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  1. 1. Winter 2009 Issue 7 Deaf Characters in Comics & Graphic Novels Inside this issue: Since the 1930s, comic books have been popular reading for young peo- Deaf Characters: Com- 1 Studies have shown student ple (Morrison, Bruan, & Chilcoat, 2002). ics & Graphic Novels Because of their popularity among stu- improvement on standardized test dents, several researchers have inves- 2 Letter from Sharon scores when students studied tigated the effectiveness of using comic books to engage students in the lan- vocabulary from comics and Comics on my bookshelf 3 guage arts classroom and emphasize the positive effects of including comic cartoons… they are also cost books, graphic novels, and cartoons in Deaf Characters: Com- 4-5 effective, have low-readability the classroom. Studies have shown ics & Graphic Novels student improvement on standardized levels, are of great interest to What I’m looking for- 6 test scores when students studied vo- ward to cabulary from comics and cartoons. students. Researchers have encouraged the use 7 International Reading of comics and graphic novels stating deafness as a literary device to relay Association that they are cost effective, have low- various messages about the struggles readability levels, are of great interest 8 Comic Resources of humankind and elicit sympathy from to students. As an acknowledged use- readers (Batson & Bergman, 1985; ful teaching tool and clearly of interest Bergman, 1987; Burns, 1950; Krentz, Favorite Winter 8 to my students, I knew that I had to in- 2002; Panara, 1972; Taylor, 1974, Moment vestigate using comics and graphic 1976a, 1976b, Schwartz, 1980; Wilding- novels in my classroom. Diaz, 1993). As my students began bringing in their Literature has often stigmatized minor- comics and I began my research on ity culture individuals based upon race, Deaf characters in comics, I was not ethnicity, disability, gender, and/or convinced that I would find any deaf sexual orientation. While readers characters that were culturally relevant might recognize the negative depic- to my students. In recent decades the tions and dismiss them as harmless majority culture’s awareness and per- stereotypes, these portrayals could haps interest in deaf people has risen become a part of the unconscious of along with that of our increasingly mul- members of our society. If texts con- ticultural world. Mainstream authors tinually support stereotypical portray- are incorporating more deaf characters als of deaf people, individuals belong- than they did in the past. However, this ing to the group become typecast into increase does not necessarily mean a limited way of being and those who quot;Girl Readingquot; by Picasso there is an increase in understanding of are relatively unfamiliar with the group deaf people, nor does this increase in- begin internalizing stereotypes. My sure the most accurate, respectably, students are certainly not interested in well-rounded characterization of the deaf. Historically, authors have used (Continued on page 4)
  2. 2. Page 2 Letter from Sharon Dear Readers, Yes, I’m behind again… Winter issue in the Spring. Luckily this is a one-woman endeavor and no one is giving me the evil eye. It’s not that I’m not working.... I have had such a busy semester full of conferences and events aside from the fact that I DO teach and have a “real job”. For starters, in February Myron Uhlberg visited Gallaudet University with the release of his memoir, Hands of My Father. I had been planning his visit for months and dreaming about it since last May’s International Reading As- sociation Convention in Georgia when I first met Myron. The week was a whirlwind. His book was selected by Amazon as one of its Best of February selections; the book was released; there was a review printed in the Wall Street Journal (and numerous great reviews ever since), and then Myron Uhlberg, having never stepped foot on Kendall Green, came “Home” to Gallaudet University. To say that the campus community LOVED him would be an understatement. I hardly had time to enjoy his visit considering I had to turn around and begin preparing for my poster presenta- tion “Marvel Comics Echo- Deaf, Female and Biracial” at the International Reading Association Convention Phoenix, Arizona. The International Reading Association Convention always brings tons of excitement. In Phoe- nix, I met Heather Harper the Managing Editor of Study Island. I can't wait to tell you more about Study Island's Online Graphic Novel Reading Intervention for K-12 including The World as You Know which includes an on-line graphic novel Deaf Character named Lukas. Even the hearing characters use American Sign Language! I ended my birthday month with a bang! Then, I had to start thinking about the March 7th Annual Statewide Professional & Family Conference Madison, Wisconsin. This was the first time that I had been to Wisconsin and while I had pretty high expectations of this place (considering so many of my colleagues are from this area), Madison sur- passed my expectations. We in Deaf Education could learn a great deal from Wisconsin’s conference which in- cluded both professionals and nearing 100 families! It was also great to meet Stefanie Kessen, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Outreach Program (WESP-DHH) Diagnostic/Educational Specialist and Distant Pals Coordinator. We have planted some collaboration seeds for future projects of which I am very excited. At the time of this letter, I have 194 contemporary books listed including some upcoming publications on the quot;100+ Books and Countingquot; list on my Deaf Characters in Adolescent Literature Blog (http:// pajka.blogspot.com/). Feel free to contact me at yadeafcharacters@gmail.com Happy Reading , Sharon Pajka-West, Ph.D.
  3. 3. Page 3 Comics on my bookshelf The World as You Know is quot;an original, online graphic novel created by Study Island and its Original Island Inks imprint. It is a three book se- ries following the adventures of Solomon, a Native American middle school student; Lukas, a deaf, foreign exchange stu- dent from Cameroon; and Esperanza, an ambitious His- panic girl who guides Solomon and Lukas on their adventures. The trio believes their world is only as big as their front yard. When the three are shown what awaits them just under the surface of the world they know, they call into A picture of Heather Harper (right) the Managing question what they know about that world and each Editor of Study Island and me at the International other. It is a visual delight mixing one part mystery, one Reading Association in Phoenix, AZ. part fantasy, and one part discovery that sends the world on its head.quot; I'm most excited about Lukas Biya. Read his bio be- Below is my Poster from the Presentation on Marvel low. Comics Echo- Deaf, Female and Biracial. For a lar- ger view, visit: Lukas is from Cameroon. He is deaf, which automati- cally carries its own challenges. However, add to this http://pajka.blogspot.com/2009/02/international- that he, much like Solomon, is an outcast, and Lukas' life reading-association.html seems even more different than the lives of his class- mates. His father is an important diplomat who makes little time for Lukas, but this does little to bring down Lukas and his fiercely independent streak. Lukas is simi- lar to Solomon in that he is a pleasant kid, but he is also very skeptical. These traits are an advantage within the unit of the trio; however, alone, these qualities make Lukas vulnerable to dealing with others. Lukas soon learns that he is the central figure in a situation that is out of his control. It affects his relationships with his friends and family, and just when he thinks that he has come to grips with his place in this world, his world is turned upside down, putting him back at square one. (Study Island) This will be out in March. I've already seen some of the panels and I'm very excited. I'll keep you posted!
  4. 4. Page 4 (Deaf Characters in Comics & Graphic Novels cont.) vidual communicating in this way is unrealistic. (Continued from page 1) reading any materials that pity deaf people. In some texts it is difficult to offer a detailed analysis of the deaf character because the character’s role is lim- ited. For example, Elizabeth Laird and Pauline Hazel- I was discouraged by the portrayals of deaf characters wood’s graphic novel, The Listener (1997) includes a in the initial comic books that were brought in to class; minor deaf character. The story is about a boy who however, as a class, we learned a great deal about the enlists the help of his deaf neighbor when his grand- majority culture’s stereotypes of the deaf and the im- mother is hurt. The deaf character is a secondary char- portance of realistic portrayals. Similar to other genres, acter, not a main character. In this graphic novel, read- deaf characters in comics and graphic novels are rare ers learn more about the hearing character who associ- (Berke, 2005). One website that discusses the portray- ates with a deaf character than about the deaf character als of Deaf Characters in comics explains, quot;main char- herself. acters in comics are usually flawless” yet describes the Other texts use deafness as a form of punishment. For different artists' portrayals of deaf and hard of hearing example, The Amazing Allegro, a famous Russian musi- characters, including Donald Duck, Professor Calculus, cian became permanently deafened by one of Green and Gaston Lagaffe (Svendsen, 2006). With these char- Arrow's sonic arrows in the original Justice League se- acters’ flaws in misunderstanding based on hearing, ries. The act of losing his hearing puts him over the they certainly can not be considered flawless. In fact, edge and he turns evil (Justice League of America some of the characters are quite ridiculous and exclude #163). Students shared stories of individuals that they nearly all aspects of actual deaf individuals. For exam- knew who had lost their hearing and were angry al- ple, one deaf character, Manuel Gomez, communicates though not as angry as the character Allegro. with special glasses in Avatar Book 1: A Look into the Abyss by Juan Miguel Aguilera SAF Comics (2003). Similarly, Shriek, the villain who uses his deafness as a While some students felt that it could be argued that shield in Batman Beyond: Hear No Evil (2002) exploits this deaf character is using a form of technology similar sound as his weapon. Because the majority of deaf indi- to assistive devices such as pagers to communicate, as viduals do not focus their energy on noise, Shriek is a class we concluded that the portrayal of a deaf indi- unrealistic in various ways but mainly due to his fixation on sound. Again, students asserted that some deaf peo- ple do make excessive noise that may disturb others but that it is usually not intentional. One student ques- I was discouraged by the portrayals of deaf tioned if this portrayal was an honest misunderstanding by the larger majority culture of hearing people. characters in the initial comic books that Despite the unrealistic portrayals of deaf characters were brought in to class; however, as a throughout graphic novels and comics, a more realistic deaf character has emerged within the last decade. class, we learned a great deal about the David Mack’s character Maya Lopez, also known as majority culture’s stereotypes of the deaf Echo and Ronin, debuted in Daredevil (v2) #9(1999) as a love interest for Matt Murdock. Although this charac- and the importance of realistic portrayals. ter now appears in the arc of the most recent issues of The New Avengers, my class focused on how she is represented in the Daredevil issues #9-15 and #51-55. (Continued on page 5)
  5. 5. Page 5 (Deaf Characters in Comics & Graphic Novels cont.) (Continued from page 4) Maya Lopez was born deaf to hearing parents from two When deaf characters are presented distinct heritages. She was raised by her father on a Native American Indian reservation. Under the King- accurately, readers learn about a reality often pin's orders, Maya’s father, who was secretly a mob enforcer working for the Kingpin, was murdered when quite different from their own experiences. she was nine-years-old. As a promise to her father, Maya was taken in by Fisk, the Kingpin, who exploited The portrayal of realistic deaf characters her abilities and tricked her into believing that Dare- devil had killed her father. When she goes after Dare- benefits adolescent readers by allowing deaf devil for revenge, the situation becomes complicated when she, who also uses the guise of Echo by those who characters in fiction to act as role models for witness her ability to mimic precise actions, and Matt young adults, Murdock, also known as Daredevil, fall in love. After numerous fights with Daredevil, Echo realizes the truth- that the Kingpin, not Daredevil, was responsible for her father's death. tion, isolation, technology and identity, comic book My students and I held discussions regarding how as- readers learn a great deal about Maya Lopez, her place pects of this character paralleled with the lives of realis- in the Deaf World, and how the character’s experiences tic Deaf individuals. While they were thrilled that they can foster an open dialogue for students regarding the had found a Deaf character portraying aspects of Deaf similarities and differences between Deaf and Hearing Culture, they enjoyed the that the story arc was not individuals. about deafness but that the character just happened to When deaf characters are presented accurately, read- be deaf. Through issues such as diversity, communica- ers learn about a reality often quite different from their own experiences. The portrayal of realistic deaf charac- ters benefits adolescent readers by allowing deaf char- acters in fiction to act as role models for young adults, and by sharing aspects of the cultural perspective of Despite the unrealistic portrayals of deaf deafness. By using Comics, students with lower profi- ciency levels in English can analyze characters in a characters throughout graphic novels and more visual format along with the English especially since an extensive amount of information is provided comics, a more realistic deaf character only in the illustrations. has emerged within the last decade. David Mack’s character Maya Lopez, also known For more information on Maya Lopez, visit www.marvelcomics.com as Echo and Ronin, debuted in Daredevil (v2) #9(1999) as a love interest for Matt Murdock.
  6. 6. Page 6 What I’m looking forward to…. Study Island is hosting a free Webinar ! www.studyisland.com/intervention Title: Reading: Revisited & Study Island is a leading provider of online, stan- Reconsidered dards-based assessment, instruction, practice, and Date: Friday, April 3, 2009 test preparation for the U.S. K-12 educational mar- ket. Named in Inc500 as one of the top small busi- Time: 5:00 PM - 6:00 PM nesses of 2006, Study Island is used by over 8.1 mil- CDT lion elementary and secondary students in over https://www2.gotomeeting.com/register/990821673 18,000 schools, and is adding over 400 new schools per month. During the last school year (2007-2008), Reading: Revisited & Reconsidered is a Web-based read- Study Island averaged 960,000 distinct student ses- ing intervention program designed to assist struggling, sions and 7.4 million questions answered per day. reluctant, and avoidance readers, and English Language Learners by engaging readers in the study of literature. To participate, register by clicking or typing in The program employs graphic novels that actively en- the link. After registering, you will receive a gage students' interest using rich visual illustrations in confirmation email that includes information conjunction with the written word. Please visit the Study about how to join the Webinar. Island Reading: Revisited & Reconsidered Web site at: Resources about Comics and Graphic Novels: EN/SANE World (http://ensaneworld.blogspot.com/) is Professor James “Bucky” Carter's blog of Eng- lish Education and Comic Book/Graphic Novel resources. Bucky uses the term Sequential Art Narra- tives in Education (SANE). The Summer 2008 edition of Teachers & Writers (39.4) features an article about using comics in the classroom to get students composing and thinking about literature (from biography to poetry). For more information, visit: http://www.twc.org/ The Comic Book Project engages children in a creative process leading to literacy reinforcement, so- cial awareness, and character development, and then publishes and distributes their work for other children in the community to use as learning and motivational tools. For more information, visit: http://www.comicbookproject.org/ Even Scholastic’s Instructor journal includes an article entitled “Comic Books: Mr. Weatherbee, don’t blow your top. It’s actually a good thing.” http://www2.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3749300
  7. 7. Page 7 Shameless Self-Promotion Deaf and Hard of Hearing Readers Dear Teachers, We would like to continue the the Superintendent’s Conferen on Tuesday February 7 we will © TPM 05 Presents While acquiring fictional books with deaf characters can be time-consuming and challenging for teachers and librarians, the benefits of reading literature with diverse characters are extensive, especially for reluctant read- ers who seldom find characters like themselves in novels. This Gallaudet University Professor will discuss her research and educational blog on Deaf Characters in Adolescent Literature. Participants will leave with access to a list of 190+ contemporary titles and resources, and will become knowledgeable of a variety of juvenile, YA, and Comic Books with Deaf Characters who use American Sign Language, attend residential schools, have deaf family members, wear cochlear implants, and/or are from various ethnic backgrounds. When: Thursday May 7, 2008 12:30pm to 1:45pm Where: Minneapolis Convention Center - 101F
  8. 8. Favorite Winter Moment: Myron Uhlberg visiting Gallaudet Read the YADC blog! http://pajka.blogspot.com/ E-mail us! yadeafcharacters@gmail.com Where in the World have I been? It’s not that I’m not blogging, it’s just that it feels more sporadic. I have had such a busy semes- ter full of conferences and events including: March: 7th Annual Statewide Professional & Family Conference Madison, Wisconsin.  February: International Reading Association Convention Phoenix, Arizona  February: Myron Uhlberg visited Gallaudet University and released his memoir,  Hands of My Father Don’t miss out on: the 54th Annual Convention North Central: Minneapolis, Minnesota May 3 - 7, 2009,  Minneapolis Convention Center (I’ll be presenting on my research!) visit: www.reading.org the CAID 2009 National Conference quot;Educating Diverse  Students: Language, Culture & Learningquot; held June 22-26, 2009 at Gallaudet University, Washington, DC visit: http://www.caidconference.org