Reading Between the Panels

Posted on: Friday 06 July 2012 12:43pm

Blogged by: Nina Koo-Seen-Lin

Reading Between the Panels


Mel Gibson, Senior Lecturer, Northumbria University

Hunt Emerson, Comic Creator, The Beano & literature adaptations

Jim Medway, Educator & Comics Creator, The Phoenix

Russell Wall, Digital Media Consultant, Digital Story Engine

Produced and presented by:

Paul Gravett, Director, Comica Fesival and Escape Books

Additional materials:

Hunt Emerson’s presentation (PowerPoint – for explanations use the PowerPoint notes)

Russell Wall, of Digital Story Engine, showed this video on Reading and Writing Comics:

Mel Gibson is in the room! No, not THAT Mel Gibson. This Mel is female and she’s a senior lecturer and expert in the world of comic books. She’s on the panel with two comic creators, Hunt Emerson and Jim Medway and Russell Wall, a digital media consultant. In a session led by Paul Gravett, they’re here to discuss on whether comics have literary value today.

Listening to these passionate people I’ve come to learn that comics are definitely a rich and popular source of children’s entertainment. Recent research has shown that children respond brilliantly to the format of comics. They take the imagination to a whole new place. It’s laidback with pictures and writing so you can concentrate on the illustrations if you have difficulty with reading.

In the past comics have had a bad reputation, especially during WWII when they were deemed seducers of young minds. And due to a UK Parliament act in 1955 where comics were labeled as harmful to young minds comics have been under a cloud. Parents and teachers haven’t always been in favour of them.

Comic books don’t always have to have a superhero. Hunt Emerson has done a brilliant job of adapting classic texts sand poems into a comic book form, from ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ and ‘Cassanova’ to ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. He’s even managed to adapt Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ and condense it to 30 panels (if you’ve read that book you’d recognize the genius of this).

Everyone who’s anyone or has been anyone values comic books. Salvador Dali predicted comics would be the culture fix for everybody while Bishop Desmond Tutu believed that being allowed to read comics as a young boy developed his love of reading English. And former children’s laureate, Anthony Browne said of comic books that, “illustrations are for everyone of every age, not books to be left behind as we get older.”

Comics are the best way to get across information to students and help them retain it. It encourages kids to read things they may not have chosen to do so in the past. Shakespeare’s Macbeth, for example, makes for a brilliant comic. And Dante’s Inferno: a panel format is probably the only way I’m ever going to understand that text.

When kids create their own comic books they’re given scope to articulate themselves in a way they’ve never done before. Jim Medway creates comic books but to make money he teaches about them in various schools, libraries, and even in youth offenders institutions. His workshops encourage kids to think about storytelling, from the basic beginning, middle and end of a story to how to place characters, speech bubbles etc. in each panel. Kids have found a way to articulate.

The next step is to implement comic book culture into schools. The way to do that is through school libraries, where sessions can be held and a supply of comics can be loaned out. Comics give people the space to talk about stories. If that’s not valuable to literature then what is? In the realm of children’s media, the session has proven that the humble comic still has it’s place.

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