Comics - With A Touch of ClassA column article, Fool Britannia by: Regie Rigby
Sorry I’m late again – but this time it’s on purpose. It’s been a busy couple of days at school, and I wanted to wait until they were over so that I could tell you about them. You see, it’s been a while since I did anything with comics at school. Last year comics were on the G.C.S.E. Media syllabus, but to be honest we didn’t have much scope for doing anything fun as part of that course – it was pretty restrictive actually. Apart from that, it must have been five years or so since I ran anything to seriously get the kids at my school really involved in the joy of creating comics. And now all that’s changed and I am currently sporting a grin that’s too big for my head. Not that I can take too much credit for it, since I organised almost nothing – I was nothing more than a willing participant. You see this week is “reading week” at my school. For one week a year my school’s library devotes a whole week to really pushing the joy of reading, and this year Lynn, our esteemed librarian had dedicated the entire week to comics and graphic novels. Yesterday (which as I type was Wednesday) I took off my teacher hat and replaced it with my “Comics Writer” hat. Lynn had asked me and my colleague Chris Jones* to run a day long script writing course for a reasonably large group of kids – two thirds of whom had English as an additional language.** Preoccupied as I am with rocketry and space science projects at school (because that’s pretty much what you’d expect from an English Teacher after all) Chris*** took the lead in developing the teaching pack, but in spite of his hard (and high quality) work he wasn’t able to actually join in directly, having chosen last week to become a parent for the first time****. This left me alone, at the front of a room full of kids. It was brilliant! In what can only be described as a moment of utter genius, Lynn had decided to promote the event heavily amongst the students in school for whom English is an additional language*****. By recourse to what seems to have been the diligent calling in of favours she managed to get Chris’s teaching resources into both Polish and Turkish, and there were three translators****** on hand with an undisclosed number******* of languages between them. It would never have occurred to me to do this, but it was truly inspired – and it makes sense. After all, what little bits of French I know were learned not in lessons, but by reading Asterix books. Comics are a medium that sells stories in pictures, and they can be read whatever language you speak. There were other benefits too. Differing languages tend, more or less inevitably, to come from different cultures, and this only added to the creative spark that the kids fanned up into what can only be described as a veritable bonfire by the end of the day. They were unbelievable, these kids. Obviously the only scripts I could read were the ones in English (restricted as I am to English and a smattering of Russian), but I can confirm that they were utterly amazing. There was action, there was romance, there was all manner of dynamism, and many if not most of the kids were possessed of an apparently instinctive visual intelligence that led them to create some truly startling comics pages. I haven’t had so much fun in years - at least not without the involvement of rocket motors. More importantly, the kids were buzzing. Many of them left having well and truly caught the bug, and my only question now is “when can I do it again?!”******** and then, well, and then it just got better. Because today we had a genuine star in the building. Our own, our very own Tony Lee came over to talk to the kids, and was utterly, utterly amazing. I know he’s caught some shit for his tongue in cheek “The man, the myth, the legend!” banner at B.I.C.S. last weekend (for the full story go and check out his column) but honestly? At my school – a tough urban comprehensive in the North of England blessed with some of the most cynical, hard bitten and difficult to impress kids ever to turn up their noses at something – Tony Lee is now a legend. I missed all three of his talks because having let me play all day yesterday school was rather keen I actually do some teaching today, but I’ve seen the pictures, and I’ve spoken to the kids. Tony was not a mere breath of fresh air. He was a veritable whirlwind of fresh air. He danced. On tables. He encouraged random community singing. He joked, he rocked, he inspired. I had kids who I know normally have to be forced into books with crowbars and axle grease literally bouncing down the corridor to tell me how amazing it all was, that they were “definitely getting his comics” and, from my point of view far better still, proclaiming that they were going to get writing themselves. We’ve had writers in before of course. Some of them have been excellent. But I don’t think any of them have convinced the kids that this was a thing that they could actually do themselves. These are not kids from leafy suburbs. Many comes from houses where there are not only no books, there are no bookshelves. These are kids who see no value in reading, and who don’t know anybody else who reads either. And yet this guy in a waistcoat standing on a desk reached them. I’m not sure he fully comprehended just how astonishing an achievement this was, but everybody else there did. My colleagues are, in large part at least, every bit as hard to impress as our students, but every single one of them commented on the impact Tony made. Two of my normally sober female colleagues, giggling like the schoolgirls they normally teach even approached me to check his relationship status because they were, frankly perhaps a little too impressed… And me? I just loved it. We’ve got a bit of a momentum now, and so you can perhaps look forward to that long promised Danum comic. This was a week when, frankly, my job was an utter joy to perform. Just sometimes, it’s brilliant being me. *The same colleague who introduced me to Sunset artist Paul Green, and soon to be published writer of his own series entitled Contagion, which promises to be both sick and wrong. But also rather good. **Indeed, in some cases it was their third or fourth language… ***Who ironically is a science teacher… ****Chris’s wife and adorable new son are doing well, I’m told. Chris is currently joking that the boy will be called “Indianna”. At least I think, he’s joking. *****Indeed in some cases it was their third or fourth. ******Well, two professional translators and an unbelievably helpful librarian from a neighbouring school, who is fluent in Turkish. I love school librarians, they always have the most unexpected talents. *******Which was certainly larger than three… ********And seriously – Lynne? When can I do it again? Huh? Huh?