Yesterday, I attended and inspirational talk by Comics Laureate Charlie Adlard and Dr Natasa Lackovic from the GNC ReOPen project at Lancaster University, about how comics can encourage reading and how getting people involved in creating comics can be a transformative experience.
It was very encouraging (and I found out there’s even some recent scientific research out there, carried out by psychologists at Sheffield Hallam University which suggests comics are a better resource than text alone for students to learn new educational information – yowsa!).
The networking event in Lancaster, organised by Lancaster University and the Lakes International Comic Art Festival, was primarily aimed at regional and UK schools, libraries and creators, aimed at introducing them to the ReOPeN project and Charlie’s work as Comics Laureate.
I also met Matthew Burbridge. His project, “Wandering Brian” – due for release next year – offers students who struggle with dyslexia the option to read material of their age group and of their reading ability without being patronising.
There will be elements implemented to help the dyslexic readers improve their reading skills.
Matthew says he chose the name Wandering Brian for the comic book because being dyslexic himself, he says his brain always wanders off when in lessons and he also gets letters mixed up so if you swap the ‘I’ and the ‘A’ around you get brain.
It was also great to catch up with Cumbrian artist Gavin Pollock, who’s working on some amazing projects, one a story of mixed race Japanese children in Cumbria that;’s getting LICAF support.
“Comics are great if you’re seven or 77. There’s something for everyone. If someone choose just to read comics, that’s fine – comics is a medium, not a genre. The more we can make the reading comics less of a stigma [in this country], the better.”
He then headed off to give a public, packed out chat at the Grand in Lancaster which I’m told is being recorded, so look out for it on the GNC ReOPeN web site in due course.
While I think the event could have usefully had more time for a question and answer session, it was great to find out about comics work supported by ReOPeN, including one with two local schools here, one primary, one secondary, in partnership with the local Dukes theatre. Not only did the kids create comics, they then acted them out in drama classes and some have gone one step further and created stop animations based on their stories.
The whole project has been, the organiser told us, “transformative”, building confidence and developing skills – and earlier this year, it won the Dukes Cultural Partnership with Lancaster University the Arts Partnership Award at the inaugural North West Cultural Education Awards, which are dedicated to improving the lives of children and young people in the North West by connecting them with the very best arts, culture and creative learning opportunities.
The amazing art/ comic work by the pupils of Stepping Stones and Heysham High, a part of that comic project collaboration led by The Dukes and artist Ben Hunt, will be exhibited in Kendal at The Waterside cafe during the Festival weekend.
This experience echoes the work of comic creators such as comics creator and publisher Dave Elliott, who tells me that every year at San Diego Comic Con, he has been involved in several panels focusing on comics in the classroom and dealing with presenting issues to kids through the comics medium.
“Over the past five or so years, comics are becoming more and more accepted as tools to encourage reading in the classroom,” he says. “Two years ago, one teacher told me her school had taken control of recommended books for nine year olds as new rules had come into place where if a child cannot read comprehensively by that age they would be held back a year. They introduced purely graphic novels into the classroom.
“After three years they found that reading levels amongst all kid rose and their vocabulary nearly doubled. Comics have a long history of helping people learn to learn and read English.
“Keep them in every classroom!”