Making fantastic factual comics

Published on: 09 June 2024

BookTrust's Writer in Residence, Rashmi Sirdeshpande, discusses why non-fiction is so appealing in comic form.

There are so many ways to get facts across to readers, from picture books and poems to fact books and COMICS!

Comic strips have long been loved by children. They can feel fresh and exciting and visuals can be a great way to grab a reader's attention and help interesting facts stick in our heads.

It's a very exciting corner of the book world so to find out more, I thought I'd call on some pros! Meet Mike Barfield and Jess Bradley, the award-winning author-illustrator duo behind the fabulously funny A Day In The Life series.

Illustration of Mike Barfield and Jess Bradley

We're celebrating factual books over at BookTrust as part of this residency. What do you love about comics as a way of getting across fascinating facts?

JESS: Young readers respond so well to comics and I think using them to illustrate factual books is such a great way to engage. Comics are so flexible too; there are so many different ways to make a page look exciting! You can also make a lot of factual topics more bite-sized too which can be a bit more accessible.

MIKE: Readers don't necessarily realise that they actually learning and filling their heads with facts. I once coined a phrase for this, which I am rather pleased about: 'smuggling facts into their brains under the cover of daftness'. Also, comics force you to be concise and, hopefully, funny. Some readers can be put off by pages and pages of text. Our books are packed with pictures – and jokes!

Do you have any favourite facts from your comics?

MIKE: The shape of wombat poo, every time. I think part of the first book's success was down to having the word 'Poo' in the title. That genuinely may have tipped the Blue Peter Book Award for us back in 2021. I also found it hilarious hearing the presenters repeat the word when they announced the winners.

JESS: I think I have to go with one of my favourite gross facts which is that jellyfish eat and poo through the same hole! Yuck!

What are your best tips for children who want to have a go at making factual comics?

JESS: I would say to focus on a topic you're already really interested in and then draw as much as you can to really know the subject. Then you can experiment with making it look more cartoony and really add some personality and your own style to the characters. This will make the comic look a lot more interesting too!

If you're making a comic about a subject that you're very passionate about, it will absolutely show on the page and your enthusiasm will make the work even better. Do you like birds? Make a comic about the different birds in your garden and the funny things they do. The possibilities are endless and that's what makes factual comics so much fun to draw. Although I do wish Mike would give me more sharks to draw...

MIKE: Read, read, read. Obviously, read lots of comics. Find some fun facts and a topic that excites you. Grab a sheet of paper and have a go. Mistakes along the way don't matter. I make lots of attempts before I'm happy with a final rough to send to Jess and our editors. Working in pencil is best, so you can rub out mistakes and correct them.

Also, I use a standard blank A4 comic page – with spaces already printed on it – to lay out my roughs, complete with the text. It makes the process less daunting and means you don't tend to over-write your comics. But the most important thing is to keep making comics. It's fun! And if you're having fun, then so will the reader!

How interesting was that? And hands up if you're inspired to try and make your own factual comics! Ultimately, factual books – like fiction! – are a form of storytelling. And stories can be told through words or pictures or both.

As you can see, comics can be a great way to get children (and grown-ups) excited about facts. Mike and Jess's books are amazing examples and there are lots of others out there too, such as the hilarious and highly informative Corpse Talk series by Adam and Lisa Murphy, Respect by Rachel Brian (an empowering comic about consent and boundaries), Comic Strip Science by Paul Mason and Jess Bradley (making science fun) and Scientists are Saving the World by Saskia Gwinn and Ama Albero (a celebration of science heroes for younger readers).

If you haven't already read these brilliant books, go and look them up or ask at your local library for more recommendations. You might just discover a new favourite and you'll learn lots along the way too. I certainly did!

Read more from Rashmi

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