Comics, Education, and Libraries

Exploring the Northern Frontier at Toronto Comic Arts Festival

May 24, 2017

Attendees meet publishers at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, May 13­–14, 2017.
Attendees meet publishers at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, May 13­–14, 2017.

The Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF), held May 13­–14, has become a can’t-miss event for comics enthusiasts and artists. Unlike the comics conventions in San Diego and New York—known for their cosplaying and mass-market comics—TCAF is held in partnership with the Toronto Public Library. One of its distinctive features is its Librarian and Educator Day.

Sponsored in part by the Toronto comics shop The Beguiling (which also offers library vending services to school and public libraries throughout Ontario), this year’s Librarian and Educator Day featured a keynote from Charlie Adlard (UK comics laureate and artist of The Walking Dead).

Several of the day’s sessions—such as “From Sidelines to Centre” and “LGBT Comics for Kids and Teens: The Time Is NOW”—offered a unified plea for more intentional, mindful use of comics in the classroom that goes beyond commonly assigned titles (such as Maus and Persepolis) and uses (for example, comics for reluctant readers or as supplemental texts only). In “Teaching Social Justice with Comics,” presenter Michelle Miller, an instructor at Ontario College of Art and Design University, shared her “Nerd Chart,” which allows her to purposefully track the point of view, author, illustrator, representation, and plot line in the comics she assigns.

Librarian and Educator Day overlapped with The Canadian Society for the Study of Comics Conference, May 11–12. This conference was also free to attend and featured sessions such as “Comics in Classrooms,” “Multimodalities Multiplied: Teaching Comics in an Active Learning Classroom,” and “Social Representations of Comics by Teachers of Basic Education.” This opportunity for K–12 educators to also attend sessions by (mostly) academic librarians and college professors presents a unique opportunity to hear about comic research being done—the “why” of comics being vital instructional tools for the classroom.

Canadian content

Amie Wright with author Chip Zdarsky and his look of horror upon meeting an actual librarian who has read his book, Sex Criminals.
Amie Wright with author Chip Zdarsky and his look of horror upon meeting an actual librarian who has read his book, Sex Criminals.

TCAF is a great opportunity to meet and further interact with established Canadian publishers such as Drawn & Quarterly, Kids Can Press, and Annick Press, as well as smaller houses such as Groundwood / House of Anansi, Koyama Press, and Conundrum Press. With special provincial and federal funding, many Canadian comic publishers can focus on smaller and less commercial titles. Some recent new titles to look out for as an educator include: The Outside Circle (House of Anansi) about two aboriginal brothers surrounded by poverty, drug abuse, and gang violence; and Duran Duran, Imelda Marcos, and Me, a new nonfiction memoir about growing up in the Philippines, complete with the author’s recommended discography (Conundrum Press).

TCAF also provided opportunities to meet Canadian artists up close. In the panel “Canadian Reading Series: Action! Adventure!” artist Jason Loo, author of The Pitiful Human-Lizard: Toronto’s Most Vulnerable Superhero, said “You know [the main character is] Canadian because he’s so relatable.” Loo’s panel counterpart Leisha-Marie Riddel said she “wanted to show the diversity of the Greater Toronto area.” Toronto is known as the “most diverse city in the world,” with more than 51% of its population foreign born and more than 230 different nationalities calling the city home. Either of these comics—or the Canadian superhero, Captain Canuck—would make a great start for a social studies unit on national identity and differences in the United States (melting pot) versus Canada (a multicultural country with two official languages).

Educational programming all weekend

The panel discussion “Comes with Instructions: Comics and Education” featured comic artists who were also comic instructors. They offered feedback useful for all educators, including inspiring kids with list-based writing and drawing prompts, such as 10 pets you had. Panelists spoke about why they saw comics as being useful, specifically that they are more efficient and allow you to relate a lot more information all at once. One of the best takeaways was that in using comics in instruction across all curricula, we open up possibilities to target students’ creativity, giving them an opportunity in which “your mind can surprise you.”

National Book Award–winning comic artist Nate Powell’s spotlight session offered a comprehensive look at his career. He also dispensed advice to aspiring comics, such as the power of discipline and developing a routine for illustrating but also allowing that his own personal style is a “melding of X-Men and Blankets.


Kellie Sparks

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