Have you practiced reading digital manga?

Reading promotion with comics

1) Comics are a door opener to the world of reading

"Comics are a gateway drug to literacy." - Art Spiegelman (Pulitzer Prize winner, author of "Maus")

For children with reading difficulties, comics are perhaps the best introduction to the world of literature. Some children find reading long prose texts difficult and arduous. They do not have a satisfactory reading flow when reading script, no inner image - the famous “film in their head”. Comics offer these readers an excellent reading platform, because the images of the comic help them to read and act as a visual anchor for their reading experience. Both the number and the length of texts are manageable in children's comics. They are even visually demarcated in their own speech bubbles and text boxes, which gives children with reading difficulties additional motivation because they offer a low-threshold entry point. While reading a comic, you can simply let the pictures speak for once and visually follow the structure of a story. In this way, even weak script readers can read demanding stories without experiencing frustration and at a level that they would not be able to master in pure written form.

Good children's comics are mostly intelligent and funny short stories that can be read easily and fluently. The children can read a completed story relatively quickly and also once in between. You can also read comics page by page, i.e. in small bites, put them away again and divide the reading into reading portions. This clarity allows a further low-threshold access for weak text readers. Comics offer their readers a self-contained narrative system in which complex narrative elements are communicated very clearly. Many children can intuitively recognize that the spoken language is in the speech bubbles and that the narrative voice is delimited in text boxes. Even children with reading difficulties can read their way through an entire story in a relatively short time with appealing children's comics and find a satisfactory reading flow. And we want motivated young readers!

The vocabulary used in children's comics is mostly advanced, clever and also short and sweet. In this way, children learn how to communicate verbally appropriately and concisely. The texts in a successful comic must be precise and sufficiently evocative so that the comic ultimately reads well. Good comics are a combination of graphic design and poetry: every word has to be right within the composition of the picture. The pictures of the comic also illustrate the words used and thus explain or define them on a visual level. They also provide contextual information and thus also support learning the meaning of new words. You learn the meaning of unknown terms through several channels - namely verbally and visually - a fact that is particularly advantageous when learning a foreign language.

Comic pictures often convey emotional states of feeling and moods through the drawn facial expressions and posture, whereby children can connect the pictorial expressions shown with the words they describe. When reading comic books, the children also interpret the facial expressions depicted and thus learn to put themselves in the shoes of a character. Comics train empathic empathy, because when reading comics you can concentrate on a single, still image for as long as you want (in contrast to film, which lets the images run at a given speed and combined with sound).

2) The pleasure principle

Nobody can be permanently forced to enter the world of reading. Reading development is too complex for that. You only become a reader voluntarily. Some children like to read comics on their own initiative. Little comic readers can actually do nothing on their way to education, because in truth they have already walked a good bit of this way - the comics will gradually open up the wide world of reading to them. However, one potential source of danger lurks on the educational path of young comic lovers: Supposedly well-meaning adults who devalue the fact that children like to read comics. Value judgments by important caregivers influence children - especially when it comes to an intimate and complex matter like reading development. Then the embarrassed children may stop reading altogether.

The prejudice that comic book reading "educates" children for reading prose is still latent - but it has never been confirmed. Rather, experience shows that enthusiastic young comic senders later have no problems with longer and complex written texts. All you have to do is look to France, where comics are an integral part of everyday culture and - in a wide range in most households - are also read by many adults. I don't think the French people's great love for comics has harmed the quality of the country's literary output. Parents and teachers should definitely let the children enjoy reading comics, actively accompany them if possible and ensure that they make an exciting selection.

3) Visual education

Good comics are read several times. At first, the children usually read the stories briskly to soak up the plot. The second or third time, the comic is explored more carefully and more slowly - a kind of gourmet reading. The children can notice more details and visual narrative tricks and thus become aware of the authorship of a narrative. In this way, the children naturally learn to be sensitive to details and to think critically.

Pictures are said to say more than a thousand words. A good picture can have a lasting impact on the way we think about the world. A talented comic storyteller can distill several complex ideas from one image, which are then interpreted individually by their readers. Using the still images of a comic, it is possible to carry out image analysis even with the youngest. One can make the children aware of the ambiguity of images and show them the visual manipulation possibilities with which all visual media - comics, film and photography - work. A good tool for creating awareness at a very early stage of how we are influenced by visual information. Through computers, smartphones, print media and outdoor advertising, we are confronted with hundreds of images every day. The ability to keep a critical distance from visual information is the cornerstone of a visual education that is becoming increasingly important in our world.

4) Cognitive Complexity

"There's nothing in the medium that prevents it from being sophisticated." - Francoise Mouly (editor of the New Yorker, publisher of Toon Books and "Raw")

In terms of reading age, comics usually start where the classic picture book ends. In comics, however, the picture history principle is raised to a much more complex level: comic readers navigate independently through the many pictures on a comic page and create meaningful connections between the individual pictures. An interactive medium in which the individual images remain immobile on the page and the readers themselves first have to construct the action between the images by moving through the architecture of a page composition. And this very mental activity - the induction, reasoning, and making connections - is something that children do permanent: little philosophers constantly trying to understand the world around them. When reading comics, it is precisely this quality that is required. The individual images of a comic are ultimately only the selected excerpts that the authors show us - windows, as it were, through which we can see into the action. The actual action itself then only takes place in our heads.

Anyone who can read comics fluently can already read texts. A comic reader can also read texts in combination with image sequences - a special reading ability that is only mastered by a minority in adulthood in the German-speaking world. Heavy readers who enjoy reading several demanding novels a month are therefore not necessarily also fluent readers of demanding adult comics. Because comic reading is a specific skill, its own cultural technique that needs to be conveyed, learned and practiced. And only those who have mastered this ability can enjoy reading modern graphic novel classics such as Joann Sfar's “The Rabbi's Cat”, Hugo Pratt's “Corto Maltese” or Ulli Lust's “Today is the last day of the rest of your life”. Reading comics should therefore not only be seen as useful support for learning to read scripts in childhood. Being able to read comics is an independent skill that is a sufficient end in itself in promoting reading.

“When I want to relax, I read Engels. If I'm in the mood for something serious, I read 'Corto Maltese'. ”Umberto Eco


This text uses excerpts from interviews with Francoise Mouly (http://www.toon-books.com/) and articles from the reading support organization Eventilator (http://www.eventilator.de/comic-und-lesefoerderung.html) and the foundation Reading (https://www.stiftunglesen.de/service/publikationen-und-stoffen/material-jugend/1379/). With thanks to Jörg Vogeltanz for his corrections.

Sebastian Broskwa is the founder of the Pictopia comic distributor in Vienna.

May 2018