Written by Grant Goodman, 2/1/2015
As an English teacher, one of the most frequent requests I hear from parents is, “Can you get my son/daughter to stop reading so many comics and start reading real literature instead?”
Can we re-examine that question?
Did you just ask me to tell your child to STOP READING something he or she likes?
That’s a firm “No.”
No, I will not.
There is a generational gap that leads to the misunderstanding of comics and manga and graphic novels. For many of our current parents, comics are those 3 or 4 panel gags that run in the newspaper. Or they’re the classic, simple superhero tales that they grew out of.
The problem is that if you shut kids out of comics/graphic novels/manga, you’re turning them away from one of our best learning tools out there. Comics are the marriage of image and word. They are expressive, they are detailed, and they are pieces of art.
Readers of comics learn to understand perspective, form, shape, and contrast. They can pick up a sense of motion, a skill for reading between the lines (or, in this case, “reading between the panels”). Most importantly, however, I argue that comics are a pure form of imagination boosting, which everyone needs.
I believe that adolescents who struggle with literature can benefit tremendously with comics. Part of what makes a strong reader is the ability to turn words into images. Comics bridge that gap. When you start building a mental library of how characters look when they deliver emotional speech, you can start carrying that over into literature. When you see a sweeping desert landscape that pulls the breath from your lungs, you have a template for when you come across it in a book.
I’m not saying that comics should only be there for struggling readers, though. There are plenty of works out there that rival the complexities of any novel you’ll ever pick up.
I can easily nominate the 27 volumes of Hiromu Arakawa’s Fullmetal Alchemist as one of the greatest fantasy tales of our time: two brothers use alchemy in an attempt to bring their mother back to life. The experiment fails horrifically, forcing the older brother to sacrifice part of his body in order to keep his younger brother alive. The series follows their quest to find a way to restore their bodies, which forces them to examine their world’s military corruption, oppression of religious minorities, and the politics of a civil war.
If you want to learn how to take another look at comics, you should pick up Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. It will teach you all about the inner workings of comics and how they’re good for us.
The bottom line is this: if you’re reading comics, you’re doing the right thing.