Free Comic Book Day honors fans and encourages reading. York County educators find graphic novels more than just reading for kids. 

Printed & Published on May, 2 2014 with the York Daily Record / Sunday News

See more of the behind the scenes of developing and critical look into "Comics in Education"

A year ago, Eric Hemsley of Ephrata and his 7-year-old son Damian braved the evening chill in a tent at Planet X Comics and Collectibles in York Township.

They were camped out for Free Comic Book Day, which happens annually the first Saturday of May.

"It was my son's idea," Hemsley chuckled. "I would do anything for him." Besides, Hemsley acknowledged, he's become a fan of "The Walking Dead."

Comic book lovers like Hemsley agree the event has two goals: To honor the fans and to encourage children to start reading. And several York County educators say they've found graphic novels can help with reading comprehension.

Hemsley, for example, never enjoyed reading until he got his hands on the zombie comic book that inspired a TV show.

Kylie Hunt, 6 reads the comic book "Teen Titans Go!" as she waits for her father Bill Hunt of Felton to finalize his comic book purchases at Planet X Comics and Collectibles in York Township Friday, April 25, 2014. Kylie dressed up as a Bat Girl last year Bill said. Photo by Sonya Paclob

Kylie Hunt, 6 reads the comic book "Teen Titans Go!" as she waits for her father Bill Hunt of Felton to finalize his comic book purchases at Planet X Comics and Collectibles in York Township Friday, April 25, 2014. Kylie dressed up as a Bat Girl last year Bill said. Photo by Sonya Paclob

In addition to "The Walking Dead," more than 3,000 graphic novels grace the shelves at Martin Library in York, from Japanese manga, like "Naruto" by Masashi Kishimoto, that are popular with teenagers, to the "Diary Of a Wimpy Kid" by Jeff Kinney.

Martin Library in York has the biggest collection of graphic novels in the county, said Megan Ransom-Koehler, operations assistant at the library.

In the month of April, the top-10 most-borrowed books at the library were all graphic novels, except for "The Cellist of Sarajevo" by Steven Galloway, which came in second with 23 loans.

"It's a bridge between picture books to chapter books," 

Megan Ransom-Koehler, operations assistant Martin Library 

Ransom-Koehler suggested parents with reluctant readers to start off with graphic novels.

"It's a bridge between picture books to chapter books," she said.

Marvel transformed the classic novel "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen into graphic format. Complex political issues can be told in graphic form as well. For instance, "The Pride of Baghdad" by Brian K. Vaughan, is about a pack of lions who escape the Baghdad Zoo after the 2003 American bombing raid.

Students at South Eastern Middle School West in Fawn Township review comic books in their classroom regularly.

Scott Shaffer, fifth-grade communication arts teacher at South Eastern Middle School West, has used graphic novels for 12 years in his classroom.

Fifth-grader Tyler Rake, 11 raise his hand while Scott Shaffer, communication arts teacher reviews the story of Spider Man, Storm and Cage with the battle of Smokescreen at  South Eastern Middle School West, Fawn Township Monday, April, 28, 2014. Students weigh in their thoughts about smoking and the roles of the super heros  in the comic book. Photo by Sonya Paclob

Fifth-grader Tyler Rake, 11 raise his hand while Scott Shaffer, communication arts teacher reviews the story of Spider Man, Storm and Cage with the battle of Smokescreen at  South Eastern Middle School West, Fawn Township Monday, April, 28, 2014. Students weigh in their thoughts about smoking and the roles of the super heros  in the comic book. Photo by Sonya Paclob

"I think the public's perception of comics is very narrow," he said. "When they think of comic books, they think of superheroes and people would be surprised by the depth of the material."

Students bring in their haul from Free Comic Book Day each year and share their experience with fellow classmates. Shaffer also gives free comic books that he receives from Comic Store West in Springettsbury Township.

"I think the public's perception of comics is very narrow"

- Scott Shaffer, teacher at South Eastern Middle School West

York College also offers college students the chance to earn credits in graphic literature. Travis Kurowski, assistant professor of English, teaches a popular graphic literature course. With only 25 spots, the class fills quickly.

Students are so passionate that Kurowski allowed some to create comic books for their final paper. "It feels like it's anti-college," he said, "but it's new and fresh that is not typically talked about in academic classrooms."

Fifth-grader Joshua Miles, 11 reviews the graphic novel "Amelia Rules" in Ashley Ayres, communications arts teacher's classroom at South Eastern Middle School West, Fawn Township Monday, April, 28, 2014. Photo by Sonya Paclob

Fifth-grader Joshua Miles, 11 reviews the graphic novel "Amelia Rules" in Ashley Ayres, communications arts teacher's classroom at South Eastern Middle School West, Fawn Township Monday, April, 28, 2014. Photo by Sonya Paclob

His students in the fall semester find graphic novels insightful.

"The most surprising thing to me about graphic novels was how beautifully talented the creators are. It opened my eyes to a whole new world of advanced literature," said Vanessa Robins, a York College junior.

Eric Sanders, a senior York College student hopes to make it to Free Comic Book Day, in addition to working on his final report. "This isn't to say that other mediums are not successful as well," he said. "But the interplay between images and words in a piece of graphic literature is unique and engrossing."

Hemsley, on the other hand, is not sure if he will camp out again this year, as his son grew tired of the waiting last year.

But if he can get a friend to go with him, Hemsley plans on being there.

"The comic book people are intelligent and down to earth," he said. "And they become lifelong friends."

Superhero with autism seeks global reach

A local Dover Township man created a superhero with autism, who is quickly becoming a beloved character among parents globally.

Dave Kot, co-founder of the nonprofit Autism At Face Value, created "Face Value Comics" to educate readers the importance of facial feature recognition and autism awareness. His first volume sold over 300 copies at Comix Connections at West Manchester Township and gave away copies to doctors' offices and health and wellness clinics locally.

Kot realized at an early age that comic are a healthy escape and provides hope. "It's more than just having super powers," he said. "It talks about how a person knows themselves as well as their strengths and challenges in daily life."

"Face Value Comics" will reach more readers with the partnership with Diamond Comic Distributors, a publishing company with a global distribution network. The comics book will be re released in August and translated in seven different languages, Kot said.

He hopes parents can take time to read comic books, he said, "because kids are already doing this. I think parents need to know what kids are reading."

Comic glossary

Diamond BookShelf, a graphic novel resource for education and libraries website created a glossary to understand the comic culture lingo:

Comic Books or comics are usually used in the industry. The use refers to any sort of literature that combines story and art.

Graphic novels are usually a complete story or longer format than a comic book. They are in hardcover volumes, squarebound, or dust-jacketed.

Manga is a Japanese word for "comic book" and are referred to Asian style paperbacks.

For more, visit www.diamondbookshelf.com.

Fifth grade students from left; Alissa Smith, 11, Anna Clemens, 11 and Lacie Kanely, 10 reviews the graphic novel "Amelia Rules" in Ashley Ayres, communications arts teacher's classroom at South Eastern Middle School West, Fawn Township Monday, April, 28, 2014. Ayers and other teachers uses graphic novels is one of the teaching tools to get kids to read. Photo by Sonya Paclob 

Fifth grade students from left; Alissa Smith, 11, Anna Clemens, 11 and Lacie Kanely, 10 reviews the graphic novel "Amelia Rules" in Ashley Ayres, communications arts teacher's classroom at South Eastern Middle School West, Fawn Township Monday, April, 28, 2014. Ayers and other teachers uses graphic novels is one of the teaching tools to get kids to read. Photo by Sonya Paclob