Diamond Distributors' Mark Banaszak Talks Comics in the Classroom with Study.com

In the second installment of our interview series leading up to this Saturday's Free Comic Book Day, Study.com speaks with Mark Banaszak of Diamond Bookshelf. Bookshelf is the educational outreach branch of Diamond Comic Distributors, the industry's primary wholesaling entity. We asked Mark about Bookshelf's approach to putting comics and graphic novels into libraries and school classrooms.

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By Eric Garneau

Mark Banaszak

Study.com: How long have you been affiliated with Diamond Bookshelf?

Mark Banaszak: I started this position in July 2010, so almost a year now.

Study.com: Can you give us an example of the things Diamond Bookshelf does to help put comic books in the classroom?

MB: Our main focus is our website, www.diamondbookshelf.com, which also offers a monthly e-mail newsletter. On the site we feature tips and guides for educators and librarians to help them utilize the books. For example, we regularly feature lists of recommended graphic novels based on subject, such as our list of politics-based books back in November. We offer lesson plans for teachers which show how the comics can be integrated into a classroom curriculum. We actually have a regular feature by Dr. Katie Monnin, who's written two books on teaching with comics (Teaching Graphic Novels and Teaching Early Reader Comics and Graphic Novels) in which she reviews selected books and gives tips for classroom use. We also have several articles by teachers relating their experiences using comics.

We've also partnered with the Maryland State Department of Education on the Maryland Comic Book Initiative, for which a number of elementary schools received graphic novels for classroom use. And Diamond attends a number of school and library trade shows throughout the year, where we meet teachers face to face to show what we offer and how the books can be used.

Study.com: You've got an educational background in Library and Information Science. Where did you do your undergraduate and graduate work?

MB: I received both my bachelor's and master's degrees at Wayne State University in Detroit, MI. My undergraduate major was journalism, which in a way is similar to library science in that they both involve gathering and verifying information.

Study.com: Have you always been interested in comics? What were some of the first books in the medium that really spoke to you?

MB: I know it sounds like a cliche, but I really have been reading comic books for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid I was, of course, hugely into super-heroes and action/adventure-type stories. I think the real 'life-changing' moment for me (like a lot of people) was when I started reading Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, because it was just unlike anything I'd read before - the fantasy elements were there, but the writing was far more sophisticated.

Study.com: One of Diamond's major literacy initiatives is Free Comic Book Day. Can you explain for our readers what FCBD entails?

MB: Free Comic Book Day is an event that started back in 2002 as a way to introduce people to comic books. On the first Saturday in May, comic stores (and some libraries) will offer a number of titles that have been specifically printed for FCBD to their visitors. Over the years it's grown into a big event day, where many stores will have creator signings, workshops or other cool things going on. It's a celebration of comics for the fans, and a good way for people who may not be that familiar with the medium to become acquainted without having to gamble any money on whether or not they'll like it.

Study.com: Briefly, what educational benefits do you think the graphic medium holds, especially for younger readers?

MB: I think comics have a number of educational benefits, and it's something I could probably go on all day about. But briefly, for beginning readers they're a great tool for conceptualizing the language and understanding how narration works. As technology develops and we get more of a blend of visual and written language, the skills readers pick up from comics are increasingly important.

Study.com: Is there anything further you'd like our readers to know about Free Comic Book Day, the comics medium in general or anything else?

MB: I think in a lot of ways we're still trying to help people realize that comics is a medium, not a genre, and that it isn't just 'reading lite,' but a very unique and often complex format for telling stories. As for Free Comic Book Day, it's great for just getting people in the stores and libraries, where they have a chance to not only see the books themselves but interact with the people who read and love them.

Check out some further details of this Saturday's Free Comic Book Day.

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