Who doesn’t like comics? Actually you’d be surprised to know that there are many who don’t. The thing about comics is that one can’t be indifferent to them. One loves them or hates them or looks at them with disdain. But indifferent? No way!
What is it about comics that elicits such extreme responses? And why are they considered bad for children by many? First let us look at the good points:
- Like Picture books, comics tell the story in pictures – lot more pictures and so are interesting for children.
- Large chunks of text can be intimidating to children who have just begun reading by themselves.
- They help children develop reading skills and learn new words even if some might be difficult. They develop their vocabulary by reading words in the context of the narrative.
- Boring topics can be made interesting and easy to understand by breaking them down into smaller illustrated bites.
- For many children it is the first step towards reading books without illustrations.
- Classics and epics can also be easily understood in the comic book format.
And the bad points?
- Children tend to believe that the comic book heroes are real and try to emulate them with disastrous results as had happened after the Superman and Spiderman series were launched.
- The language can be inappropriate for smaller children with bad grammar and swear words.
- It is not considered good ‘literature’.
- The idolization of negative characters can be bad for the psyche of the child.
- Action comics with too much violence and horror comics with their gory and gruesome visuals can lead to nightmares or worse.
- While some might consider the superheroes series as being good, for in them the good triumphs over evil, others might not agree. Even the seemingly harmless and innocent Archie comics have come under feminist ire as being bad for girls. And some find negative tones in the Tom and Jerry comics too.
Not too long ago, comic strips were part of the daily papers. One of the most popular comic strips, Calvin and Hobbs, at the height of its popularity, was reportedly syndicated by nearly 2400 newspapers worldwide. When I was growing up, newspapers serialized comics making one wait for the next day’s paper to read what happened next. Today except for some regional papers they are relegated to the city sections and supplements or dispensed with altogether.
Comic books as we know them came into being in the 19th century. According to Wiki, Histoire de M. Vieux Bois by Swiss caricaturist Rodolphe Topffer was the first comic book published in 1828. Its English translation The Adventures of Obadiah Oldbuck, was published in 1841 in England. Comic books have come a long way since then and we have even graphic novels for adults, though I have not read any.
When comics had first hit the stands in the West and parents were buying them by the armloads for their own and their children’s reading pleasure, there came warning notes from psychologists, notable among whom was Fredric Wertham who, in his book Seduction of the Innocent, published in 1954, argued that comic books exerted such negative influence on children that they were psychologically damaged for life. He also objected to the advertisements of firearms and such in these comics, which could work in an insidious way on the minds of children.
The major chunk of this genre is still monopolized by the superheroes including Superman, Batman, Spiderman and Supergirl, followed by action comics. Marvel Comics and DC Comics lead the bandwagon in these segments.
In India, the Times of India was the first to bring out comics with their Indrajal comics in the early ’60s, which featured Phantom, Mandrake, Rip Kirby and others. By the late ’60s, Uncle Pai (Anant Pai) had started Amar Chitra Katha, published by India Book House. He later launched Tinkle, a comic magazine for children. However, it was in the 70s and 80s that this industry saw a flurry of activity with Raj Comics, Diamond Comics and others entering the fray. However, apart from Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle, the rest of the comics were Indianised versions of the western superheroes. Shaktiman, loosely based on Superman was a big hit and was even made into a TV serial later. Others included Parmanu, Super Commando Dhruv, Doga and Nagraj. Each of them had some super power and fought evil. Some, a la Superman were visitors from another planet. Among all these superheroes, Chacha Chaudhary stands apart with his own huge fan following, though even these comics had an alien in the form of Sabu! Pinki is another popular creation of Pran, the creator of CC. The latest hero of children is Chota Bheem, but so far he is confined to the TV and DVDs.My friends Harshal and Anuradha have pointed out in their comments that CB has already come out in the comic book form. Thanks you for the update!
Despite all the fears of comics being corrupting influences on children, haven’t we successfully graduated to books without having turned to a life of crime or becoming serial killers? And we still enjoy an Asterix, a Calvin and Hobbs, a MAD or Amar Chitra Katha. If you are anything like me, you’d pick up a Tinkle — even at my age!
In fact, Amar Chitra Katha has made readers out of at least two generations of Indian kids. Its Tinkle characters Suppandi, Tantri the Mantri and Shikari Shambhu have become household names. So much so that when their creator Uncle Pai passed away a couple of years ago, lakhs of his readers mourned him. True, they might not have great literary value, but have for at least a couple of generations brought the myths, folk tales, epics, history and biographies within easy grasp of even primary school children.
And here is the something I had said I will share with you all.
Like many parents, I too had had my reservations about my children ending up only reading comics. While he was still in primary school, the elder one devoured Amar Chitra Katha, Tinkle and other comics by the dozens and then kept re-reading and re-re-reading them much to my dismay. I started fretting that he would never be interested in books. There were a good many children’s books at home, but he wouldn’t pick them up unless nagged incessantly. I kept threatening to give away the comics if he didn’t read other books. He didn’t take me seriously. So one day, out of sheer exasperation I carried out the threat and gave away all the comics to the kids in the neighbourhood. I reasoned that since he couldn’t do without reading, he would pick up the books willy-nilly. He did.
In hindsight, it was the most callous thing to do to a ten-year-old and I felt lousy for having done it immediately after. Of course, I did buy comics for him after that and he got a new and better collection, but he never forgave me for my misplaced act of charity – and has not, till today. Come to think of it, I have not forgiven myself!
The younger one, as I had said in the previous post, got interested in reading thanks to Chacha Chaudhary comics. What I didn’t tell you was that he was around eight by then. Better late than never, right? And though I was not happy about his reading the English translations of these comics, I didn’t do the same mistake that I had done with the older one and held my peace. I am glad I did.
Even while telling stories and reading to your children, encourage them to read by themselves; take them to the children’s libraries in your city; take them to bookshops and allow them to browse at leisure. You can spend many an enjoyable hour in a good book shop and help them select books of their choice. The advantage of bookshops and libraries is that if you feel that the book is not right for their age or the language is bad, you can gently steer them away to another section. Again, it is important to start the exercise early in their life before they lose interest in reading or become too lazy to read.
And talking of libraries, a good librarian can kindle an interest in reading and help children fall in love with books. How do I know? Well that is matter for another post 🙂
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