Highlights from Pro Day at New York Comic Con 2017!

By Michael Gianfrancesco
@tryingteacher
& Illya Kowalchuck
@popclassroom

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.