Truthful Comics- So Brian, tell me a little bit about yourself. Where did you grew up?
Brian Harris- I grew up in Southern California and have spent my entire life here except for a couple of years in Washington state and a short time in Utah.
TC- How was your childhood?
BH- I came from a very supportive family that wanted to and pushed me to succeed in anything I did. I always did well in school so that is always a top priority in my home.
BH- I often saw my parents reading and by that example I would also read often. As a child I would read about a book a week and my parents would feed my love of books by always buying me books or taking me to the library. But comics was never something I really read.
TC- Did you read comics as a kid or did you discovered comics later on in life?
BH- I do remember getting comics one time as a child as we were vacationing in Newport Beach and I lost a tooth. With the money that I received I went to a 7-11 and bought a few comics. I remember one being a Justice League and one being Batman. These were the only comics I really truly remember buying as a child.
TC- What were your favorite comic book characters growing up?
BH- I was always a huge fan of the old Adam West Batman series that I would watch in reruns glued to our television.
TC- When did you really started reading comics?
BH- This is an actual good story. During one of my first years teaching I had a student that sat in front of me and he never did his work. I sat him in front of me and would watch what he would do during in class to see if I could help him. Instead of doing the work for my class he was reading comics. I watched him for about a week and everyday he would bring in different comics. So I started talking to him about what he was reading and he would get really excited. This is what I wanted from my students, excitement from literature. Through him I went out and bought the first collection of Brian K. Vaughn's The Runaways and I was hooked. I then went out and bought Marvel's Civil War and for my birthday my wife bought me Batman's Hush, The Long Halloween and The Dark Victory.Soon after that my wife and I started frequenting local comic book shops and buying comics and graphic novels. What was a start of a hobby soon became a dream come true. My wife was tired of her job, retail management, and she wanted to have her own business. In passing and joking I said we should open up a comic book store and in three months we had a store open. Through the store I was constantly reading comics. Anything and everything. I kept my job teaching but would be in the store on Saturdays and some nights but my wife the there most of the time. Through that she began reading comics. Having the store was amazing. It was the best part of teaching for me, sharing and discussing what people loved reading and none of bad parts of teaching. Taking papers home and politics. The comic store rejuvenated me and my desires to teach and share new stories. Although we have since closed our store, due to the birth of our child, we still do a lot of selling online and made many lifelong friends because of our store.
BH- I do still read comics and collect them. I collect many of the Batman titles, Detective Comics, Batman, Batman and Robin, Nightwing, Catwoman. I am also currently collecting Action Comics because Grant Morrison is the writer and I know Andy Diggle is taking over for him and I am a huge fan of both of them. I also am collecting Geoff Johns' Aquaman, Green Lantern and Justice League. I also collect a few Image titles like The Walking Dead and Morning Glories. I currently am not reading anything from Marvel because I lost interest in their talent; mainly their writers. Although, I know Nick Spencer is starting a series over at Marvel and I may take a look at that.
TC- OK, so where do you teach and how long have you been a teacher?
BH- I teach English at a high school in an urban area of Riverside County. This is my 10th year at my current school. The school I am at is a low income, gang and drug infested area. I stay where I am at because I feel like I am making a difference and I really feel like I can continue to reach students in new and innovated ways.
TC- What made you think outside the box and use comics or a graphic novel to help your students to read?
BH- For the last 5 years I have been teaching a class called Perspectives in Young Adult Literature. It is a Senior English class and when I first started teaching it I found the books we were reading engaging but dated. Over the last couple of years I began getting new books for the class. I had class sets of different books and we would read them together as a class. I have always wanted to incorporate graphic novels in the class but its taken a couple years to find out how I wanted to do it.
This year I have started using Literature Circles with my class. The students in these Circles pick their book and are placed in groups based on their choices. Each day they are assigned a reading and then come into class and they have questions they discuss and answer and turn in each day. Once they have completed these books they then present it to the class. It is a new way for me to give more freedom to the students and also inspire reading because they are choosing the books, not me.
BH- You bring up some good questions here. The Watchmen in my opinion, along with The Dark Knight, were the game changers in comics as we see them today, they made superheroes more real; with more updated problems. Iain Thomson wrote in his essay Deconstructing the Hero that The Watchmen accomplished this by "developing its heroes precisely in order to deconstruct the very idea of the hero and so encouraging us to reflect upon its significance from the many different angles of the shards left lying on the ground". They take the idea of the hero and change it all around but yet The Watchmen still want to help people. Just in a way we had never seen before. The Watchmen also shows that power can corrupt if not handled with humility.
Since I do teach Seniors, I thought this would be a good book to have because it shows us that even as outcasts, we can make a difference in the right setting with the right people. It is more of an adult reading but hopefully this will be a start of them wanting to read more.
BH- These books were specifically chosen because of what I can teach through them. I think Maus if you know what it is about is pretty obvious as to why it would work in the class. I have always been intrigued by the Holocaust and how something like this could happen. Maus teaches about this but uses animals instead of humans. It reminds me a lot of Animal Farm.
As for Hush, you have to look a little deeper. It shows friendship gone wrong, jealousy and how past pains can always be there if not dealt with. The example of that is Batman when he believes Jason Todd to be Hush. Batman often deals with past pains being brought back.
I know Iron Man's Demon in a Bottle, Superman's Red Son, and DC's Identity Crisis would be good to have them read. But I am always looking for more to share.
BH- I do plan on doing more projects. I am not done yet, I am constantly looking for other graphic novels that my students may enjoy. I am also very open to listening to ideas from those that are supporting my projects.
There is one author that I have met, Travis Hanson, creator of the award winning The Bean http://www.beanleafpress.com, who heard about what I was doing and is donating some of his books to my classes. He is also trying to get others to donate to my class. It has been great blessing in my life to have met people like him that are willing to help and for people like you here that want to get my ideas and projects out to a wider range of people than I can on my own.
TC- OK, one last question, Why do you think kids today have such a hard time when it comes to reading?
BH- I really think that is due to the lifestyles we live. Parents are often too busy to read and the children don't see them reading. Instead parents put on a movie on for the child as they try to relax. Those movies then become video games and reading is no longer something enjoyable but rather it is a chore. Imagination is being taken away from our children.
I want to end this with a thank you for taking the time to get to know me and promote my projects. I really am thankful for that. I am glad to see there are people out there that believe in me and my ideas. Thank you again.
TC- You're more than welcome and let us know if there's anything we can do to help you out. If anyone want ot help Brian here's the link to his new project: http://www.donorschoose.org/donors/proposal.html?id=942714&sharebar=true&utm_source=dc&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=proposal_approve