Graphic novels are the only genre of books that has experienced a boost in sales and they currently bring in over $1 billion annually. The genre was initially not taken seriously until critically acclaimed books such as Art Spiegelman’s Maus (1991) and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen (1987). The 2000s ushered in a bunch of new classics and award-winning titles like Marjane Satropis’s Persepolis (2000), Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home (2006), and Raina Telgemier’s Smile (2010). Graphic novels are now part of every student’s required reading list and have been a great way to get a younger audience engaged in reading.
With over 70 years of experience in ensuring students with learning differences gain access to the books that students need and want to read, Learning Ally has taken up the challenge of providing graphic novels via an audio format. Dave Kozemchak, Audiobook Production Director at Learning Ally, is in the know of all that is popular in the literary world. He looked at the latest and greatest audiobooks for K-12 students and knew that Graphic Novels were wildly popular. In an effort to ensure that Learning Ally is providing the most relevant content for our students, he worked with our Solutions, Technology, Audio Production, and Volunteer teams to find a way to produce Graphic Novels for all of our student members. Our solutions team quickly responded to the needs of our students by upgrading our Learning Ally’s Link App Reading tool to allow functionality for our students to fully access our graphic novel audio books.
Abigail Shaw, former College Success Program mentor and now full-time Learning Ally employee, gave us insight into the world of our blind and visually impaired students. Abigail is visually impaired and an audio production expert, providing Learning Ally with the perfect combination of talents to produce top quality audiobooks for students who struggle to read print. Abigail has a of knowledge in the area of Accessible Media and knew ways that other media groups provide access to content for the blind and visually impaired. Netflix provides a function that consumers can enable allowing for audio descriptions of moving media for individuals who cannot see. For example, in a scene when someone is leaving a room, Netflix Audio description functionality will quietly describe the non-verbal elements of a scene, such as “character x leaves the room”. Non-verbal cues are big in communicating content and something sighted people can take for granted. We are fortunate that Abigail can provide us with that insight and help Learning Ally develop the best tools possible to support students who cannot read print!
To produce graphic novels, we needed 3 components to properly execute the production of audio books for graphic novels; (1) Book, with our first endeavor being El Deafo (2) Instructional text narrators to record visual descriptions, and (3) audio book narrators to record the text for the books.
Colleen is a classically trained dancer from Asbury Park, NJ, and a theater actress performing in shows such as 42nd street and West Side Story. A Rider University School of Music graduate, Colleen moved to New York City two years ago and she heard about Learning Ally volunteering opportunities.
She attended an informational session at the NY studio and now volunteers from home. She’s happy to know that she is using her God-given talent for good and volunteers between acting jobs. Colleen originally started recording instructional text such as textbooks, tutorials, table manners, historical references, and English books. Her experience with recording instructional text gave her the ability to ease into recording graphic novels. Colleen lends her voice to provide image descriptions and visual nuances that are specific to graphic novels, allowing these types of books to come to life for the visually impaired.
Chloe from Hightstown, NJ has been a volunteer at Learning Ally since 2010. She first came into the Princeton Studio with her mom; her mom was a volunteer in the days of Recording for the Blind & Dyslexic before Chloe was born. Chloe started on quality control when Learning Ally was still distributing books on tape. She went off to New York University where she studied Linguistics, Psychology and minored in Politics. She came back to volunteering for Learning Ally in 2014, lending her voice and subject matter expertise in recording books in German and political topics such as voting rights.
Chloe specializes in Young Adult fiction, where she can use the sound of her young voice to bring life to popular characters for our students to enjoy, such as the voice over for El Deafo and the image descriptions for Sisters, two very popular graphic novels. Chloe has Amblyopia, a condition that affects her vision, and can understand the difficulties of not being able to easily read print.
Melody, originally a Learning Ally intern, was referred to us by the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts. She has a portfolio of voice over for animated productions and volunteers a few times a week lending her voice to books such as Smile, Drama, Sisters, and other Raina Talagmeier books as well as voicing Ogi in the Wonder books. Melody is talented in recording multiple characters in a book, providing a more consistent flow and completing a book in a more timely manner so we can get the books our students need and want to read.
Learning Ally has over 70 years of experience in providing assistive technology to students with a learning difference such as Dyslexia or a visual impairment. Our talented team of employees and dedicated Volunteer Nation has persevered through an ever-changing audio production and distribution industry. From Books on Tape, to CDs, and online streaming, we’ve maintained our efficacy in bringing both high-quality audio books and relevant content for our K-12 students to continue to read, learn, and achieve for lifelong success.