In Praise of Comics

I was having one of those “beached whale afternoons” over the recent festive period. You all know the one: sprawled across the couch, totally stuffed but still managing to find room for the box of Roses offering unyielding temptation from the coffee table, with a can resting delicately upon my midriff and my fuzzy head tilted in the direction of the television.

To use a term I only learned the other day courtesy of my library colleague Aoife and her Wonderful Words on Wednesday posts, I was stonkered!

On the television was an episode of The Simpsons in which a bored Lisa was complaining to Principal Skinner and criticising the low standard of education she was receiving in Springfield Elementary, where she offered as evidence of the curriculum’s dearth in quality the inclusion of “magazine time” in the classroom.

Immediately I perked up, and my gut reaction was to think to myself that if I were Principal Skinner then I would have sternly told Lisa to go stand in the corner and play her saxophone or to simply just get over herself.

You see, she hit a nerve with her condescending attitude towards the humble magazine, or ‘periodical’ as we like to call them in the library world.

When I was in primary school, an occasional treat on a Friday afternoon was a trip to O’Gorman’s newsagents in Mountmellick with my brother and sister where we would each get to choose a magazine, which in our case was a comic.

My sister would opt for Jackie or Bunty, my brother would decide between Match or Shoot, whereas I always plumped for Roy of the Rovers.

I absolutely adored that comic.

Before the name Roy became synonymous in Ireland with a certain Mr. Keane, it was the evergreen Mr. Race who would first come to mind when you heard this name within soccer circles.

I would forensically pore over every issue from cover to cover and aside from following Roy’s adventures with his team Melchester Rovers, I would read about Hot-Shot Hamish and Mighty Mouse and the hijinks that the pair would get themselves involved in, about Billy Dane who owned a magic pair of football boots that once belonged to a deceased star player, about the Goalkeeper Rick Stewart and the Terrible Twins, Guy and Gary Green, along with a host of others.

Because these “magazine time” sessions for the McEvoy children were only occasional, there naturally would be gaps in my knowledge of the storylines contained in this weekly comic whenever I did get the privilege to enjoy it.

And it must be mentioned at this point, that in fairness to Santa, every Christmas when I asked for a surprise he always knew a copy of that year’s Roy of the Rovers annual would be graciously received by my good self. He never let me down.

However, luckily for me a yearly family outing to the Upton Steam Rally in county Cork provided an opportunity to plug most, if not all, of these gaps relating to the comic’s various storylines over the previous twelve months.

In Upton there was always a stall that sold back issues of magazines, including Roy of The Rovers. These back issues were rolled up with an elastic band in random bundles of five and sold for 20p (old money). That stall practically took all the pocket-money I was allocated on the day as I bought whatever amount of these bundles I could afford.

I would then return to the car thoroughly delighted with my bounty, where I eagerly removed the elastic bands so as to inspect the magazines, and before indulging in the sheer joy of reading them, I would first set about carefully arranging them in strict date order on the back seat of the car.

Looking back on it now, you could say that I was displaying latent librarian tendencies even then!

For the record, however, I must state that my initial reaction to Lisa Simpson’s outright dismissal of magazines wasn’t entirely fuelled by the sepia-tinged glow of blissful nostalgia from my childhood which I have just described.

By disregarding magazines in the manner she did, Lisa was in fact undermining a very useful resource in the area of child literacy, where magazines, and comics in particular, can function as a gateway to more standardised forms of reading. This topic is probably more pertinent today than it ever has been.

For the young and the reluctant reader, comics and graphic novels are a great way of focusing their attention. The colourful images which are accompanied by short snippets of text offer a gentle introduction to the world of reading in terms of being able to follow the structure and narrative of any story, all which include a beginning, a middle and an end.

The stories themselves are action-packed and engaging, which keeps the reader interested and motivates them to keep going so as to find out “what happens next.”  This aspect also facilitates an appreciation of character development for the reader.

Comics can help children to develop an understanding of mood and tone due to the context and scenarios which the accompanying illustrations paint for them.

Crucially, they stir the child’s imagination and because reading them is quite an enjoyable experience, this can instil an inner confidence and curiosity in the young reader to expand the range and level of their reading material.

Perhaps most important of all, comics can only but improve a child’s spelling, grammar and vocabulary if these are underdeveloped or relatively poor to begin with.

Children’s magazines are available through your local library, and you also can access them online for free as part of your library membership through the Press Reader and RB Digital apps. See our video guides on how to access both of these resources by clicking on the following links:         Press Reader         RB Digital

©2021 Enda McEvoy (Laois County Library Service)

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