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Hey Kids, Learning! ‘The Graphic Textbook’ Brings Comics to the Classroom [Kickstarter]

The phrase “Hey kids, comics!” is a bit of a defunct rallying cry these days. While most comic book fans would wildly roll their eyes and shove their Mature-rated favorites at the very mention of it, The Graphic Textbook is embracing the notion and the potential that exists between developing minds and comics pages. The project, lead by writer Josh Elder (Mail Order Ninja, The Batman Strikes!) and features the work of Fred Van Lente, Katie Cook, Roger Langridge and Chris Schweizer, has raised over $50,000 on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, with another $15,000 to go in the campaign’s remaining seven days. We spoke with Elders about The Graphic Textbook and what potential rewards the project offers children, teachers, financial backers and the comics medium itself.

The Graphic Textbook is the brainchild of Tokyopop and DC writer Josh Elder, who formed the not-for-profit Reading With Pictures; an organization designed for “getting comics into schools and schools into comics.” The result is a 144-page hardcover textbook for elementary schoolers between 3rd and 6th grade, using the accessibility of comics to explain potentially yawn-inducing subjects like social studies, math, language arts and science. With contributions from comics writers and artists like Fred Van Lente, Katie Cook, Roger Langridge and Chris Schweizer and a classroom approved teacher’s guide to best use the panels and pages to teach, it aims to be the rare textbook that students can go back and read for fun. Theoretical side effects include hooking countless unsuspecting children on the analog delight of comics.

As a comics project that brings a hefty amount of academia to the table, The Graphic Textbook has gone to great lengths to prove itself as scholastically sound by committing the help of several comics-friendly college professors from across the country. Now they’ve turned to Kickstarter to prove that this bit of edutainment can appeal to a wide audience. Their $65,000 goal is rigorously broken down to the dollar, covering page rates for each contributor, printing costs, curriculum development and the minutiae of shipping costs and Kickstarter/Amazon fees. Elder, overseeing the project, is working for free and even promising $10,000 of his own to fill the gap via a small business loan. Overages will go towards expanding the books to different grades and funding the educator/librarian outreach program provided on Reading With Pictures’ website.

Operating on an unlocking rewards system, The Graphic Textbook initially offers perks from $10 for a DRM-free digital copy to higher-priced swag like donated original art from artists such as Darwyn Cooke, Tim Sale and Jill Thompson and classroom-sized allotments of the physical book when it is finished in early 2013. The more people contribute the more new, amazing rewards get unlocked. Hey, that’s sort of a metaphor for knowledge.

We spoke with The Graphic Textbook organizer Josh Elder about the book and why he thinks it’s so important to fund it.

COMICS ALLIANCE: What’s been the timeline of The Graphic Textbook so far? Is it what you’d call a passion project?

JOSH ELDER: It was first conceived back in 2009 as part of the long-term strategy for the Reading With Pictures organization. The initial concept – create a high-quality, standards-based comic textbook aimed at late elementary students tied to a research study overseen by a major academic institution – has remained essentially unchanged. It’s just taken three years to get all the pieces into place.

And it is absolutely a passion project. In the traditional sense and the biblical one. It’s been a real struggle to get here, but the cause is worth the fight.

CA: Why should people fund the book?

JE: Going to whip out the bullet points for this one…

  • It’s a worthy cause! Each dollar you pledge not only funds the book, it also helps fund all the resources that Reading With Pictures provides free of charge to educators and librarians. And you can even donate books to a school or library of your choice if you believe in the cause but don’t necessarily want a copy for yourself.
  • It’s a great product! We have an amazing roster of talent telling stories that they’re passionate about. The fact that they’ll also make you smarter is just gravy.
  • We’re putting our claims to the test! An all-star squad of academics led by Dr. David Rapp of the Learning Sciences Department at Northwestern University will be overseeing an impact study tied to The Graphic Textbook to see if comics really can improve engagement, efficiency and effectiveness over traditional materials.
  • You can be a part of something extraordinary! There were several publishers interested in The Graphic Textbook, but we wanted to let our creators keep all their rights and we wanted to give our customers access to a DRM-free digital copy of the book. That got outside their comfort zone, so we turned to Kickstarter instead. Now we hope that you’ll invest in this idea that has the potential to change so many lives for the better.

CA: What will you do if you don’t hit your goal?

JE: First, I’ll cry. Then I’ll cowboy up and commit at least $10,000 of my own money to making up any funding shortfall we may have by deadline. I’ll probably have to sell my car and quite a few other assets to cover it, but I consider it a worthy sacrifice.

We’re a non-profit organization, but our bills don’t get paid with government grants or oversize novelty checks from private foundations. Everything we have ever accomplished has been because of support from individuals like you. Now we’re asking for your help again, this time to produce The Graphic Textbook, the most ambitious and potentially gamechanging project in Reading With Pictures history. We really can make a difference, but only with your help. So please, if hooked on comics worked for you, then help us get them into schools so that they can work for kids everywhere.



To learn more about The Graphic Textbook or make a pledge, click over to Kickstarter now. For more on Josh Elder’s thoughts on comics and their role in education, check out the video below from the 2010 CUSP Design Conference.

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