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Development and Discussion 2019 9: Why comics?

21 October 2019 Share

Dawn Finch guides us through the world of comics.

Development and Discussion: Why comics? by Dawn Finch

Most of us working in the field of children’s libraries would have no doubt about the use and importance of comics and graphic novels, so why are we still struggling to convert people who still feel this is not “real” reading? Sadly, there seems to be no easy answer to that, and it does seem to be a rather British attitude. In America the Eisner Awards (named for the late writer and artist, Will Eisner) have been celebrating comics for over thirty years. The awards currently have thirty-one categories and are given out at the world famous San Diego Comic-Con.

The power and impact of many graphic format works is undeniable. Maus, written and illustrated by Art Spiegelman and serialised from 1980 to 1991, is a chilling illustrated interview with Spiegelman’s father about his experiences as a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust. The deeply moving biographical story is told through the eyes of animals representing the characters, and in 1992 it became the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize. To date it has won a dozen international literary awards.

The last decade has seen a huge rise in the interest in comics, possibly spurred on by the hugely successful films set in the Marvel and DC cinematic universes. For comic lovers and collectors like myself, the Avengers and the X-Men are like old friends and this new interest in them has been fascinating. I am thrilled to see a whole new generation as excited about comics as I was.

I learnt so much from comics. I was never one of those kids who fitted in, and to read about a world that was beyond my own was to identify with something beyond the estate I lived on. I am delighted that a whole new generation of readers can enjoy new and dazzling comics and graphic novels, but that does bring us to a problem.

The world of children’s books is crammed. With over a thousand new books being published every month, librarians are working flat out to stay on top of those and to add the vast current and back catalogue of comics into that mix is often way beyond us. If you haven’t had a background embedded in comic book fandom, how can you possibly stay on top of it?

One way is to support the Excelsior Award. The registration fee for this is not prohibitive and in return you will get access to the resources and can become part of a network of other comics readers and users. Founder of the Excelsior Award, librarian Paul Register, says of the award that the, “the overall goal of this scheme is to encourage reading for pleasure amongst children and teenagers. However, its secondary target is to raise the profile of graphic novels and manga amongst school librarians and teachers. This storytelling medium has been a largely underused resource within education for many years. The Excelsior Award attempts to highlight some of the amazing books that are published every year, just crying out to be put in our school libraries!”

This means that pupils, as well as teachers and librarians are supported in using material that they might not otherwise be able to familiarise themselves with.

Magazines and publications specifically dedicated to comics and graphic novels often feel exclusive, and this can alienate all but the most determined fans. Getting into comics can often feel like an insurmountable task. ComicScene Magazine is a relatively new kid on the block, but has a good pedigree in that is it run by comic aficionados who also understand how to get that across to a broad cross-section audience.

ComicScene Magazine writer, Richard Bruton, highlights the explosion of “all ages of comics, or as we used to know them – kid’s comics. The top ten graphic novels in the US during 2016, bar one, were all for kids or all ages titles.The most prolific writer, with seven titles in the top 10, was Raina Telgemeier.In 1996 Telgemeier sold 2.2million graphic novels.The only other title in the top 10 was the Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland, featuring Batman and the Joker (a title that is over 25 years old!)

Stepping out from the magazine, Richard has also helped librarians and teachers establish comic and graphic novel selections in primary schools, and has noticed a pattern. “Of course there were super hero comics,” Burton says.“But the kids were interested in the titles by Telgemeier and books such as Asterix, TinTin and Bone, to name but a few. Interestingly, where the choice was available, graphic novels matched the number of novels going out the library door.Young people devour graphic novels.They love them.”

“Increasingly, Burton says, we have gone from parents and carers telling kids in the 1970’s not to read comics because “they will rot your brain” to “please read something, anything!” rather than play on screens.”

The key to a successful publication is that both adults and children have to enjoy the magazine. The main aim of a good publication is to help those parents/carers who casually read boys and girls comics when they were younger to revisit old friends or recommend comics to their children and grandchildren.  Kids do love comics when they have access to them, and ComicScene provides a good starting point for anyone overwhelmed by the choices available, but is also enjoyable for fans.

With sales of graphic novels for children on the rise and even University courses now available to study producing comics and comic history who knows – you could be inspiring the next comic writer or artist.You will certainly be supporting a set of readers from your school who might not have otherwise felt supported and included in the library.

Dawn Finch is a lifelong comics collector and fan, and is a Trustee of CILIP. She is also the Chair of the Society of Author’s Children’s Writers and Illustrators group (CWIG) and a former school librarian.

Libraries can subscribe monthly to the magazine or subscribe in print or digital from £2.50 a copy in digital or £4.60 in print (with free digital copy) at their shop www.getmycomics.com/comicscene .You can also buy half price back issues of ComicScene, comics and graphic novels through the website

You can find out more about the Excelsior Award here – www.excelsioraward.co.uk and can register as a member via the website. Current subscription fees are £25 per school.