Not all heroes read novels: why comic books can help people with dyslexia
September 14th 2017
For some, getting to grips with words on a page can be a frustrating challenge – that’s exactly why comic book artist Lisa Wood started her own festival to help children and adults with dyslexia.
Dyslexia is a common learning difficulty among both adults and children, affecting an estimated one in 10 people in the UK, and causing problems with reading, writing and spelling. While these skills may come naturally to most, dyslexia sufferers often confuse the order of letters in words and struggle to read and write at speed.
Comic book relief
“People with dyslexia tend to be visual learners, so they understand better when words are accompanied by pictures diagrams and tables.” Sarah Patel, specialist dyslexia teacher
Dyslexia has long been a difficult part of every day life for Leeds based comic book artist, Lisa Wood. Thanks to the simple format of comics, though, Wood’s problems with reading became much more manageable.
“When I was a child and I had problems with reading, it was definitely the art in comic books than drew me in,” she explains. “If you’re dyslexic, a big body of text can be really intimidating. “Even platforms like Facebook (where you have different bodies of text all around the page) can be really difficult to understand, but comics are a very accessible medium – particularly if you’re struggling with reading problems. “With comics, you have the pictures to pull you in, and if you have a great artist, they can pack a lot of emotion into the scene before you even read the text, so they can be incredibly easy to follow.”
Thought Bubble Festival is a comic book event which offers free art and writing workshops for people who struggle with dyslexia.
As highly visual mediums, comics typically appeal to the creative mind of people with dyslexia, as specialist dyslexia teacher, Sarah Patel, explains. “People with dyslexia tend to be visual learners, so they understand better when words are accompanied by pictures diagrams and tables,” says Patel. “Comics would appeal, as they don’t just depend on words, and the colourful illustrations can help [people] to understand and process the story better. “There’s generally less text in comic books, so readers aren’t faced with a full page of text, which can be quite overwhelming.”
Turning passion into art
“Reading books was always really hard when I was little, but comics were so much easier. The more I read, the easier reading became.” Lisa Wood, comic book artist
After being introduced to comic books at a young age by her father, Wood soon developed a passion for the medium, enjoying both the simplistic and artistic elements that other books lacked. “I’ve always loved comics,” the artist says. “I was about seven years old when my dad took me to Batley market near where we lived, and they had a second hand magazine stall where you could buy five comics for about 20 pence. “Reading books was always really hard when I was little, but comics were so much easier, so I just delved into it. The more I read, the easier reading became.”
Comic book artist Lisa Wood found that the simplistic and illustrative style of comics made reading much more accessible (Photo: Lisa Wood/Thought Bubble Festival)
Unsurprisingly, Wood’s passion for comics and illustration led her to pursue a career as an artist – despite being told she wouldn’t make a living out of it.
In 2007, she formed the now hugely popular Thought Bubble Festival in Leeds, dedicated to celebrating sequential art in all its forms.
Making comics cool again
While film adaptations of Marvel and DC Comics have sparked growth in the popularity of comic books themselves, Wood notes that it’s only in recent years that the medium has attracted wider appeal. “When I was into comics, I got picked on at school for reading them,” she explains.
“Everyone loves superhero movies, but the people who are really into comics are the really cool kids.” Lisa Wood, comic book artist
“I was seen as the geek, and I got stuff thrown at me. Even when I set up Thought Bubble, it wasn’t something that was in the mainstream [or] that people really understood. “It was still seen as something that was just for kids, and if you were an adult reading comic books it was a bit sad. “In the last eight years or so, that perception has slowly started to change, and now comics are the cool thing to do. “Everyone loves superhero movies, but the people who are really into comics are the really cool kids, because they know the beginnings of where it all started. It’s really nice how that’s all changed.”
Growing the readership
Born out of a passion for comic books, Wood’s goal with Thought Bubble Festival was not only to showcase the art form, but also to encourage more people to delve into reading, and offer a space where people who struggle with dyslexia could engage with the medium. “I set up the festival 11 years ago, and the one thing I always wanted to do from the beginning was to put on a comic book event which would offer free art and writing workshops for people who struggled with dyslexia,” explains the artist. “We’ve done that from the beginning, and this year we have more free workshops than we’ve ever had before. “We’re engaging with organisations like Bradford Asylum Seekers and Refugees, and Leeds Autism Services to allow people to read stories that are fun, create their own comics, and just be creative and expressive. “We’re also going to have a digital reading room, funded by ComiXology, where people can pop in for free throughout the festival, and sit and read on Kindles.
With a host of exciting guests (including Gerard Way, Brian K Vaughan and Charlie Adlard), and a range of workshops, panels and free events, Wood hopes this year’s festival will see the popularity of comics grow further, and will help to benefit those who, like her, find reading a challenge. “I still find reading hard sometimes – I’ll read words back to front, and miss bits out,” she admits. “I still don’t quite understand why that happens, but if you’re dealing with a comic, the text is a lot more accessible and the images really do pull you in. “It’s about training your eye to understand something that’s a bit alien at first. The more you get used to it, the easier it is to move on to a large body of text in a book. They’re a really great platform for people that struggle with that.”
courtesy of INews