I don’t know if like me you’ve encountered different reactions from people when talking about comics. I usually get the classic “Oh you collect comics? That’s fun!” – Or replace fun by cute, that also works – followed by “So you love superheroes, I’ve watched the marvel movies too!”. As an Indie Comics reader, I always fight the urge to correct them. To tell them that comics are far bigger than just Marvel, DC, Avengers and Batman. I used to answer by a smile and a nod, like an embarrassed child who’s not sure what to answer.
However, recently I’ve been trying to have a deeper conversation with “non-readers’’, trying to explain how comics are so much more than just cute, fun or a nice hobby.
1. Comics are a good medium to learn how to read
There is a lot of prejudice out there saying comics are for illiterate people, the ones that don’t want to\aren’t able to\too stupid to read.
And there is NOTHING falser than that. Comics are a great outlet for people of every ages who have a hard time with reading. Especially with newer generation (Let me remind you, I’m a Millennial) where technology is so stimulating and easily accessible everywhere (Literally. Everywhere.) kids have a hard time finding time to read a book.
‘’Approximately 32 million adults in the United States can’t read, according to the U.S. Department of Education and the National Institute of Literacy’’ (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2016/11/01/hiding-in-plain-sight-the-adult-literacy-crisis/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.219fa390b7d8 ).
That is a really high amount of people who are missing the opportunity of developing their full potential. Reading is an important part of life, it helps to get an education, to get the job of your dreams, to make a good living, and so on.
Comics are, for me, a proven element of easy access to reading. I don’t know if you’ve seen a child trying to read a book, but it is something adorable and funny. They will try to read the words without understanding anything they are seeing. Comics have images that makes this comprehension easier. They can assume what’s happening based on the drawings.
Let me share with you a piece of my history: when I was younger, I was never really a fan of reading. Not that I hated it or had a hard time, I just couldn’t find a right match. I was always more on the artistic side: drawing, painting, sculpting, building. Creating. So, when my mom gave me my first Garfield, I was obsessed with how simple art could tell funny stories. I went on and discovered lots of French comics such as ASTERIX ET OBELIX or TINTIN and I was fascinated by their cartoon art.
Not only that, they can teach you a whole other language!
I learned English by reading comics. For the life of me, I couldn’t read an English book. I tried reading Harry Potter, random stories, poems. Nothing could capture my attention long enough. I’m persistent, but I have no patience in life. Reading a book was nerve wracking: imagine trying to read 500 pages with absolutely no idea of what you’re supposed to understand. Some people with more of an intellectual mind will catch on quickly. But I’m street smart. I learn in the action – I can’t sit down and focus on one thing. It is basically just impossible.
So, when I started reading comics in English, there was less text, less page… Less overwhelming. I could follow with the art and still understand what was happening. One thing led to another: the more I read, the more I learned. And look at me now! Writing articles for this blog!
2. Comics are a good medium to vehiculate a message
Now think about those young minds discovering how to read. As mentioned before, reading is an essential part of education. Learning about the world around you.
Again, I often observed that my generation sometimes have a hard time taking time to absorb information. We will watch, listen, tap, swipe, tag, follow, fast-forward…. In the bus, the subway, the car, on our lunch break or during a family diner. But some news takes time. It takes time to listen, read and see. It takes time to understand. Something comics can help: it’s smaller than a book but you still have to sit down and read the whole thing and with similitude to television when you have poignant pictures/illustrations to go straight to your heart.
I had a History teacher that was also passionate about comics. She had a whole bookshelf in her class filled with history based comics. One day I picked up a book called RWANDA1994 and that’s when the floor opened under me. I became more conscious of the world and started researching: was this comic based on true facts? At what point is it real? As pre-established multiple times in previous articles, comics are a great medium to engaged in some sensitive or controversial subjects.
They can bring various characters to life and by doing so, showcasing engaged content. I’m thinking about BITTER ROOT, an interesting comic I’ve recently read, exploring the impact of racism and peer pressure. In this book, we explore the monstrosity of fear and hate. The deep effect of pain on someone.
Or even comics like ISOLA where not only we find some strong female characters, but also LGBTQ+ representation. I’m a strong believer that comics can also influence the place of diversity in society with strong and powerful characters as mentioned in previous articles. Diversity is an important thing to see around us, in any type of medium. The more we’re gonna talk about it, the better.
And comics are a nice outlet to demonstrate it: you have great character development in writing and amazing representation in drawings. They can also help to express feelings towards difficult and incomprehensible time such as in LOVE IS LOVE where different writers and artists share their own personal experience with the horrible Orlando Shooting in 2016. I can never read this book without crying, it is powerful.
3. Comics are a versatile art form
More than just a hobby, comics are a true form of appreciative art.
You’ve probably heard that before, but comics are considered like the 9th art (side note: honestly, I think it sounds so much better in French: le neuvième art). After, among others, Architecture, Sculpture, Painting, Music and Poesy, Comics are the unofficial 9th and last element of the list.
If you ask me my personal opinion, I’m glad the medium is considered as some sort of art form. In between breathtaking colors and drawings, the comic industry has in his core some truly beautiful and artistic piece. I could give you lots of examples, but because art and beauty are subjective, I’ll let you insert here: _______ your favorite ones.
Comics are a perfect medium to showcase various talent.
When presenting comics to ‘’non-readers’’, I’m always amused by their surprised look on their face when they realize comics can be quite beautiful. I have a lot of numbers in my collection I only appreciate the art or, on the contrary, only for the writing (also a type of art!).
4. In Conclusion
When analyzing a comic, we can not go over taking some time to appreciate the visuals or the artistic quality to it and, I think, that’s what we tend to forget when trying to convince someone of the important place of the comics industry.
After all this rant, I am even more certain of the potential in the comics industry: they can be a useful tool in education, either learning a language, learning how to read or learning to open your eyes and your heart to the world around us. They can be fascinating, as much as a groundbreaking song or an award-winning movie. I hope we keep recognizing it even more and more every day.
So, now, who is still saying comics are just a hobby?