with it ever since. It seemed out of place at that point in the conversation, since we were all agreeing that in order to combat racism, sexism and hate, we need to work together and support each other. What it showed be was that people often find it difficult to let go of stereotypes, no matter who. I was disappointed, mostly in myself for not bringing up and addressing his comment at that time. But I was in shock. I also began to think that although this type of comment exists across all lines of color, race, and gender. It is the poison that corrodes our society. There are plenty of examples where people are the stereotypes, which often are pretty negative. But there are plenty examples of stereotypes of people who do good work, who reach out to collaborate to together build a better society for all. And I do believe that comics can help in this process!

 

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At the 2016 Long Beach Comic Con

A couple of weeks ago, I  spent the day at the Long Beach Comic Con, among all sorts of sapient beings in multiple  sizes, colors, genders, faiths, with fur and without, in costume or not.  All in all a nice  a really nice  confetti community having fun.

I went to sit on a panel with several other comics professional to talk about diversity in comics. It was a good mix of voices- a couple of women, African-Americans, and me, the Jewish kid. And amongst us, there were authors and artists, a publisher, and I cannot remember what a couple of my colleagues were, but they were definitely advocates of using graphic novels in classrooms to teach about social justice and diversity. My colleagues graciously welcomed me into the ongoing discussion after I appeared 15 minutes late (I could not find the room) . At a small break in their conversation, I was asked to introduce myself, which I did. After saying that I am writing my EdD dissertation on using comics and graphic novels in the classroom to help teach social justice, individual, community and social identity, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a round of applause. Actually, it was pretty cool to to get that immediate positive feedback!The panelists were interesting, knowledgable, and also creative thinkers, everyone was engaged in some really stimulating discussion. But because I was late, I did not get their names, and the participants and audience pretty much vanished  immediately after the panel.

The moderators asked really interesting questions that stimulated a lot of good dialogue and more questions about diversity in the comic world.  There was a discussion about the lack of diversity in the production of comics- very few writers, authors and producers are people of color, or gender. After some engaging dialogue, we decided that rather then complain about the lack of these creative, it is better to go out and do it on your own. One guy (if you are reading this, please forgive me, as I cannot remember your name) did exactly that- he opened up his own publishing house for artists/writers/stories of and by people of color.We also discussed the lack of heroes who are not white/male and what can and is being done to change that. We talked about Gene Luen Yang, the Hernandez brothers and a lot of others. Additionally, we all are fans of the independent publishers because they have more freedom to publish edgier stuff.

As an educator, I spoke about some of the benefits of using comics in classrooms, such as the  development of cognitive visual-text tools that  help with understanding the relationship between words and pictures. I cannot say this are new ideas, but they are novel interpretations and applications of the blend traditional learning theory with contemporary story-telling.

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