Friday, November 4, 2011

How an Author Learned to Read Graphic Novels

Prolific author Tanya Lloyd Kyi is the star of this week's blog post, with her behind-the-scenes tour of a seminar on comics and graphic novels. Take it away, Tanya!

A few weeks ago, I escaped my keyboard, left my children to the ice-cream indulgence of their grandparents, and headed off to a professional development seminar for teachers called Getting Graphic: Effective Literacy Learning with Comics and Graphic Literature.

Tanya Lloyd Kyi (right) with an intermediate school teacher


Official Story:
I was at the conference as part of a CWILL BC group of writers and illustrators. The opportunity to meet more than 100 teachers and librarians was too good to resist--I set up a display of the 50 Questions series and The Lowdown on Denim, spread out some teachers' guides, and prepared to boast about some of the comic-style illustrations incorporated by Ross Kinnaird and Clayton Hanmer.

Unofficial Story #1:
I was secretly spying.

Teachers and librarians know what catches student interest. Many of the teachers who stopped to chat seemed to think 50 Underwear Questions would appeal to both the girls and the boys, while teachers with reluctant boy readers turned directly toward 50 Poisonous Questions. Apparently, there's still a need for good, gross, bubbling boy topics.

Unofficial Story #2:
A stellar panel talking about graphic novels? Sign me up! This whole meet-the-teachers thing was a great way to sneak in and see the actual presentations.

There were four experts speaking about their experiences with graphic novels: senior UBC instructor Margot Filipenko, UBC Instructional Programs Librarian Jo-Anne Naslund, illustrator Kathryn Shoemaker, and primary teacher Dionne Risler.

Now, I have a confession to make. Graphic novels make me go cross-eyed. I'm usually a fast reader. Slowing down to absorb all the visual information makes me feel like a long-distance runner in lead sneakers. I love novels. I love the visual cornucopia of entirely illustrated books such as Shaun Tan's The Arrival. But a mix of the two? I feel like I may have a seizure.

This was the advice of Kathie Shoemaker: get over it.

In technical teacher terms, I'm lacking the ability to decode multi-modal texts. In other words, once I learned to read, I stopped paying enough attention to the pictures.

I now have a list of graphic novels to check out, both fiction and non-fiction. And did you know the opera was a multi-modal experience?

As I'm getting over my visual impairment, I can now notice all sorts of graphic novel details. The way time passes. The way panels can show moment-to-moment action, or scene-to-scene. The way white space can leave room for emotion.

Thanks to Kathie and her panel cohorts, the next time one of my books is destined for graphic-novel-style illustration panels, I have a whole new world of variety to consider.

So, from this conference-crasher, many thanks to the panelists, Vi Hughes, and LOMCIRA for a great morning!

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