Tagged: Reading Is Fundamental

Mike Gold: How To Read American English Comics

Mike Gold: How To Read American English Comics

When I stop to think about it – and, obviously, I just did – it’s a miracle I’ve learned how to write and speak American English… at least to the extent that I have.

Like a great many comic book fans, I was a precocious reader. This was long before The Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy was revealed to be in Mensa – an organization that could double as ground zero for Geek Culture. I learned how to read because my sister is almost seven years older than me and she got stuck with the chore of babysitting. Marcia would read me her comic books and I quickly discovered the comics page in the old (and deeply missed) Chicago Daily News. Between the newspaper and my sister’s comic books, I became an incessant reader.

The problem was, that newspaper carried such brilliant strips as Pogo, Li’l Abner, and Abbie an’ Slats. Many of the characters in those strips didn’t speak American English or British English or any other recognizable form of our mother tongue. Pogo and Albert and friends spoke Okefenokee Swamp English, a dialect so thick it would baffle Tennessee Williams. Abner, Daisy Mae, “Bathless” Groggins, and Slats Scrapple spoke a particularly cloistered version of hillbilly. Both Li’l Abner and Abbie an’ Slats were created and written by Al Capp, although Capp gave the A&S writing chores over to his brother Eliot Chaplin after World War II.

As you can see from the art scattered around these words, they simply did not have United Nations translators for these features.

The Daily News carried other strips, of course, but those three were among the truly brilliant. I also enjoyed Louie – a pantomime strip that, by definition, was bereft of dialogue.

I suspect my love of Golden Books was the counter-influence that put me on the straight-and-narrow. I graduated to biographies, which I love, and then to science-fiction and heroic fantasy and history. All of this happened because my sister read me her copies of Superman, Katy Keene and Mutt and Jeff.

So it is no surprise that I am a huge supporter of early reading programs. I’ve done a great deal of youth social service work in my life, and I’ve taken every opportunity to help such programs as Head Start, Reading is Fundamental, and Literacy Volunteers.

These programs work.

I remember when, back before Coggia’s Comet was discovered, the legendary Maggie Thompson wrote about how she and her husband Don used comic books as reading tools in raising their family. Damn, that worked out fine. It was difficult for me to convince some that comics would be useful in this endeavor back in my earliest days, but with great movie box office comes great acceptance. Drop a copy of Ultimate Spider-Man Magazine or Scooby-Doo Magazine in a kid’s lap and help the child read it. Discuss the stories afterwards. Watch their sense of wonder grow right before your very eyes.

Not only will you be forging the next generation of readers, but you will be keeping the sundry literary markets alive. That includes comic books, which easily could be replaced by superhero movies and television if we don’t get circulations boosted up.

This, in turn, will inspire the next generation of comics creators. It will be wonderful to see where the post-Millennials can take us.


Martha Thomases: A Yuletide Call To Action


Merry Christmas!

I don’t celebrate, of course. Well, I do, sort of. I volunteer at the hospital, helping Santa deliver gifts to the kids who are in-patient. My Santa is Jewish. His wife (and elf) is Jewish. So am I. We are the Shabbos goys of Christmas.

Just because it’s not my holiday doesn’t mean that I ignore the season of comfort and joy. Coming so close to the New Year, it makes me think of how to improve myself and the planet for the next twelve months.

It is possible for me to get discouraged when I think about these things. There are so many important problems to be solved – climate change, income inequality, terrorism, racism, sexism etc. etc. I don’t have any ideas that are big enough to solve these. I can’t do it all by myself.

(Aside: Thinking I have to do it all by myself is a form of grandiosity.)

So, the challenge, as I see it, is to find a finite problem and a community that might be able to solve it. I think I’ve found the problem, and I think we, as the comics community, are up to the task.

A while ago, I read this story about the growing and unmet demand for story-hours for children, especially pre-school children. Research shows that the single most important thing contributing to a person’s success is having access to books as a child.

We are comics-lovers. We love to read. We should find a way to connect with under-served communities and read to their kids.

Here are some of the challenges:

  1. We will need to find locations that are open to the public and safe for children under the age of five.
  2. We will need to find a stash of appropriate books.
  3. We will need to learn what laws cover activities like this, and take steps to be in compliance with them.

Here are some of my first thoughts, by number.

  1. Some of the bigger and better comic book stores have reading areas. Perhaps they would donate an hour or two each week for this purpose.
  2. There are excellent books for children in this age group in our medium. We might be able to raise money to purchase them, or contact the publishers for donations.
  3. Perhaps there are lawyers who are comic book fans who could advise us.

These aren’t all the problems we would face, nor are my suggestions necessarily useful. It’s not a way to reach every child in need. If anything, the kids who need it most are the hardest to involve, since they are most likely to have parents who work several jobs, don’t speak English, or are just plain apathetic.

Still, it’s a start.

What do you think? Is this something we could do? Should we start in one space, and see if it works? Do you have other ideas?

Let me know in the comments. If you really want to get involved, send me an e-mail Martha@comicmix.com