A Diet of Dummy-Books: How Comic Books & Graphic Novels Ignited My Love for Reading

1995-1996

Moshannon Valley Elementary School – Madera, Pennsylvania

My fifth-grade teacher (who will not be named in this blog in fear of summoning the demon that occupied her flesh) gave us a writing assignment for our composition books: write a story. Obviously, this woman was packed to the brim with inspiration & vision, right? We could write a story about whatever we wanted, so I did. I never claimed to be a usual child, I had a wild imagination, and wanted everyone to be excited about it. In that tan-and-red composition book I penned a tale about a child that goes to the doctor to get something out of his eye, and the doctor turns out to be an alien cyborg whose head walked around on metal octopus ears. The doctor would shoot tendrils—long string like appendages, often found on plants—to grab things. Mrs. “I look too much like my brother for anyone to be comfortable about it” says to me: “I don’t even know what that word means.”

This woman was an educator. An educator was giving me shit about using a big word that exceeded her understanding.

I learned that word from the pages of X-Men. The villain, Omega Red, would produce tendrils from his wrists. Mrs. Bitch-Britches made me feel bad because my capacity to learn vocabulary exceeded her ability to teach it. As an adult, I’m pretty proud of myself to have educated myself in such a way.

This story does have a point. Recently, I’ve seen a lot of debate about whether or not reading a graphic novel has the same merit as reading an actual novel for a young mind. To that end, I’d say it would depend on the child. I didn’t see anyone adding to their vocabulary like that from reading the Babysitter’s Club (and that is NOT a dig at the Babysitter’s Club). Digesting comic books and graphic novels had an actual educational value for me. As a storyteller, comic books were huge.

My first chapter-book I ever read was “Wolverine: Top Secret” by Francine Hughes. I remember this because I remember how much I voraciously DEVOURED that novel. In those pages I fell in love with reading books and how stories unfolded on the written page, in contrast to the visual page. After reading Wolverine, I would b-line for the book store every time we’d go to the mall after that.

If you find yourself asking “is my child getting anything out of reading graphic novels,” ask them to describe the story to you. Are they excited about how the story is progressing? Have they demonstrated they’ve learned something new? Has there been a change or evolution in their perspective?

If the answer to any of those questions is “yes,” then graphic novels do have literary value to your child or student.

There is magic in being engrossed in a story, to have feelings about how the story is unfolding. Comic books and graphic novels can absolutely be the source of the magic. It was for me.

Thank you for joining me on this trip across the Millerverse. I’ll see you next time!

Songs listened to while writing this blog:

  1. Super Rad! – the Aquabats
  2. Hope – the Descendents
  3. I’m Shipping Up to Boston – Dropkick Murphys
  4. Armatage Shanks – Green Day

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