Making Curriculum Pop

I've been phasing (some might say sneaking) graphic novels into our high school English curriculum for years. We now have three in English 9 Basic, and recently, Watchmen has been added to the senior British Literature course.

Now I've got to draw on your expertise. This year, I have started teaching English 11 Basic. English 11 is intended for people who are in danger of failing the PA state reading test. Most are lower socio-economic status, and a large percentage are African American. Does anyone know if there are any graphic novels that deal particularly with the African American experience--similar to the way American Born Chinese treats the Asian American experience? I'd love to find out what is out there. Thanks for the help.

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aaron mcgruder has "birth of a nation", which discusses african-american experiences/issues (socioeconomic specifically), but it does use some swear words. so im not so sure how that would go over. hmmmm....will keep thinking. :)

So I think ABC is extremely unique in terms of its YA/coming of age themes. Two books that are worth previewing are The Graphic Biography of Malcolm X and Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow from the Center for Cartoon Studies. The ladder graphic novel is about Page but told from the POV of an anonymous and young African-American who dreams of making it in the "big leagues." The story is elegant in its simplicity and certainly addresses issues of discrimination and white (male) hegemony in the south. I enjoyed it quite a bit. We have to get Nick S and Karen on this group as they probably have a gazillion other ideas.

Hope this is a good start!


I checked out the preview of the Satchel Paige book, and it looks great. Sadly, both American Born Chinese and the Malcolm X biography are unavailable to me, because last year when I created the new ninth grade English curriculum, I put both of those books in our nonfiction unit. Ironically, I was taken out of ninth grade English and moved to eleventh grade. Ah, well . . .

Cool, Another really great place to preview "indie" comics is the Raw Recommended web site - this is Art Spiegelman and his wife (NYer Art Editor) Françoise Mouly's company. Their lists are very very very cool. I randomly started you at 2007 but you can just click through each one (Previous and Next) - I find a lot of titles that I haven't heard about here.
You should be able to find graphic novel biographies of MLK and Malcom X. There was also the Obama/McCain IDW comic book. Though it may be too complex for your purposes, I really enjoy teaching Ho Che Anderson's King, which intermeshes the myth and the history of MLK. I also like teaching Truth: Red, White, and Black, which retcons the origins of Captain America and suggests that African American soldiers were the test subjects for the super-soldier syrum which created him. As I wrack my brain, though, I don't know of any other suggestions that haven't already been mentioned that would be like an ABC featuring African American characters. I'll keep looking and get back with you if I can.... The Satchel Page book looks promising.
Thanks Bucky! I'll check out the MLK.
Hey John,

I picked up "Incognegro" a few months back, strong stuff, worth checking out. Harvey Pekar's "American Splendour: Unsung Hero" might also be relevant, Hope this helps, best,

Thanks for the suggestions. John Shableski--whose also a member here--suggested Incognegro a few days ago, and it looks pretty interesting. I'll check out the Pekar book as well.

Your project on monarch butterflies sounds very cool. Let us know how it's going.

Throwing down graphic novels from another post I did (and mentioned by others):

African-American experience:
Maclolm X by Andrew Helfer
Nat Turner by Kyle Baker
Boondocks (the comics, not the programs! unless you're ready)

Other texts on social issues:
The Real Cost of Prisons by Lois Ahrens
After 9/11 by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon
A People's History of the United States

Marvel classics my student love:
Kingdom Come by Alex Ross
Ones I'd love to use, if I could get the funding. Sorry I couldn't directly respond to the subject you were looking for, but just in case, you may want something more general if you have other classes that may be able to use such graphic novels as well. These may not particularly pertain to the African-American experience, but they are definitely ones that anyone can find interest in and are easy reads.

Pride of Baghdad, written by Brian K Vaughan
A look at what war does to innocent civilians and families, using animals! While they deal with that, there's the concern of rape, what you do to survive, criticism of humanity (corruption, violent nature, etc).

The American Way, written by John Ridley (perfect for an American Lit class)
A cleaner version of Watchmen, except these superheroes were created and used by the government, but the government is holding secrets, and it's up to the heroes they hired to save the world and themselves from our own government in an alternate reality of the 1950s and 1960s. It deals not only with government corruption, but also race, gender equality, mentality, and power assertion. Come to think of it, there's also rape in this too, but it's off panel. There is a little tiny bit of violence, but it's nothing terrible. An excellent read for adults and teens alike. I made myself want to reread it just now! Thanks, me!

Uncanny X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills, written by Chris Claremont
Yes, a superhero book, but this may be one of the greatest Claremont runs, possibly even comic book runs. The issues dealt with in these....issues (good pun, huh?)...are maybe what you'd be seeking out, as it dealt heavily with racial issues and human rights. Check it out. Superhero comics can be incredibly deep and critical! Deadpool (especially Cable and Deadpool) deals with social and political issues in a dry, sarcastic way.

Maybe you can simply take images and characters throughout comic history and study the progression of the African-American image, or even the Black image in general, as Africans were even treated poorly in comics, especially during WWII. And many Africans and African Americans reinforce the idea that Shakespeare did with Othello, the idea that dark skin meant dark souls and dark skin also meant "black magic."



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