ZAP! POW! Comics are for kids again


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Hmm, I’m not quite as put off by the ‘gateway’ term - or rather, I’d like to see a term for the function that doesn’t de-legitimize it.

Many forms of art are pretty unapproachable in their developed states. Almost nobody likes Bach on first hearing, unless they’re already versed in music that’s less complex and austere. Similarly, graphic literature is a wonderful way of snagging young readers, because it will often be some time before they realize that the words themselves have a different, and perhaps greater power, to propel the reader into worlds of imagination.

Which isn’t to say that there aren’t well-developed forms of the more accessible genres! A Schumann art song is a tiny gem that can be appreciated by naive listeners and musical sophisticates alike. A Foglio graphic novel is hilarious, even to those whose reading tastes run much more to lots of words.

Is there a good way to express “form A is a necessary first step to appreciating the less-accessible other form B,” without implying that form A is somehow less sophisticated or lowbrow?


My kid resisted reading. Loved stories, didn’t like learning to read.

Calvin & Hobbes, (ugh) Garfield and an endless stream of graphic novels from the library slowly changed that. 3 years later he still takes out Calvin & Hobbes (because it’s awesome) and reads it mixed in with any of a half dozen YA novels he has on the go at once (not least of which involve a young wizard, thank Saint Rowling for that).


I do want to do something with this Mouseguard PnP I bought.

I think the Asterix books were where I started. Most of them work on many levels.

(Although there are a couple of them that could start awkward conversations - aged about 7, I think I asked my parents what orgys were…)


Just a few thoughts:

I was one of the lucky ones. I remember in first grade trying to read “The Gingerbread Man” and it was like a mist clearing away–I could read it! The little ginger guy was running down the road! It was a sudden leap forward.

But not all kids can do this–and even the ones who can benefit from being taught to associate certain sounds with certain letters/letter combinations. The problem is the teacher not knowing how to teach this systematically in the right order at the right pace. It doesn’t have to turn kids off reading. It can be fun. Check out Jolly Phonics, for example.

You teach the most common sound to letter combination first and only when the child is confident with that, move on to the next.

So it would be “s” “sun,” then “c” “bicycle” (first “c”), “st” “listen” and so on.

Jumping too far ahead too quickly just has the kid guessing at everything, instead of trying to read a new word using the most common sound to letter combination, before moving on to trying to read it with the next. It also leads to the frustration illustrated in the comic.

Of course, some words, such as “one” just need to be taught as sight words. They can’t be read phonetically.

Then the kids try to apply their reading skills to comics/books and some make that sudden leap forward in their reading skills, discovering a love for what is written in the comics/books; but others don’t make that leap forward, which shuts them off from this world–making your steady, systematic teaching all the more important for them, so that they may discover it in time.

Incidentally, I learned Japanese with the aid of manga. The context provided by the pictures helped me to understand the nuances of the words. (If anyone else is studying Japanese, Google “Mangajin.” Out of print and out of date, but still a wonderful resource if you can come across it.)

I’m convinced that reading Calvin & Hobbes accelerated my literacy and spelling (with guidance from my parents and teachers, of course). By age eleven, I could spell, pronounce, and properly use words like ‘anthropomorphize’. I sometimes wonder if I would love writing as much as I do today were it not for that precocious expansion of vocabulary and metaphor.


From “On Three Ways of Writing for Children” by C.S. Lewis:

“I am almost in­clined to set it up as a canon that a children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story.”

We have to prevent ourselves from thinking that “accessible by” is a synonym for “suitable only for”.


1990’s comics taught me all I know about thigh development and footbinding… and pouches… no one can have enough pouches, right?


For the more established readers, there’s Ursula Vernon’s Dragonbreath stories and Digger! _Digger_is made of the same awesomeness as Bone; my son just fell into it for a week or so.

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The old Classic Comics had a convoluted publishing history. I surprised to see what I remembered as “Classic Comics” was actually the earlier “Classics Illustrated” series.

I enjoyed the old “How And Why Wonder Books” that were sold in a rack at the supermarket. A kid could pick a subject they liked, like rockets or fossils.

And then there was the old Argosy pulp magazine, which was very mildly salacious, but nothing that would warp a young mind.

…and the old Science Digest, which was published in an 8X5" format until 1980 and it was written at a YA level.

Well, there is a reason why YA novels are so fucking popular … with adults.


LARPing is not a gateway to community theater.

The other way around, surely. :wink:


I’d like to recommend another very worthy series: Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke (thanks for the amazing books and for this boingboing post, Mr. Hatke!). It’s got wonderful art, plenty of adventure, and loads of humor as well. My 5-year-old twins can’t get enough of Zita.

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I grew up on reprints of ZAP Comix!


Zita is a lot of fun. It’s what got my daughter interested in comics, and was her gateway to Amulet, which we devoured from the library in a week.

While I think it’s great that there are all these comic books for kids now, I see one major stumbling block: price. They still print all of these comics on the same high-grade, slick paper that’s used to print comics for adult collectors, which means you’re still paying $4.00 for the latest issue of My Little Pony. Knock that shit down to old newsprint and 4-colors, make them $1.50 - $2.00, and you’d have a lot more people willing to buy a comic book for a kid.

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I was glad to see Amulet as one of the books recommended. I just love that series. I started off reading the first 3 books to my son as he was learning to read. He read the last three on his own (which makes me kind of sad since I no longer have an excuse to read them).

Parents with young kids: savour the time when your kids want you to read to them and make sure to choose books that you like too, because soon it will be over.


Ben, your list failed to mention my 6yo daughters absolute favorite graphic novels… Zita the Space Girl! She’s read the whole series three or four times now, and turned her friends on to Zita as well. She also enjoys Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, but not as much as Zita.We can’t wait for the next one.

Amazon keeps recommending Cleopatra in Space to me, but (based on the cover alone) it just seems like a knockoff of Zita and I’ve been somewhat wary. With your recommendation I may consider it for my daughter.

Calvin and Hobbes were always a favorite of mine, and we have all of the collections, but she hasn’t taken to them yet like she has to the longer form books like Zita, the Glorkian Warrior series, and Raina Telgemeier’s Sisters and Smile books.


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