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Monday, February 9, 2015

Two Graphic Novels about the News Media -- one excellent, one mediocre.

O'Donnell, Liam; Deas, Mike (2009)   Media Meltdown.  Victoria BC, Canada:  Orca.

There are good graphic novels, and then there are educational graphic novels.  To be fair, this is one of the better examples of that breed, but the voice of this book is so filled with awkward exposition and not-so-subtly hidden terms to memorize.  Media Meltdown is the story of two kids, Pema and Bounce, who discover a land developer who seems to be up to no good.  They learn about the media (and finally use it) to bring the greedy developer down (and promote a factory that makes wind turbines).  Although the story is a little hokey, there is nothing wrong with it, but when you have dialogue that reads like the following, you start to wonder when the exposition is serving the story and when the story is serving the exposition:

Megan:  To understand why the cuts were made in your story, you need to know about media literacy.
Pema:  Media literacy?  Literacy is all about reading and writing, isn't it?
Bounce:  We watch TV, we don't read it.
Megan:  True, Bounce, but literacy is also about understanding.  And media literacy is about understanding media.
Nima:  Understanding how media works and asking questions about its messages.  
Bounce:  I understand TV:  Grab the remote, kick back, and channel surf!
Megan:  Media literacy is about more than TV.  Newspapers, magazines, websites, billboards, even the slogans on our clothes are all forms of media."

It is hard to slog through material like this.  No one really talks like this.  The artwork is good -- the faces are expressive, the backgrounds interesting, the use of panels good -- but the educational exposition gets tiresome.  This stuff is probably targeted to third grade and up, and because it is graphic novel format, it may attract some readers -- but I would rather have them read something more worthwhile.  Like....

Gladstone, Brooke; Neufield, Josh (2011) The Influencing Machine:  Brroke Gladstone on the Media.   New York:  W.W. Norton.

Brooke Gladstone is host of a popular National Public Radio show called
On The Media.  Josh Neufield has recently adapted some of the content if that show into a graphic novels that offers a remarkably nuanced and in-depth look at the media.  She tackles such diverse and challenging concepts as the history of journalism in America, the distortion of statistics by the media, bias and objectivity, disclosure, and how the whole media machine works.  Unlike the earlier mentioned graphic novel, this one presents information in the form of graphic essays rather than as a heavily expository story narrative.  The artwork is excellent and it does a remarkable job of making abstract concepts remarkably concrete.

There are a couple of panels that have extremely tiny nude figures, which may be a problem for some classes, so I would encourage you to read it before putting it in your classroom.  This one is probably best for high school.

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