Amazing Kids! Magazine

Dive into Digital Graphic Novels During the Summer

By Sarina Patel, Jr. Assistant Editor and Comic Hub Co-Editor

 

School is out! Summer is in the air! Put away your planners, and take out those sunglasses!

At least…that’s the intention. However, if you’re like most students, your teacher expects you to spend your summer with a book.

As students continue to suffer through assigned reading year after year, some pupils wonder if there’s a better incentive that will keep kids motivated to read.How can you keep your reading comprehension skills sharp without straining your brain?

Many have turned to webcomics as the newest solution to saving summer reading. The comics are easy to read while traveling, often contain bright colors, and illustrate compelling conflicts in the lives of cartoon characters. It’s no wonder, then, that webcomics are exploding in exponential popularity.

While many adults may frown at the idea of reading virtual comic books, there are certainly many benefits to scrolling through a webcomic this summer.Teachers on the 2014 New York Comic Con panel, Super Girls: Using Comics to Engage Female Students in the High School Classroom, cited numerous important skills that students who were given the freedom to read comics possessed: “[Comics motivated] reluctant readers, inference, memory, story sequencing, reading comprehension, and vocabulary.”

Let’s take a closer look at each way that comics have stimulated students in the classroom and which webcomics exemplify those benefits. Teachers, you might want to take notes.

Reluctant Readers: Nimona (5 out of 5 Stars)

Marvel has built an entire multimillion-dollar franchise on superhero stories. Now other entertainment companies are starting to see the light. In 2015, FOX announced that they had bought the rights to popular webcomic Nimona. This online story is bold and inventive and doesn’t take itself too seriously. The constant jokes and snarky confidence found in webcomic Nimona make it a perfect read for any reluctant reader.

This fun, kid-friendly comic unfolds in a medieval world where the protagonist, Nimona, is a stout, pink-haired, punk teenager bent on three things: kicking butt, becoming the best supervillain in the kingdom, and drinking as much soda as the universe has to offer. While she certainly isn’t your typical role-model hero, Nimona is widely considered one of the best antiheros in webcomics. Here’s why: She has a good heart, and her creative mindset allows her to think outside the box when bringing justice.

After much convincing, annoying, begging, pleading, and shapeshifting…Nimona is hired to be the OCD, gruff-but-fatherly villain Lord Ballister Blackheart’s squire. Together, they take on the snobbish hero who is responsible for Blackheart’s (lack of a) right arm with cheap tricks, childish pranks, and Nickelodeon-worthy jokes. And no, they are not above being petty.

Inference: Black Brick Road of Oz (3 out of 5 Stars)

Not many campers are willing to cover what goes bump in the night. The curious Dorothy, however, just can’t help herself. She begins investigating her house just seconds after being transported to a different land with no clue of what time it is or even what she is up against. Dorothy eventually comes to the conclusion that it has killed a witch, but she isn’t that concerned. If that seemed anticlimactic, the buildup to the eventual chilling mystery of Dorothy’s role in all of this seems like a question rather than an assertion of character.

If Nimona was Kansas, Black Brick Road of Oz is a stark reminder that we’re not in Kansas anymore. The exposition is not necessarily distasteful, but it is certainly distinct. In fact, everything about this comic is different, scary, and weird, but one has to infer (from its mass popularity) that its weirdness is the attraction.From the very beginning to the latest update, the webcomic unfolds more like a colorful puzzle than a comic book, painting the chilling glamor of a fairytale world in an eerily colorful backdrop. Even more unconventional tools—like ambiguous sentences, open-ended questions, and expressive eyes—create excellent foreshadowing that leaves much room for inference at the end of every page, chapter, and storyline.

Full of feminist fury and biting wit, Black Brick Road of Oz packs a tough punch: Solve the mystery, or spoil it for yourself if you can’t. This is that summer camp read—too smart for its own good.

Memory/Story Sequencing: Sulfur and Salt (4 out of 5 Stars)

Sulfur and Salt is a rich, seamless fusion of cultural mythology, elemental fantasy, and multiverse science fiction. It perfectly juxtaposes flashbacks, storytelling, and the original plot without making the story seem too overwhelming.Being an adventure and one that juxtaposes all three story elements effortlessly, Sulfur and Salt is the perfect story to assign any reader struggling with chronological order and story sequencing. Sulfur and Salt also doubles as the perfect challenge for any advanced reader looking to test his or her memory in a detailed assessment.

Though the characters are sweethearts, they sometimes stumble into the pitfalls of being Nice Guys—they are naïve and awkward and bumble around long enough to conveniently ignore the death trap hovering above their heads until a second before it’s too late. (Forgive them—they are alchemist nerds.)

But all things considering, Sulfur and Salt has a good head on its shoulders. It’s a new comic, first published just under a year ago, so there isn’t much more to say about it, but it has been received well—gaining an impressive following in recent months (compared to other rookie comics). Many people, myself included, are excited to see where it goes from here!

Reading Comprehension: Stand Still. Stay Silent. (5 out of 5 Stars)

Contrary to the grim title, Stand Still. Stay Silent. is a lively adventurecomic. Each frame is a work of art—its interior design on the first few pages relies solely on vibranttangerines, washed-out beiges, harsh grays, and warm browns (a palette so unusual, it would make most artists woozy) to create a rugged, primeval Icelandic landscape. But if the attractive design isn’t enough of a reason to get invested, the cast (mainly boys) will surely reel you in. The personalities are as rich and diverse as the landscape.From wealthy to poor, extroverted to introverted, big to small, there’s a character that speaks to each reader.

Though the clichés are prominent, especially the ones in the latest chapter(“You don’t understand anything” and “No matter what, we’ll at least be friends”), it’s a solid read. It is with grudging respect that I say the story manages to pull off this theme of stubborn optimism despite the odds surprisingly well. Maybe it’s the varying POVs; the tendency of a fewsweet, dorky characters to point out the bright side of their horrible situation (normally, it’s cheesy, but in this dystopia, it’s oddly affecting); or the plucky heroes themselves, but every time I read this story, I get a smile on my face.

The characterization is deep, and the boys’ take on conventionally feminine aspects, such as empathy and loving through loss, prompts excellent questions for any Socratic seminar or book club. This book is a good pick to digest, analyze, and pick apart on a reading comprehension test.

Vocabulary: Symbol (5 out of 5 Stars)

Symbol is the newest webcomic of today’s lineup, with its first chapter published just a few months ago. Its popularity is yet to be judged, but its wordplay clearly stands out.

Right from the first page, where the main character is alluded to be a superhero (albeit with several obvious shoulder nudges from the setting—we see you, illustrators),Symbol winks at readers to catch up if they can.

Symbol is a friendly, fun-spirited firestorm, full of literary devices (except for alliteration, as displayed in the previous sentence). But fear not, readers! Symbol isn’t shy about using figurative language to make a point. I counted this many literary devices in the first 16 pages alone: onomatopoeia, symbolism, breaking the fourth wall, imagery, situational irony, simile, foreshadowing, assonance, metaphor, and flashback. That’s excluding comedy and dialogue.

Symbol’s fresh flirtations with superhero tropes make it a hero among heroes, but its outstanding command of the English language is what really makes it super.

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