WILLIAMSPORT -- About eight years ago, Williamsport Area High School teacher Dr. John Weaver entered what was then considered a relatively new frontier in the English classroom: teaching with graphic novels.
But since 2009, when he introduced “Watchmen” to students for the first time, not only has the scope of his graphic novel unit expanded but Weaver also has become a veteran and leading educational expert when it comes to the genre in school.
Just last month, he served as a panelist for an educator session at the New York Public Library in partnership with New York Comic Con, the East Coast’s largest pop culture convention in New York City that boasted an attendance of more than 200,000 this year.
That session, which organizers expected to have a modest 200-250 attendees, swelled to more than 1,200 fellow teachers, librarians and academics.
During the last year he also has been a juror for the Lynd Ward Prize at Penn State and is now a juror for the inaugural launch of the Excellence in Graphic Literature Awards.
Already looking ahead at next summer, Weaver once again will be a panelist for educational programming, but this time at the San Diego Comic Con.
The attraction to graphic novels, Weaver believes, is the student engagement component and the added layer of complexity it brings to the world of literature that matches — if not rivals — its standard novel counterpart (which, make no mistake, is still built into his curriculum).
In a particularly image-driven society today, Weaver finds that students respond well. Some of the modernized themes add relevance to their lives in some selections, such as mental illness and terrorism, which are presented in ways that “demand high,upper-level thinking” in the graphic novel’s fusion of languageand art.
That level of thought also translates to the writing components of his class, he adds, as students must be able to pull and derive evidence of how the art and language speak to each other to propel the story.
In addition to “Watchmen,” Weaver now teaches “Persepolis,” “My Friend Dahmer,” “V for Vendetta,” and “Sandman.”
The beauty of the genre, Weaver said, is that “we don’t have to persuade people to do graphic novels.”
Today, he adds, “It’s all about how do you do what you do: the nuts and bolts of instruction.”