Comics: Eddie Campbell on comics and readability….

Published On March 2, 2013 | By Richard Bruton | Comics

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Eddie Campbel is writing over at The Comics Journal (as is daughter Hayley – very entertainingly). This is of course a good, good thing, as we’ve missed Campbell’s critical eye now that his blog isn’t being updated.

Here’s a little of what Campbell talks of in a long, involving, entertaining piece…. Campbell’s Rules of Comprehension:

“It would be reasonable to assume that you, a reader finding yourself on the website of a magazine titledThe Comics Journal, are able to read comics. I don’t mean that you are ‘literate’ in the regular meaning of the word, that you know your ABCs, but that you think of yourself as a person able to parse the various components of a comics page into narrative information. You may even be surprised, since you were probably able to do this from around the age of five or less, that there are citizens who have problems in this department. On the other hand, you may have once or twice given a comic to a regular citizen to read and found them baffled by it.”

Oh yes, I can definitely say I’ve done that. Most people can cope with comics, and we were always very proud of a reputation at Nostalgia & Comics to get a non-comics reader (usually dragged in by a spouse or child) to look at, to enjoy, and quite often buy, something or other once we’d determined the sort of comic they’d enjoy. But certain people just have a complete block on reading comics, the brain seemingly unable to process it properly, my dear, darling wife being one of these. It’s incredibly rare for a comic to grab her attention, and more often than not she passes them back unread (notable exceptions being Andi Watson, Kyle Baker’s Why I Hate Saturn, Terry Moore’s Strangers In Paradise). I even see it occasionally at school in the library where certain children just cannot seem to process the visual information.

Anyway, back to Campbell….

“I have in my l life met one or two people who were so well brought up that they had never read a comic. They tended to have an underdeveloped sense of humour. Whether there is a correlation between naughtily spending your lunch money on a Betty and Veronica Digest and having a well-honed grasp of the funny, I will leave to another time. But I have also met people, pictorially literate and unfazed by contact with the vulgar, who do not know what to make of a modern day comic book. I sympathise. The fact of the matter, make no mistake, is that I am on the side of the perplexed and mystified. Most comics today are visually unintelligible except to a few.”

And from there we’re off into a full analysis of the problem, using Bryan Talbot’s Grandville as an unlikely example.

Again, I have to agree with Campbell, as I’m seeing more and more examples of comics that simply don’t read “right”, visually…. at least to my old eyes. Whether it’s simple panel layout, or flashy visuals overwhelming basic storytelling, it’s happening at all levels, big publishers right down to the smallest self publishers. I reckon Eddie’s words are something many producing comics should be cogitating on.

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About The Author

Richard Bruton
- Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he's written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard's day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children's graphic novel library in the country.

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