Friday, 3 October 2014

Comics and Literacy, part 5: Where Do We Go From Here?


Welcome to the fifth and final part of my weeklong series of posts on comics and literacy. To sum up what we've covered so far: I believe that comics offer incredible opportunities for engaging children with reading and for developing their literacy skills, and I believe that we in this country have neglected and undervalued those opportunities to our mutual massive cost. We've covered:

  1. Why reading comics matters
  2. Why MAKING comics matters, too
  3. Things that educators and parents can do, right now, to encourage this
  4. Some excellent comics for children, to get you started.

I wanted to wrap things up by talking a bit about what I think we can do next. I think there's a growing awareness in this country of the important role comics have to play, and definitely a lot of progress is being made. But I still see there being a few puzzle-pieces missing; ideas and institutions that, if we could figure out a way to put into place, could bring about hugely positive changes.

So. Where do we go from here?

Here are a few ideas.

I talked a bit in Wednesday's post about how teachers and librarians might consider starting up a comics club, to give a space and a time in the week for interested kids to simply read comics, and talk about comics, and maybe have a go at making some comics. I think a really cool thing would be to then try and take this further and give people a means of linking up and sharing their work and ideas. FOR EXAMPLE, for the sake of argument: you could make it a national club, free to sign up for, and every week there'd be some set challenge or activity on the theme of writing or creating characters or drawing samurai alligators or whatever it may be, that all the geographically diverse members could have a go at and then share and display their work; people's entries could then be displayed on the club's website, with maybe some Professional Comics Types offering some feedback and helpful criticism. A Comics Club, along the lines of something like the Young Poets Network* or Code Club, but for comics. Wouldn't that be cool? 

*huge thanks to Kate Sayer of the Story Museum for cluing me in about the YPN, it sounds fantastic and I think offers a really useful example here.

The other nice benefit of having the website / mailing list aspect of it, apart from providing a point of connection between lots of individual school and library clubs, is that it would allow kids to join up and be a part of it who... maybe aren't natural club-joiners? Bedroom comics geniuses across the land would have a way to be a part of something and to share their work and discover like-minded creators, without necessarily having to dive straight in with the whole potentially terrifying "talking to humans in real life about something you're passionate about" thing. Giving people that chance to dip their toes into a wider world, and allowing them to ease in and discover it on their own terms.

I may just be thinking of Young Me here. I digress.

Artwork from The Awesomest Comic, (c) 2014 by Eliza Day

2) A CENTRAL RESOURCE of child-friendly comics

I talked about this a bit in yesterday's post, the difficulty facing parents and educators in knowing where to start with children's comics, of finding good and suitable material. My ceaselessly amazing colleague Sarah McIntyre has talked about this before, about how great it would be to have a central resource - a database / website full of information about child-friendly comics - ideally, with the ability for users to write and share their own reviews of books. 

Basically, we just want to make it as easy as possible for parents and teachers and librarians and all those people who are not fortunate enough to already be Giant Comics Nerds to discover the good stuff, and to feel confident to start sharing it with their kids. And, even better, for kids to find it for themselves.

Good things are happening on this front already - a comment on Wednesday's post from Zoe Toft of Playing By The Book brings the following news:

Just to let you know that Melanie (Library Mice) and I are compiling a new booklist for the Federation of Children's Book Groups focusing on comics and graphic novels- it will be ready April 2015, and then free to any one who wants it eg schools, clubs, individuals.
...which sounds fantastic, and is a really positive development. Let's do more!

Artwork from The Awesomest Comic, (c) 2014 by Erin Snape

3) A similar CENTRAL RESOURCE of comics creators who do workshops!

Again, something that both Sarah and I have talked about before. It would be brilliant to tie this into the aforementioned website / database of kid-friendly comics, to also provide information on creators who visit schools and libraries to do workshops. (While we're on the subject, please refer to this excellent post of Sarah's that gives tons of invaluable advice to schools and libraries about how to host a successful author visit, and includes a huge list of creators who offer workshops.)

Essentially, I’d like a lot of the kind of things I’ve been trying to talk about in this week's posts to be maintained and updated as a central resource, easily accessible to educators and parents – lists of great, age-appropriate comics, lists of comics practitioners who do workshops, details of upcoming courses and events across the country. I think A Website could very handily contain all this, but whose website? The website of a body that does not quite exist yet, and which I shall for the purposes of this flight of fantasy refer to as The Comics Agency.

The Comics Agency. The Comics Advisory Board. The Awesome Ninja Comics Squad. Call it what you like, the basic idea is just of having a dedicated body - a dedicated place on the internet, and ideally a dedicated place in the actual real world, too - devoted solely to sharing information and ideas and resources and best practice and constantly spreading the message that, basically, everybody should be reading comics, because they are NIFTY. There are non-profit organisations in the US doing excellent work in this kind of area - Reading With Pictures and Comic Book Classroom - and I'd love to see something similar happen over here.

Artwork from The Awesomest Comic, (c) 2014 by Hector Day


Once you've got those pieces of the puzzle in place, once you've built that framework: then, I think you could start to really have some fun. Have some fun and also, potentially, do some amazing things. How about setting up a scheme where people are easily able to chip in to donate graphic novels or comic subscriptions to under-resourced schools, for starters? Or how about this: we figure out how much it would cost to buy one awesome comic for EVERY SINGLE CHILD IN THIS COUNTRY. And then we run a kickstarter for exactly that much money.

Let's go back for a second to where this series of posts started, thinking about the Read On, Get On campaign. We began with the demonstrable fact that learning to read changes children's lives for the better, and the firm conviction that comics can, have been and should be a huge part of how children learn to read. If we're not making use of this amazing asset, this incredibly cool and powerful tool in the literacy toolbox, then frankly we're failing generations of children. And we've been doing that for a while now. And I think it's time we started doing better.

POSTSCRIPT: I'm pretty much reaching 'put up or shut up' point here. I think secretly my motivation in writing this monstrous weeklong series of posts was to basically talk myself into stopping talking, and actually starting to do something about all this stuff. THINGS are underway, and PLANS are being formed. If you would like to hear more about THINGS and PLANS, or get involved in the discussion, or sign up to join the Awesome Ninja Comics Squad, then in the first instance please either leave a message here or give me a shout on twitter - you can find me at @neillcameron, or throw in ideas using the #ComicsAndLiteracy hashtag. Let's see what we can do.


  1. Loving the idea of a national (maybe even international) comics club. That would definitely be something worth investigating further but I can imagine the effort involved in setting something like that up. It'd so be worth it though!

    As you've probably guessed, we're backing everything said here to the hilt. Comics and comic creation really do engage kids (and parents) in positive ways and not just for literacy or honing art skills, there's a whole ton of benefits for social interaction, expressiveness and it's good for kids who are naturally introverted, drawing 'em out of their shells too.

    It's gotta be worth a campaign for 2015.

  2. Totally agree with all of your posts on this Neil- please count me in for your ninja comics agency project. I think that a central website/blog would be a great start as we can use it to share lists of resources and showcase work produced. We've got the Etherington Bros visiting our school after half term so I'm planning on starting some kind of comics club afterwards as I'm hoping that it will inspire children to create as well as read comics. Please also add Kev F Sutherland to your list of awesome comics people who visit schools- I booked him for my son's school a few years ago and he made a big impact on them there
    (South West)
    Please feel free to add me to email lists or whatever as I'm very keen!

  3. Oh- and I forgot to add that my own children love your book, I bought copies for both of the libraries at my school and for myself as I knew it would be inspiring after enjoying your work in The Phoenix. I know they're not comic books as such but Pilkey's Captain Underpants series has had a major influence on my boys (5 and 8) this Summer as they've wanted to produce their own comics just like his characters George and Harold & I also reclaimed my enormous stash of vintage Beano, Whizzer and Chips and Dandy Annuals from my parents so they have gone comics crazy!

  4. Hi guys!

    ReadItDaddy - thanks for the support, will absolutely keep you notified of any and all Plans and Schemes ;)

    Jenny - again, thanks for the support! I've heard from a few people who run comics clubs already or who would like to start one, and I'll try and figure out what would be the best way of putting people in touch with each other so we can all share ideas and resources. A blog? A mailing list? *Puts thinking hat on*

    Also: Kev F! Of course! Dude's a legend. I absolutely should have put him on my list, but couldn't remember where he was based. Thanks!

  5. Comics in Britain today have got all a bit middle class (probably because they're the only ones who can afford them), and therefore Liberal Democrat. Any British-based attempt to create an international society of comics is probably going to devolve into endless cycles of "shall we ban Tintin in the Congo?" and "Let's pressure Japan to stop making porn comics!".
    I do like the idea of a national network, though. Even if it won't be national-ist, unless I can hijack the leadership. Also, if we get loads of kids into making comics early, they might hone their craft in the teens and twenties, and we could potentially end up with something a bit like the early British videogame industry, where kids, fired up on late-night programmes, would be punching code into the BBC Micro at school to see what happens.
    The only problem is making an "industry" of those comics. The internet is out, WEBcomics are "stateless", and very healthy already. Digital-only paid for comics are a doomed dead-end, due to, well, a load of stuff that's just as good being available totally gratis. You aren't going to get a big new generation of "cottage industry" print comics into WH Smith (not until it's making billions and THEY are begging US to let them in on the action, anyway). Maybe a national network thing could pool it's resources / donations and, eventually, profits, into paying independent bookshops, "retro stuff" shops and so on to sell the comics?
    As most of the people in Britain who like comics are followers of the yellow diamond anyway, the comics that result from this mass movement are probably going to look like a printed version of Tumblr or Upworthy, so these "trendy" shops will be only too happy to stock them. And, of course, their clientele will be only too glad to get into the "vanguard of new British art". Though hopefully a lot of those inspired-kids-turned-bedroom-creators will be from all sorts of backgrounds, and before long even builders and taxi drivers and bankers will be reading those comics, too. And they'll be all over dentist's waiting rooms, stuffed in restaurants for people to read while they wait, and so on. And then we'll be Japan... with more stabbings and still no high speed trains or elecricity. But one step at a time.