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Comics/Graphic Novels

Training My Brain to Read Comics and Graphic Novels

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The human brain is built for reading comics and graphic novels. Let me explain.

Apparently, our brains are hardwired for visual content. Not only are we built to read images faster, but generally speaking, we’re also able to remember visuals better than we are able to recall spoken words or written text. That’s thanks to something called the Picture Superiority Effect. When we read a text or listen to words, we will likely only remember 10% of the information three days later. Comparatively, if the text is presented with images, we are likely to remember 65% of the information three days later.

So not only should we be better at reading comics, but following this logic, we should remember more of them than books with just words, right?

But if this is the case, why am I so bad at reading comic books and graphic novels?

Looking for answers to my problem, I did what anyone in the 21st century would do and I took to Google. But in all my searching, I couldn’t find anyone who has this same issue (issue…get it?). When I looked around to see why some people have trouble getting into comic books, it always came down to the same problem. Not knowing where to start. Yes, it’s true that comic books can seem overwhelming due to the sheer number of issues and offshoots and spinoffs any one series can have. But it’s not the storyline that scares me. It’s the actual images.

And now that I know that my human brain is meant to process images, I wonder what is wrong with me. Most people could probably zip through an entire graphic novel in one day. For me, it takes about a month. I have to stare at the page for a long time to process the images and fully understand what’s going on. When I try to read faster, especially during action sequences, I basically have no idea what’s going on. Words, I can make sense of. But images? They scare me!

The 4-Month Plan: Training My Brain to Read Comics

The Low Low Woods book cover

2022 is the year of embracing the things that scare us. This is why I have decided this is the year I’m training my brain to read graphic novels and comics. I’m starting off with a small goal to get me going. For every month in the year of 2022, I’m reading one graphic novel. After all, I estimate that it takes me about a month to finish a graphic novel. I’m accounting for all the time it takes me to look at images, process them, and connect them to the text. And then I’m accounting for the huge breaks I need to take from reading a couple of pages, because honestly the whole process is exhausting.

In January, I read Sailor Moon Eternal Edition: Volume 6 by Naoko Takeuchi. Last year, my husband and I started reading this series after rewatching the whole anime. But it soon became clear that I was much too slow of a reader to keep up the same pace as him. He is now several volumes ahead of me, and I’m just waving the white flag. I’ll get through them when I get through them. It helped that I was already familiar with the story, so this was an easy one to start the challenge.

In February, I read The Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado. Again, this felt like good way ease into graphic novels for me, because I am already a fan of Machado’s work. And so, even though this story was new to me, I felt like I had a good friend to guide me through the process.

seek you book cover

In March, my goal is to read Kristen Radtke’s nonfiction graphic novel Seek You. This book, which is an examination of isolation and loneliness in America, seems like such an appropriate read for the weird time we’re living in. And flipping through the book, I was excited to see that the pacing is slower than the graphic novels I’ve tried to read in the past. This isn’t an action-packed story like some of the comics I’ve struggled to read. I’m curious to see if I have the same issues with following the story in this one compared to action-based comics like Sailor Moon.

For April, I asked my Tailored Book Recommendations bibliologist to recommend a graphic novel for me. While I carefully planned the first three books for the year, I’m throwing caution to the wind with this one. What happens when I try to read a graphic novel that’s completely unfamiliar territory to me? I’m excited to find out. I haven’t received my recommendations yet, so it’ll be a surprise for everyone, me included.

After the Experiment

I don’t believe that yearly challenges should be a static thing. Based on how the first four months of the year go, I plan on reassessing my challenge accordingly. Maybe by this point, reading one graphic novel a month will feel way too easy. Maybe I’ll feel compelled to branch out into more single issue comics and manga. Who knows? What I’m hoping is that the more I read images and text together, the more the process of reading comics and graphic novels will feel natural to me.

I really can’t wait to check in and see where I’m at in four months. More importantly, I can’t wait to see what I’m doing with comics and graphic novels in a year. I know that I can still live a happy, full life without reading comics. But I do feel like I’ve missed out on a lot of great stories, because for most of my life I’ve completely avoided the genre. In a year, will I be a full-on comic books reader? Watch this space. I might be back with an update in 2023.

Further Reading

If you’re intimidated by comic books, I highly recommend you check out this beginner’s guide to comic books.

Looking to get into Marvel comic books specifically? Then you’re going to find this helpful: Where to Start Reading Marvel Comics: Your Reading Order.

Or maybe (just maybe) you’ll never understand comics, and that’s okay too!