Comics or illustrated/graphic novels have been criticised by parents and teachers for many years for preventing children from reading real books. I must confess as a child I had reading difficulties, probably up to the age of fourteen. I always received top grades in the arts especially hand drawing (computers hadn’t been invented yet) but my English and Maths subjects were simply appalling.
My parents discussed the issues with my school and I even attended under age reading classes in the the hope that something may spark my interest in words.
Like many children I found a bridge from early learning books to novels via comic-books which after three or four years led me to reading classic sci-fi novels by the greatest writers of that genre ie Author C. Clark, Ray Bradbury, Ian Banks and of course the ‘late great’ Isaac Asimov.
I’m not sure why science fiction appealed so much, perhaps it was the escapism or the fact the reader had to imagine a society and technology that doesn't exist yet. When in fact its far easier to imagine a knight in armour standing beside a stone castle.
I took my degree in Product Design in London in the late 80’s, graduated and took my first design job in New York. In this profession all we do is imagine the future as the ever-changing technological advancements means you are working at least two or three years into the future. Now in 2021 I’m an app designer designing a sci-fi app for children that will engage and educate them. Looks like I’ve gone full circle.
So here are my reasons why I believe comics have an important role to play in children's reading development.
Improves a Sense of Sequence.
The comic strip can be read and reread numerous times flicking in both directions and seeing how a story unfolds helps teach children about sequencing and flow. Comics like books have a beginning a middle and an end or story climax. This helps children to understand the concept of story structure. With boys especially the action happens within the first few pages of the comic and grabs their attention. Where a word based novel there is a long journey of grey pages before reaching a chapter climax.
Children with special needs or dyslexia can become engrossed in a comic, feeling compelled to complete the story which in-turn gives a sense of accomplishment. For young readers the engagement with action and superheroes adventures helps to build confidence especially in boys who are impatient and want to see a result quickly. There is a unique degree of engagement where children make their own comics and copy illustrations of superheroes (I made figurines from modelling clay and painted them, perhaps thats the 3D designer in me). But it would be unusual for children to sit and write there own novel to the same degree.
Improves Visual Literacy.
The styles, colours and details used to convey action packed scenarios on distant planets can help excite the mind and communicate to the reader on a different plane especially for the visually gifted child who is faced with a wall of grey text.
Clearly comics have fewer words but often in order to be economic much bigger words are chosen to clarify an emotion or dynamic scene.
Teaches Art Appreciation.
The illustrations in comics can be classics in there own right. and for a child to own and cherish the artwork helps give a sense of pride.
Helps Develop Inference
The graphic novel is in some ways more challenging than a word based novel as drawings, text and sequence has to be sewn together by the reader. The degree of inference by the child is much greater as every action or scene cannot be drawn. For example the character stands in front of a locked door holding a key. The next scene the character is inside the room. In a movie the director would show the character open the door and walk in. In a comic the character appears in the room or in the doorway and the child must piece together the jigsaw of stages that made this happen-inference.
Slows down Page Skimming.
Due to the complex and visually rich nature of comic illustrations the young reader often slows down and explores all the corners of the imaginary world that lays before them.
Comics can be Communal.
Whether its cuddling up with your Dad and reading together on the sofa or at bedtime, or play acting with your brother or sister. The comic narrative is far easier to digest and share through role-play. A common topic of conversion In the playground can help build friendships inspired by an action hero or comic moment.
Develop a love of reading.
Reading is Reading! Would you prefer your child to be watching cat video’s on youTube or playing video games? Or sitting reading a comic is a far more enriching activity as outlined in the points above.
Comics are fun
Humans are pleasure based and we tend to loiter on activities we find fun and ignore activities we find boring. So any extended time reading has to be good for children.
During the app development I observed how boys and girls reading techniques differ. Girls begin on page one and read through the story. Boys flip through the comic to find a page that excites them, then they linger on that page fixated for days.
So with all of these benefits in mind Fresh Quest Comic was born. The key merits are the confidence building-believing in oneself and expanding a child's vocabulary without them even knowing it.