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The Best American Comics 2015

The Best American Comics 2015The Best American Comics 2015
Written and illustrated by: Various
Edited by: Jonathan Lethem and Series Editor Bill Kartalopolos
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Format: Hardcover, 7 x 9, 352 pages, Partial Color, $25.00
ISBN: 978-0-54410-770-0

Review
Writing a review for the annual release of The Best American Comics series has become a staple in the diet of this column. Each fall I look forward to it. This year is no exception.

That stated, this year does indeed bring something new and untested to this column. All year I wonder what the "best of comics" will be determined to be and why. I find myself thinking about the editors and the tremendous amount of hard work and unconditional love they must have for comic books in order to devote such love, time, and energy to such a project, a project that without fail, each and every year, gets better and better.

My inner dialogue asks me if I could handle such an enormous and exciting charge myself: "And I thought being a San Diego Comic Con Eisner Award judge was an intense and important commitment for a year!"

Two challenging jobs. Two intense sets of responsibility. Lots of hours reading. Even more hours thinking and rethinking one's own thoughts and inklings. Worrying about being right, or at least cognizant of all the various criteria that make a story "the best" to a wide comic book audience. Lots of notes. More hours thinking and rethinking one's selections as they are narrowed down further and further.

A constant and continuous readiness to critique friends and loved ones, people you care about and know who pour their hearts and souls into their comic books, people whose work you yourself adore and deem the best, is both exciting and terrifying. Being in a position to nominate or deem a comic book the best of a particular year is not just an honor, but a huge responsibility. A responsibilty young adult readers and their caretakers can most certainly learn from.

Friends or not, there are no alliances. You must do your best not to form such alliances while in such a position, and you must be ready to both vote your friends either on or off the sacred island, ready to have good evidence and reasoning for why you did so.

As a San Diego Comic Con judge I had a team of peers reviewing with me, people I will always remember and call friend, people who seared their endearing and unique ways into my life and left a mark that I will forever treasure. I assume that each year's Editor and Series Editor of Best American Comics have this sort of relationship. They would have to. Making decisions about any art form to its fan base can be exciting, adventurous, and scary.

What does all this mean? Why bring up being a judge or editor?

One of my favorite professor in graduate school said that the best kind of writer is often the one who can throw his or her most brilliant piece of writing away if it doesn't honor the organic nature of the story being told. I threw all of my notes for this review away. It wasn't fun. I've been taking notes all month. I wanted to outline these quality choices and give a proper and thoughtful hats off to the editors, thanking them for bringing each of these selections a little more attention and a wider audience. But you are just going to have trust me on that one.

Comic book art and storytelling is like any other art. It exists to be consumed and shared, by individuals and groups. It exists to express the artist and to touch the life of those who come across it. For those organic reasons art must live in the heart of the consumer. In our case, student readers are the consumers, and they should be taught in 21st century schools that modern comic book art is worthy of and equal to any other profound, serious, high-brow literary art. In fact, comic book art embraces all of the elements of story typical to canonical, traditional print-txt literature. The only difference is that it does so by placing equal literary emphasis on both words and images. Yes, the words and the images carry equal literary weight.

This annual compilation is the perfect example. Different however is this: Instead of a reviewer like me sharing my notes, teasing out the literary qualities that should be discussed in this review, students should be called upon to do so. It is time for students to demonstrate that they too can analyze the craft and structure of a 21st century comic book story (like the editors of this series have done year after year) and tease out the literary details of such a story in order to identify what qualities or characteristics not only make it literary, but also comparable to already-deemed highbrow, print text literature.

Reading Recommendations Using the Common Core Standards

Craft and Structure:
4. Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

5. Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.

* The number(s) referenced above corresponds to the number used by the Common Core Standards (www.commoncore.org)

Lesson Plan Idea for Teaching The Best American Comics 2015 in Young Adult Language Arts

Directions
Read The Best American Comics 2015 with young adult readers, and, while doing so, take a running record of notes focused on the craft and structure of each comic.

Bottom line: each major element of story we have traditionally deconstructed from print-text literature to constitute "literature" can also be deconstructed from modern comic books.

Students and educators can use the graphic organizer below to help deconstruct each major element of story for themselves, and, in doing so, better understand how and why 21st century comic books are indeed literary-level texts.

Choose five comic book selections from The Best American Comics 2015 and follow the graphic organizer's cues to outline its elements of story.

For each selection and its literary element (plot, setting, et cetera) give a ranking. One star is the lowest ranking of quality. Four stars is the highest ranking of quality. Be ready to support each of your decisions with evidence for the story.

 

Comic Book Selection #1
Title: ___________

Comic Book
Selection #2
Title:_______

Comic Book
Selection #3
Title:_______

Comic Book
Selection #4
Title:_______

Comic Book
Selection #5
Title:_______

Comic Book
Selection #6
Title:_______

Plot(s)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plot Stars:

1 - 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

Character (s)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Charac-    ter(s) Stars: 1 - 4 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Setting(s)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Settings Stars: 1 - 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theme(s)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Theme Stars: 1 - 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

When done reading and filling out the handout (as a class, in small groups, or as individuals) discuss your decisions as an entire class group.  At the end of the discussion the class should have a better idea as to why and how modern comics are operating on a literary level.

Dr. Katie Monnin is an Associate Professor of Literacy at the University of North Florida. Besides the joy that comes with reading comic books and graphic novels, Dr. Monnin enjoys a Peter Pan-ish life of researching and writing her own books about teaching comics, graphic novels, and cartoons: Teaching Graphic Novels (2010), Teaching Early Reader Comics and Graphic Novels (2011), Using Content-Area Graphic Texts for Learning (2012), Teaching Reading Comprehension with Graphic Texts (2013), and Get Animated! Teaching 21st Century Early Reader and Young Adult Cartoons in Language Arts (2013); Teaching New Literacies in Elementary Language Arts (in press, 2014). When she is not writing (or sitting around wondering how she ended up making an awesome career out of studying comics and graphic novels), Dr. Monnin spends her time with her two wiener dogs, Sam and Max.