My Comic Life

Comic books hooked me on reading. My grandparents in Sheffield used to post my brother Paul and me a bunch of comics every week. They were The Beano, The Dandy, Hotspur and TV Comic.

I got through loads of novels by Enid Blyton but comics were my big love. At eight I discovered Superman and Batman. I spent all my pocket money on them. A little later, I found Marvel Comics. They were still in their Golden Age of fantastic art and stories. I became an addict.

Spiderman was my favourite. Then X-Men, The Fantastic Four and The Silver Surfer. But Marvel comics were hard to find. Nowhere in West Kirby had a regular supply.  I found the issue of Spiderman featuring the death of Gwen Stacey on a rare visit to Birkenhead.

Marvel stories were aimed at college kids. I learnt a lot of big words from them. But I suspected comics were a bit babyish. At twelve, I went to Grammar School. People there looked down their nose at you if you read comics. At least, I thought they would. So all the Marvel and DC comics went into an outhouse by the garage. I read the music press instead.

One day, Mum binned all the comics. I didn’t mourn them at the time. It was years later, when I collected reissues, that I realised what I’d lost. Some of my throwaways were worth a fortune. Loads of men my age have similar stories. So here’s some advice. If you have a collection that you tire of, don’t throw it away. Package it well and put it somewhere safe. If you don’t want it later on, you can always flog it on e-bay.

My interest in comics started up again at university. There was a terrific new Marvel comic called Howard The Duck. Only one shop in Nottingham sold it and that was on the wrong side of the city.  Yet I built up a full collection. Then I started reading Doctor Strange and a bunch of other comics I used to read as a kid. They were a great antidote to the heavy ‘classics’ I was reading on my literature degree.

I still read comics. My favourites are Optic Nerve, Stray Bullets, Eightball and Love and Rockets. When an old friend, the cartoonist John Clark, asked me to write comic scripts for UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Education Fund). I said I’d love to. But it turned out to be difficult.

The words often come first. This is natural for me – like most people, I tend to read the words before taking in the picture. But working out what image goes in each panel is hard work. It makes me realise what great, groundbreaking work all those early superhero stories were.

I don’t write about superheroes, though. I write about children in danger, in the UK and abroad. The short stories so far are about homelessness and child abuse. John drew the one I’m proudest of. It takes up a whole issue, called Cry Me A River. It’s about globalisation and the fight for water.

The sixth comic, No Secrets is out today. Your school (and you) can get the All Children Have Rights comics free by calling UNICEF’s helpdesk on 08706063377. You can find out more about children’s rights by visiting their Children’s Rights website.

The entry above, in slightly modified form, will appear as an afterword to a new edition of my Barrington Stoke novel for ‘reluctant’ readers Nicked in April 2004.

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