Best Blogs Part 1: Comics Grinder

Comics Grinder

One of the best things about blogging is connecting with fellow bloggers. I follow a wide variety blogs and am always entertained, educated and excited by them. Over the next while I plan to post about some of the blogs I consider to be amongst the best.

First up is Comics Grinder the home of fellow WordPress blogger, graphic novel author and illustrator, Henry Chamberlain. You can visit his highly informative and knowledgeable blog here.

George's Run 2

Henry is a prolific poster. And the standard of his posts is consistently high. He reviews graphic novels, comics and comic conferences. He includes every sort of work aimed at all sorts of audiences. He generously highlights the work of other cartoonists and comic authors. But he’s also a talented comics author in his own right and is working on a graphic biography of George Clayton Johnson, the co author of Logan’s Run and the writer of the first ever episode of Star Trek. Part One is called George’s Run #1 (Amazon UK link) is available on Kindle. (Amazon US Link)

Comics: not just for kids but a good place to start

Comics were something I enjoyed when I was a child when I read the Beano, the Bunty and the Diana, to name just a few. I loved all the usual suspects. The anarchy of Dennis the Menace, Minnie the Minx and the Bash Street kids was just fab, if not politically correct. Later I graduated to the Jackie and I devoured the comic strip tales of teenage love, and  Cathy and Claire’s problem page.  And of course, when I was a child no 1960s Scottish Christmas was complete without the comics latest annuals –  along with the new Oor Wullie or The Broons collections.

But then, once I grew up, apart from revisiting some of them when my children were young, I moved on from comics.

That is until many years later, when I made the move from my role as a primary school class teacher into the much more challenging role of a support for learning teacher. I had pupils who struggled to read or write anything – either because it was an intellectual challenge that left them feeling defeated before they even started, or because their emotional problems, or way of seeing the world, acted as a barrier to any kind of engagement with the printed word. I tried lots of things that didn’t work well and then I had a breakthrough. I rediscovered comics and the ‘grown-up’ version of the preschool picture book – the graphic novel.

The old saying a picture is worth a thousand words was never so true. I soon discovered even the most reluctant or cut-off child found a graphically told story irresistible. Stories like The Wolves in the Walls, or The Day I Swapped my Dad for a Goldfish, both  by Neil Gaiman, or The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan worked their magic. And before long my pupils were wanting to write their own graphic novels, or in the case of pupils with communication difficulties such as autism, use a comic format to compile a social interaction script that they could share with others. But the most unexpected thing about using the comic/graphic format was it also worked with more able children. I was sometimes asked to support and stretch these children too. Children who’d been coasting, who’d lost motivation because things came so easily to them, they too were inspired by the genre to experiment, to try new things in their writing and in their reading. Pictures can be the key to storytelling. They’re efficient, economic and vivid.

Comics and Graphic Novels for the grown-ups

Comic books have been around a long time for sure – think of all the Marvel heroes. But I think they’ve come to the fore again in our now highly visual,  online, picture-based world of Tumblr, Instagram and the selfie-based, shared status update. And the effect of that goes way beyond just children’s or young adult’s reading.

Comic books, graphic novels and graphic non-fiction are increasingly popular with grown-ups too. For example there’s Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis about her life in Iran, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home about living with her secretly gay father, and  Joe Sacco’s Palestine or his more recent Journalism. If you’re not a comic format fan why not get out of your reading comfort zone and give them a try? Any of the above would be a good place to start. As of course would Henry’s blog and his book George’s Run, Part 1 which I will review in my next post.

Discover a Great Blog and Learn More about the Graphic Arts

But in the meantime, if you want to know more about the grown-up world of comics and graphic novels then do visit Henry ‘s blog.  There’s everything from Wonder Woman to Star Wars. And Henry’s a welcoming host who’s happy to interact.

Book Review: Life Class by Gilli Allan

Life Class

Having already read, enjoyed and reviewed Torn by this author, I was expecting Life Class to be a good read too. And it was.

Genre: Contemporary Women’s Fiction/Romance

The Blurb:

Four people hide secrets from the world and themselves. Dory is disillusioned by men and relationships, having seen the damage sex can do. Fran deals with her mid-life crisis by pursuing an online flirtation which turns threatening. Stefan feels he is a failure and searches for self-validation through his art. Dominic is a lost boy, heading for self-destruction. They meet regularly at a life-drawing class, led by sculptor Stefan. They all want a life different from the one they have, but all have made mistakes they know they cannot escape. They must uncover the past – and the truths that come with it – before they can make sense of the present and navigate a new path into the future.

Review:

As in Torn, the setting and characters are the main strengths of the story.

The descriptions of places are subtle but just detailed enough for the reader to draw up their own pictures of the area, homes, classroom and studio where most of the action takes place. Read More »

Book Review: Talk of the Toun by Helen Mackinven

Talk of the Toun 2Genre: Contemporary Fiction

It’s 1985 in central Scotland in this pre-coming of age story by debut novelist, Helen Mackinven. And it’s an impressive debut.

A natural storyteller, Mackinven presents an, at times, claustrophobic (in a good way), sharply observed story of growing-up, of the early teenage years of Angela and Lorraine, of the ups and downs of their intense friendship, of moodiness, menstruation and the mysteries of boys. All the 1980s stuff is there, ra-ra skirts, Frankie goes to Hollywood and Cagney and Lacey on the telly.

There’s a lot that’s colloquial and local in this tale, but the themes are universal in terms of both place and era. The characters at times aren’t particularly likeable, but that’s because they’re human failings are very much on show. And the author skilfully uses their flawed humanity to make them interesting and real. It’s to the author’s credit that the reader comes to care very much about Angela and Lorraine. Read More »