Yes, I expect some of you out there will find this confirms all your worst fears about the “dumbing down” of the noble study of English, and ushers in the apocalypse! I don’t see it that way, given that the Year 8 students for whom I prepared the material which follows in November 2004 were also studying Shakespeare and much more besides. The unit itself was partly training in visual literacy, partly training in critical literacy. These texts exist. What is there function? How do they work? All valid enough, as far as I am concerned. The concept of “hero” was also part of this unit. All that is learned through studying the humble comics would have application later in many contexts, some of them more traditionally respected.
Year 8 students exploring what values are represented in comic strips: explore the first and greatest superhero to get some examples of vintage Superman, and The Phantom: A Publishing History in the U.S.A. gives you lots of vintage covers for this strip. See also The Phantom, The Ghost Who Walks which gives some more history.
Here is a good fan site on Spiderman. Dark Knight is a wonderful Canadian site that tells you all you wanted to know about Batman. It is really beautiful, but made by someone who thinks everyone else has a really good computer. Check alternative Batman information here.
For even more links see Wikipedia. This is very good and leads you to just about all you need. Toonopedia gives an alphabetical set of links that will lead you to details of the superhero of your choice. In some cases the links are dated so you can see how the character was represented over time.
This is very interesting from BBC Science: The Science of Superheroes.
Teachers and more advanced students might be interested in this reflective essay by Kai Friese from Transitions magazine, “White Skin, Black Mask,” about reading The Phantom as a boy in India.
Some thirty-five years ago, the Indian publishing firm of Bennett and Coleman introduced the Phantom comic books that would fill the misspent afternoons of my boyhood. The first four frames were usually given over to the terse phrases and fragments of the perennial recap that was soon consigned to memory as I raced wide-eyed through my purple-clad hero’s latest adventures: thwarting gangsters, rescuing women, keeping the jungles of Africa safe. It was a quieter, gentler time. I lived in a somnolent neighborhood of Delhi called Bengali Market (after its largest establishment, Bhimsen’s Bengal Sweets). My father drove home at noon on weekdays for a lunchtime siesta. And my friends and I belonged to a cargo cult…
Update 19 March 2007
Read Hero deficit: Comic books in decline, a feature article by Brad Mackay published in the Toronto Star Mar 18, 2007.
The superhero comics that kids once knew (and perhaps loved) are in trouble. Notwithstanding Hollywood’s recent infatuation with big-budget superhero movies, for much of the past 30 years the monthly comic book adventures of Spider-Man, Batman and their kind have been suffering from shrinking readership and slumping sales.
For example, during the heyday of the late 1970s, a bestseller from DC or Marvel Comics, two of the biggest publishers, could expect to sell 300,000 copies. These days a similar title would be fortunate to move more than 50,000.
For an industry famous for tales packed full of muscles and melodrama, the situation has prompted an unusual amount of soul searching. The would-be villains are many. Some have blamed the sales slide on cultural upstarts, like video games, manga and the ever-present Internet. Others point to the increased popularity of bookstore-friendly graphic novels, sales of which have recently surpassed traditional comics.
But there are those who have begun to ask more complex questions, like how characters that are 40, or even 70, years old can remain relevant in an increasingly diverse society. This raises one of the oldest and most uncomfortable truths about the superhero genre: its surprising dearth of non-white heroes, particularly black ones…
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