A white-edged raging defence of comic books

There are two words which, when mentioned together, are guaranteed to get me frothing at the mouth in a barely controllable rage: ‘reluctant’ and ‘reader’.

The term reluctant reader is tossed about by the unthinking and the well-meaning in equal measure. It’s usually aimed at boys of a certain age, and I find it completely and utterly repugnant. I’m probably over-reacting (I have a tendency towards ranting) but hear me out.

I’ve seen it used as a pejorative: I suppose this book might be popular with the reluctant reader set. As if a book that kids actually want to pick up and read is somehow a bad thing. This sneering condescension is at the heart of a boorish them-and-us mindset from adults who ought to know better. You know the type: Tarquin and Jacinta devour books like starving geniuses, but Johnno (eye roll) well, I suppose not everyone can be a READER.

First of all, bully for Tarquin and Jacinta — good for them. Second of all, geniuses or not, they warrant no more or less consideration in their learning than does Johnno. How dare anyone be consigned to the big bin labelled HOPELESS because they don’t happen to share your ideal of what constitutes a good book. Perhaps if snotty parent/teacher/librarian could put a clothes peg on their nose for long enough to consider for a second that maybe Johnno doesn’t read because he thinks The Famous Five is outdated tosh, and he would be more than happy to lose himself in a story if only someone would show him a good one.

Which brings me to the subject of comic books. 

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I read a colossal number of comic books when I was a kid. Cracked, Cor, The Beano, Peanuts, Donald Duck, Richie Rich, The Archies, Phantom, Commando, Twilight Zone … and the daddy of them all: Mad Magazine. Under the careful tutelage of Alfred E. Neuman, I was introduced to literature and movies, to history and geography, to satire and word play. It piqued an interest in US history that continues to this day. Its soft scepticism and lack of reverence for authority probably nudged me towards my early career in journalism. When I was done reading textbooks or set novels, it was towards my stack of Mad Magazines that I gravitated. The owner of the local second hand bookstore would keep any fresh titles aside for me, knowing full well that I would buy them. For an inquisitive 11-year-old, they were my window to a mad world.

So rather than branding a kid as a reluctant reader, maybe they just need the right thing to read. There aren’t so many classic comics being published these days, but there has been an explosion in the field of graphic novels. If you’re worried your kid isn’t reading, I’d spread a bunch of graphic novels around the house like cockroach baits. Just like the real thing, they’ll start nibbling soon enough. You’ll be surprised where it can lead.

 

3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Ella Somers said,

    I completely agree!!!

  2. 2

    reardonhs said,

    I’m not really a comic book person myself…but I still think that “The Cartoon Guide To Physics” is very good.

  3. 3

    [...] A white-edged raging defence of comic books An excellent post by Richard Newsome, who was the star author on the Christchurch Kids Blog during October.  I especially like his comment that  ”rather than branding a kid as a reluctant reader, maybe they just need the right thing to read.”  Yes! (via Christchurch Kids) [...]


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