I don’t know exactly when I learned to read, but it was sometime around four, and mostly I seem to have learned by
following the action in Disney comic books and relating it to the words. If I could con an older relative (my brother, ten years older and my cousin Natalia, fourteen years older were the prime targets) into reading the books allowed to me, I’d memorize the sounds of the words, then compare those to other words with same letters… anyway, you get the point.
Years later, when my younger son was having trouble learning to read (he was six, ferheaven’s sake) and didn’t seem inclined to – as his brother did – just plunge right into Roman History texts, I thought “I wonder if he’d learn from comic books.”
Of course, the problem at that point was that most comic books nowadays have material not suitable for elementary schoolers… or middle schoolers… and you should be careful about the high schoolers.
Unlike Europe, where Disney comics are ubiquitous and can be found everywhere on newsstands, and read by everyone including adults (several characters and series exist that don’t here, and anthologies come out all the time that contain, you know “all Junior Woodchuck” stories), I’d never seen Disney comics in the states. This was before the full hit of the new comic craze, too, so I didn’t even know where the next comic bookstore was. So I searched online.
After some brief and bizarre encounters – do you guys know there’s Uncle Scrooge/Donald slash? I mean, let alone the sheer wrongness (they’re DUCKS) there’s the incest. Never mind – I found the company currently publishing Disney comics… Or rather, just about to quit publishing them.
They were trying to get rid of stock and for $500 you could purchase something like 1000 comics of the Donald and Mickey lines. I had $500 and did – though in retrospect, I regret not having spent the $2000 and got everything they’d ever printed – and got this HUGE box of comics.
On the one hand they worked for the kid. On the other hand, I found that a lot of what they had were reprints of comics dating back to the depression era, stuff I’d never seen. In comics as in most other such stuff, Europe JUST does not reprint and therefore has a much “shallower” memory than the US in many ways (which sounds counterintuitive.)
I found out that I could learn a lot more about the texture of daily life from comics of the thirties and forties than from books about those time periods. For instance, I’d never heard of Victory gardens before, in all my copious reading. I also didn’t fully understand how people felt… Like, there is a contest where the prize is a job as a hotel bell hop. Think about it. The prize is a … job. (Yeah, we’re getting there.) But there were also a lot more revelations – like the fact that Mickey used to go around with a gun almost his size. Which makes sense, I guess. If you’re a small mouse in a man’s world you’d best be armed. Or what was considered a really good meal. Or the fact that when Donald needs to track his nephews, he puts radioactive buttons on their hats.
But possibly the most important revelations were those that are hard to state explicitly. The way courting couples treat each other, for instance (it’s not as chauvinistic as we’ve been led to believe, but it IS different.) Or the way kids were expected to act – in comparison to even bratty kids today, Donald’s nephews could only be qualified as demonic. (How did they go all goody two shoes these days? There’s an entire sociology and education thesis on that alone.) Mickey’s nephews are not much better. And it’s clear that this was not considered out of the ordinary.
Some of it I had reason to suspect, like that animals were a lot more “disposable” than today. Try doing a comic today with a hero just kicking an animal out permanently for misbehaving.
Anyway, there’s an education in them there comics. Even accounting for the exaggeration of the medium (and of course there is some. Distortion, too) it shows an almost completely alien way of life, one that’s foreign to us and that is hard to intuit from scholarly works.
By the way, you can get sort of the same sort of feel from mysteries written and published in the first half of the 20th century. A feel for a life that was completely different in ways that more serious studies won’t allow you to see and that movies often don’t show. For that matter, mysteries are better than main stream novels simply because in mysteries, clues and circumstances are built of the quotidian. So, “normal life” holds center stage.
The past is another country, but comics – and sometimes mysteries – give you a visa to visit