Comics, comics, comics!


I have in my possession a collection of comics dating back to the 1960s, about 5,000 in total. It’s not a fact which has been widely known as some of these are quite valuable. There is an almost complete series of Look & Learn magazine, the children’s encyclopaedic wonder, spanning all kinds of topics over a period of decades; there are whole series of Marvel and DC superhero comics, some of them classic; there are ancient and much-sought-after issues of such British treasures as TV Century 21, Smash! and Pow! as well as the more common but still highly valued Lion and Valiant and many others.

‘Why do you keep them? Surely comics are for children?’ I am occasionally asked.

Those are questions which it is hard to answer rationally if you aren’t a comics fan yourself. Comics mean so much more than they are normally given credit for. To really understand their value, you need to look at them differently.

I have written elsewhere about the balance, in reading, between pages of closely typed text and pictures giving some colour, reality or dynamism to what is being written about. Some children don’t like reading, not because they don’t understand the words but because they find it hard to have any affinity for page after page of text with nothing to really explain or show what the story is about. Give such a child a book with a suitable balance of pictures and words and he or she will normally take it up enthusiastically, and from it will learn in time to bridge over to pages of pure text. This is really what is behind the so-called ‘addiction’ to computers that is moaned about so much today -children like to have words balanced with action or mass, and to many of them, a page of text alone can be dry and uninteresting at first.

But there’s even more to it, really. How do we form our own views of what is going on in the world? What lies at the foundation of our imaginative thinking? A child’s early reading is about more than just teaching a child how to read: it’s about laying in the basics of how they will understand things around them. Developing an affinity for certain books enables them to decide early on what it is they, as individuals, like or don’t like in life; reading books is helping them to determine who they are and how they will deal with the world.

Comics can play a key role in this, especially the comics of the 1960s and 70s. Why? For a number of reasons. Partly because, for complicated social reasons which we don’t have time for right now, comics on both sides of the Atlantic at that time were strongly moral: there were heroes and villains and right always won against might. The world was a bright place: in TV Century 21, the comic based on the Gerry Anderson TV series like Stingray and Thunderbirds, almost every story was set in a glittering, futuristic society which had s