Fife author wants to see more kids reading comics

Fifes leading crime author James Oswald believes reintroducing boys to action comics could lure reluctant young readers away from phones and tablets. Pic: Bill Waters.
Fifes leading crime author James Oswald believes reintroducing boys to action comics could lure reluctant young readers away from phones and tablets. Pic: Bill Waters.

One of Fife’s leading crime authors believes reintroducing boys to action comics could lure reluctant young readers away from phones and tablets.

Fifer James Oswald, Britain’s biggest selling debut crime writer in 2013, reckons the visual appeal of game and film makes it harder to engage modern youngsters, particularly boys, in reading.

That is why he believes great comic book writers such as Scot, Mark Millar, have a pivotal role to play in helping youngsters discover the written word.

Oswald, whose seventh Inspector McLean mystery ‘Written In Bones’ is released tomorrow (Thursday), admits youthful hours spent reading Batman and Judge Dredd built the foundations for his writing career.

Now, as Scotland aspires to improve literacy levels, the acclaimed author feels it is time to reappraise the part comic books can play in re-opening closed doors in learning.

He said: “If people are not reading, but absorbing from television and video games all the time, then comics could help with this. I think we need to get over the sneering about them.

“They are a very good bridge between novels and games or television. They require both sides of the brain, visual and language processing, and are a great way into reading.

“I think for boys, there is a point – and I can remember it myself – where there are other things of interest. Books can become boring and you can lose boys at a certain age.

“People can blame parents, or teachers, but I think it is more about a lack of interesting things to read, at that point, because they are not going to leaf through novels. You could get people into comics, for example, on the back of the big films. They are much more accessible than books and more easily tied to the popular culture that has grown up around the resurgence in super hero movies.”

He added: “After that they might pick up a fantasy or a sci-fi novel and get that delight in story again.”

Oswald, who houses about 10 000 comics in his farmhouse in Fife, has recently been penning stories for reluctant readers, in between working on his best-selling Inspector McLean crime mysteries.

He is aware some modern readers require different approaches to sustain interest, amidst busy lives.

“There are publishers producing short crime story anthologies, with simple language and construction which make them easy and enjoyable. For me, that is a great idea if we want people reading.

“Personally, I wouldn’t be where I am without comics. Inspector Tony McLean started out as a character in a comic book I wrote for 2000 AD back in 1991, which was rejected!

“I remember going on family holidays to my grandfather’s house in Easter Ross and spending pocket money on Commando books from the newsagents at Bonar Bridge.

“I am terribly badly read when it comes to the classics but I was reading all of the time. I don’t think parents need to worry if their kids are reading comic books. The important thing is that they are reading at all.”

Oswald almost quit writing after his crime novels were rejected by publishers, but sold over 350 000 self-published eBooks and was subsequently signed up by Penguin.

His new novel ‘Written In Bones’ is part of a body of work long listed in the 2017 CWA Dagger In The Library award, nominated by UK librarians.

He also tends Highland Cattle and Romney Sheep on a 350 acre farm in Newburgh, Fife.