Education Matters: Comic-Con Special Edition Education Panels Shine


The special portion of the Comic-Con Special Edition, held November 26-28 at the San Diego Convention Center, was the ability to get around without the usual humanity crush present at regular Comic-Cons.

There were still plenty of costumed attendees and the exhibition floor was full of comic book-themed merchandise. But walking the cavernous hallways without the hordes of people jostling each other in each hallway was a pleasure.

Although attendance was capped, panels presenting education-related issues were plentiful.

The Classroom Comics panel focused on the power that comics and graphic novels can have on students struggling with reading, unenthusiastic readers, and those whose first language is not the English.

“Accessibility” in a nutshell, said one panelist. Visual storytelling adds to words and can engage students on a different level, he said, with illustrations often easier to convey information.

“Comics are more effective than anything I’ve ever used in the classroom. I could go on and on about what they can teach.

Popular graphic novels used in the classroom, the panelists – most of whom were local high school teachers and members of the San Diego County Educators’ Book Club – said were “Maus” and “March.”

Written by American cartoonist Art Spiegelman, “Maus” portrays Jews as mice and German Nazis as cats, to teach historical lessons about the Holocaust. “Maus” centers around Spiegelman’s interviews with his father, a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor.

“March” is a trilogy of graphic novels inspired and written by Congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis, who died last year. Lewis and his co-authors detail Lewis’ struggle in the 1960s for equal rights for black Americans, his relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the often violent reactions encountered by protesters in their struggle for social justice.

For more information on the Educators’ Book Club, see

Local connection

Almost all of the comics and graphic novels mentioned by educators were created by well-known artists and writers.

Yet a graphic novel, unique in its creation, was written and illustrated by local students at Canyon Crest Academy in the San Dieguito Union School District.

“Jasper and the Spirit Skies” is an international collaboration between CCA and a sister school in Panama, and focuses on environmental stewardship and conservation.

In the Spirit Skies panel, CCA social science and history teacher Timothy Stiven explained the origin and inspiration of the novel and described how students enrolled in the school’s Envision Conservatory for the Humanities , an after-school program, worked for several years on the project for its completion last June.

The novel tells the story of Jasper who magically transformed into a hummingbird and must find a way to save his friends and family who were punished by Mother Nature for environmental neglect.

Important lessons certainly. But what is perhaps equally important is that the high school students created the book from nothing but an idea and turned the project into a fully formed graphic novel.

“It shows that you can give projects like these to young hands,” said Riley Sullivan, CCA alumnus. “It also shows that you can get involved and be part of a team.”

Collaboration with other students has been a key ingredient in the success of the project, said the talented artist who now attends the South Carolina School of Art and Design.

Volume 1 of “Jasper and the Spirit Skies” ( was published in June by Reflections Publishing, which publishes books written by students or books focused on student issues.

Volume 2 is now underway and the relationship between CCA and the Panama International School continues.

The plans for Volume 3 (of a four-part series) will connect CCA students with students in Portland, Oregon.

The topic resonated with attendees, as evidenced by the fact that all 60 copies of the book were sold at the Spirit Skies booth on the exhibition floor.

The graphic novel can be purchased through Amazon and costs $ 10. All proceeds are redirected to the CCA Envision program.

Legal geeks

On the lighter side, a packed house listened to four judges and lawyers discuss theoretically problematic situations from a legal standpoint in classic holiday characters, songs and movies.

Given the destructive nature of climate change, can Frosty the Snowman sue for damages? [depends]

Can the girl in the song have a hippo for Christmas? [no because of the Endangered Species Act and age limitations]

In the film “A Christmas Story”, is school responsible when a boy gets his tongue stuck on an icy pole? [yes because adults should have been monitoring the playground better]. Is the leg lamp obscene? [no]. Should the BB gun have been regulated? [answer is complicated by varying state laws].

Is Santa Claus breaking in on Christmas Eve? [no because he was invited by personal letters and the offerings of milk and cookies].

If he sees you when you are asleep and knows when you are awake, is santa claus guilty of illegal surveillance and invasion of privacy? [no – see previous answer].

Can Rudolph sue Santa for nasal discrimination? [no because one can’t sue for a physical characteristic like eye color or size of one’s nose].

Are Santa’s elves paid minimum wage? And are their working conditions safe? [how would we know?].

The panel was filled with laughter. See for more fun scenarios.

Serious problems

Numerous panels addressed how comics can tackle serious topics including: spiritual themes, Latin American equity, social trauma, service to others, cultural appreciation versus cultural appropriation , classroom STEM, education geeks, Muslims in comics and science from Star Wars which was hosted by the Fleet Science Center and featured panelists who discussed how the epic fantasy continues to inspire scientists.

Opinion columnist and education editor Marsha Sutton can be reached at [email protected]


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