Jim McClain's Solution Squad: Math-Powered S.T.E.M. Heroes
What is Solution Squad?
S.T.E.M. stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. So, what is Solution Squad?
Simply put, it's a superhero team whose powers are based on math. Don't tune out just yet! My name is Jim McClain, and I may have been a math teacher for the past 30 years, but I was a comics reader way before that. This isn't one of those lame educational comics featuring Addition Boy or Division Girl. I hate those too! Instead, Solution Squad features characters with cool power sets that happen to also fit or be described by math concepts.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let me just tell you this: There are lots of people interested in creating STEM and STEAM (STEM + Art) comics. It's become a new trend. What's different about mine: This 132-page book is done!
That's a snapshot from the InDesign file. There's no waiting, no endless delays or excuses while an artist finishes their work or holdups for the shipment of books to make it past customs. When the money from the Kickstarter goes to my account, I will write a business check and hand-deliver it with a USB drive with this file to my printer in South Bend, Indiana the next day. The only thing that would change the image above is if we make our first stretch goal and add another 10-page story!
So who are they?
Each member of Solution Squad has powers and abilities that reflect a specific math concept:
Absolutia can raise or lower temperature, and the more she moves it away from the original temperature in either direction, the harder it gets. This is the idea behind absolute value.
La Calculadora is the team leader. She can do computations and strategize instantly and has a perfect memory.
Equality can duplicate anyone's abilities at an equal level.
The Ordered Pair, Abscissa and Ordinate, work as a team. Abscissa can speed along the horizontal (x) axis, while her younger twin Ordinate can fly and dive to extremes along the vertical (y) axis.
And Radical? He's just joining the team as the story opens. He can create invisible force-prisms with bases the shape of right triangles and move things along the hypotenuses, including himself on his surfboard. The Pythagorean Theorem at work! Radical's also a time traveler from 1984, so he's a little new to the world of Solution Squad. The reader learns as he does!
See? We haven't even begun talking about stories yet, and now you know the vocabulary terms for the x-coordinate and the y-coordinate in an ordered pair! And in the story, it's revealed that Abscissa, the speedy one, was born first, so kids will naturally remember which one to graph first on...
The Coordinate Plane!
Yes, the math puns are very real. But they're useful mnemonic devices that make the actual math terms unforgettable. Trust me, I've been using them in the classroom for 10 years!
After these brief introductions, we're off to the first adventure, in which the Squad is trapped in a force field with a bomb planted by the villainous Poser. They have to decode a prime number message to defuse it. Kids can solve it right along with them, using an included activity! (Don't worry, the activity is in the back, so it doesn't interfere with the story.)
The origin stories for the characters come later too, in the back of the book, in the style of the old Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe:
As you can see, I brought in some heavyweight talents to add to the mix. There are pinups from George Peréz, Jamal Igle (Supergirl, Molly Danger), Ryan Ottley (Invincible), Jason Howard (Super Dinosaur), Carlo Barberi (Gen 13), Eisner winners Janet Lee (Return of the Dapper Men) and Gene Ha (Mae), Craig Rousseau (Perhapanauts), Dean Trippe (Something Terrible), Steven E. Gordon (X-Men Evolution), Joshua Buchanan (Scratch 9), Christopher Jones (Young Justice), Scott Rosema (Space Ghost) and inks over my pencils from Drew Geraci and, even though I couldn't believe he agreed to do it, Joe Rubinstein!
The second story in the book is called The Trouble with Trains and deals with a mysterious figure called The Reverse-Engineer.
The Squad has to track down the identity of The Reverse-Engineer using prime factorization as a metaphor for finding the unique factors that make the villain who he (or she) is.
Following these two stories drawn by Rose McClain (with colors by Shelby Edmunds on the second story) there's an illustrated prose story with art by Paul E. Schultz (with Shelby on colors again). It's about how even an indestructible hero can be bullied. It's called The Last Boy.
Then we have a colorful 10-page story with art by the amazing Serena Guerra, called The Candy Crimes of the Confectioneer.
The Squad uses proportional descriptions of sugar content to stall for time after they've been defeated in battle by this powerful new opponent.
The Origin of Solution Squad
I first started working on this project 10 years ago, in February, 2007. I developed the characters to use in my middle school math classes as alternatives to the superheroes that they knew and loved already. Before too long, I had enough stuff to want to make a comic book. I started it with my niece Rose as a web comic in 2012, and upon completion of the first story arc, the first 32-page print issue was published in April, 2013. Since then, Solution Squad has garnered positive attention in both the educational world and the comics world, being featured in local newspapers and television, as well as mentions in the ASCD Smartbrief, Scholastic's Instructor magazine, Edutopia, and The Atlantic. It's been used as an example of the effectiveness of narrative storytelling to transfer technical knowledge at Dakota State University. It's even been used in a master's thesis on the use of comics in education! Perhaps most importantly, it's being used in classrooms around the country! Its creation led me to win the 2014 Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship, which has allowed me to obtain the technology to make more comics, which I have also shared on the web. And finally, the 24-page story in Solution Squad #1 was featured in Reading With Pictures: Comics That Make Kids Smarter in August, 2014. This hardcover book was published by Andrews McMeel Publishing. Over the past two years I have spoken literally all across the country about Solution Squad, from New York (October 2014, 2016) to San Diego (July 2016).
Why a book? Why now?
If there was any meaningful criticism about the project, it's that it was too short! I've been reminded over the past few years that libraries often can't stock single issues of a comic. And that's why we're here today. Rather than make an issue #2, 3, 4, etc., I decided to go all out. I know people want it. I know it works. Now I just have to find a way to give it to you. I personally funded the artwork for this book with over $18,000 of my own money over the past four years, and as a classroom teacher, it wasn't easy. But now I'll finally print a real book so that it can be purchased by children, parents, libraries and schools across the country. It's expensive. If I can recover some of my initial investment, that would just be icing on the cake.
This Kickstarter is being done only to fund the printing and shipping of this special version of the graphic novel. Unlike the print-on-demand version, which will soon be available too, this book is being printed by offset printing using high-quality 80 lb flo gloss text paper at Rink Printing in South Bend, Indiana. They do the printing for Jimmy Palmiotti's Kickstarter projects and have worked for Alex Ross as well. They know what they're doing!
I have kept everything local. I am putting up $5,000 of my own money to supplement the Kickstarter to get my cost down to a point where I can afford to print in the USA instead of China. There won't be any shipping delays. There's less than a two-week turnaround and I will be picking the books up in my minivan and shipping them directly to you! This book is already done. You will have your rewards in hand by the end of my summer break in mid-August.
Not sold yet? Every story has lesson plans available in the Mastermind or PLUS levels; complete printable PDFs with answer keys for grades 4-8. Common Core State Standards are referenced for each one for the sake of ease. If you need to find your applicable state standards, I will help you personally. I'm in Indiana where we don't use Common Core either. As a bonus, there are also projectable presentation versions of each comic story in landscape format, perfect for Smartboards and tablet or computer viewing. I used cutting-edge digital storytelling techniques to enhance the experience. You can read them together as a class on your board or in the comfort of your own home, depending on the situation.
What this does is it allows a teacher or parent to control the pacing of the story when showing it to children. With the controls in your hands, you can pause for questions, reflect on what's just happened, or even look up vocabulary words that you didn't understand. You can also use it as a chance to have kids infer what they think is going to happen next!
If you'd like an example of the digital storytelling format for the first story in the book, go to this link and type in the download code KICKSTARTER.
Whats in it for me?
Besides the opportunity to get a cool book in its initial release, I have some other opportunities here for you. Don't ask me why, but so many of my female teacher friends wanted these, I had to put them in. Yes, we have a leggings level.
As more merchandise becomes available, I'll add more reward levels. Stay tuned!
Thanks for reading this, and I sincerely hope you choose to contribute. Thank you for helping me to make a dream come true!
Add additional money to your pledge and at the end of the campaign, Backerkit will send you a survey where you can attribute the overage to any of the following:
ORIGINAL ART FOLLOWING is one of a kind. Let me know via message if you want the piece so I don't oversell it. I'm not United Airlines.
Risks and challenges
Risks and challenges: Let me put it this way: I funded my first comic book myself, raising several thousand dollars in less than a year. I have been working on this project in its earliest form since February, 2007 and I haven't stopped yet. No matter what happens, this book will be completed and see print and distribution by summer, 2017. Ask anyone. I don't miss deadlines.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (31 days)