I don't get asked to speak at many conferences, so I was delighted to be asked to talk yesterday at the Wiltshire Schools Boys Writing Conference. 150 teachers from schools in that county were addressing the problem of literacy and boys, why they struggle in comparison to girls and what approaches can be taken to tackle this.
I was very pleased to find a couple of the speakers, one of whom was presenting the results of a government funded survey on the subject, had made very similar observations to my own, but delivered them in far more impressive academic terms than I can. One key point is the visually-oriented learning that a lot of pupils have, and that I had and still have, which means that the marriage of words and pictures presented in the comic strip is a vital and incomparable learning tool. The speech bubble was what led to me having the best reading age of my school year at primary school. Because, from the age of 5 or 6, I was reading Marvel comics, and seeing overlong words emanating directly from the mouths of these colourful characters. So I could read the visuals and, by association, work out the written words.
That, and many other of the things I pointed out in an overview of my Comic Art Masterclass and comics in general, seemed to chime with a lot of the teachers there, and I hope to be working with one or two of them to develop projects in schools to utilise comics in education in a more structured fashion.
I was left with one task I'd set myself, and that is to come up with a recommended list of comics or graphic novels for libraries. What would I suggest schools get in? It's hard. I can think of one or two classics - Persepolis, Maus - and a couple of failsafes - Asterix, Simpsons comics. But is that really enough?
Here is the list of recommended reading I've doodled, as suggestions for what primary and high schools could get in as graphic literature that would interest someone who has either never read a comic before or who needs encouraging into reading. What would you add?
Manga (Naruto? What else?)
Fables (but beware language, poss not for primary school)
Watchmen (but is it interesting to non genre fan?)
V For Vendetta
Batman - Killing Joke? Year One? Dark Knight Returns? Arkham Asylum?
Spiderman (can't name a book myself?)
Ultimates (genre fans only?)
Preacher (poss not for any school, but would try for high school)
Lucky Luke (vanilla, but safe)
The Spirit (or too archaic?)
Alice In Sunderland (poss too academic for kids?)
When The Wind Blows
Ghost Town (too boring for kids?)
American Splendor (ditto?)
Doonesbury (though I've never met anyone else who likes it)
Sandman (too dated?)
Surely there must be more out there, that requires no prior knowledge of comics and isn't just about superheroes or other comics. Suggestions please.