Comics: Girls, Boys and Reading

Okay, so it wasn't the San Diego Comic-con, but the Montreal event satisfied my curiosity. We took the kids expecting to find plenty of kid friendly activities, only to discover that they were geared to the "big" kid, especially to Star Wars and Star Trek enthusiasts, which I don't count myself among. The only star I recognized was Elvira, but my husband expressed some excitement when he saw Data and Chewbacca, characters of Star Trek fame. Or was it Star Wars? There were some gifted illustrators on hand, but they didn't work fast enough to hold my three-year-old's attention, so we kept walking.

What I hadn't expected was the many stands of vintage comics, and I found myself once again taking a stroll down memory lane.

As a kid, I loved comics, but there weren't many for girls. Wonder Woman didn't appeal to my sense of adventure. Would you want to find yourself in the jaws of a large cat? (See cover below.) And although I read a lot of the Archies, they didn't really make much sense to me. Who would be interested in Archie to begin with? And too much of the storyline revolved around Betty and Veronica competing for Archie's attention, setting up generations of rigid stereotypical gender roles.

I took this random picture of an Archies comic cover, and only noticed the content when I got home Archie: commenting on Veronica eating cake. Why does this irk me so? And they wondered where eating disorders came from in the 1980s! So where were all the comics for girls? Possibly the subject of a future post.

Seeing these comics stirred some vivid childhood memories that were even clearer than those of Doctor Seuss. I could readily recall memories of the Tarzan and Spiderman comics. Was it because we also watched the Spiderman cartoon and Tarzan on TV, or was it because of the realism of the images? Maybe I thought that this was closer to real life. Not very encouraging... Look at the position and costume of the woman. Obviously, she's not on her way to becoming an executive any time soon.

At any rate, the impact of comics was much greater than I ever thought, and if they still can attract adults in their 30s, 40s and 50s then why weren't our teachers capitalizing on comics as a teaching aid when we were children.

As a child, comics were low culture and apparently inappropriate for learning how to read. I thought that this had changed until my daughter's teacher discouraged her from bringing in a comic for reading time. But I'm still unclear if it was this particular line of comics (Captain Biceps), or if it applied to all of them.

Do you know a boy or girl who doesn't like to read?

According to the Canadian Council on Learning (CCL), comics may be the key to increasing literacy among boys, who have traditionally lagged behind girls in reading. In fact, a Program for International Student Assessment study found that 15-year-old Canadian girls outscored 15-year-old Canadian boys by 32 points.

Apparently more visual learners, boys don't enjoy reading pages and pages of text and instead opt for shorter types of prose, such as newspapers, magazines and comics. Boys are also more interested in fantasy, science fiction, adventure stories, how-tos and comics than girls, which the CCL reports are under-represented in traditional classrooms.

But comics teach other things that are not taught in prose-based books--visual literacy or the ability to understand and respond to a visual cues. Comics apparently teach young readers to follow a sequence of events, predict what will happen next and enhance a child's ability to read symbols.

What's more, comics give all students more practice in understanding printed material and tracking left to right and top to bottom. The CCL also points out that comics are a great tool for teaching a second language and for assisting students with learning disabilities.

Overall, comics constitute a great learning tool. We just need more of them that appeal to girls.

Super-powered Literacy, the Benefits of Comics in the Classroom

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John-WArd Leighton | October 16, 2010 at 2:30 PM

One of the subjects in English class was how low brow comics were in comparison to "real books". My Mom would not allow comics in the house so we had to go to our friends to see any.

My English teachers were quick to point out that comics were the main staple of reading in the prison system using the scare tactic that if you read comics you were headed for jail and a life of crime.

But that was then and this is now and with boys falling behind in literacy any aid which will get them reading should be used.

Jack Ruttan | October 17, 2010 at 12:29 AM

Check out the Drawn & Quarterly store on Bernard Street near St. Urbain, for a taste of what comics can really do.

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