Tony Caputo of Now Comics saw our recent coverage of comments by 4Kids CEO Al Kahn at the ICv2 Graphic Novel Conference (see 'Manga Is a Problem'), and had this reaction:
In a recent article, Al Kahn states, 'I think manga is a problem because we're in a culture that is not a reading culture. Kid's today don't read.' I also mistakenly believed that 'kids don't read' when trying to convert the American audience into comic readers back in the 1980s. It's true that with more and more entertainment storytelling options, kids read fewer books, but I don't believe it's because we're 'not in a reading culture.' The past 20 years have had significant changes in our culture, society, and lives, thanks largely to technological advances unlike anything else we've seen in recent history. When in the early 1980s, the world's gears (powered by capitalism and money), were turning by way of synchronous communications' meetings and telephone calls, documentation found its way to offices, schools and homes all over the world by way of what we now call 'snail mail,' the geek-speak term for the United States Postal Service.
The Postal Service is snail mail today only because everything now moves much, much faster. Technology has given us instantaneous messaging, free spontaneous electronic mail, word processing, faster computers, faster cars, faster access, and faster foods.
The world has changed dramatically since the invention of the
There's an episode in the first season of The Simpsons where Bart is suddenly considered a genius (after switching test papers with another student), and is enrolled in a school for gifted children. While in the school's enormous library, he comes across a super-hero comic book stuffed in between some books. The teacher, appalled by such 'trash,' throws it away. Most of the education world still doesn't see it any differently today.
The modern world passed
However, I'd like to point out that even when kids are watching, playing or surfing -- they are reading. It's just smaller chunks of text incorporated into the new interface of learning, the Graphical User Interface (GUI). There are more words read in any recent Final Fantasy game than there are in any book; more reading in DVD special features than in any newspaper, and there's how many billion of pages indexed now by Google? My son learned how to read at 1 1/2 years old because I gave him a Macintosh, not with picture books. Suddenly empowered with his new window/screen of stuff, a driving effort ensued to figure how to play with it. The GUI is an intriguing and intuitive interface, so he figured out what the words meant rather quickly.
The GUI will replace the 'book' as we know it, not because 'it's prettier to look at,' but because we have to. We've maxed out the traditional channel of learning perception. The human species can only learn so much, so fast, reading a linear textbook. It just isn't fast enough anymore. All this new technology, information and content has even forced higher education (steadfast for 200 years), to succumb to its power. Recently, the prestigious
Dr. Richard Mayer, a psychology professor at the
When an animation about how a bicycle tire pump works was presented concurrently with systematic narration, the students significantly outperformed those who just read a textbook. Additionally, using spatial contiguity (printed text, with related pictures near or integrated) students showed significantly better recall and problem solving skills (faster), than those that just read a textbook. When reading a book, you're using a single channel of data consumption: formulaic textual language. When seeing imagery, listening to narration, and reading words together, as in a GUI (DVDs, games, Internet), you've opened up three channels of data consumption. Theoretically, you can learn three times faster.
I presented my Visual Storytelling Workshop for the art students at a local high school, where one of the librarians was so excited to show me 'the comic book guy' (Neil Gaiman) 'Read' poster that just arrived. I too was excited to see this champion of sequential art storytelling promoting not only reading, but also sequential art storytelling, but his listed talents were 'Author, Poet, and Screenwriter,' and nothing of comic books.
At first glance, it may appear that this new found respect for manga, anime, and multimedia would surely improve the sequential art's reputation in this country, but there is still too much 'old school' in how comic books are perceived.
It's not that kids 'aren't reading anymore,' they're just not reading as many old school books. They're reading the new interface for learning, and not because 'it's got all those pretty pictures,' but because we have to open up those other two channels of learning consumption, to keep up with instantaneous messaging, spontaneous electronic mail, word processing, faster computers, faster cars, and faster everything.
The opinions expressed in this Talk Back article are solely those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial staff of ICv2.com.