Why Kids Should Read and Write Comics

paleolithic cave painting of hunters and deer
Early comic?
Comics have been much maligned over the years: "...their crude blacks and reds spoils a child's natural sense of colour; their hypodermic injection of sex and murder make the child impatient with better, though quieter, stories. Unless we want a coming generation even more ferocious than the present one, parents and teachers throughout America must band together to break the `comic' magazine." -- Dr. Fredric Wertham, M.D., 1940.

I disagree with Dr. Wertham. I think he was hiding under a fake concern for the mental health of young people. His real worry was that kids reading comic books might not suffer easily a life of passivity and lack of creativity.

Comics are one of the oldest forms of written storytelling, dating back to paleolithic people. Comics are one of the most robust storytelling tools we have. How could they be so evil? Simple answer: they're not.

Why Comics Are Good

Comics integrate words and images, which enhances the reading experience. In well-written comics, the reader must combine the words and pictures to experience the whole story. In fact, much of the action occurs between the frames. The brain has to work to weave it all together, encouraging the development of critical thinking skills.

One study has shown that comics (in general) have a more challenging reading level than newspapers, and better prepare students for college level vocabulary.

For reluctant readers, comics are a gateway to reading text-only books. Perhaps this is the real reason Dr. Wertham and his ilk disliked comics so much-- they encourage reading. It's hard to maintain a passive, compliant citizenry if the people are allowed to dream about a better world where justice prevails and heroes dare to work for the common good.

Because comics are often serialized, readers see characters develop over time. Themes change. The world grows ever more complicated as the reader explores deeper. Readers see how ideas evolve. The world is not fixed, even the most steadfast ideas are malleable with time. This is a dangerous idea to the establishment who wants you to believe that all ideas are fixed.

Most off all, comics are despised by the power structure because they are produced on the fringes of society. I'm not talking about the mega-popular movies based on comics. I'm talking about the weird stuff. The independent comics publisher who produces strong female characters, freaks as heroes, and story lines about the oppressed, outcast, and neglected. Recently we've seen strong characters from minority populations, including persons with disabilities and chronic illness. Kids who feel misunderstood can find a community of like-minded people in comics. The outsider culture of comics fosters creativity and freedom of expression, which is threatening to those who favor conformity. 

The establishment always seeks to stifle divergent thought in the young, so Dr. Wertham can stick it in his ear.

Up and Coming Writers, Artists, and Dreamers

This week I received a big pile of letters from a middle school creative writing class, thanking me for speaking to them about writing comics. I enjoyed my time with them. I especially liked the the following note:

"I draw comics all the time! but thanks to you I have finally started a web comic!" -- student letter
Thank you letters from middle school students
A Pile o' Thank You letters
So, here's to the freaks, the weirdos, the outsiders, and those who dare to dream: Keep reading and writing comics! You are the creative force of the future who will question the status quo and make the world the domain of justice and fertile ground for heroes.

My latest project, a graphic novel titled And Yet We Rise is about life on the fringes of society. It explores depression, disability, and how to make sense of a seemingly senseless world. Check out my Kickstarter at: http://kck.st/2jQFTTL

(If you have questions about Kickstarter, click here to read my article: What is Kickstarter?)

(unsure what a "graphic novel" is? Click to read my article on comics v. graphic novels)

Target publication date is April 1, 2017

Thank you.

You can also find me on:
Twitter @dsborden

#comics #graphicnovel #writing #reading #webcomic #disability #specialneeds #hero #justice


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