Comics Club-4-Kids is a monthly club that explores comic books geared towards kids, of various age ranges. A couple of GeekMoms test different comic books on their own geeky kids. However, as geek moms, our intent is to use comic books as a source for exploring concepts used in studying classic literature in schools. Because schools need more comic books.
This month’s theme: morality.
Each comic book is broken into four sections: character, narrative structure, problem solving/plot development, visual text. Sample questions are provided to help parents, teachers, homeschool parents, or comic book enthusiasts to help their littles or bigs to learn critical thinking skills while exploring fun forms of literature: comic books.
This month’s comics: Tiny Titans–Return to the Treehouse (geared towards Littles), and Guardians of the Galaxy Issue 023 (geared towards Bigs).
AGE RANGE: Littles
Early Readers Through Fourth Grade Reading Level
Tiny Titans Issue 2: Return to the Treehouse
In the interest of full disclosure, we have been huge Tiny Titans fans for about four years in this house. We discovered them when my son was three. He’s six now. He still loves them. Gobbles the books up like candy. This kind of love for books was the reason he wanted to learn to read.
In fact, in our most memorable stomach bug ever, he vomited all over his bed and at 11am the next morning I had to drive to the comics shop to repurchase his Tiny Titans books because they got lost in “The Great Vomit of 2013.”
In relation to this month’s theme, morality, I think Tiny Titans fits incredibly, beautifully, precisely! The stories often allude to the kinds of moral lessons we want to teach our children.
The premise of the Tiny Titans‘ world is that all the superhero-sidekicks are kids in elementary school and have to fight off school bullies and teachers. Simple. Easy to grasp. Totally awesome.
The characters in Tiny Titans are exactly the characters we would expect to see in a bunch of elementary school versions of our favorite DC sidekicks.
Robin is a bit arrogant, but everyone teases him for wanting to be in charge. Starfire and Supergirl are particularly girly, and even have a Girls’ Only club in one series. Cyborg is a wiseacre. Raven hates sports and is totally embarrassed that her dad works at the school. Beast Boy unrequitedly adores Terra who just throws rocks at him most of the time (SPOILER: except for the time she kisses him).
Each character has a specific personality, but each personality is unique. The nuances to how the characters are drawn keeps them all likable even with their foibles and personality quirks. This is really the best part of the characterization of the Tiny Titans. They are all fun. They aren’t perfect. They make mistakes. Their mistakes are sometimes results of their character flaws (like the time Robin turned everyone’s clothes pink in the wash!).
This makes it easy to talk to kids about character development and morality:
“Why doesn’t Terra like Beast Boy?”
“How do you feel about the way she treats him?”
“Why do you think the other kids always tease Robin?”
“Do you think that’s kind?”
“What do you think about Superboy and Supergirl’s relationship with Cousin Kal?”
“How do you think that relationship affects their decisions to do good or bad things?”
Narrative Structure (some have voice over content)
Most of the stories last about 3-5 pages. Each issue has about three stories. Therefore, it’s perfect for early readers. In addition, looking at what my son was learning in Common Core in first grade today, this kind of narrative is a great way to discuss “Small Moments.” As my son told me today, they had to work on the Five Ws: Who, What, When, Where, Why.
Since each Tiny Titans story is compact under an overarching theme, this means that littles can easily grasp the stories. For example, in Issue 2 of “Return to the Treehouse” series from September 2014, the overarching story is finding the treehouse that the Titans had lost when it got shrunk in Issue 1. However, within the issue as a whole are six mini-stories that tie together like chapters. These are easily recognizable both by story closure and by little red lettered statements at the bottom right-hand corners.
What’s pretty awesome about this, for the littles just learning to read, is that the text is large, short words, and these easy breaks give a sense of accomplishment–perfect in helping them feel confident about their new reading skills.
Problem solving/Plot development
In Tiny Titans, as expected for a book geared towards littles, the problem solving and plot developments are age appropriate. However, this doesn’t mean they’re simplistic.
In the issue that I’m using for this article, the Tiny Titans want to rebuild their treehouse. Superman comes in and offers to use a crystal to make them a new house. The kids think it’s a Kryptonite crystal and get excited about having a Treehouse of Solitude. All of a sudden, they feel drips on their heads. The new treehouse is melting.
Here is where there’s the great lesson about morality.
The plot develops perfectly for the 5-8 set. It’s not hard to follow. You can ask them the beginning, middle, and end.
You can ask them things like “What did the Titans do?”…Got out umbrellas.
“How do you think they felt?”…Sad.
“Do you think their reactions were good or bad? Why?”…They don’t have tantrums. They just make the best of the situation.
If you are approaching this for the early reader group, this is exactly the kind of plot they can deconstruct.
In terms of this months “morality” theme, these books almost always include morality tales. Similar to traditional superhero comics, Tiny Titans has good guys and bad guys.
In one of the shorts in Issue 2, the Tiny Titans call on Brainiac to talk to Psimon and Brainy 5, his kids, to get them to confess to shrinking the Treehouse. The boys both say no. Their dad brags about how they never lie. The Titans point out the boys have Brainiac Club Shrinking Badges which proves the allegation that the boys shrunk the Treehouse to earn badges. Brainiac congratulates his children and then heads on home.
In three pages, we have an entire narrative about the importance of honesty and how parents are responsible for helping teach their children morals. Since Brainiac sees no problems with the boys lying, why should they?
Again, what’s wonderful here for littles is that this opens up the questions:
“Who is responsible for teaching right/wrong?”
“Who was right?”
“How can you tell that the boys are really lying?”
“Do you think destroying someone else’s things, to complete an assignment, is right?”
In keeping with the rest of the book, the art and the visual texts are just right for the littles age group. The coloring and drawings are cartoonish, making them appealing to littles. However, what’s nifty in terms of looking at Tiny Titans, as a visual text, is that the art is simplistic yet sophisticated. For example, half of the panes are wordless and rely on visual cues. This means that it’s a great opening for asking kids to decipher how they figured out the emotions. Take this picture of Bizzarro-Girl kissing Robin.
First, what I love Is that Bizzaro-Girl’s hair doesn’t stay within the boundaries of the frame. From an artistic point of view, it gives a cool perspective and visual texture. The art does this quite a bit throughout the book. Asking kids what they think about it and how they feel about the way these images don’t fit the frame is a good place to start looking at the artistic touches.
Next, I love how sophisticated the emotions are in their representation despite the drawings looking simple. There is little shading. The colors are bold and childlike. Yet, from the way that Bizzarro-Girl holds her hands and closes her eyes, it is obvious she is happy.
Simultaneously, the squiggles above Robin’s head and the lines on his mask as well as the wiggly mouth show that he’s disgusted before you even get to the third panel. In the third panel, we see his “BLARGHR” and poor Bizzarro-Girl’s sad face.
Morality, this month’s theme, often focuses on right and wrong. In this case, the great questions to ask about the visual text would be the way the drawings reflect emotions.
“What emotions do you see in the characters?”
“Is there a change from one panel to the next?”
“Why do you think the emotions changed?”
“Do you think this was nice? Kind? Why or why not?”
All of these questions lead the littles to pick up on the visual cues that help them negotiate the story and make them aware of what they’re doing subconsciously.
Littles age range was written by Karen Walsh.
Karen Walsh is a part time, extended contract, first year writing instructor at the University of Hartford. In other words, she’s Super Adjunct, complete with capes and Jedi robe worn during grading. She also works as a contract internal regulatory compliance auditor for banks. In addition, she writes comics and artist reviews at www.cosplayconnectuniversity.com. She works in order to support knitting, comics, tattoo, and museum membership addictions. She has two dogs, one husband, and one son who all live with her just outside of Hartford, CT.
AGE RANGE: Bigs
Six Grade Reading Level and Up
Guardians of the Galaxy Issue 23
Trying to get one’s kids to agree on anything is harder than negotiating a Peace Treaty between warring countries. So when I was asked to find a comic book that both my 12-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son agreed upon, the day almost ended with the loss of my sanity and a bottle of wine.
To make matters worse the comic needed to explore this month’s theme of morality.
An avid comic book reader would think this task easy: Find a comic book that explores the theme of morality while having multiple options to offer one’s kids.
Full disclosure: I am not an avid comic book reader. So joining this project was a no-brainer. My kids need more comic books in their lives. I need more comic books in my life!
At the start of this project, we visited our local comics store–those poor men. Whoever you are, I am so sorry. And please accept my apology for our future visit. Yes, there will be more questions!–especially since each month’s article is geared by a specific theme.
After hours of grilling the clerk about comic books, the non-stop bickering of my children in front of other store patrons (sorry), and the fear of my immediate collapsing onto the floor in the fetal position, we all agreed, some of us less than others, on Issue 23 of Guardians of the Galaxy.
Note: The foundation for this analysis of Guardians of the Galaxy Issue 23 is based on our knowledge of the 2014 movie. The movie characters are based off of the characters from the series reboot by Dan Abbnet and Andy Lanning.
This comic is Rated T – Appropriate for most readers, but parents are advised that they might want to read before or with younger children.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!
The cover art of Rocket caught our eye. First off, because Rocket is our favorite character. Second, the cover art is amazing! Plus, a character can make or break a story. Rocket is one of several characters that makes this series awesome!
Rocket and Groot lived up to both of my kids’ expectations. Groot replies with his standard, “I am Groot”–which is nothing short of magical when Groot and Rocket have random conversations and arguments. As expected, Rocket is funny, inappropriate, and cares only about himself or Groot. Drax also lives up to his movie ego; the scene opens with Drax in a violent temper since the symbiote merged with him as a temporary host and it draws on his warrior temperament. Gomorra, however, barely speaks in this particular issue and she doesn’t portray the verbal combative or warrior persona as expected from the movie rendition.
Since there was a lack of known history for Flash, there were no major expectations about his character from either of my minions. His character worked as a conduit between the Guardians and the symbiote in progressing the storyline.
This particular issue is great for discussing moral codes because the symbiote is immediately portrayed as evil but by the end of this issue we discover it isn’t. So, in my best sarcastic Rocket voice: “Don’t judge the collective hive-mind by its cover.” Because it’s not evil, it’s just drawn that way. Okay, no more punny jokes. In all truth, Flash works as a conduit between the collective hive mind that beckons the agitated symbiote to take over the Guardians one by one in order to get to its home planet.
Now, let’s discuss character development and how morality plays into Issue 23:
“How faithful are the characters from the movie to their comic book version?”…Three characters are faithful to the movie version: Rocket Racoon, Groot, and Drax. But Starlord and Gamorra didn’t act like they did in the movie because Gamorra was a stern warrior in the movie, but in the comic she agreed a lot which she doesn’t do often in the movie. Also, she seemed gentle. She barely talked at all in this comic.
“Why do the Guardians think the Venom symbiote is a threat to their survival?”…They thought he was going to kill him because he was scary looking. Venom was known as evil because he took over different hosts because in order to survive he needed the perfect host. Venom also attacked every crew member because he had a mission to get back home to his colony.
“Do you think Drax’s initial response to pummel Flash is a relatable reaction?”…Yes. Drax doesn’t believe anyone and he likes being violent which is a believable character trait. If he acted differently then his character wouldn’t be as believable.
“Can you identify the Venom symbiote’s character goals? To what degree would you, or do you, sympathize with it?”…Get home. He’s alone and uses hosts to survive so he wanted to just get back home to get reconnected to his kind. I would be depressed, sad, or angry against others if I felt alone, like I had no one to relate to.
“How does Flash’s character push the plot development to reveal that the hive mind is not aggressive? Why wouldn’t Flash not feel betrayed by the fracture between himself and the symbiote? Is he successful as a moral character?”…Mostly because he was connected with the symbiote and they formed a bond where Flash trusted his symbiote. Because they are kind of like brother and brother, they are linked by their bond–not like blood related but still like family. Family isn’t always blood related. Yes, because Flash shows that the Venom symbiote is good, it is just that the symbiote is misunderstood. Because he stands up for Venom when everyone is against him, makes Flash moral. He is convicted in his beliefs that Venom is good because he knows Venom the best, unlike the Guardians.
“Do you think each character is well motivated? Or do they have any character development flaws? A.K.A. are their actions believable?”…Yes and no. Even if the storyline is in the future, Gamora feels like a character that would still have trust issues and because she was so trusting in this issue her character felt flawed and unbelievable.
This issue is a continuing storyline from previous issues. A single issue is equivalent to a chapter in a book, there is a goal, obstacle, and resolution: beginning, middle, end in a single issue. So let’s break down the major points that establishes this storyline. (PLOTLINE SPOILERS AHEAD)
The set-up of the story.
Goal: Flash must subdue the Venom symbiote without harming it while protecting the Guardians. Side Note: Without the symbiote, Flash is without legs.
Obstacle: Drax and Venom symbiote took the ship to the symbiote’s hive planet.
Disaster: Guardians awake, attack Flash, and the hive planet takes Flash to merge with the symbiote.
The character’s response to the story.
Reactions: Flash desires to merge with planet symbiote. Guardians believe they are in danger and want to leave the planet and Flash, ASAP.
Dilemma: Flash wants Guardians to merge with symbiote planet and hear its story. But Guardians don’t believe Flash.
Decision: Groot jumps towards Flash, eager to merge with symbiote. The rest of the Guardians follow Groot’s lead.
In teaching about narrative structure, have your kid(s)/student(s) break the terms into two sections: setting up a story, responding to the story. Then break down the action of each scene or story using the bolded terms. Understanding these building blocks of a story will help your bigs grasp basic elements of writing and how this narrative form establishes plot development and creates tension. This will aid them in their problem solving exercise.
So, a question to consider about narrative structure:
“How does the narrative structure set up the storyline?”
This section on narrative structure leads into the problem solving/plot development section of this discussion.
Problem solving/Plot development
If we look at Issue 23 as a form of allegory–a disguised statement–what is the story teaching?…Trust your instincts? Don’t judge a person, or alien, by its appearance?
If we look back at the previous section on narrative structure, the main character (MC), Flash, should have goals that set up how the plot will develop. Based on those obstacles, what prevents the MC from obtaining his goal? Without that obstacle, there is a lack of elements needed for bigs to identify their problem solving skills.
Question(s) to consider when discussing plot/conflict:
“Do you perceive things differently from the way the characters might perceive a certain situation/scene in the storyline?”
“Are there any scenes that strongly foreshadow the story? If so, do they give away the storyline?”
“What kind of conflicts are there? Character against character, group against group?”
“How is the conflict resolved? Is the resolution satisfying or unsettling?”
Some of you might be thinking, But what does this have to do with a comic book? Well, by recognizing elements of an allegory–what is the intended meaning rather than literal meaning–the reader is able to identify basic elements of writing, to include comic books.
In identifying patterns, we are able to streamline educating littles and bigs in common storytelling elements that will benefit them as they move onto higher education. Also, comic books are a condensed form of literature, which makes it easier for littles and bigs to comprehend the basic foundation of storytelling that is found in greater lengths of literature.
Art vs. Visual text
The art is considered a nonverbal language, a way in which the story conveys a certain tone or mood without the aide of the visual text. There are several great moments where the art speaks more for the story than the text. For instance, the moment when the Guardians connect with the planet symbiote, as depicted in the image above. The characters establish a kinetic connection, setting up the following scene when the planet conveys the story behind the Venom symbiote and why it needs to jump from host to host.
The artist, Valerio Schiti, uses standard box art as well as full page spreads to convey the story, the storyline, written by Brian Michael Bendis. The coolest thing about this series is how some pages have standard white space and in others the blocks stack to progress, like the image below.
Question(s) to consider when discussing the art and visual text.
“Are there any moments when the art and visual text contradict one another? If so when and why do you think the artist/writer did so?”
Please feel free to share comic book recommendations with us. I know I am always looking for something new, and I am sure the poor guy at the comics store could use a break from my constant questions.
Bigs age range was written by Melissa Rininger.
Join us next month as we look at gender and the difference in our male/female superheroes.