People who can't read comics

Anna Leach Anna Leach, Features, Top Stories 2 Comments

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I always thought comics were easy reading. Way easier than normal books. To me – they are the snack food of the written word, the poptarts of literature – they’re covered in pictures for goodness sake.

But I’ve recently met two people who can’t read comics, and not because they’re afraid people will think they are hairy loveless nerds. They actually find them hard to read. I didn’t realise this could be a thing, but thinking about it, I guess it is.

One of them just told me that she just doesn’t get them and that her eyes always go to the wrong place. While she loves reading novels, she just doesn’t get the comic format and finds it quite tiring to continually have to work out where to look next.

And the other one, a guy who is a bit dyslexic though works as an animator, finds the set up too confusing. Apparently he learned the normal left to right way of reading novels much more easily than the set up with comic books, and still gets mixed up by complicated or experimental layouts.

Though there is a general consensus that comics are like picture books and thus easier to read than books without pictures — this professor at least thinks they are just as hard as normal books:
if you really consider how the pictures and words work together in consonance to tell a story, you can make the case that comics are just as complex as any other kind of literature.”

Carol L Tilley says in Science Daily

Anyone else found this? Should comic nerds get credit for reading and understanding spatially complex stuff rather than being patronised for reading picture books?
I think so….

By Anna Leach | March 21st, 2011





  • http://twitter.com/rich_trenholm Rich

    That’s where the skill lies in comic art. It’s not just about being good at drawing, it’s also about storytelling: guiding the eye through the sequence in the right order, whether it’s the layout of panels or the way the actual lines on the page guide your eye into the next bit. Placement of text is important too – when two character are talking, the person who speaks first has to be on the left of the panel, so that conversation flows from left to right in the direction we read it. Good writing also helps the dialogue and text in each panel flow into the next.

    Another important element is how the art communicates time and movement. Comics are a collection of still images, but a good artist can create the illusion of movement and passing time, even in the white dead space between panels.

    I imagine it could be confusing to someone who isn’t used to it, the same way you might be confused by the language of any art form the first time you see it. When you’re used to it, the language leads you through the story without you noticing – it’s only jarring when it’s wrong.

    I hope your readers stick with comics. Maybe try some decompressed comics (where the story unfolds slowly, often with clearly laid-out panels and sparse dialogue) that aren’t so frenetic and could be easier to follow. I’d suggest Phonogram, off the top of my head, because I was reading it last night and because it keeps mentioning Kenickie.

  • James Wright

    I find it hard to read comics. I have no trouble with working out the order of the panels, but I find myself just reading the text and not even glancing at the pictures, and not understanding what’s going on. When I force myself to look at the drawings as well, I still don’t really understand what’s going on (I suppose my mind works in a literal way, rather than a visual one.)