updated 15 Jun 2012, 19:15
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Mon, May 28, 2012
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Go ahead, give your child a comic
by Clara Chow

OCCASIONALLY, my six-year-old son says things like, "I'm here to boost your morale by pretending to be interested in you as a human being", and it cracks me up.

He doesn't come up with these bon mots himself, of course.

Instead, he is merely channelling the Pointy-Haired Boss from the Dilbert comic strips by Scott Adams, which we take turns to read out aloud to each other.

We borrow Dilbert compilations from the library, and role-play the various characters - from long-suffering worker Dilbert, to super-efficient Alice.

My son Julian has special voices for Dogbert, the management consultant (a slow, nasal drawl); and Catbert, the evil human-resource director (low, issued through an O-shaped mouth).

His favourite character is Wally, the Teflon-like slacker, whose job seems to be carrying a cup of coffee around the office. Once, when Julian emerged from the kitchen with his bedtime mug of milk in hand, a thought struck him, and he chirped: "Hey! I'm Wally!"

I love bonding with him over Dilbert, listening to him read out nonsensical management jargon in his high-pitched voice. Strangely enough, there is something illicit in this activity, which adds to its attraction.

When we were children, my cousins and I were not allowed to read comics. My mother and my aunt, fearful that our English would be corrupted by the Americanisms in Archie comics and other works in graphic format, placed a blanket ban on them.

Fie, if we should fail our spelling tests if we kept putting "z" instead of "s" into words like "organisation", and calling the lift an "elevator" in our class compositions. And god forbid if we should start relying on onomatopoeia like "SMASH!" and "POW!".

Single-issue comics were also frowned upon for not teaching the "right" values. When I was growing up, the adults around me frowned upon the violence in superhero series, and worried that reading about too many Chinese legends and historical events adapted into picture form would rob us of the ability to read properly.

No surprises, then, that my cousins and I passed around yellowing copies of San Mao comics by Chinese artist Zhang Leping like contraband. The power of those manhua (as comics are known in Mandarin) remains unparalleled for me today, sketching funny, infuriating and poignant scenes from a born-loser's life deftly with a few lines and shapes.

These days, however, the attitude towards comics is changing. Most encouragingly, the Singapore education system, in recent years, has recognised that the ability to read pictures, either on their own or combined with words, is a valuable skill that our children should be equipped with.

In the age of computer screens and iPads, it is essential to learn how to deal with information presented visually, rather than processing blocks and blocks of text. However, this does not mean that literacy is going to go out the window, nor that people will stop loving to read. It just means that they will do so differently.

In the March 2012 issue of BiblioAsia, a periodical published by the National Library Board, novelist Clarence Lee wrote about an experiment to use graphic novels to teach English language in a secondary school here. Thirty-three Secondary 2 students in Yishun Secondary School were divided into two groups: one, the "Control group", was taught text from Dave Chua's novel Gone Case (2002); while the other, the "Treatment group", was taught with a graphic-novel adaptation of Gone Case, illustrated by Koh Hong Teng (2010).

The study showed that students in the second group fared better in a post-lesson test, pointing towards the conclusion that graphic novels helped the students learn descriptive-writing skills better than conventional texts.

"Part of the graphic novel's effectiveness arises from its potential for engaging the interest and imagination of the reader," writes Lee.

Hear, hear. Want to raise a reader for these modern times? Give him a comic.

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readers' comments
Seriously? Give your child these comics?

According to Mr. Yeo Chin Ben, Assistant Director of MDA Publications Content & Standards, MDA will not take any action under the Undesirable Publications Act (Cap. 338) unless MDA receive any referral of the above comics from any importers/distributors.
Posted by stormlabx on Mon, 4 Jun 2012 at 16:05 PM

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