Why comics are brilliant to get children reading
Published on: 26 October 2022
Tom Fickling, publisher of The Phoenix, shares why comics are perfect for getting children into reading
When we first started publishing The Phoenix we used to hold workshops where we would meet parents and teachers and have to spend time explaining what The Phoenix was and why comics were great for getting kids reading. There was a lot of snobbery and a lot of suspicion. Luckily, a lot has changed over the last ten years. Comics are being embraced in schools and by parents in a way that they never were before. The Phoenix is read by tens of thousands of children every week and you can now find comics books (like Bunny vs Monkey by Jamie Smart!) in virtually every bookshop and supermarket around the country. Finally it feels like everyone has woken up to the fact that kids love comics! Of course, they’ve known this for decades in places like the US, Japan and France. So while we in the UK are a bit late to the party, at least we’re there now. However, there is still some snobbery around comics and what people sometimes describe as ‘proper books’.
I was in a bookshop the other day and as a publisher I can’t help but watch who is picking up or ignoring the books we publish. A young boy of about seven picked up a Bunny vs Monkey book and showed it to his dad who made one of those ‘I’m not sure about this’ noises. They showed it to Mum who said she had heard loads of her friends rave about it. Dad was still unconvinced. I just about managed to resist the urge to intervene. Luckily, the young chap was pretty intent on getting it and after some expert persuasion on his part they headed to the till. Another reader born thanks to Jamie Smart and comics.
But why was Dad unsure about it? What was making him think it was a bad idea to ignore his son’s enthusiasm? I’m sure there are loads of parents and teachers who have no such hesitancy when it comes to comics but clearly there is still something that holds some people back. Now, I happen to have read all of Bunny vs Monkey so I can tell you that it is not only full of hilarious bum jokes. It’s packed with witty observations, subtle bits of satire, sweet moments, emotional moments, exciting moments and everything in between. Reading should be about amazing characters and worlds that inspire us. The medium shouldn’t and doesn’t matter.
I used to work in film in the early 2000s. I remember that at the time everyone was quite dismissive of TV. Film was where it was at. TV was a lower form of entertainment. Look at it now. TV is THE place of great storytelling when it comes to moving pictures. The medium didn’t change, just the attitude and the way in which it was delivered. We need to think about comics in the same way. You can have comics that are amazingly deep, dramatic and interesting (like No Country by Patrice Aggs and Joe Brady) and you can have hilarious comics about feline spaceships (like Star Cat by Yasmin Sheikh and James Turner). Like novels, TV, music and film you can have literally ANY kind of story in a comic.
But the main point to make about comics is that they are really, really, really appealing to children. That natural enthusiasm is the fuel that powers someone’s path to becoming a reader. Let’s not get in the way of that. Instead we should be supercharging it. And the best way to do that is to embrace comics.