My sons and I started the new year trying out something new thanks to the Makeens sale in December - Graphic Novels and Comic Books! Now I know that the moment you hear 'comic books' The Avengers and Justice League automatically spring to mind (or you could say creep, crawl, dash, swim and fly!). However, very few parents are aware that there are many more options than that - there are lovely stories aimed at younger readers/listeners out there.
So - what is the difference between a comic and a graphic novel? The usual answer is that comics are shorter, less complex and the story spreads across multiple issues, while graphic novels (as the word implies) are more like illustrated versions of a novel.
Let us first take a look at the usual objections aimed at reading comic books. The most common is - is it even reading, to begin with? Well, graphic novels and comics are now accepted internationally as a form of literature. Yes, I agree with you, you do not find beautiful and complex sentence structure in this genre. Instead, it is an entirely different kettle of fish. Think sprats vs sear fish! They have different qualities and are both good for you!
We live in an age where different forms of learning are part and parcel of education. You hear of terms like 'visual learner' 'auditory learning' and so on. I think this genre works well for visual learners. The story is conveyed in two forms - the illustration and the text. Writing is typically minimal, but that does not mean it is sub-standard. Vocabulary can be quite advanced in certain cases. Think of it this way - all the paragraphs devoted to a description of people and places in a novel are depicted through the illustrations in a comic/graphic novel so you get a similar input of detail. These books are also easier for slower learners or those with difficulties such as dyslexia to cope with, keeping in mind that audio books are rarely available in our bookshops.
Next, there are parents who are concerned with the violence in comic books - although it is good guys vanquishing bad guys, there's still violence, right? Well, it is the traditional comics like Superman or Spiderman that always have punches thrown. You will find below some other options that are a lot more child-friendly.
Then, there is the objection to cost. Comic books run into multiple issues/episodes, and once you start reading you have to sink in a lot of money to keep buying the next booklet to find out what happens next. Not anymore. There are options out there that are stand-alone, where the story ends in that issue and the decision of whether to purchase another copy is purely up to you.
Another problem is how the characters are sometimes depicted in traditional comics and the 'adult content' that no parent wants young kids exposed to - just take a look at some of the costumes worn by female characters, for instance! However, Marvel and DC seem to be aware of these and you get more child-friendly illustrations in certain versions (check out the Super Powers series, and the Superhero Girls).
And think of this - you can even cut down on TV time by giving the kids a comic version of their favourite character! You could also alternate reading responsibility as a family bedtime story, where different people have to read out the speech of chosen characters. My kids like to use different character voices and put in the sound effects, so it becomes quite a creative exercise. My 3-year-old even likes to put in his own dialogue (with a smattering of 'jinkies!' when reading Scooby Doo) and narrate the story guided purely by the illustrations!
And, finally, there is the concept of holistic learning. It is always advantageous to introduce various art forms to children. Just because they read a few comics / graphic novels does not mean they leave aside traditional storybooks altogether. As a parent, you can provide them with an eclectic collection that will broaden their minds.
Now, to get down to a few specific books...
X-Mickey: In the Mirror
This is a supernatural Disney adventure starring Mickey and some new friends. No, that is not goofy sitting with Mickey on the rooftop - it is Pipwolf, a werewolf who can cross dimensions.
The story opens with Mickey walking Minnie home one night. She loses a compact (mirror) on the way through the park. Mickey finds it on his way back home, only to realise that he can see a scary monster's face in the mirror instead of his own reflection. Events unfold and we meet a cast of new characters as Mickey discovers the truth behind the magic mirror and saves everyone from impending disaster.
The illustrations are colourful and full of fun, and the story moves quite fast. My 8-year-old son had two problems though - reading the panels in the correct order, and understanding the concept of other dimensions. However, we overcame those hurdles with a little explanation and patience.
There are other books in this Disney Comics series, including stories from Disney Fairies. (I found this at Makeens)
Tiny Titans - Welcome to the Treehouse
The Teen Titans have their own TV show and comic books, but it was only recently that I discovered this lovely version for younger children. These very young superheroes attend Sidekick Elementary. In this book, they spend an afternoon in the Batcave. The characters are cute and fun, and the story is about kids being kids rather than heroic actions and saving the day. There are also puzzles and games. There are a few jokes that require some background understanding of the characters, so any adult fan reading this to his/her kids will also have fun following their goofy antics. The entire effect is very playful and colourful and will be enjoyable for the whole family.
(Available at comic book stores like Red Dot Geek)
Scooby Doo Where are You?
I grew up watching Scooby Doo on TV and I have to admit I am thrilled that my kids too love the Mystery Inc. Gang. There are various versions of the Scooby Doo adventures. Some of the newer ones follow the adventures of a more mature Young Adult gang, with more obvious love interests and conflicts. The one I read with my kids is the traditional 'Where are You?' series. There are many graphic novels available online (like the Scholastic one) but I have not seen them in our bookstores here in Colombo. I did, however, purchase a DC comic version from Red Dot Geek. The issue has two stories that are reminiscent of the original Hannah-Barbara series. The dialogue is funny and full of the cliches we remember from the series, the ghosts are not scary and the locations exotic. You also get the Scooby Doo Team-Up version where the Gang helps comic book heroes to unmask villains.
If you use Amazon, you could also subscribe to the Scooby Doo Print Magazine which is delivered monthly at a reasonable cost. Unfortunately, they don't deliver to Sri Lanka, so you would have to send to someone in the USA who would then have to post it to you here... too long-winded unless you are a serious fan!
These are all available on Kindle too, and I discovered a cool feature when reading on my device. You can tap on a panel (comic strip square) and enlarge it so that you are reading it full-screen square by square! However, I do not know if it works on the Kindle App as well. The downside of reading comics on a Kindle device is the lack of colour.
There are also a host of Sri Lankan comic books now available in the market for very reasonable prices (more of that in another post!)
So, so long folks - keep reading! If you have any queries or comments please tag me on the Facebook post so that it comes to my notice!!!