My daughter started first grade last month and we are reading constantly – anything with words – street signs, food labels, chapter books, and of course, comics. She prefers comic books based on her favorite TV shows (SpongeBob SquarePants, Disney Fairies) along with a few that I enjoy myself, like Art Baltazar’s Tiny Titans… aw yeah, Titans!
I have found, though, that reading these stories aloud to her can be an unexpectedly awkward experience, one that may be useful for our conversations here at PPP. It’s hardly as straightforward and immersive as reading a novel and lacks the familiar rhythms of story hour at the public library, in which one recites the words in a picture book before pausing to display the accompanying images.
Instead you are compelled to provide your own attribution for the dialogue in a comic, taking care to describe visual components and abstract inferences along with any necessary exposition. You have to note the placement of narrative boxes, sounds, and characters before determining the order in which to convey the events taking place. And if you’re reading to someone fairly new to comics like my six year old, whose eyes roam wildly around the colorful pages, you may end up having to point out key elements in each panel. If you approach the comic as if it is Goodnight Moon, you will be left stumbling. The demands placed on both the reader and the listener (or viewer) are substantial.