Comics as a Gateway Drug

Art Spiegelman famously said, “Comics are a gateway drug to literacy.”  I can attest to this as it seems my daughter is hooked.

Embarrassingly, it all started because one day I was too busy to read to her when she asked for a story.  Being a resourceful sort of parent, I set her up on my computer with the TOON Books web site, where she could have the stories read to her. I could do my thing, and she could do hers. It quickly became her favorite place on the web (overtaking the #1 spot long occupied by PBS Kids). There are only a handful of stories, but she happily “reads” them again and again.

On a recent Saturday afternoon at the library, she was positively delighted to discover the TOON Books are “real books too” when she happened upon Stinky by Eleanor Davis.  We took a Benny and Penny book home that day, and I put the soon-to-be published Benny and Penny in Lights Out on hold for her.  My daughter has loved books since she was tiny, but I’ve never seen her so excited about them until these comics.  You want to know the best part of being a parent? Watching your child find something they love.  Best thing ever.

Connecting with these books has Ladybug drawing and writing more. She is making up stories and putting on puppet shows based on the characters she loves.  These books have inspired a theatrical storytelling from my four-year-old that is kind of exhausting but mostly awesome. She is currently of the opinion that all books should be read very dramatically with different voices for each character.  She’s happy to play Penny in any reading of a Benny and Penny book.  She recites from memory of course. :)

My daughter’s entry in our library’s summer reading program illustrates Benny and Penny in the Toy Breaker.

Since I’m now the graphic novel guru in my office (or I try to be anyway since our real Graphic Novel Guru left us for another job) this TOON into Reading guide landed on my desk.  If I was ever in doubt of the value of comics before, I certainly have been won over to them now.

The activities page in TOON into Reading with my daughter’s comic.

Now if you will excuse me, my daughter is about to put on a puppet show with her Benny and Penny popsicle stick puppets.  I don’t want to miss it.

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What’s Next for Comics? What’s Next for Stories?

Are digital devices a “Gutenberg moment” for comics and graphic novels?

It seems an appropriate question to consider on the blog since it is Minneapolis Indie Expo weekend.  There is no better place to explore indie comic artists and publishers than MIX.   It was also timely that Kerri Miller explored the question on her show on MPR earlier this week with Scott McCloud, author of the fabulous Understand Comics, and Karen Green, librarian and columnist at Comixology.  It was a fascinating discussion for me, whose knowledge of graphic novels is probably greater than the average person–since it is an important aspect of my job–but far from an expert.

I am also an outsider on the ebooks vs. print books argument since format really isn’t an issue for me.  I am in it for the stories.  I am, however, very interested in the ways that format and story interact as I mention in my post about Jonathan Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes.  McCloud actually mentioned that both print books and electronic books have been getting more interesting since the advent of ebooks as people become more aware of format and choose to use the format to its full possibilities.  It’s a changing scene for story no matter the format, and I am excited  to see where we are headed.

  People have strong opinions on how we ought to read books, especially books that are art as well as text, and I am not out to change anyone’s mind.  I am merely watching, reading, and listening to the conversation–here is a great post about iPads & literacy–and enjoying the stories–Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary (which comes out in January 2012) and Empire State: A Love Story (Or Not) were recent favorites.

The MPR show ended with urging listeners to check out their local libraries–especially graphic novels.  Now that’s good advice, but don’t miss the Mpls Indie Expo.  You have ’til 5pm today.  After that you’ll have to wait until next year to have all that great talent in one place.

Zinefest 2011

This year’s zinefest was different for me.  Instead of popping in to browse the tables for an hour or so, I was sitting at a table for most of the afternoon watching people walk by.  I was grateful to be next to some very interesting tables.  On one side there was this:

As you might imagine, it attracted a fair amount of attention.  Some people were confused about whether they got to take a penny or had to give one, but most got it and were delighted.  I was  surprised at how few people asked about what was going to happen to the thoughts.  In case anyone reading is wondering, the thoughts will be immortalized in zine form to be sold at next year’s zinefest.  If you need one reason to come back next year, that’s it.   I am sure that Monica will be doing something very interesting.  I picked up her children’s story “The Land Sick Pirate.”  It’s very cute, and I think that Ladybug will like it.

The table to my left was also quite eye-catching.  Tiffany, the artist behind Hyena Zine, had several handmade hyenas decorating her space:

The adorable hyenas were accompanied by comics that satirize relationships.  Highly recommended for anyone interested in feminist issues.

I also traded for a zine by illustrator Aimee Pijpers about people who ride the bus.  As a regular bus commuter, I know many of the people/types profiled in this small zine.  I look forward to the second installment.   Greer Lawson was giving away copies of her zine A Bunch of Different Kinds of Ponies, which is rather amusing.

The zinesters involved in the fest contributed to the How-To Encyclopedia, which includes lots of great information.  Zines aren’t just for poetry and personal expression.   They can be useful resources too. I contributed a page with tips for talking to kids about people with physical disabilities or differences.  One of my suggestions was, of course, read books about people who are different.  I directed people to my wiki for suggestions.  Here is the list for those who want to get started now before their kids start asking (or if you just want to explore some interesting books).

Happy reading!

I had the same zines for sale at the fest as I did back in July at Genrebeast.  The most popular item was What People Say, which is a zine about the things people have said to me about my prosthetic arm.   I got some good feedback, and I feel even more inspired to write and create zines.  Thank you to everyone involved in the 2011 Twin Cities Zinefest for a great afternoon.

I’m already looking forward to next year!  Meanwhile my zines are available for online purchase here.