October 13, 2008
Posted by: Gina Gagliano
Categories: Behind the Scenes

One of the most exciting things about being part of a comics publisher right now is that we get to watch — and help — while teachers and librarians make graphic novels a part of their communities. 

We asked one of the programs we’re working with, "Get Graphic!" to talk a little about the exciting things they’re doing to make graphic novels a part of peoples lives. 


(Gene Yang talks to students at a program sponsored by "Get Graphic!")

Q: How Did “Get
Graphic!” get started? What was the inspiration for creation of the program?

A: The library was searching for a way to partner with other
community organizations in order to increase teen literacy. We were able to
partner with a wonderful and diverse group of institutions including: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, State University of New York
at Buffalo Libraries, Hein Publishing, Erie1Boces, Nioga Library System, The Buffalo
News Next Magazine, WBFO, and the Buffalo Public Schools. The idea
to focus on graphic novels was sparked by a desire to approach literacy advocacy
using a new strategy. We were interested in meeting teens on their own terms
and engaging them in reading with materials that they were already enjoying on
their own.

Q: It’s great that
you had so many community organizations to partner with!  What was it
about the graphic novel medium that made you and they all decide to band
together and do this program?

A: We were all dedicated to finding a new way to approach the promotion of
literacy with teens. We also wanted to engage teens with both educational and
creative activities designed to increase literacy and lifelong learning.
The graphic novel format seemed to be a natural fit for this as comics and
graphic novels are wildly popular, but have not yet been accepted in the world
of traditional education. Our school and library partners (Erie1Boces, Buffalo Schools, NIOGA Library System, and UB
Libraries) felt strongly that graphic novels would be a valuable enhancement to
traditional instruction presently offered in schools and well as a wonderful
addition to contemporary library collections. Our cultural organization
partners (Albright-Knox Art Gallery and WBFO radio) were intrigued both by the graphic novel as art form and as a
way to reach out more emphatically to teens. Our business partners (Hein
Publishing and The Buffalo News Next) felt that highlighting graphic novels
would benefit the community both educationally and culturally. We were all
motivated by the desire to enhance the lives of teens and their caregivers by
introducing them to a new and exciting way to experience the world of reading.
All the partners are eager and vocal participants in the various aspects of the
Get Graphic! grant project.

Q: Have you had any
interesting reactions from parents, teachers, etc., from introducing this
comics-centered program?

A: We have certainly been surprised by the overwhelmingly enthusiastic
response from everyone who has heard about our program! When we began planning
for the programs, workshops, and events we were simply hoping to engage the teen
community and introduce them more fully to a format with which they may have already
been familiar. When our events began taking place the positive response from
the community was tremendous. We have had attendees ranging from 9 year olds to
senior citizens. We have attracted attention from teachers, local artists,
school administrators, school and public librarians, and organizations from
outside of the Western New York area. Everyone
who has been in contact with us has been interested in learning more about the
project and has requested workshops, interviews, materials and more. Our
graphic novel classroom instruction kits generated so much excitement within
the educational community that we were forced to modify our kit distribution
schedule to accommodate over three times the number of requests than we had
expected. We are very pleased that our project has gone far beyond what we
initially anticipated, and has captured the imagination of our own community as
well as others.

Q: You’ve had a
number of speakers, what about them have you and teens been particularly
inspired by?

A: Teens and adults have been inspired by the accessibility
of our guest speakers. Both Gene Yang and Art Spiegelman engaged the audience
with such honesty that they created an intimate atmosphere that fostered open Q
& A and unbridled eagerness to learn more about the comics format. One of
our community partners, The Buffalo News NEXT Magazine, is written entirely by
teens. They have shown great inspiration from our programs, going far beyond
simply advertising our events. Over the 2007-2008 grant year they included a
number of author interviews and informational articles about Get Graphic! in
their weekly magazine.

Our Get Graphic! group has been very inspired by both our
guests and the greater community as well. In our grant proposal we planned for
five informational workshops for public and school librarians. We have thus far
presented nine workshops to Librarians, with two additional scheduled. We have
also, due solely to demand, presented six workshops to Middle and High school
teachers with an additional one scheduled, and two workshops to SUNY @ Buffalo
Library School Students, with an additional one scheduled. An October 2007
panel discussion “From Superman to Sandman” was so well received that we have
begun planning two more panel discussions for the upcoming grant year. Perhaps
the most telling of all is that the response has been so overwhelmingly
positive that we are planning Get Graphic! activities to continue well past the
June, 2009 grant completion date. Future plans include a Graphic Novel book
fair with author presentations and/or discussion groups for all ages.

Q: The GG! program
has a creative aspect, with teenagers encouraged to write and draw their own
graphic stories. How is this going?

A: We began the process of teen graphic novel creation with a
variety of programs during July and August 2008. The centerpiece of our Get
Graphic! summer programming was an author talk and graphic novel creation
workshop with Gene Yang. Both of these events, as well as our other programs, went
very well and received a lot of support from both teens and adults in the
community. In October we are welcoming Scott McCloud for an author talk and all
day teen graphic novel creation workshop. Mr. McCloud’s visit will signal the
beginning of our “big push” for the teen participatory portion of the Get
Graphic! grant. The “Our World in Words and Pictures” project will allow the
teens to submit 1 or 2 pages of their work to be included in a graphic novel that
will be published by Hein publishing. We are also holding a cover art contest
for which teens may submit their original artwork inspired by the “Our World in
Words and Pictures” theme. One winner will be selected, and their artwork will
appear in full color as the cover of the published teen graphic novel. The
published graphic novel, along with the contributing authors and artists will
be honored at a reception to be held in conjunction with the conclusion of the
Get Graphic! grant in May, 2009.

Q:  “Multimedia Literacy” is a term that gets
bandied about a lot nowadays when talking about how people interact with
television, the internet, and graphic novels. How are you seeing this come out
in your program?

A: Our Get Graphic! project has generated a tremendous
amount of interest from teachers and librarians. When planning the Get Graphic!
grant and activities we felt certain that we were constructing a project that would
assist both teachers and librarians in serving the teen community. Now that we
are more than half way through the grant, we realize how much we underestimated
the enthusiasm with which the educational community would respond! We feel that
this enthusiasm is a direct result of the relative “newness” of graphic novels and
the way in which graphic novels present information in a “multimedia” format. The
combination of text and pictures presents information in a more modern way than
that of traditional literature and in a more interesting way for students. In
addition, it reaches reluctant readers and those that may struggle with traditional
text-only materials. The Get Graphic! grant gives teachers and librarians the
tools to be able to speak directly to the way teens interact with the world today.
Capitalizing on the popularity of graphic novels to reinvigorate traditional
instruction has allowed teachers and school librarians to reach students with a
multimedia format.

[visit the ‘Get Graphic!’ website]

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