Archive for PCC Classroom Blog

How Using Comics Can Improve Your Child’s Reading Skills

My name is Adam Kullberg and I’m pretty sure I have the best job in the world.

I (and my teammates) get the honor of helping teachers, parents and students discover how fun it can be to increase literacy, ignite imaginations and inspire a love of learning — all using comics and graphic novels.

Each year our team meets and talks with hundreds of parents across the country. During these meetings we are frequently asked a simple but very important question: Can comics really improve my child’s reading skills?

Since the answers to this particular question are so central to what we do at Pop Culture Classroom, I thought it best to dedicate a full blog to it.

Here are some — but certainly not all — of the biggest reasons comics can have a positive impact on your child’s reading skills and their overall love of learning.

Improved Vocabulary Comprehension

In her groundbreaking book Raising a Reader: How Comics and Graphic Novels Can Help Your Kids Love to Read!, author Meryl Jaffe, PhD. points out that:

“Graphic novels’ concise text paired with detailed images help readers decode and comprehend the text. Reading is less daunting (with less text to decode) and concise verbiage highlights effective language usage and vocabulary while the images invite and engage readers.”

Meryl is pointing out something our team has witnessed time and time again in our interactions with early readers.

When kids inevitably come across a word they don’t know, comics provide a visual “clue” on what the word means.

This additional visual context not only enables kids to learn the meaning of words more quickly, the visual associations help them retain and recall those meanings in the future.

Better Content Retention

We recently engaged Research Evaluation Consulting, an independent, third-party research firm, to identify sources of evidence that support the positive impact comics have on reading skills.

The results supported our own observations that comics have a significant, positive impact on overall reading retention. One example is a study published in the Journal of Baltic Science Education. In it, teachers reported that:

“… cartoons, along with problem-based learning techniques, improved students’ permanent learning (i.e., learning with deep understanding and retention). Teachers also reported the concept cartoons encouraged students to study and fostered an environment in which discussion and debate were welcomed…”

The main concept here is that when kids read and see a graphical representation of the words in-context, they retain the information better than if they read the words alone.

Studies suggest this may be because graphical representations cement long-term memories and word associations more effectively.

Other research suggests that the combination of textual and graphical information allows students to focus more on comprehending main ideas, rather than focusing on minute details, allowing for better initial comprehension and therefore better long-term retention.

One example can be found in a recent article published in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America. In it, researcher Carly Melissa Tribull outlines her findings on the benefits of using comics for education, including that:

“Comics can also help with the long-term retention of concepts in advanced science courses. In Nagata (1999), the popular manga Bishojo Senshi Sailor Moon, was shown to help biochemistry students recall terms two years after the course had ended.”

Additional Benefits We See First-Hand

The positives mentioned above are being increasingly studied in formal research, but there’s also a growing list of benefits that we continue to discover through first-hand experience and observation.

More Fun Reading Together

One big example of these “softer” benefits is that comics can make it easier and more rewarding for parents to read to their children.

Not surprisingly, the reason for this appears to simply be that very young kids enjoy seeing pictures and colors, and so demonstrate greater engagement and enjoyment when being read comics as compared to text only.

A Welcoming Format

Many kids have an affinity and familiarity with pop culture characters, topics and formats they experience in their daily lives. Further, kids today are increasingly “multi-modal learners,” meaning they acquire and process information from a wide range of visual sources in order to form a final conceptual understanding.

The combination of these two factors appears to make comic reading much more approachable and accessible for many kids, making it easier and more enjoyable even if they struggle with reading traditional all-text formats.

An Intro to Non-Verbal Communication

One of the most interesting things we’ve observed is that comics often introduce and help students begin to understand the important role non-verbal communication plays in our world.

In our classes and camps, kids seem to naturally appreciate and enjoy the many forms of non-verbal language representations that are often so frequently a part of the comic book and graphic novel medium.

Primary examples of this are the use of body language, color and shapes to express concepts as simple as movement and action, but as complex as metaphors, symbolism and emotions. 

For Next Time… 

We hope this post has been helpful in explaining some of the many reasons comics can be a great way to help improve your child’s literacy skills.

We always want to hear from you, so please leave feedback or suggestions for future posts in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or by sending us email at

Stay tuned as we explore many more topics and answer more questions for educators, parents and students on how to use comics for fun and imaginative learning.

See you in the classroom!

5 Micro Graphic Novel Reviews to Kickstart Your 2018


By Erik Kallenborn

So, I’ve been on a quest to write 365 blog reviews/reflections in 365 days. As I write this, I am on day 119, and I have not missed a day yet! If you want to follow and read along, you can find my ramblings at

I’m really excited that I made it 100 posts in a row without missing a day! Today, I’d like to share my top five books of the first 100 posts. Not all of these are classroom friendly, but they are all great stories!

In no particular order:

1.) Title: Fetch
Author(s): Nicole J. GeorgesPublisher: Mariner Books (2017)
Age Rating: 13+

This one emotionally hit me the hardest. A powerful story about a girl growing into a woman, over a fifteen-year span, with a surly mixed-breed dog at her side.

2.) Title: everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too
Author: Jomny Sun (@jonnysun)
Publisher: Harper (2017)
Rating: 8+

Don’t let this book fool you. It might look like an ordinary children’s book, but aliebn packs a punch. The older you are, the more powerful the themes and motifs. Beautiful and timeless. This book is one that you will buy for others, and the language will stay with you.


3.) Title: The Private Eye
Author(s): Brian K. Vaughan, Marcos Martin, and Muntsa Vicente
Publisher: Image (2015)
Age Rating: 17+

The only NSFW book in the Top 5, I like to call this book the best movie I have ever read! Set in a futuristic world without the internet, research and good old fashion investigation are paramount as our protagonists try to unlock clues to a seemingly senseless murder. Unique in story, character, and even physical book shape, this book is a fine piece of story-telling.


4.) Title: Scott Pilgrim
Author: Bryan Lee O’Malley
Publisher: ONI Press (2004-2015)
Rating: 13+

Duuuude…Scott Pilgrim is the most fun book on this list. Read it, watch it, love it. Scott Pilgrim is an instant classic. Follow Scott as he embarks on his journey to defeat Ramona’s evil exs and find true love! And when you’re done, you’ll want to go on the journey with him again. Scott Pilgrim the book is the movie you put on in the background for comfort viewing. Remember: bread makes you fat.


5.) Title: Your Black Friend
Author: Ben Passmore
Publisher: Silver Sprocket (2017)
Rating: 13+

Passmore calls his book a handbook for white people. Your Black Friend is a powerful short comic that allows for glimpses into a world not often explored by white people: how your black friend feels about you. This timely book will bring out conversation in even the most hesitant of student.

A Newbie’s Guide to Teaching Comics

Guest Post by John C. Weaver, Williamsport Area High School

So, you’ve decided to bring graphic novels in the classroom, have you? Excellent! You’ll find it immensely gratifying, and your students will love it. Comics and graphic novels immediately engage both high and low end readers. But, now that you’re committed to teaching with this medium, how do you start? 

Picking Your First Books

Perhaps you have already chosen a comic to bring into the classroom, but if you haven’t quite reached that point, your first step is to select a book.

Would you prefer fiction or non-fiction? Perhaps you’d like to start with a graphic adaptation of classic books (there are many of them).

An excellent resource for teachers new to the medium is There you will find plenty of book reviews; lesson plans sorted by elementary, middle school, and high school; and upcoming titles.

Although I’ve taught quite a few graphic novels (my classroom bookshelves are crammed with them), some of my (and my students’) recent favorites include Derf Backderf’s memoire My Friend Dahmer, which recounts Backderf’s high school acquaintance with future serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer; and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, which details her experiences as a child during the Iranian revolutions.

Before You Dive In

Once you’ve picked a text, the next thing I recommend you do is read Scott McCloud’s book Understanding Comics for your own benefit.

McCloud’s text is a comic book about the medium of comics, which will teach you both the theory and the practice of the form.

Order a class set of these for your classroom as well.

Ready, Set, Go

Your books have been chosen and ordered, so now you need to figure out how to introduce and begin to teach students the graphic novel.

What follows will not be a full unit plan (that’s a different, and vitally important, subject). Instead, this is a step-by-step guide to begin a unit on your comic.

Understand, this is what I do; feel free to adopt or ignore any of these steps, which also goes for the examples I include: use them as is or adapt them as you choose.

Step One (Duration: One or Two Days)

Take the temperature of the room.  Find out, whether through a bell ringer or a show of hands, what their experience with comics is—and newspaper funnies count.

Some students will have no experience at all, and others go to their local comic book shop every Wednesday. (For newbies out there, Wednesday is new comic book day.)

When you identify your comics fanboys and fangirls, RELY on them. They are your experts and will help the other students figure out how to read comics.

Once you have done this, you’ll need to show them how comics work. I suggest introducing the distinction between illustration and comics that Jimmy Gownley (writer and artist of the Amelia Rules series) has discussed in a teacher training that I attended.

Look at Figure 1 below.  (While the idea and the words are Gownley’s, the “art” is my own. Gownley is an actual artist!)

The EGL Blog | Where to Start | Illustration 1In the above examples, Gownley would call the one on the left an illustration, because the text and the art are very closely related, much as you would see in a children’s book.

The one on the right is a comic, according to Gownley, because the reader needs to connect text and art into a single idea that isn’t immediately apparent.

You can ask students to talk about the differences between the two examples. Having them discuss why the man is running for milk helps drive the differences home.

The last thing to do is to show a variety of short comic strips is among many websites that have free online strips, and ask students to discuss the connection between art and text. With the online comics, you can point out that they will read comics the way they read books: left to right.

Step Two (Duration: One Day)

Once students have become familiar with the form, you could consider the create-a-comic activity.

When I do it, I create three panels, each with a different piece of clip art.

In groups, students turn random pictures into a coherent story with some combination of additional art, captions, and speech/thought bubbles. They then share them with the class, which works really well.

My students make me proud with their imaginative responses. I’m sure yours will, also. Figure 2 shows the actual exercise I use.

The EGL Blog | Getting Started | Illustration 2

Step 3 (Duration: Two or Three Days)

Now that students are familiar with how text and art interact in comics, and they have done it themselves with the create-a-comic exercise, it is time to expose them to some comic book theory.

Bring out your class set of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, and assign them to read Chapter Three. 

While you may wish to assign them the whole book—which would be lovely—for practical purposes, chapter three of Understanding Comics is very useful.

McCloud looks at the same phenomenon that Jimmy Gownley does, that reading comics requires understanding the juxtaposition of text and art, or art and art. McCloud refers to the concept of closure, which means we can look at a series comic book panels and understand what point the comic artist is making.

Using the idea of closure, McCloud examines the different types of transition of one panel to the next. The taxonomy he creates in chapter three will be useful for you and your students as you discuss the writer and artist’s purpose for setting up the panels as they do.

It would be a good idea to create a graphic organizer such as the one in Figure 3 to help focus your students during the reading.

The EGL Blog | Getting Started | Illustration 3

Step 4 (Duration: As Long as It Takes)

Once your students have both a practical and a theoretical understanding of comics, and all of you have a common vocabulary to discuss them, it is time to distribute the graphic novels and start assigning readings.

While teaching the text for the first time, you will need to rely on the students who read comics or manga regularly. They will be your greatest allies. However, keep in mind, English teachers can always discuss plot, character, setting, theme, and metaphor, just as with any book.

Comics simply add one more element—the interaction of art and text.  All of your students, both the high performing and the struggling students, will respond well to comics.

Have fun with it, and allow yourself to learn from your kids. I did, and I have never been more grateful for taking a risk with a group of teenagers. 


There are a number of teacher-generated resources for teaching with graphic novels, including Pop Culture Classroom.

Another great resource is Dr. Katie Monnin from the University of North Florida at Jacksonville. Her books, which can be purchased at are very useful, and filled with practical teaching strategies and reproducible handouts for classes.

Another useful source is Maureen Bakis, whose books can be purchased on Amazon at this link:

How to Get Free (or Almost Free) Comics for Your Classroom

Last Updated: 12/20/17

Eager to get started using comics and graphic novels to help your students improve reading skills, increase exposure to STEM topics, or just generally spark a love of learning across a wider range of learners?

If you’re like many of the educators we often talk with, the biggest challenge may be how to afford those comics in the first place.

There’s good news. There are a growing number of free sources of comics online and, with a little creativity, you may be able to get free (or very low cost) printed books as well.

Here’s a few of our favorite ways of getting comics for your classroom at no (or very little) cost. We’ll be updating and adding to this list moving forward, so be sure to check back often to see what’s changed.

IMPORTANT ATTRIBUTION: We’d like to give a huge thank you to the School Library Journal (SLJ) for providing the descriptions for some of these comics via their recent blog HERE. Any descriptions that originated on the SLJ blog/website are marked with “SLJ:”


Free Comics Online (Updated Regularly)

Pop Culture Classroom’s Colorful History
Free 2-page comic celebrating major events in Colorado history, plus a free Teachers Guide, Script and Rough Sketches.

Camp Weedonwantcha
Super-funny and irreverent webcomic a-la Lord of The Flies meets Weird Supernatural summer camp stuff.

A creator owned and free-to-read publisher of a variety of web comics.

A webcomic of romance, with sarcasm, math, and language. NOTE: Lots of these are not appropriate for kids.

The Creepy Casefiles
SLJ: Charles Thompson’s parents have uprooted him from his comfy home and moved to a dilapidated hotel in a strange city, where there’s a troll in his closet.

Princess, Princess
SLJ: A 46-page story about a princess in a tower who is rescued by…another princess. There’s a low-key romance and a strong message about self-confidence in this charming fairy tale.

SLJ: The humor is goofy, topical, and perceptive in this gag-a-day comic with a loose cast of characters: Sheldon, a 10-year-old billionaire, his friends Emily and Dante, his grandfather, a talking duck, a dog, and a lizard.

Breaking Cat News
SLJ: A trio of cats report breathlessly, CNN-style, on the doings of the people in their house in this hilarious gag-a-day comic. Andrews McMeel will publish a version this year.

Gunnerkrigg Court
SLJ: This long-running comic follows the supernatural adventures of Antimony Carver and her friend Kat Donlan at a most peculiar boarding school.

As the Crow Flies
SLJ: Charlie is sure she won’t fit in at Three Peaks Camp, a Christian backpacking camp for teen girls. She’s black, she’s queer—and she’s in for a few surprises.

SLJ: A fantasy about a girl traveling through the desert to scatter her mother’s ashes who encounters a cast of characters with their own agendas. Winner of the 2015 Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity.

SLJ: Launched in January, this is a slice-of-life story about a schoolgirl who “learns the true meaning of Halloween.”

Hark! A Vagrant
SLJ: Kate Beaton’s wry gags riff on history, literature, and pop culture, taking on everything from Wuthering Heights to Joan of Arc. The print collection Step Aside Pops! made the 2016 YALSA list of Great Graphic Novels for Teens.

SLJ: Homestuck, with a lot of game-ish elements, starts with one character and builds into a complicated plot about kids playing a video game to save the world. More than 7,000 pages, it’s epic, with a huge fan base.

You Say Latino (One-Pager)
SLJ: The author, who is half Mexican, explains the difference between “Latino” and “Hispanic.”

Threads. The Calais Cartoon (One-Pager)
SLJ: Evans recounts her experiences as a volunteer at the refugee camp in Calais, France.


(Almost) Free Ways to Get Printed Books

Scholastic Book Clubs Points

Scholastic has been offering a fantastic program for many years that awards points to teachers when their students purchase books from the club.

The more books (including comics and graphic novels) your students buy from the program, the more points you earn and can spend on purchasing more comics.

Plus, Scholastic Book Club is one of the least expensive places you can buy comics that are appropriate for kids. They will often be priced at wholesale or below, and other comic publishers sell through the program.

Some titles are even sold below cost, acting as primarily an advertisement (aka “loss leader) to promote he publishers’ most recent and/or most popular titles.

Partner with Your Local Comic Book Shop

Take a trip to the comic book shop nearest your school and bring your teacher ID. Let the shop owner or manager know you’re a teacher with a very limited budget (but are eager to get comics into your classroom) and see if they can help you out with some free of very low-cost books.

To sweeten the deal for the shop owner, ask them if they have any stickers for their shop that you could place on each of the comics, encouraging your students — and anyone they share the comics with — to go in and buy comics at the shop when they can.

This is just one example of creating a “win-win” for you and the shop, and most owners are always looking for new and creative ways to get new customers.

Here’s a few other things to ask or discuss while you’re there:

  • Ask to look at their discount bins. It may take time to flip through all of them, but it’s often worth it since you can find great comics heavily discounted — sometimes for as low as a dollar each.
  • Ask if they are willing to sell educational copies of comics at cost or a specially discounted rate.
  • Consistently remind them that you’re open promoting their store via popups, posters, or whatever promotional materials they can provide at your school, in return for them donating comics on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis.
  • And, last but certainly not least…

Free Comic Book Day

Each year, on the first Saturday in May, comic book shops host Free Comic Book Day (FCBD). On that day, publishers provide comic shops with a wide range of free comics as a way to attract new readers.

The next one happens on May 5, 2018. Before then, go into your local shop and ask if they would be willing to set aside any remaining grade-level appropriate books after FCBD is over, for you to use in your classroom collections. Let them know you’ll share any extras/duplicates with your colleagues.


For Next Time

We hope this post has been helpful! Please leave feedback or suggestions for future posts in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or by sending email to

In our next post, we’ll be focusing on ways parents can use comics to increase their child’s reading skills.

See you there.

Announcing the 2nd Annual Educator of the Year Award

Pop Culture Classroom is excited to announce that we are now accepting nominations for the 2nd annual Pop Culture Educator of the Year Award!

At PCC, we believe that pop culture is an incredible educational tool. The Pop Culture Educator of the Year Award is our way of recognizing innovative educators who are using pop culture as a way to engage students, inspire a lifelong love of learning, encourage diversity, and increase literacy in their schools and local communities.

Do you know an educator who fits this description? Be sure to nominate them today! An award will be given out for each of the following four categories:

  • Elementary
  • Middle School
  • High School
  • Post-secondary Education (college/university)

All K-12 and higher education educators (including, but not limited to, teachers, librarians, administrators and informal education practitioners) are eligible for the award. Parents, students, administrators, and fellow educators may submit applications, and one educator can receive multiple nominations. You can even nominate yourself!

In addition to one of PCC’s own pop culture-based curricula, each award-winner will receive two 3-day passes to Denver Comic Con 2018 (June 30- July 2, 2018), a DCC’18 prize package, and even a special spotlight on PCC’s website. One Honorable Mention from each category will also be chosen and featured on our website.

We look forward to hearing about the wonderful educators in your lives and the great work they’re doing to support students using pop culture!

Using Humor in the Classroom


By Michael Mannix

I used to teach 7th grade English, and one of the best parts was that anything I read, watched on TV—anything—could be an artifact for the classroom. Some of these artifacts seemed more obvious—like a New York Times op-ed on the function of the word “like.” Some were less so—like a Taco Bell commercial students adapted as a promotional video for Spirit Day. And then some I just missed totally. One of these was The Onion, and, when I realized it, I wanted to try to make up for it. The result was Teaching with The Onion, a Facebook blog for teachers of all subjects.

Right now, the site publishes about one lesson a week based on parodies from around the internet. The standards and subjects these lessons address are diverse: There’s a lesson on teaching research skills in ELA, Social Studies and Science using an article called “It’s Called ‘Columbusing,’ And It’s The Latest Teen Craze That Has Kids Sailing The Globe In Search Of Spice”; a lesson on teaching public speaking skills with an Onion parody of a TED Talk (shout out to PVLEGS!); and another one designed for students to critique and develop conversational norms in the classroom using an article called “College Encourages Lively Exchange of Idea.

Parody websites like The Onion, Clickhole, Reductress, McSweeney’s and countless others churn out these articles on a daily basis, and the possibilities for classroom use are endless. I hope that, as the page grows, teachers will contribute their own lessons while also adding feedback to others’. I also plan to expand the page’s purpose, such as posting education-related parody texts with ideas for use in teacher professional development.

At the same time, I realize there is resistance to using parody in the classroom, and, more broadly, even humor. In talking to teachers and even scholars of humor in education, I’ve been reminded of the stigmas—and dangers—of using particular texts in the classroom, particularly those perceived as being separate from “the canon,” or those too closely associated with pop culture. For various, often problematic reasons, some texts are given secure positions within schools, while others face instant skepticism.

Humorous texts pose their own challenges. For one, they aren’t always morally acceptable. When it comes to humor more broadly, there’s humor that punches down, humor that reinforces harmful stereotypes, and humor that just doesn’t fit with the decorum of particular spaces. In general, there can be an ambiguity about the effects of humor on other people, which poses particular risks for schools.

There are other obstacles for teachers, too. Currently, the battle against “fake news” has led to a renewed focus on the importance of teaching the evaluation of sources—but not necessarily the glorification of parody news. Further, in the last half century, influential reports and standards in education, from A Nation at Risk to No Child Left Behind, have pressured educators to focus on practices that look “serious” and focus directly on a particular set of skills, often at the expense of instruction that seems to be more…joyful. Michael Smith, Deborah Appleman, and Jeff Wilhelm, for example, attribute the rise of “zombie close-reading” practices to the Common Core State Standards. This approach to reading has students focus on the text at the expense of personal response and background knowledge; it also tends to exclude instructional practices like choice reading, book talks, and literature circles.

Finally, there’s the majority of Western philosophy’s take on humor, which has not been so kind. Plato, for example, called laughter a vice, suggesting we should avoid it if possible. Aristotle agreed—he equated wit, famously, with “educated insolence.” The Stoics were, of course, on board with all of this; one was admired by his followers for never laughing at all. He claimed it helped with self-control.

I bring up these sources of resistance to humor to acknowledge them as real obstacles, but also to offer alternative perspectives. Humor, after all, is often considered non-serious, and yet it has serious effects: provoking diverging thought, relieving stress, communicating persuasive messages, developing open-mindedness, building solidarity, engaging an audience, and the list goes on.

There are concrete benefits for instruction, too. For one, reading and writing parody requires all kinds of knowledge—of genre, content, and literacy skills in general. As creative writing professor Bev Hogue points out: “The elements that make humor effective—pace, timing, economy of expression, vivid language—also make other kinds of writing effective, so exercising these elements provides skills transferable to other tasks.”

Finally, there are ethical considerations with humor, but these obstacles can be reframed as opportunities: How, for example, do we know what effect our writing will have on others? How do we know what’s offensive? And, as satirists ask all the time, what needs a little offending?

Although it may seem counter-intuitive, then, I would argue that—even in these times—there’s a positive role for fake news in the classroom, both as a genre that can produce positive effects, and as a process that can generate benefits for students and classrooms.

My conviction originated in the classroom, when my students proposed an April Fools edition of the school newspaper. I admit: at first, I was nervous. Although an avid reader of parody news (*ahem*…and The New Yorker), I had never taught it before. I was also aware of how news about other people in the school—fake news—might not be okay with those individuals or even with the school administration. We would have to be careful, serious, rigorous.

This influenced our approach to everything: topics, headlines, word choice, images, even fact-checking. During the entire process, we gave as much attention to entertaining our audience as we did to ethical considerations. We talked about the writing for weeks—in the hallway, over Google docs, in class, even at recess. And our conversations about humor were often serious: What was appropriate to publish? What writing would actually be funny? And what would the writing’s impact be on the school community: a real-world audience of students, peers, teachers, and families? On the day of publication, some of the newspaper’s toughest critics were converted into fans, and the writers felt proud of the work they had done.

As a doctoral student now, I’m motivated to know more about what was going on with this experience. Using some of the research I’ve done on humor studies, education more broadly, and the eighty-two Clickhole articles I see every time I check my Newsfeed, I’ve continued to think of ways to support teachers in using humorous texts to teach reading and writing. In addition to managing Teaching with The Onion, I recently put together a curriculum for creating parody newspapers with students. It contains resources for taking students through a range of experiences, including brainstorming, drafting, revising, conferencing, and publishing.

There’s a lesson on creating what Onion writers call a “Tough Room”—a sort of writing workshop where the main currency is laughter; a lesson on using elements of humor theory to guide the revision of sentences; a lesson on co-constructing ethical guidelines with students, with ideas generated through reading articles about school administrators’ reactions to practical jokes; and a lesson on brainstorming multimodal companions to articles.

My hope is that, when students participate in the lessons, they have the chance to draw on diverse knowledge and literacies, and transform the way they think about writing. I also hope that, when teachers use the guide, they have the opportunity to think about the challenges and opportunities of using humor in the classroom. To support that process, I have included classroom anecdotes and integrated scholarship on humor whenever appropriate. I invite you to continue the conversation by posting work, questions, and experiences—around anything related to teaching humor and literacy—on Teaching with The Onion.


Michael Mannix is a former middle school English teacher and current doctoral student in Reading/Writing/Literacy at the University of Pennsylvania. He works with the Philadelphia Writing Project on a number of programs, including the Philly School Media Network, an initiative to support student journalism. In his research, he is interested in humor studies, ethics, and literacy education.

Highlights from Pro Day at New York Comic Con 2017!

By Michael Gianfrancesco
& Illya Kowalchuck

New York Comic Con is probably the largest fan event that Pop Culture Classroom attends each year. It is a four-day whirlwind of superheroes, studios, and sensationalism. We often equate it to Christmas in that it takes months of work to prepare and it’s over in just a couple of days…

…but what a wonderful couple of days it was!

The Highlights

Pop Culture Classroom and our friends found ourselves on a number of amazing educational panels throughout the NYCC weekend. Many of our panels took place at the New York Public Library (NYPL), where the show put together a special “Professional Day” on Thursday, October 5 for teachers, librarians and educators from all over the world. Some of the PCC team attended this event and presented on panels there, while others held down the fort at educational sessions at the Javits Convention Center ten blocks away.

Lesson Planning for the Comics Classroom

This first panel we were fortunate enough to participate in was also the first offered as part of “Pro Day,” and we were excited to find a packed room awaiting us when we arrived at the NYPL Thursday morning!

Moderated by John Shableski (Udon Entertainment) and featuring librarian Claudia McGivney, high school teachers John Weaver and Michael Lopez, and PCC’s Education Program Manager, Adam Kullberg, this panel introduced a packed room of educators and librarians to what an introductory comic unit looks like. It also provided hands-on strategies, tips, and resources meant to help educators incorporate comics into classrooms and libraries.

Books As Flint: Using Graphic Novels to Inspire Social Activism

Later on in the day, PCC presented on a panel aimed at using graphic novels to inspire social activism. And boy, did it live up to its name! Tony Medina and Stacey Robinson (My Name is Alphonso Jones), Meryl Jaffee (Proffesor at Johns Hopkins), R Alan Brooks (The Burning Metronome), and Marjorie Liu (Monstress) joined PCC Director of Education Illya Kowalchuck in lighting up the Trustees Room at the library.

The conversation was on fire from the outset, with each panelist chiming in about stories that echoed the power of graphic novels in their lives and classrooms. The through line for all of this was how easily the medium opens doors for powerful conversations and sheds light on the inequities present in contemporary society. Rather than let these issues smolder, well-chosen graphic novels can hold up a mirror to the reader. What’s more, this evolving art form can ignite students’ awareness and, potentially, inspire change.

Gender Identity: Understanding Through Art

About 10 blocks away from the NYPL, PCC Comics Education Outreach Programming Director Michael Gianfrancesco participated in three of PCC’s sessions that took place there, including two panels and our third-annual Educator Meet & Greet session.

The first panel focused on talking about how to use comics to illustrate and inform students (and anyone, for that matter) about sexual and gender identity with gender identity. It included moderator Dr. Katie Monnin (Teaching Graphic Novels, Teaching Reading Comprehension with Graphic Texts), comic creators Dana Simpson (Phoebe and her Unicorn) and Molly Ostertag (The Witch Boy), and actress, dancer and educator Tami Stronach (The Paper Canoe Company, The Neverending Story).

Throughout the panel, the energy in the room was very powerful and the panelists brilliantly helped the room unpack a topic that is often misunderstood by educational leaders as well as students and parents. As Gianfrancesco put it, “I walked away from this experience with a much greater understanding of gender identity, but more importantly, with a sense that there is so much more for me to learn.”

PCC’s Michael Gianfrancesco participates on the Gender Identity panel at NYCC 2017. Dr. Katie Monnin, Tami Stronach, Dana Simpson, Molly Ostertag (shown left to right).

The Representation Bookshelf: Building a More Diverse Comics Classroom

Next, PCC’s fourth panel of the day brought Gianfrancesco together with creators, educators, and publishers to discuss how to help teachers and librarians choose titles that focus on, or at least include, diverse characters. PCC was honored to share the stage with moderator Gina Gagliano (First Second Books), Geoff Gerber (Lionforge), Jorge Aguirre (Giants Beware, Monsters Beware), Ngozi Ukazu (Check, Please!), and Dr. Katie Monnin.

The panel talked about graphic novels with characters of color, with varying religious backgrounds, with disabilities, and of a variety of sexual and gender identities (calling back to the previous panel). A number of amazing title suggestions were handed down by the participants and we later found ourselves running through the show floor trying to get our hands on books like Superb from Lionforge, Mighty Jack from First Second, and Lowriders in Space from Chronicle Books.


PCC’s Michael Gianfrancesco takes a selfie with dancer and educator Tami Stronach (The Paper Canoe Company, The Neverending Story).

Educator Meet & Greet Session

Immediately after the second panel wrapped up, PCC staff had to hightail it over to our annual educator meet & greet across the Javits Center. PCC was fortunate enough to partner with First Second Books and The French Comics Association for this innovative session, which connected creators from France with American artist, writers, and teachers from around the country.

The meet & greet was set up with four tables, each which focused on a specific grade level or topic, meant to help teachers easily find out what they needed for their particular classroom and grade level. PCC’s Gianfrancesco was seated at a table geared towards high school and college appropriate texts and got the chance to meet some wonderful creators including French writer Fabien Nury (The Death of Stalin) and Stacey Robinson and Tony Medina. Likewise, PCC’s Kullberg and Kowalchuk were seated at tables for YA books and K-5 Graphic Novels, respectively.

Over the course of an hour, this meet & greet discussion turned to the differences between what is considered acceptable texts in European schools as opposed to here in the US. What fascinated us the most was the fact that, in France, comics are considered viable texts for elementary school age children, regardless of the content, which can sometimes get risky in American culture because of sexual content. We also learned that once a child begins to reach teenage school years, the French education system no longer considers comics or graphic novels usable at all, regardless of the subject matter.

PCC’s Michael Gianfrancesco alongside creators and publishers from the French Comics Association (FCA) including Stacey Robinson, Fabien Nury, Tony Medina, Zep, Meg Lemke (left to right.)

Content Literacy: Teaching STEM With Comics

PCC’s final panel of the NYCC Professional Day was a one-two punch focusing on how graphic novels and comics can improve engagement and retention among students in STEM. Featuring PCC’s Kullberg as a moderator and Kowalchuk as a panelist, we were thrilled to share the stage with artist and teacher Jay Hosler (Last of the Sandwalkers), as well as First Second creators Alison Wilgus and Molly Brooks (Flying Machines) and Joe Flood (Sharks, Dinosaurs).

In addition to discussing these STEM comics creators and educators’ inspirations and insights, this panel offered the audience a comprehensive list of STEM comics that they could bring into elementary through high school classrooms, offering new inroads for students to tackle STEM topics.

In Conclusion

We had a truly enlightening and educational experience at New York Comic Con this year. As always, it was amazing being a part of these discussions because we not only got to share the stage with creators, publishers, librarians, and other educators, but were able to meet the fantastic fans and educators who shared their own experiences using comics with us.

We also picked up a lot of great books from artists and publishers, when soon we will be publishing a blog post or two containing lists of some of the best titles we snagged along with some suggested classroom applications! For now, we returned to our respective homes, families, and day-to-day duties, decompressing and reflecting on a fantastic experience at NYCC.

Now Accepting DCC’18 Panel Submissions

Our Denver Comic Con 2018 lineup of events and activities is going to be bigger than ever with a diverse range of topics for all ages and pop culture and literary interests. 2 Main Events stages, 25 session rooms, with almost 600 hours of panels, workshops and demos!

We want to give YOU the opportunity to present your own session. This is a chance for you to share your wisdom and knowledge with your fellow pop culture enthusiasts. We’re looking for great panels covering comics, sci-fi, fantasy, games, cosplay, literature, film making, art demonstrations and much, much more!

Colorful History in the Classroom

Recently, we reached out to our community to see how they were using “Colorful History” in the classroom. We received lots of responses about the many different ways that these comics are providing educational value.

Erik Burgeson, a library media specialist at Kilbourne Middle School in Worthington, OH, told us that he first started using Colorful History comics in his Graphic Novels course. “At first,” he told us “I used it as an optional read in between longer reads such as Trickster and American Born Chinese.” A few years later, Erik started using the comics frequently in the classroom with his 8th grade students, after Kilbourne Middle School began an effort to do formative and summative assessments in writing across the curriculum.

“I started with my 8th graders and found the comics and the teacher guide and questions to be extremely valuable as they were aligned with exactly what we were trying to do, increase students reading and writing about non-fiction topics. This year I began using the comics with my 7th graders as well. In fact, right now my eighth graders read one comic every Friday and answer the teacher guide questions as a practice (formative) assessment for their graded writing assignments.”

Another response we received came from the Mayor’s Office of the National Western Center. Executive Assistant Tricia Ortega informed us that the publication goes beyond a school setting! She wrote to us, saying:

“Colorful History is not just for kids! I print the comics out and put them on the front counter for the Mayor’s Office. A lot of our staff does not know much about Colorado history other than what we were taught in school a few decades ago. Everyone has enjoyed the comics and they provide something for folks to do while waiting for meetings.”

Janae L., a 4th grade teacher at Bristol Elementary in Colorado Springs, described to us her student’s excitement after reading an issue on the Colorado Flag:

“I downloaded the Colorado Flag comic so students could view it on our Google Classroom site. I created a lesson target that would promote student inquiry. One student said, “I can explain the importance of the Colorado state flag and tell what aspects of Colorado are important to me.” As students read, their hands shot up as they discovered the information. They excitedly shared with me, and students ended the class remembering the information. I LOVED the student excitement and engagement because they were able to gain information from a comic and use technology to access it.”

We are thrilled to hear stories of how Colorful History comics are utilized, both in and out of the classroom!

Click the link below to check out different issues of our comic strip! We hope you find them just as useful!

Announcing Our 2017 Scary Story Design Contest Winners!

Thank you to everyone who participated in our 2nd Annual Tattered Cover Scary Story Cover Design Contest! We were thrilled with all the creative, original and hair-raising artwork we received from students across Colorado.

One winner and honorable mentions were selected for each grade level, and from these awardees a single grand-prize winner was chosen to be featured as the cover of the 34th Annual Scary Story Contest Book of Winners!

In addition, honorees received a collection of all the winning stories with the Grand Prize winning cover, and an invitation to a special reception at the Tattered Cover on Colfax Avenue. You can read the full collection of amazing writers and artists at this link!

Many congrats to the winners and honorable mentions listed below!



The 2017 Scary Story Design Contest Grand Prize Winner is…. (drumroll)… Islas Luevano!

Islas will receive two (2) weekend passes to Denver comic Con 2018 and a $25.00 Tattered Cover Book Token for this winning submission.

Likewise, each winner from each grade level below will receive a $25.00 Tattered Cover Book Token, while honorable mentions will receive a $15.00 Book Token.


WINNER: Augusta Ramp (Age 7, Grade 2)

HONORABLE MENTION: Tyler Grantham (Age 7, Grade 2)


WINNER: Leo Ramp (Age 8, Grade 3)

HONORABLE MENTION: Katherine Analovitch (Age 8, Grade 3)


WINNER: Islas Luevano (Age 11, Grade 6)


HONORABLE MENTION: Addison Rafferty (Grade 6)


HONORABLE MENTION: Cal Foster (Age 11, Grade 6)

HONORABLE MENTION: Lexi Rufenacht (Age 11, Grade 6)

HONORABLE MENTION: Avery Dossey (age 11, grade 6)


CONGRATULATIONS again to our wonderful contest winners, and thanks again to everyone who submitted a story cover!