Last night’s five-person “Comics” panel at the Sharjah Book Fair highlighted quite starkly that not all comics are for kids.
The first two speakers—Alan Jay Payne, of the American comic-book company IDW, and Matt Hawkins of the American company Top Cow—showed film clips and images of their products that were clearly not kid-friendly.
Hawkins noted that they’d discovered that the average comic-book reader in the United States is 39 years old.
In a way, of course, this is very heartening, as graphic novels can help bring adult readers back to books. But it’s also an important flag for parents.
After their presentation, award-winning children’s author Qais Sedki (سوار الذهب / Gold Ring, Sheikh Zayed Award 2010) underlined that just because a book has pictures doesn’t mean it’s suited for children.
However—if parents and educators are aware—that’s not a bad thing. Sedki noted “It [a comic] really does act as a perfect stepping stone to getting people back into reading.” And that goes for adults as well as children. Moreover, if children are to read, then we adults also have to be setting an example!
Sedki was particularly passionate about the manga format.
He said that, when kids stop reading, they typically say it’s because books are:
‘boring.’ We all love books and we know that’s not the case. … I think manga, specifically, can probably conquer that. I’ve described it time and time again as the closest thing to a movie in a book.
Sedki said the comic gives a child a great feeling of accomplishment. “I know that [when the child finishes a book], the buzz of having read a book will be there. Once they’re done, and they kind of turn that last page,” they think “you know, I kind of like that.”
I think that is the turning point.
Sedki said that, in too many Arabic books for children, creators think “we have to responsible in the content, so it has to be beneficial.”
And beneficial, in these cases, also often equals boring.
Sedki, of course, believes in benefiting children. But: “If the vehicle carrying it, is not entertaining enough…it will fall on deaf ears.”
And if the book carries no particular “message” to the child at all, and is only entertainment?
It’s a child who read a book and got entertained. That in and of itself is a massive achievement.
Sedki also said that, while Arabic-language translations of other nations’ children’s books is valuable, “I don’t think it’s right to rely on that entirely. We should have our own content in addition to what’s translated.”
Sedki pointed to Dr. Naif Al Mutawa’s The 99 as “the spark that got me thinking about all this.”
I write more about the more grown-up aspects of Dr. Naif’s talk over at ArabLit. Dr. Naif’s comics are written in English—and translated into Arabic, among other languages—but they focus on Arab and Muslim characters, Arab and Muslim culture, and Arab and Muslim stories.
Dr. Naif said that he wanted to create stories based on “those values that we share with the rest of humanity.”
I believe strongly that if you boil down things to their symbolic level, nobody will disagree with them.
I’ve found English-language The 99s in Cairo, but not the Arabic translations. ISA these distribution issues will be resolved. In the meantime, Dr. Naif said that sample comics in Arabic should be available for download off The 99 site.
Note: Thank you very much to Sharjah Book Fair organizers for putting on this event, particularly fair director Ahmed Al Amri and fair muse @Bodour, who were in the front row during the talk.
Ahmed said, after the talk, that he’d visited the San Diego ComicCon this past year and “it was really amazing for me…the children, the adults…under one roof, in one exhibition.” ISA the first-ever Abu Dhabi ComicCon, scheduled for next March, will be just as fun.