By Kelly Hodkinson – Head Teacher English at Erskine Park High School.
A using quality literature Shared Practice and Resource Kit (SPaRK) for English Stage 5, Years 9-10.
Resource: Website – Madaya Mom. A collaboration between ABC News, USA and Marvel Comics.
What is it about?
‘Madaya Mom’ is the story of a mother trapped in the besieged town of Madaya, Syria. It is based on the daily text message conversations between this woman and an ABC News reporter in America. For safety reasons the woman and her family and their lives are represented to us as characters in a digital comic. The comic explores the hardships of their lives through the setting, situations and especially the facial expressions. The comic has been produced by Marvel a sister company of the ABC whose journalists have been corresponding with the source. They believed using the medium of digital comics was a way to reach a wider audience. The ABC News website also has multiple news stories about the making of ‘Madaya Mom’ including interviews with the comics creator Dalibor Talajic, the news correspondent, and additional news coverage from the Syrian war, all of which add layers of meaning to the text.
This text is appropriate for teaching students about Genre, Context and Character. It could easily be used to teach many other concepts including, Authority, Code and Convention, Connotation, Imagery and Symbol, Intertextuality, Literary Value, Narrative, Perspective, Point of View, Representation, Style or Theme. It also addresses cross curricular priorities and capabilities, including intercultural understanding, critical and creative thinking, information and communication technology capability, literacy, personal and social capability, and difference and diversity.
Why is this important? Why does it matter?
This digital text provides an excellent opportunity for students to explore the highly recognisable Genre of superheroes and Marvel comics and to consider how this text can be thought of as subverting the genre whilst also confirming it. Students’ notions of the ways one can construct a Character can also be challenged, as Madaya Mom is based on limited knowledge gathered from an SMS text conversation with a reporter. The subject and her family remain anonymous for safety reasons. Students can reflect on the societal values and attitudes presented through her character and what these say about the composer’s values, American societal values and our own. This naturally leads to a discussion of how context influences both the composition and responses to texts and how Context shapes the language, forms, and features of a text. With the multiple videos available on the American ABC News website, it is a perfect opportunity for students to consider the interconnectedness of texts and collaborative practices within the media industry. The companies that collaborated on the ‘Madaya Mom’ project are the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) and Marvel Comics, which are both owned by the Walt Disney Company.
How do I use the text to teach the textual concepts of Character, Context, and Genre?
Genre focus activities
Before presenting the texts to students ask them what they expect from a Marvel comic? What do they expect a comic to be about? What style of writing do they expect? Who will be the main character(s)? Are they male or female? What are their expectations about length, point of view, fiction/nonfiction? Brainstorm the visual features of a comic. Consider how these features influence readership and how different members of the public perceive the texts. Is there any difference in views held on comics versus digital comics or graphic novels? Or is a comic perceived differently to a cartoon or political cartoons? Discuss the implications of these views and values placed on texts. Whilst this discussion can be linked to a general discussion of genre in terms of the form of text, it is likely that students will also have brought up superheroes as a genre based on the content of the comic. Ask students to create a list of conventions associated with this genre or have them research the genre. Students can also be asked to think about the influence of changing media platforms, as the comic is available digitally rather than in the traditional paper version. Discuss the positives and negatives of new technologies and how these change genres over time.
After students have read the digital comic discuss the content and students’ thoughts and opinions on the text. Ask students to refer to their original views of a comic and the superhero genre. Ask students to reflect and write about the ways the text met expectations versus the ways it contradicted their expectations and the impact this had on their enjoyment, understanding, and engagement with the text. Does this text challenge the conventions of the genre? If so, to what purpose and effect?
Watch the video Dalibor Talajic: The Man Behind the Pen of ‘Madaya Mom’. This 11-minute video provides opportunities for students to learn about artistic choices, links to personal context, characterisation, and genre. Provide a research sheet for students to take notes related to these points as they watch and listen to the video. Provide students with some of the quotes to add to their research sheet to help them prepare for writing a critical response at a later time. Example quotes: ‘Comic books in general can cover any subject … can explain anything to anyone.’ ‘They [comic books] can have great importance in social matters...’ ‘It’s just an abstract war…’ ‘Superheroes are not defined by their powers or their physique. Superhero is in a heart. Madaya Mom fits within this category… Real superheroes do exist.’
Ask students to decide whether this interview changes their view of the genre of the digital comic and/or its content. Reread ‘Madaya Mom’ with the new understanding gained from the video and have students reflect on the representation of the real world depicted. Identify five new things they noticed, or thought more about, because of the video. As students represent the removed audience the artist talks about, ask them to explain the significance of their own context in shaping meaning in this text (connecting, engaging critically, engaging personally).
Dalibor Talajic: The Man Behind the Pen of 'Madaya Mom'
- S503PE2 analyse and explain how text structures, language features and visual features of texts and the context in which texts are experienced may influence audience response (ACELT1641)
- S506EP1 explain and justify responses to texts and widening personal preferences within and among texts
Essay on best way to tell this story – genre
- S506UA6 study and evaluate variations within conventions of particular genres and how these variations reflect a text’s purpose
- S508RC4 analyse and describe the ways texts sustain or challenge established cultural attitudes and values.
Exploring character and context
Provide groups of students with a question related to character, context, and/or genre. After students have discussed the question within their group they then present their ideas to the class.
- Why do we need superheroes in our lives?
- Why are superheroes so popular?
- Can everyday people be considered superheroes?
- What values are associated with the superhero genre?
- Why is there a need to represent this story as a digital comic?
- Why are we distanced from the events in Syria?
Watch An Inside Look at the Making of Madaya Mom and consider the way Madaya Mom is represented in this story. Create a comparison chart of the ways she is presented in each of the texts. Analyse the use of language and visuals and the effects on the responder. For example, if students identify Madaya Mom as being represented as a caring mother, compare the images in the digital comic of her providing care and showing concern for her sick son, with the language of the presenter in the video ‘…we had to make sure that we could assure her that her identity would be protected and that we would not endanger her or her family in any way through our reporting’. These differing aspects of the text create different understandings of, and feelings for, the character of Madaya Mom. Ensure students are looking at all aspects of the text for their analysis including language, structure, punctuation, fonts, settings, and point of view. Explain to students that societal values and attitudes influence these character constructs and in turn influence our responses to texts. We subsequently make judgements on both the character and the text in general. Ask students to write an exposition on which text they believe best portrays Madaya Mom and her situation using evidence from their table.
Aspect of Madaya Mom’s character
How is it shown in the digital comic?
How is it shown in the interview?
What effect does it have on the responder?
Which text do you think has the greatest impact? Explain
Medium shot of Madaya Mom looking over her sleeping sick child with concern
‘…we had to make sure that we could assure her that her identity would be protected and that we would not endanger her or her family in any way through our reporting’
Comic - creates a feeling of pity and sadness.
Video – creates fear and bravery.
I think the video has more impact because it makes the whole situation more real but the comic shows a more caring side to the mother.
Ask students to think about how they would portray their own mother or someone important to them, as a superhero. Make a list of attributes and brainstorm ways to convey them in a comic. Students create their own comic strip using Canva or a similar digital program. Create a marking criteria with the class. Then share the comics and peer evaluate the overall effectiveness of texts created and the techniques used. Depending on your students, an alternative creative task would be to ask students to decide on another way to get Madaya Mom’s story out to the world. What form do they think would be the most meaningful, or compelling, to make the world take notice and act for these people? Have students create this new text and/or pitch the idea to the class (connecting, experimenting, engaging critically, engaging personally, understanding, reflecting).
- Analyse and explain the ways language forms and features, ideas, perspectives and originality are used to shape meaning
- S502EP3 consider how aspects of texts, including characterisation, setting, situations, issues, ideas, tone and point of view, can evoke a range of responses, including empathy, sympathy, antipathy and indifference
- S503UA8 understand how punctuation is used along with layout and font variations in constructing texts for different audiences and purposes (ACELA1556)
- S506UA10 select a range of digital and multimedia texts and investigate the ways content, form and ideas of texts can be connected
- Evaluate how particular forms and features of language and structures of texts can be adapted, synthesised and transformed for new and different purposes, audiences and contexts
- S506UA7 compare the purposes, text structures and language features of traditional and contemporary texts in different media (ACELA1566)
- S507DA3 explore and reflect on personal understanding of the world and significant human experience gained from interpreting various representations of life matters in texts (ACELT1635)
- Explore and reflect on their own values in relation to the values expressed and explored in texts.
A Teacher’s Guide for Discussing ‘Madaya Mom’ With Students by ABC News, USA and Marvel Comics.
How to cite this article - Hodkinson, K. 2017, 'SPaRK – Madaya Mom by ABC News, USA and Marvel Comics', Scan 36(3).