Graphic Novels – Good Book?/ Bad Book?

good dog bad dog‘Good Dog, Bad Dog’ by Dave Shelton is a book that came out of the weekly children’s comic ‘The DFC’. Set up by David Fickling in 2008, and closed for economic reasons at issue 43, its aims were to give respect back to comic books. It’s a great tale of canine detectives in New York, visually attractive and the stories are fun with plenty of ‘Yow!’, ‘Whump!’ and ‘Grrrrrr!’.

At Bright Books, we believe that one way of encouraging children to read books willingly, is by advocating graphic novels such as ‘Good Dog, Bad Dog’. So, following on from a previous Bright Books’ Blog on ‘The Validity of Graphic Novels in Schools’, I’d like to add a bit more detail into just why Graphic Novels can help to improve literacy.

Literacy is a skill that has to be learned but if children do not have a desire to read in the first place, they are neither motivated to learn nor interested in putting their skill to use. I think that graphic novels may just be able to ignite the spark that fuels a love of reading.

We’d all love it if children, teenagers, young adults, call them what you will, rushed headlong into full length novels with small print, long chapters and not an illustration in sight. And yes, some of them do. But we live in an increasingly visual world, bombarded by television, films, and magazines, not to mention billboard advertisements, on our streets. Even our phones, once purely aural devices, are now increasingly visual. Icons and photos have overtaken the written word in conveying information.

To survive as a form of entertainment, books have to compete with the modern world. And they can do, as long as readers are prepared to commit to a few hours’ solitary peace and quiet. But reading a book requires discipline, and a pre-knowledge that this commitment will be worth it.

This knowledge has to be learned and if children are brought up in a household where there are not bookshelves full of books, or adults gaining enjoyment from reading, it can be a real struggle to get them to engage in reading.

Graphic novels can teach the art of reading books without the distraction of all those cumbersome and maybe unfamiliar words. They can teach things that may seem obvious to seasoned readers: the pages need to be read in order, left to right; the characters are introduced and then developed; there is a story to be put together from the frames; and there is (generally) an introduction, an exposition and a conclusion.

The reader may complete a speedy first ‘reading’ but may well want to repeat the exercise to catch nuances they may have missed. They can then move on to another book with heightened expectation. Graphic novels can have many layers of meaning. There are the pictures, the text, and then the interaction of text and pictures together. Sometimes the pictures and text are complementary, but in the best books there is a slippage between the two which can add subtlety and irony to the meaning.

And don’t get me started on the codes of pictorial composition used to convey emotion and meaning (possibly material for another blog post!). When well designed, they are complex structures which can both entice and retain reluctant readers.

merchant of venice

Raymond Briggs advocates the use of graphic novels for subjects that may be ‘difficult’ to explain. ‘Ethel and Ernest’ depicts his parents’ lives, before during and after the war. Shakespeare avoiders may just be pulled in by Gareth Hind’s beautiful monochrome ‘The Merchant of Venice.  Shaun Tan’s gorgeous book  ‘The Arrival’ has no words at all, but is a beautiful account of emigration and loneliness. Add to these the superhero novels of Marvel and DC and you have a rich stream of delight for anyone (reluctant or not) to dive into.


We stock a wide range of graphic novels and comic books,  published here and in the States, and our range is expanding all the time. We believe that they not only represent ways into literacy for some readers, they are art forms in their own right and deserve a much wider audience.

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