Comics and graphic novels are fabulous fun and help make reading second nature, especially if dads love them too.
In 2018 The Beano celebrated its 80th birthday, and there’s half a chance it might last 80 years more. Unlike other print magazines, the legendary comic is actually seeing an increase in sales, shifting around 1.4 million copies a year. Two million kids use its excellent website and app. An associated Dennis the Menace cartoon has become CBBC’s top rated animation.
Why on earth would modern kids, weaned on Marvel superheroes and frenetic video game fun, appreciate the gentle shenanigans of Dennis, Minnie the Minx and the Bash Street Kids? Editorial director Mike Stirling puts it down to the comic’s kid’s-eye focus on the world.
“We look at the world from a perspective of what we call ‘four-foot thinking’, a kid’s-eye view, at the absurdity in situations, and the injustice in them. Kids are very honest about how they observe things, they can see the emperor has no clothes,” he said, during the Beano’s birthday celebrations.
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Comic novels on the rise
And the Beano isn’t the only successful comic out there. Japanese Manga comics fly off the shelves (and have just inspired a sell out exhibition at the British Museum). Novels in comic form – called graphic novels – are celebrated like never before. In an age of online entertainment, printed comic books are a surprising success story.
Why might that be so? It’s because kids love them, and kids love them because they make sometimes complex scenes or stories easy to devour. Educational consultant Tracy Edmunds suggests comic books are less intimidating than traditional novels for more reluctant readers, but just as engrossing.
“Many young readers, when confronted with solid pages of text, become intimidated and overwhelmed and just give up. Give the same reluctant reader a thick, juicy graphic novel and they dive in eagerly, devouring every page.”
“With many struggling readers motivation is the key, and comics are motivating”
Comics make complex scenes simple
Kids don’t know how much information they’re taking in when they scan the panel of a comic book. There’s the words, of course, and the foreground action. But a good comic book artist uses every element of a panel to help tell the story. Everything is there for a reason. Without even knowing it, children are mastering some really intricate storytelling.
Judd Winick, author of Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth, puts it like this: “Graphic novels allow the reluctant reader to slide into the story without as much of the heavy lifting as prose might require. They can see what’s going on, they can get ensnared in the story, and those “reader muscles” get a workout.”
Winick says comics are “a gateway drug to reading.” In other words, don’t worry if your child only reads comics. The fact is that they are getting into the idea that sitting down with something to read is an enjoyable experience, so they’ll soon progress to more weighty material, and eventually to books without pictures at all. Maybe help them along by introducing them to the world of kids’ Manga or graphic novels.
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Read comics with them
In fact, why not start reading them yourself. Maybe fetch down that old box of Beanos or Dandys from grandma’s attic. Author Michael Spradlin reckons parents can set a good example by reading comic books or graphic novels themselves. When children see the exciting pictures and easy-to-read captions they’ll soon want to know more, and start picking up comics themselves. Or if your kids are very young why not read comics with them, letting them describe what’s happening in the pictures after you’ve read the words?
Michael writes: “As a reader, there is no doubt in my mind that reading comics as a child not only fostered my love of reading, but helped me improve my vocabulary and gave my vivid imagination a launching pad…Rediscover the love of Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman or Supergirl that you had as a kid. If you start reading comics, I’ll bet your kids will too. And I’ll be willing to bet, once they start reading comics, they’ll start reading other things.”