Saturday 2 May 2015

Middle Grade Strikes Back Celebrates Free Comic Book Day 2015

In case you did not know, today is Free Comic Book Day and comics shops in the UK, the USA, Canada and in many other countries will be celebrating by handing out free comics. Yes, you read that correctly: FREE COMICS! So once you have read this why not head on out to your nearest specialist comic store? At Middle Grade Strikes Back we love comics. We love them on a personal level, and we love the way they can engage young readers, even those who might normally hate the idea of reading a book. A few of our contributors wanted to celebrate Free Comic Book Day 2015 by telling you about their personal favourites:

Huw Powell: Batman by Bob Kane

There are so many great graphic novels with complex characters, such as Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Sandman, Hell Blazer and Lobo. However my favourite has to be Batman (aka the Dark Knight). I was 12 years old when I first read The Dark Knight Returns and I was blown away by the brilliant story, which was so much deeper and darker than the old 1960s TV show. It was the same year that Michael Keaton first starred as Batman in the cinema, which sealed my fate as a fan for life.

Jake Hayes: Robin

I think it's fair to say that Batman wouldn't have survived this long without a Robin. 75 years young in 2015, the boy wonder has always been there to help Bruce Wayne in his eternal battle against supervillains and save him from himself. Batman is a self-obsessed, humourless, crypto fascist type of superhero. You could add child abuse to that list, what with his penchant for grooming young boys into a life that will almost certainly end in their violent death. And yet somehow these boys only succeed in making Batman appear more heroic and not just plain creepy. Where Batman is inflexible, Robin can be any anything he wants to be: fun, flamboyant - even female. It's no coincidence that the best run of recent Batman stories (by Grant Morrison) saw former Robin Dick Grayson don the pointy ears and cape. In a brilliant bit of role reversal the chirpy new Batman was accompanied by Bruce's son, Damian Wayne, a chip off the old block with a fondness for a bit of the old ultra-violence (and sulking).

You can read more about the troubled history of the boy (and girl) wonders here

Helen Clark Jones: Asterix & Obelix by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo

The year is 50 BC. Gaul is entirely occupied by the Romans. Well, not entirely … One small village of indomitable Gauls still holds out against the invaders. And life is not easy for the Roman legionaires who garrison the fortified camps of Totorum, Aquarium, Laudanum and Compendium…

So begins every book in the Asterix and Obelix series and it tells you everything you need to know: the little guys winning against the big guys, loveable characters, classical history, brilliant punning humour and knock-about fun – all with the aid of a secret magic potion. Asterix and Obelix is a triumph not only for the original creators (note the equal writer/illustrator credit) but also for the brilliant translators, who made sure the distinctive humour of this great series could be enjoyed all over the world. The books almost make you feel sorry for the invading Romans.

Jason Rohan: Iron Man

For many people it seems that Iron Man only sprang into existence in 2008 when Robert Downey Jr hit the silver screen as Tony Stark, but the character's been around since 1963. What appealed to me as a teenaged reader was both the glamorous James Bond-esque lifestyle that Stark leads but also the fact that any one of us could be Iron Man. His powers come through intellect, hard work and perseverance - not a twist of fate - and all we have to do to be a hero is, "Put on the suit!"

Darren Hartwell: Tintin

As an adult, if I am asked who my all time favourite comic character I never hesitate with my answer. It's Batman, every day of the week. But Huw's already bagged Batman, and so I have to go with my second favourite, which is probably more appropriate for this piece as he was my favourite throughout my childhood, and that is Tintin. I remember reading certain books as an under 10 year old, but I would have no idea when or where I first picked them up or discovered the likes of the Famous Five, etc. but I do remember exactly where I was when I discovered The Adventures of Tintin. It was in a rack of books in my classroom at school, and I would have been in what we now call Year 4, making me aged 8 or 9. It was Tintin and the Black Island, and I loved it. I loved the action, the adventure, the comedy and I really loved the (as I now know it to be called) Ligne Claire style of illustration. I would then hunt through piles of books at jumble sales and charity shops in the hunt for more books in the series, occasionally striking gold, including a French hardback edition of Destination Moon (Ojectif Lune), which I was completely unable to read, and am disappointed to say that I have no idea what happened to it as it no longer sits in my collection). 

This love for Hergé's most famous creation has stayed with me ever since, and over the years I have tried hard to create many more fans among the young readers I have had contact with. I have even used Tintin in my teaching - the image below, taken from The Calculus Affair, has been used many times over the years to introduce a Design in Society module in A Level Product Design. I ask students to analyse it and highlight differences in design between then and now, and also changes in society. And I know Geography and History teachers who have used the Tintin stories and images to engage students in various topics, and this works because of Hergé's obsession with accuracy of detail in his writing and illustrations. Organised crime in 1930s USA? Tintin in America is a great introduction. The Japanese invasion of Manchuria? Pick up The Blue Lotus. And that's just scratching the surface - many more of the stories cover political intrigue and changing attitudes to race, including the controversial claims that Hergé himself was racist, although some of his portrayals of various ethnic groups also make good discussion starters.

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