‘My favourite type of mystery, suspenseful, and where everyone is not what they appear . . . Christine is great at creating atmosphere . . . she evokes the magic of the stage, and her characters [have] a past to be uncovered before the mystery is solved.’ [Stage Fright]

- Lizzie Hayes, MYSTERY WOMEN
Comics Unmasked

Comics Unmasked

Last week I went to see a fascinating exhibition at the British Library: Comics Unmasked: Art and Anarchy in the UK. It covered a lot of ground from Punch in the 1840s up to the present and filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge. It set me thinking about the part comics have played in my own life and why I don’t read more graphic novels.
Bunty was the first comic I read on a regular basis – I think my mother ordered it every week, along with – was it The Eagle? – for my brother. Of Bunty I remember scarcely anything, except a character called Lettuce Leaf. But my brother’s comic had a thrilling serial called, I think, ‘The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb,’ and we were desperate every week to read the next instalment.
Later there was Jackie, which my friend Pauline and I used to read and reread. How innocent it all seems now, the advice on boys and make-up and the stories in which good girls always triumphed. But we also loved Superman and Batman: Pauline had a great collection of those. I guess we were about fifteen when we stopped reading both Jackie and Superman comics, and I’ve never gone back, though as a young art historian I did love Victorian book illustration and that was nearly the subject of my Ph.D. However, perhaps because stories told completely in pictures are so much associated with childhood and adolescence I have never got into graphic novels. A few years ago, I did read an excellent one, Exit Wounds, by Rutu Modan, a book group choice, so time to rethink, perhaps? I’ve begun by ordering her new book, The Property.

Gender-specific books? No thanks . . .

Posted on Mar 31, 2014 in Biggles. Capt W. E. Johns, Superman | 2 Comments

The Independent on Sunday has declared its intention not to review any children’s books that are marketed in such a way as to exclude either gender. My feeling too is that children’s books should be available to whoever wants to read them. This chimes in with a comment on my previous post from Moira at ClothesinBooks, who remembers reading Biggles as a child. When she mentioned that, memories came flooding back. My friend Linda and I adored them when we were ten or eleven, and I don’t think it occurred to us for a moment that these might suitable only for boys. Quite why we adored them, it is hard to say now. I am amused to read in the Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature that the Biggles books, written by Capt. W. E. Johns, are regarded with contempt by librarians and critics as being racist and jingoistic. No doubt they were, but I guess they were also gripping yarns.
Similarly later on – aged around twelve or thirteen – I became friends with Pauline, who had the best collection of Superman comics in the school. We spend hours reading and rereading them together. We also read and reread Jackie. An omnivorous diet is best for young readers.
Linda and Pauline are the only ones I am still in touch with from my schooldays. Those hours spent poring over Biggles and Superman led to lifelong friendships.