Comics-what do I mean?

In Comics on 24 February, 2009 at 12:26 am

Okay… What do I mean when I say that I love comics?

Well, I’m not talking about comedians. That’s another subject all together… My favourite comedians are people like Bill Hicks, Eddie Izzard, Bill Bailey and Billy Connelly.

When I use the term “comics” I am referring to the often dismissed medium of graphical story-telling. An artform and literature class that has been around for hundreds of years, and probably has its roots as far back as cave paintings… The ability to tell a story either with pictures only, or enhanced by words…

In the Anglo-western world, most people associate this with “funnybooks for kids”, (the vast majority of which aren’t really funny), superheroes who wear their undergarments outside their leg-coverings, large-breasted women in skimpy clothing and talking animals… In Europe, there is less of a stigma attached to comicbooks, with most people having at the very least heard of Tintin, Asterix, Lucky Luke and The Smurfs... … And many will have read them too!

Ironically, comics from most British and American publishers are aimed squarely at the adult market. Partly due to cost involved, and partly due to the fact kids are put off by being told “that’s kid’s stuff” and various other things like TV, portable games consoles, non-portable games consoles, sex and other distractions proving more “interesting” or “cool”… Falling literacy levels may have something to do with it too, but that may actually be the other way round too…

By that I mean that falling numbers of young comic readers could be contributing to the falling literacy levels. Comics are a great learning tool. I remember my French helping me to understand Tintin written in French, and vice-versa, Tintin improved my French!

You see, until somewhere around the beginning of 2008, Tintin in the Congo was not available in English! Apparently, Hergé’s depiction of Africans was deemed offensive. Now, bear in mind that I was living in Africa at the time, and plenty of my African friends read Tintin as well. If there was anything offensive about the characters, we certainly never noticed it… … but we were young, and in those days believed that racism only really existed in South Africa, and that the UK, Europe and the USA were racism-free… ah well… the point is, I had read all the Tintin books there were apart from four… Tintin in the Land of the Soviets (which hadn’t been collected at that point, so it doesn’t really count), Tintin in the Congo, Tintin and the Blue Oranges, and Tintin and the Golden Fleece… The last two were “movie books” like Tintin and the Lake of Sharks and were adaptations of films… So I tried to read Tintin in the Congo in French…

Here, finally, is my point: I followed the story primarily through the artwork, using words I recognised to get the gist of what was happening… Using body language and expressions, that Hergé was so good at (okay it was a bit raw at this stage as it was his first proper “album”, but his art of graphical story-telling was still superb, and he got sooo much better!) I was able to grasp the context of what was being said and once I started associating names, recognised a few verbs, etc., I was suddenly reading the story…

I couldn’t have done the same thing with a regular book.

Superheroes are only one genre in comics. There are hundreds more. Just as there are huge sections in a bookstore devoted to different genres, you can find many counterparts in comics. starting with the “biggies” Crime, Horror, Romance, Science Fiction, Thrillers, onto the more niche like Westerns, War, Real Life, Autobiographies, Childrens, even “Classical Literature” adaptations like Homer’s Illiad

I will expand, if you can stand to read my further ramblings, in future posts…

Until then, try to think of a book that you always wanted to read, then go to an online bookstore and see if they have a “Graphic Novel” version…

Happy reading!



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