Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Is this comics?

Is this comics?

I visit a lot of schools teaching comics, based on my 20+ years in the comics publishing business, and I like to think I know what I'm talking about when I talk about comics. So imagine my concern when, at one of my recent secondary schools, I found this display on the wall.

As you can see the subject is very clearly and boldly "Comics". And displayed beneath are two magazines, Peppa Pig and Dora The Explorer, neither of which, in my estimation, is a comic. These are childrens magazines for pre-school readers, neither of which contains a comic strip. You will find picture stories and you will find captioned picture stories, but mostly you will find games and puzzles and in neither of these will you find a voice bubble.

And, in my book, if there are no voice bubbles, it's not a comic.*

Comics, be they comic strips or comic books, whether you choose to call them graphic novels, managa, bandes dessinees or The Beano, are a clearly defined artform. They are the telling of stories in pictures. They are not illustrated picture books, usually intended for younger kids, where you have the words on one page and the pictures on another. Comics are the artform where words and pictures are integrated to tell a story.

Pre-school childrens magazines are not comics. So why are they being taught in schools as if they are? This is not, I must point out, a mistake only being made by this one school. Over the last few years I have found a number of secondary schools teaching, as part of Media Studies, a "Comics" module in which, as is the case in this school, the pupils are asked to design a front cover for a comic.

Yes, that is the sum-total of what they are being asked to do, under the banner of comics. To design a cover. Not to write and draw a comic. And clearly certainly not to understand what a comic is, since Peppa Pig and Dora The Explorer are being bracketed under the subject title while not actually fulfilling the criteria that would qualify them as comics.

So, for our secondary school pupils in the UK today, comics are not being taught. Instead these pupils, who in my experience respond positively to and learn a great deal from comics when they see them for real, are being asked to design a front cover for something loosely described as a comic while not being one. A lot of time is given to targeting an audience, designing and marketing. But none to the contents of an actual comic, ie the artform of graphic storytelling.

This is like pretending you're teaching Shakespeare when you're only looking at his posters. It's like studying film by learning how to design a DVD cover. For a video game. It's like telling someone they've learned how to cook when all you've told them is how to  write out a menu. Would poetry or music stand for this? Or sport?

Am I the only person who thinks that this is a dreadful misrepresentation of an entire artform that insults the intelligence of the students, adds to the ignorance of all involved, and does the artform and gross and damaging disservice?

I would love to hear other peoples opinions on this.

Kev F Sutherland

* Dictionary definitions include:

Comic stip: a sequence of drawings, either in color or black and white, relating a comic incident, an adventure or mystery story, etc., often serialized, typically having dialogue printed in balloons, and usually printed as a horizontal strip in daily newspapers and in an uninterrupted block or longer sequence of such strips in Sunday newspapers and in comic books. -

Comics: Comics is a medium of expression in which images, often incorporating text, information such as narratives. - Wikipedia

The OED has "comic strip" as a category and defines "comics" as an Americanism.

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