More than just capes and tights

Erin Millar, Sam Hester and Eric Dyck sit down for a discussion on comic books at the Word on the Street festival in Lethbridge on Sept.  23.

Comic books and graphic novels often develop a childish reputation due to stigmas claiming they are written about superheroes, created for the young male mind or ultimately, are just picture books.

The Lethbridge public library hosted The Word on the Street Festival which promotes literacy in the community. A tent at the festival was dedicated to comic books which hosted a panel of three people from the Panel One Comic Society to sit down and discuss whether they thought comic books are a true form of literature.

One of the speakers from the discussion was Erin Millar, President of Panel Once Comic Society and author of graphic novel Where She Walks. Millar spoke proudly that no matter what format a story is told in, it is still a true form of writing.


“Reading is just so important in our lives and it doesn’t matter what you read as long as you are reading. If the book is touching you in some way and enriching your life in some way, then why should we focus on why it has pictures. Fighting that stigma is defiantly one of the frustrations,” said Millar.

Quieting two more stereotypes, Millar brought forth her own book which was created upon a strong female character, who faces moral and real life issues. A stigma surrounding comic books is that it is meant for young men and are made up fantasies; Millar wants to remove that barrier.

“I hate when people say it’s a ‘boys only club, which is frankly a lot of crap, because even today in this panel there are women who are comic creators and a lot of the fans that I know are women,” said Millar.

Eric Dyck is a Lethbridge local cartoonist who spends his time creating his own comic strip Slaughterhouse Slough, which is based on the community of Lethbridge. Dyck also hosts classes for youth to come and learn about cartooning and creating a comic book.

From working with youth in the community, Dyck can see the potential and benefits that young people can absorbed from graphic novels and comic books.

“Working with a lot of young readers, it can be a way to really energize them about the written word because they have pictures to fill in information if they are struggling with their literacy,” said Dyck.

Talking gracefully and sentimentally, Dyck encouraged parents of children who were drawn to comic books to give them another look before shutting down a child’s form of reading indulgence.

“If they have read a superhero graphic novel or something and they are comfortable reading in that way, there are all these other amazing stories that they can access and be comfortable reading comics,” said Dyck.

Supporting the argument on benefits of graphic novels, Sam Hester, a graphic recorder and autobiographical comic book creator, brought to light that comic books don’t have a specific genre of content.

“People do seem to have a stereotype when pictures are involved, the name ‘comics’ suggest that it is going to be comical. People need to look past that medium and look at the content and look what the story is about,” said Hester

In an example, Hester brought forward a book she was incredibly impressed by. Unflattening by Nick Sousanis is his PhD book published by Harvard University. The book was the first doctoral dissertation that was created entirely as a comic book. It is an experiment of visual thinking incorporating science, literature, art and mythology.

For people who don’t believe that a comic book can be an informative and educational, Hester stands behind her example of Unflattening for it is the prime example for visual aid.

Although the stigmas are still there and the marketing strategy of the comic book world is mostly targeting young males, the panel of comic creators opened the eyes of many spectators that visuals can be beneficial and can be the gate way towards better literacy.

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