Book Matters: The coolest thing you're not reading

Book Matters: The coolest thing you're not reading



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SALT LAKE CITY — What do you think of when you hear the words "comic book" or "graphic novel"?

Until recently, I thought of superheroes like Batman, Superman and the X-Men; of hordes of crazy fans gathering in San Diego each year, dressed in outlandish costumes; of groups of young guys gathering in comic book stores, pouring over the latest issues, spouting philosophical discussions on which superhero has the best power; and, I'll admit, the sarcastic quips of Comic Book Guy, the famous character on "The Simpsons." But I never thought of these books as part of my reading repertoire.

"Comic books are becoming more and more legitimate with mainstream readers, but many still see them as something only for superhero geeks or just boys, but that is not the case," said McLean Paul, a sequential imaging student at Broadview University in Salt Lake City and a longtime comic book reader.


Comic books are becoming more and more legitimate with mainstream readers, but many still see them as something only for superhero geeks or just boys, but that is not the case.

–McLean Paul, sequential imaging student


After talking with Paul and doing the research for this article, I was surprised and delighted to learn that there is so much more to this facet of reading than the stereotypes. In fact, comic books and graphic novels have something to offer every reader — young, old, male and female.

David Landa, owner of Dr. Volts Comics in Salt Lake City, said, "We have books for all ages and all tastes, and we are trying to get the word out to more readers."

Slowly but surely, the good word is getting to readers. Terry Thompson, author of "Adventures in Graphica," said, "In the past four years, we've seen an increasing number of graphic novels reviewed alongside traditional texts in our most trusted professional publications, and they currently represent the fastest growing section in most libraries and bookstores."

Why comics are good for kids

Donalyn Miller, a trusted teacher and reading expert who is known as "The Book Whisperer," said, "I admit that I did not see graphic novels as a valid form of reading for a long time. Researching the topic, I stumbled across Terry Thompson's book ... and received an education in the value of using this medium in the classroom."

Teachers all over the country are using comic books and graphic novels to help students learn to read and enjoy it.


Comic books can be a valuable bridge to reading traditional novels, a helpful transition from the picture books of childhood to the picture-less novels of adulthood.

In a guest post for Miller's blog, Thompson wrote, "Innovative style and delivery entice readers who are indifferent to other media or genres." He added, "Engaging graphics make the text more accessible and support readers in the act of making meaning, (and) popular themes with current topics invite readers to keep reading."

Not only can comic books be a form of reading motivation but also a way of "scaffolding" reading skills. "Inherent in their design is the way graphic novels merge text with visible representations of meaning that scaffold as (students) navigate through the pages. Since the text and the pictures are interdependent, their effects become synergistic," Thompson said.

Many young readers have benefited from comic books. Paul recalled, "When I was young, comic books helped me learn to read. Learning to read is a trial-and-error process, and the graphics help in that process." He continued, "As I got older, comics became reinforcement for reading novels."

Comic books can be a valuable bridge to reading traditional novels, a helpful transition from the picture books of childhood to the picture-less novels of adulthood.


"I'm dyslexic, and as a kid it was really hard to learn to read. But in second or third grade my uncle got me a copy of a Captain America comic book. ... "What I realize now is that the drawings kept my attention, kept me focused. It created a system that began to help me to read." -Al Leston, poet/playwright/radio host

My 5-year-old daughter, who just started kindergarten and is learning to read, loves "The Muppets" comic I recently purchased. As we read, the bright, engaging pictures keep her attention and she laughs at the silly story. I'm happy to provide more of these books for her as she continues her journey into reader-hood.

Comics have also helped kids with learning disabilities. Al Leston, a poet, playwright and radio host, recently blogged about the importance of comic books in his own life. He said, "I'm dyslexic, and as a kid it was really hard to learn to read. But in second or third grade my uncle got me a copy of a Captain America comic book." Leston continued, "What I realize now is that the drawings kept my attention, kept me focused. It created a system that began to help me to read."

If you have a hesitant, struggling or disinterested reader, whether it's a son or daughter, try a comic book. The result may surprise you both.

As with any form of reading, parents should be careful to screen for content, but as Thompson asserts, these books are a "valid form of literature." And not only for your kids.

Why comics and graphic novels are good for adults

"More adults should read these books," Landa said. "It's a form of entertainment, like movies — only it costs less."

I have not been disappointed with my first graphic novel adventure. On McLean Paul's recommendation, I picked up "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" adapted by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young.
I have not been disappointed with my first graphic novel adventure. On McLean Paul's recommendation, I picked up "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" adapted by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young.

Landa also said many adult books have great storylines, subject matters and excellent writing. Another advantage is the wait for the next book in a series is much shorter — every month, instead of every year as is the norm with a novel series.

Many favorite novelists have crossed over into the comic world, including Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, David Liss, Scott Snyder and Brad Meltzer. Famous screenwriters like Joss Whedon, creator of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Firefly," also write popular comics. If you are familiar with these authors, their graphic novels are a great place to start when venturing into this genre.

Another place to start is with something familiar. Marvel puts out a line of amazing adaptations of classics such as Jane Austen novels, "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," "The Three Musketeers," "The Man in the Iron Mask," "Ender's Game," Stephen King stories and many more.

I have not been disappointed with my first graphic novel adventure. On McLean Paul's recommendation, I picked up "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" adapted by Eric Shanower and Skottie Young. It's a completely different and wonderful reading experience. The art is stunning and the story so entertaining, beautifully reminiscent of L. Frank Baum's original masterpiece. It took a few pages to get used to the format, but honestly, I'm enthralled. Not only is this book an interesting read, but combined with magnificent illustrations, it's truly a great work of art, one I am proud to read and display on my shelves.

This part of the reading world deserves more recognition and more readers. If you love to read, love art and love a good story, then it is time to try a comic book or graphic novel. It will be well worth your time, as Comic Book Guy once attested to by saying, "I've spent my entire life collecting comic books ... and now there is only time to say ... LIFE WELL SPENT."

Book Calendar
  • Dr. Volts Comics: YU-GI-OH tournaments on Mondays and Thursdays, 4:30 p.m.; Magic: The Gathering, Sundays, 1 p.m.
  • The King's English Bookshop: author Garth Stein, Sept. 15, 7 p.m.; author Jennifer Nielsen, Sept. 17, 7 p.m.; author/photographer James Reeves, Sept. 20, 7 p.m.; author Amy Kalafa, Sept. 21, 7 p.m.; author Alexander Gordon Smith, Sept. 21, 7 p.m.; Love Times Three Event, Sept. 22, 7 p.m.
  • Dolly's Bookstore: author Garth Stein, Sept. 15, 7 p.m., at the Eccles Center Auditorium; Classics Book Club: "Dracula" by Bram Stoker, Sept. 20, 7 p.m.; Modern Book Club: "Hellhound on His Trail" by Hampton Sides, Oct. 6, 7 p.m.
  • The Purple Cow Bookstore: Mom and me event, Sept. 15, 4:30 p.m.
  • Utah Humanities Council Book Festival: Sept. 30 to Oct. 31, statewide.<
  • Children's Book Festival: Oct. 15, Tooele. Brunch with authors, 10 a.m. to noon, and free events, noon to 3 p.m.

To help you get started, here are some links and recommendations:

Kids and teens- Top 20 children's comics

Adults- Current best sellers

Landa and Paul also recommend the following:- Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" series
  • "Fables" series by Bill Willingham (also good for teens and girls)
  • Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' revolutionary "Watchman" series
  • "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" by Frank Miller, Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch
  • "The Ultimates, Volume 1" (teens and adults)

Next week: Banned books week — how many have you read?- - - - - -

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About the Author: Teri Harman -----------------------------

Teri Harman writes and reads from home amid the chaos of three young children. For book reviews, book suggestions and more book fun, visit book-matters.com. Find Teri on Facebook (Book Matters-Teri Harmon) or Twitter (@BookMattersTeri).

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