February 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

“Comics Connector” Finds Comics Professionals for School Visits

ChipKidd_CBLDF_logoAn online resource from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) connects teachers and librarians with comic professionals who are able to visit them in classrooms throughout the United States.

The organization is well known for providing legal representation, advice, and referrals in court cases where the First Amendment is challenged in reference to graphic novels and comic books. “One of the greatest tools against censorship is to be proactive against censorship,” said CBLDF executive director Charles Brownstein. “We want communities to have the opportunity to better understand comics in advance of any sort of challenges.” CBDF’s tools and resources include discussion guides, case studies, and its column “Using Graphic Novels in Education.”

The Comics Connector is a practical addition to CBLDF’s many initiatives. Launched in May during Children’s Book Week, the Comics Connector features a growing list of comics professionals state by state, as well as in Canada. Artists, editors, writers, and others in the industry are featured in the database, and Brownstein says that his team will be gathering more participants throughout the summer. “I really expect it to be more prominently in use when we get into the fall semester and banned book season,” he said. “I hope we get to a point to hundreds [of industry professionals] represented in all 50 states and around the world.”

Those wanting to be featured in the database submit a completed questionnaire that denotes what topics they feel comfortable speaking about and the age of the audience they’d like to speak to, either virtually or in person. Contact information is included so that educators can reach out to them directly.

Jesse Karp, who has been a school librarian at the Little Red School School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School in New York City for 14 years, is already thinking about how to use the Comics Connector in September. “We have a literary week at the beginning of the year and the teachers are always hungry for people [to speak to students],” he says. “Most teachers I’ve spoken to are really embracing graphic novels as a platform for literacy, but they don’t have a background in that particular kind of language. So to have a professional come in and guide students through it in a more complex way would give the kids a chance to expand their horizons.”

Karp says that when he asked comic book artist George O’Connor to talk to a group of seventh grade students, “[they] were so engaged by him, and they enjoyed not only the final product but the process, which in itself is a whole other kind of lesson.” Many students asked if O’Connor would come back for another presentation.

Comics Connector helps out publishers, too. Gina Gagliano, associate marketing and publicity manager at First Second Books, a graphic novel imprint of Macmillan, estimates that she gets between one and five emails a week asking if she can recommend comic creators who would be able to speak at an event. “This sort of thing has been needed and it’s great that the CBLDF is stepping up and providing this,” she says. “We worked to get our authors up on the Comics Connector. I’ve already gotten questions that [it] can answer, so it’s been helpful already.”

Cartoonist Jason Little, based in Brooklyn, NY, signed up for the Comics Connector in May. “I think it’s spectacular,” he says. “For those of us who like to draw comics and teach, it’s pretty awesome. We’re pretty excited about it.”

“The thing about being a cartoonist is that it’s the kind of job that pays poets’ wages for doctors’ hours,” adds Little, who teaches cartooning majors at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, in addition to publishing his own comics and graphic novels. The Comics Connector makes it easier for artists like Little to find gigs. “This is for people who don’t have lecture agents,” he says.

Karp sees it as a win-win idea all around. “For a place whose primary mission is the support of the life of creators, to be moving in this direction—connecting the comic world to the larger world—is a great move that can only serve the industry and the world at large,” he says.

Okyle-Carly_Contrib_WebCarly Okyle is a writer at Entrepreneur.com. Her work has appeared in School Library JournalTime.com, and YourTango.com, among other publications.

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