~Hosted by Amanda Smith
Welcome to the final installment of 24 Carrot Writing's Graphic Novel Virtual Panel Discussion. Over the last two weeks (Part 1 and Part 2), our talented panelists have shared insights about the strengths of graphic novels and their process as creatives.
Join our panel as we jump into the last two meaty questions:
Middle school students seem particularly drawn to graphic novels, and often graphic novels are set in middle school. What does that communicate about the market for upper middle grade/ lower young adult readers? Are graphic novels purposefully aimed towards the middle school reader, or is there something in the graphic novel format that perfectly mashes with the middle schooler’s brain?
Breena Bard: Middle schoolers are taking their first steps toward independence, developing their own beliefs and opinions in a way that they hadn’t before. They are exposed to a diversity of ideas and people, and as they begin to open their minds, they are perfectly primed to receive a radical new method of storytelling. Kids are free of the biases that keep many adults away from comics, and they aren’t pressured to maintain a high-brow reading list. And as long as adults react to graphic novels by wringing their hands or turning their noses up, graphic novels will also have a certain rebellious spirit that might attract middle school readers as well. Plus, comics are just super fun!
Terri Libenson: I’m not sure, really. My characters are all 13 and in seventh grade, yet most of my readers are younger, often in third through sixth grade. Many kids read “up”; that is, they tend to read about characters older than them. I’m not as knowledgeable about what 7th-9th graders are reading, but I personally think there is an opportunity for graphic novels geared for that age bracket.
Tom Angleberger: Middle school is such a weird time when kids sometimes feel like they should be giving up the type of books they loved in elementary school and reading big thick books. The growing acceptance of graphic novels creates a loophole here. A kid who read Smile in third grade can read Guts in seventh grade. (Of course, as far as I’m concerned, kids should keep reading great kids’ books with pride FOREVER!)
Terry Ebbeling: Middle-school students are high energy and don’t often have a lot of “sit” in them. They are also visual learners. Graphic novels appeal to this age because of the pictures which break up the prose and allow students to “see” the story. While middle-school students enjoy graphic novels, there are also a number of authors who gear their graphic novels towards upper elementary students and even high schoolers. Honestly, I like them, too!
What would you like to say to those well-meaning adults who act as gatekeepers regarding graphic novels? To those who see graphic novels as inferior reading?
Kayla Miller: Comics ask readers to use different skills than prose books. To really read a graphic novel, you have to read not only the text, but also to observe environments, body language, and facial expressions. It can be a really engaging and emotional experience. When reading prose, you have to imagine the visuals based on the descriptions given to you and fill in details about the world around the characters, but when you’re reading comics you have to fill in the characters’ inner worlds and use context clues from the art to decipher what they’re thinking and feeling. I don’t think the skills developed reading comics are any less important or useful than those that students gain while reading prose novels. I also get comments all the time from parents that their reluctant readers become eager readers when it comes to graphic novels. If you believe that fostering a love of reading in younger generations is important, you’re only getting in your own way when you disregard graphic novels.
Breena Bard: They should try reading some :) Really though, the fact that graphic novels are told with pictures should not disqualify them, and in fact makes them more accessible and engages students’ brains in a really unique way. Perhaps there is fear because graphic novels are a relatively new medium, but so were computers and tablets, and most schools utilize those to great success. Take time to read some of the new middle grade graphic novel classics (ask a middle schooler and they will surely have a list for you!) and keep an open mind to the possibilities these stories and this exciting format have to offer. They really are quite wonderful!
Terri Libenson: It couldn’t be further from the truth (and if it helps, I avidly read comics as a kid, and now I read such a wide range of books, from non-fiction to fiction, including – yes – graphic novels for adults!). As I mentioned, graphic novels can be quite layered as well as visually stunning and rich in story. And then some are just plain fun, and that’s okay. Graphic novels vary just like prose books. And they are, indeed, BOOKS.
Tom Angleberger: I think people are hung up on word-count. They assume 100,000 words is better than 1,000. Or 100. Or zero, in the case of wordless graphic novels. Well, that’s just dumb. Do they also assume that a novel by Joe Smedlap is better than a sonnet by Shakespeare?
I think we should judge books on how many brain cells they light up. Trust me, Dog Man lights up a lot more brain cells than Tom Sawyer Abroad. (I was forced to read Tom Sawyer Abroad in 7th grade and am still mad.)
Terry Ebbeling : I would tell those reading “gatekeepers” of graphic novels that there are different strokes for different folks in all areas of life, including reading. If students enjoy graphic novels, they are READING! Yay! I do not recommend a steady diet of any one genre, including graphic novels. But, if this genre gets kids into books, then let’s allow and encourage graphic novels.
Thank you to Terri, Breena, Kayla, Tom, and Terry for a fabulous discussion. I know I am paying closer attention to details in the settings and characters, as well as other context clues when I read graphic novels. I am also inspired to think visually and cinematically about the scenes I write, and I cannot wait to get my hands on our panel's new releases in May (if I can pry them from my own middle schooler's hands!)
Terri Libenson is the cartoonist of the internationally syndicated daily comic strip, The Pajama Diaries, and the author of the best-selling illustrated middle grade novels, Invisible Emmie, Positively Izzy, and Just Jaime. She was also an award-winning humorous writer for American Greetings for 22 years.
The Pajama Diaries launched with King Features in 2006 and currently runs in hundreds of newspapers throughout the country and abroad. Pajama Diaries has been nominated four times for the Reuben Award for “Best Newspaper Comic Strip” by the National Cartoonists Society and won in 2016.
Terri lives with her family in Cleveland, OH. Her newest novel, Becoming Brianna will be available in May 2020. To learn more about Terri, visit http://terrilibenson.com/
Breena Bard writes and illustrates comics, drawing inspiration from her childhood in Wisconsin, and the stacks of graphic novels on her bedside table. Her graphic novel debut, Trespassers, is set to release May 5, 2020. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, two kids, and cranky but lovable cat. Visit http://www.breenabard.com/about-1 to learn more.
Tom Angleberger is the author of the New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal bestselling Star Wars Origami Yoda series. He is also the author-illustrator of Fake Mustache and Horton Halfpott, both Edgar Award nominees, and the Qwikpick Papers series, as well as many other books for kids. But he always wanted to draw comics and he’s finally gotten the chance to draw with Geronimo Stilton and the Sewer Rat Stink! (Available May 5, 2020) He’s married to acclaimed graphic novelist Cece Bell, who wrote and illustrated El Deafo. To learn more visit https://origamiyoda.com/the-books/
Kayla Miller is the author and illustrator of the best-selling Click series of graphic novels. The third book in the series, Act, is coming out in May 2020 and a fourth book is currently in the works. To learn more about Kayla, visit https://www.kayla-miller.com/
Terry Ebbeling has been teaching grades 7 and 8 ELA for the past eighteen years. She enjoys delving into reading and writing with her students and finds young-adult literature far more riveting than adult literature!
This week's reading list:
CLICK and CAMP by Kayla Miller
INVISIBLE EMMIE, POSITIVELY IZZY and JUST JAIME by Terri Libenson
SMILE, SISTERS, and GUTS by Raina Telgemeier
DOG MAN by Dav Pilkey
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