Ask your average Comic Con vendor if he?s got any educational titles, and prepare to be met with the rather-too-swift assertion that his cyborg-superheroes and rotting zombies ?promote literacy.? Mmm. Actually, what my 12-year-old home-schooled son and I were in the market for was something closer to the ?Epic Battles of the Civil War? series we picked up at the New York Historical Society. I was surprised to learn it was published by Marvel Entertainment, something that failed to spark any recognition or even interest in those working Marvel?s huge Javits Center booth last Sunday. In their defense, it was the final day of a well-attended convention, and the cacophony of the surrounding video game demo stations rivaled that of the Kid?s Day throng. Surely that?s why they treated me like the nun who blundered into a porn shop, in search of Holy Host. I mean, it?s not as if? I was wearing a nun costume ? or any costume, for that matter.
I acknowledge that the Comic Con exists primarily to make a fortune off the hard-core adult comics fans who are only too happy to pay top dollar for the opportunity to dress up and get their photo taken with such celebrities as Verne ?Mini Me? Troyer and Miss August, but with persistence and patience, we managed to truffle up a couple of armloads of curriculum-worthy materials, along with a Minecraft pickaxe. Here?s what we found ? all perfect for sparking up any subject with a little graphic style.
?Gettysburg? by C. M. Butzer
The grody ?Walking Dead? images abounding at this year?s Con have nothing on the amputated limbs piling up in this primary-sourced retelling of the Civil War?s bloodiest battle. The author, whose self-published mini comic on John Brown attracted the attention of HarperCollins, takes the story up through Lincoln?s famous speech at the newly constructed memorial, then supplies fascinating and painstaking notes on his historical research.
?Northwest Passage? by Scott Chantler
I confess, I hated history as a girl. Except for the plight of the slaves, dramatized in such television events as ?Roots? and ?The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,?? it was all just humdrum memorization of dates and names. ?Northwest Passage? is history as wilderness adventure, complete with hangings, snares and barrel-chested dudes sporting buckskin and well-fitting breeches.
?Marathon? by Boaz Yakin and Joe Infurnari
Ancient history with a side of sports ? there are swords, shields and bulging muscles aplenty in this drama- in-real-life take on Eucles, an Athenian messenger who?s said to have run 306 miles round trip from Athens to Sparta in 108-degree heat , thus preserving Greek civilization, and by extension, the Olympics. Sounds like someone was bucking for the ancient Greek Good Citizenship award.
?The Silence of Our Friends? by Mark Long, Jim Demonakos, and Nate Powell
Rocketing ahead to the not-so-distant past, which is to say my own lifetime, we have a civil rights-era tale based on one creator?s actual experience in suburban Houston. The complexities of race relations are given their due as the authors consider the impact a false accusation has on both a black family and a white family. Timely reading indeed.
?Caroline?s Catalog? by E. J. Barnes
The most outwardly humble item in our haul, E. J. Barnes?s self-produced bio-comic of the 18th-century astronomer (and musician) Caroline Herschel, is also one of the most exciting from a Women?s Studies standpoint. Girl power.
The Beware? series by the Perkins Brothers
Remember Scooby Doo? Imagine if rather than unmasking the town crank, the gang had found solid scientific explanations for every mysterious curse and haunting they investigated.
?Xoc: The Journey of a Great White? by Matt Dembicki
Beautifully rendered in predominant blues, grays and an occasional necessary red, Xoc follows a 17-foot great white shark as she makes her way from coastal California to Hawaii. (Jealous.) She and her turtle sidekick are occasionally shown conversing in English, but otherwise the science seems solid, and the characters never come off as cuddly or anthropomorphized. The boy sums it up as ?Man vs. the Wild, but with a shark.?
?First in Space? by James Vining
A few years ago, I managed to traumatize the boy with Laika, a graphic account of the doomed Soviet space dog?s orbit around earth. Ham, a NASA- trained chimpanzee in the Air Force?s Mercury Program has a much happier ending, thank God.
?Kill Shakespeare? by Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery
Our home library is already groaning under the weight of Shakespeare comic-format adaptations, but who can say no to a luridly bloody reinvention whereby Hamlet, Juliet, Othello, Falstaff, Romeo and Puck must battle against the dark forces of Richard III, Lady Macbeth and Iago? A heaping helping of agggghs, thwoks and plucked-out eyes (okay, just two) spice up the thous and thines.
One Peace Manga Classic Readers
Not to be confused with the wildly popular One Piece manga, these titles, including ?Don Quixote? and ?The War of the Worlds? are translations of Japanese adaptations. The editor? Robert McGuire thinks of them as gateway drugs. Barreling through Moby-Dick, my son was struck by Mr. Stubbs?s? explanation to Ishmael, ?You don?t laugh ?cuz it?s fun to! Things are fun because you?re laughing.? If Melville isn?t spinning in the grave yet, wait until he hears Milo?s verdict that ?it doesn?t need to be as long as the real Moby- Dick is because a picture says 1,000 words.? Tis the price of lasting celebrity in the age of PlayStation and YouTube.
?The Odyssey? by Sam Ita
The Odyssey in Pop Up form. I don?t want to give too much away, so just two little words for you, my friend: Polyphemus? Eye.
Class dismissed. We?ll pick up tomorrow with our Comic Con haul as pertains to Social Studies, the Arts, Language Instruction and Continuing Education.
Ayun Halliday is the author of ?The ?Zinester?s Guide to NYC?, ?The Big Rumpus?, and other books; and the creator of the East Village Inky.