Tuesday, 18 June 2013

#ReadItMD13 "Why Kids Need Comics" - a fantastic comics perspective from Louie Stowell

Comics aren’t new. Humans have always been flexible creatures when it comes to telling stories, and, until recently, pictures have been an important part of storytelling.

Now, telling stories with just pictures is as old as caves.

Cederberg Rock Art

But telling stories with words AND pictures also crops up long before the invention of the word “comics”. 

The Bayeux Tapestry. 

Using combinations of words and images to tell stories mean you can do things you can’t do with text alone. And this one of many reasons why kids need comics.

Often comics are touted as the “easy” option, something that you start off with then graduate to “proper” books. But comics have their own value when it comes to shaping growing minds and equipping them for the big wide world out there.

Comics teach visual literacy - the ability to unlock meaning from images and symbols. This is something all humans need in an increasingly picture-driven world. Think about how often you have to navigate a set of symbols on a screen to unlock information (I’m looking at my iphone, realizing that I don’t look for the words, I look for the symbols, when I’m seeking out an app).

But, the educational benefits of comics are just icing on a wonderful cake. Comics can be hilarious (though they don’t have to be). Comics can be beautiful (though not always in a traditional sense – I think there’s something lovely about XKCD, for example, even though it’s just made up of stick men).

Or they can be lush, like this double page, single panel spread from Superman for All Seasons by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale (photo by me, doesn’t quite do it justice perhaps).

Luscious double page spread from "Superman For All Seasons" (DC Comics)
Comics can be terrifying and unsettling (Maus, I’m looking at you). They can touch on the deepest, darkest parts of human life but they can also just be bloomin’ good fun.

But it can be hard to find the comics that are suitable for kids among the more grown up titles. So here are a few starting points.

The Phoenix – a weekly comic for kids full of stories plus games and no plastic tat (which might be welcome for parents who’ve stabbed their feet too many times on cover mounted items). Just reading (and drawing and writing) fun. Here’s the Phoenix’s blog, with lots of drawing challenges for young comics artists:


Zita the Spacegirl - a collection of webcomics by Ben Hatke about Zita the Spacegirl. Free to read, though I imagine anyone reading them will then want to go and buy the books.


Sarah McIntyre’s blog – a kids’ comics creator who writes many interesting musings on kidlit of all kinds, with plenty of discussion of comics and photos from workshops. Also, hats. Who doesn’t love hats?


And here’s a list of kid-friendly comics I’ve been building up on my blog – more suggestions always welcome, do @ me on twitter (@louiestowell) or comment on the blog with your additions:


Louie Stowell writes and edits children's books and interactive fiction. She also draws a webcomic about gods living in suburbia - http://godsnextdoor.wordpress.com and blogs about comics, publishing, politics and stories of all kinds.