I did not read comic books when I was a kid.
I learned to read before I started school (my older sister taught me) and I read everything I could my hands on but one thing I couldn’t get my hands on was comics. I guess my mother thought there was something immoral or unhealthy about comic books so we never had them in our house.
I’m a very text-oriented reader. I do read comic strips in newspapers but my eyes immediately go to the text. I’m sure I’m “reading” the images on some level but I truly believe that I get the story from the text. And because I’m good with text, I did really well in school and eventually became a teacher.
As an avid reader and a teacher of reading, I expected that my son would be a reader just like me. After all, I knew how to produce a reader; I read to him every day from the day he was born. Our house was full of books and he loved them. He could retell the stories and his preschool teachers constantly commented on his extensive vocabulary. I’m afraid it turned out to be not that easy. He didn’t start reading independently until the end of third grade and he has always struggled with text. School was a nightmare for him and now, in college, he still finds reading and writing to be very difficult.
It was my son who introduced me to comics. He couldn’t get enough of them when he was little and he knew from a very young age that he wanted to be a comic book artist. I clearly remember the first comic he drew. He was 5 or 6 years old at the time. He folded some paper into a little booklet and on the first page he drew a hand with one finger. He drew the hand again on the second page and gave it two fingers and continued the sequence on the next three pages until the hand had a full complement of fingers. He made a cover and asked me to write the title on it: Growing Fingers. That was the beginning of what I hope will become his career. He’s a student now at Savannah College of Art and Design where he is majoring in Sequential Art.
Needless to say, my little family has been surrounded by comic books and cartoon art for a few years now and, while I appreciate my son’s talent, I never really understood why he was so attracted to this art form. Then, a couple of years ago, he ordered a graphic novel from Amazon as a gift for his girlfriend. The book arrived at our house when he was away at college so I opened the package. It happened to be Free Comic Week and, in celebration, Amazon added a free copy of “Splashin’ Around” an Owly comic to the order. It’s a story told almost completely with images and without words. I was curious so I opened it and started reading. By the third page I was feeling really annoyed. I was struggling. Getting the story from the images was hard work! And then I realized that my son must feel that way when he reads text. If it’s hard work and you can’t do it easily and fluently, before long you give up and stop trying.
This is happening in many of our classrooms too. Kids who struggle with text for one reason or another give up and find excuses not to read. And since so much of our content is delivered through text, they miss out on a lot. Many of those kids might be more fluent in images than in text. They may be more adept at giving and receiving information with pictures than with words. How often do we give them opportunities to do this?
This is what lead me to consider teaching with comics and that’s why I created this blog – as a place to try out new ideas and hear some of yours.