Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Comics Issue

I got home from the library at 2 this afternoon with a stack of nine books. Two were easy reader children's book, one was an overview of a filmmaker's career, one was a creativity guide, and the rest were graphic novels. I read a lot of graphic novels. I love the blending of words and images. I love the creative stories that seem to only flow out of the blending of art and text. And I love the art. But a lot of people will tell me that graphic novels, comics, or even comic strips aren't real reading. There continues to be a stigma attached to this kind of reading. I couldn't disagree more.

I grew up on a rich diet of books which included picture books, chapter books, comics, and comic strips. Some of the earliest adventure stories that I fell in love with were Uncle Scrooge comics. Each thin paper comic contained an adventure that often spanned the globe. I would get sucked into the stories. I can still picture Uncle Scrooge in his adventure for the golden fleece or making his way into the valley of Tralla La (the Carl Banks version of Shangri-La). I had no idea at the time that I was learning bits of greek myth or about mythical utopias. I just knew that I loved the stories.

As I got older I fell in love with comic strips. I read Calvin and Hobbes, Wizard of Id, The Far Side, and Bloom County to name a few. There were other comics, ones that weren't in our local paper, that found their way into the house in the form of collections. My mother supported us kids as readers, in whatever form that reading took. So we had hundreds of these comic collections mixed with our paper comics that included Archie's, Mickey Mouse, and Casper. We were allowed to read anything we wanted as long as it was kid friendly. And we did read. I can't remember a moment of my childhood where I wasn't reading or thinking about books to read. We were blessed.

I worry about kids now whose parents keep them from comics. Parent who say that graphic novels and comics aren't real reading. As if reading a chapter book was the only form of book for kids once they can read on their own. Like the mistaken idea of taking picture books away from kids after they can read on their own, I think that this does more to keep children from becoming readers. Much like picture books, I think graphic novels are essential reading for kids who are learning to love words and stories. A story can be told in many ways. Like a great film, a graphic novel uses both dialogue and image to tell a more complete story. A child who is encouraged to read whatever they would like (within reason) will become a reader. They will read for pleasure. They will read to learn.

Now I'm not saying to never pay attention to what your children are reading. I've read graphic novels that were disturbing for me as an adult. I've also read word only novels that have done the same thing. My mother was careful to screen what we read for adult content. Things we read that were more advanced were discussed. But we were never told that we couldn't read some type of format. When I went back to reading picture books my mother gave me a stack of books from our old library. I have dibs on some of our comic book collections. I read constantly as a child, in all formats. And I don't know if I would have been as large a reader if I hadn't been granted so much freedom in deciding what I wanted to read. I know that I would not be the reader I am today without that combination of art and words.

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