Friday, 24 January 2014

Yesterday I brought home some comic books

from the library. Yes, comic books. They were not for me. They were for the benefit of the Senior Cat.
Some time ago we watched a short documentary programme about the way in which young Japanese, mostly girls, dress as their favourite "manga" characters. It is a "role-play" exercise. It puzzled the Senior Cat because he did not understand what "manga" was. I had to explain.
"Well could you bring some home for me to look at?" he asked me.
I had no excuse but I kept putting it off. I was slightly embarrassed by the idea of actually borrowing these things. 
There are two stands of these books in the library. Some of them are familiar Marvel comics (Superman anyone?) in the updated, slightly more robust library version, then there are various "classics" in comic version (Romeo and Juliet anyone?) and comics like Asterix and Tin Tin. And then there are Japanese comics - and you actually need to read the things from back to front because all they have done is wipe out the Japanese characters and replaces them with the simplest of English words.
And yes, they get borrowed. They are almost always borrowed by young adults - up to about their mid-twenties.
There are more comics, many more comics, in the children's section of the library.
"It's all some children have time to read," one of the library staff told me, "And it's all some of them want to read. I suppose it's better to read that than nothing at all."
I wonder about this. On my own bookshelves I have a number of examples of books intended for "slow" adolescent readers in a series called "Topliners" They were brought out in the late sixties so they are somewhat dated now but, looking at them, I think they might have more to offer than the comics. They are actual books with a plot and character development. They tackle social issues that concern teens. The best of them would have been very difficult to write.
At the time I can remember giving Adam King's "Who wants to be a dead hero?" to a teenage boy who had real problems with reading. It is an exciting story even now. He took it reluctantly but he had to read a book in order to pass English that year so take it he did. He eventually gave it back to me and said something like, "That was okay. Have you got any more?"
I wonder what his reaction would be now. He would not be expected to read that much. He could "study" a comic book instead. Perhaps he would read more of those but would they be challenging his reading ability? I don't know. I doubt it. He might "not have time" to read anyway - but my guess would be he would find time for computer games and that he could text his friends.
It's different now but I wonder if those comics in the library are really filling a need or if they have made a need where there is none and whether we might be better off with more "Topline" sort of books?
I know there are still some of these sort of books around. I know they are not easy to write. I also know that they are not put out on display in the way that the comics are. Our library has very few of them. Reluctant and less able readers are directed to the comics instead - if they go into the library at all. I know the comics are sometimes borrowed by parents trying to get their teens to read.
I find that sad.
The Senior Cat has duly looked at those I brought home. He knows about Asterix (which he finds amusing in written form) and Tin-Tin (he actually bought one for us when I was a mere kitten) and he knows about the Superman type comic but the Japanese one defeated him - even after he realised it was read, as he put it, "backward". He gave up after a few pages. He gave up out of boredom. It is just not his "thing".  I knew it wouldn't be.
They are going back to the library today.


Judy Edmonds said...

My son is addicted to them and consequently I have read a few. The vocab is actually quite complex and the storylines can also be so. I firmly stick to the idea that reading is reading, and used to have arguments with his English teachers about this. It is a literary form like any other. Having said that, I am not surprised the Senior Cat did not like them - I find them hard to read and they are not my first choice at any point. But as Alice said - what is a book without pictures? :)

I think we should be glad when people read anything, no matter what.

catdownunder said...

I'd draw a line at some reading Judy - and I suspect you would - pornography, exhortations of racist and religious violence come to mind - but generally I agree it is better to be reading.

Judy Edmonds said...

What you said, Cat <3

widdershins said...

Manga certainly isn't for everyone. A while back I too was curious and read a few. I couldn't get past the infantisisism/hyper sexualisation (probably not real words) and sexism.