Watchmen co-creator will spend stint championing role of comics in improving literacy.
CAROL Ann Duffy has been flying the flag for poetry as Britain’s poet laureate for the past five years, while children's laureate Malorie Blackman has been championing children's books since last summer.
Now Dave Gibbons, the comic book artist and writer who created the groundbreaking Watchmen series with Alan Moore, has just been named Britain’s first comics laureate.
Gibbons, who has also worked on 2000AD and Doctor Who, was appointed to the role by the recently established charity Comics Literacy Awareness. He will spend his two-year stint, which starts in February, acting as an ambassador for comics and their potential to improve literacy, championing their role in getting children reading, visiting schools and attending training events for staff and education conferences.
Comics, said the author, are often sidelined in Britain – something which is not the case internationally. “In France, comics are called the ninth art, they stand alongside music and literature,” said Gibbons. “But one of the problems comics have always had in this country – and this isn't so prevalent in Europe – is they have always been associated with very cheap and somewhat lurid entertainment.”
Gibbons said he had “vivid memories of the prefects at my school going through my desk and confiscating comics and burning them”.
He added: “There were scares in the 50s about trashy American horror comics, and there has been this notion that comics are very low culture. I’ve never believed that at all. The idea of telling stories or imparting information with a combination of words and pictures is a fairly universal thing, geographically and historically.
“I loved comics from the age of three or four. I learned to read before I went to school so I could see what was going on and they inculcated in me a lifelong love of reading.”
According to Gibbons, “comics are a very vibrant art form in their own right ... part of the continuum from novels through to movies and computer games”, and are also ideally suited to encouraging children to read.
“They are very accessible. I think children naturally gravitate to their particular mix of brief words and exciting, interesting pictures. They can do everything from spin yarns of derring-do to things which are very educational in the sense of history and science – virtually everything,” he said. “What we have to do is show what is out there, not just the Beano and Dandy and Batman stuff, but to show the range of the medium.”
But even in Britain, things are changing, said Gibbons. “My son went to the same school as me, 30 years later. When they discovered his dad did comics, they got me in to talk about them, and asked me for a recommended reading list. I saw a recent prospectus for the school, and it included a page of famous old boys. As well as Tim Rice and Stephen Hawking, it also had Dave Gibbons, the comics guy. To go from burning books to being proud of that fact is a big step."
The creation of the laureate role, which will go to a comics writer or artist in recognition of their “outstanding achievement” in the field, is just one of a range of activities planned by new charity Comics Literacy Awareness with the intention of improving children's literacy by raising awareness of the variety and quality of comics and graphic novels. Its trustees include publishers, authors, librarians and academics.
“In many other countries, comics and graphic novels have been used extensively in literacy drives," said charity trustee and graphic novelist Bryan Talbot, winner of the 2012 Costa Award for best biography for Dotter Of Her Father's Eyes, on which he collaborated with his wife Mary Talbot.
“The sheer accessibility of the medium, the way in which complex information can be easily absorbed through its combination of words and pictures, actively encourages reading in those intimidated by endless blocks of cold print.” – Guardian News & Media 2014