Interview with comic book artist Charlie Adlard

Charlie Adlard is a British comic book artist, who was announced as the UK’s comics laureate in October 2016. He is best known as the artist for the popular zombie Walking Dead comics, but has also worked on The X Files, X-Men, Mars Attacks and Judge Dredd comics.

Hi Charlie! Did you enjoy reading comics when you were a child? What were your favourites?

I was brought up primarily on Marvel comics because they were more available in the British market when I was younger and were easier to get my hands on. Most of them were printed in black and white but when I was five years old that didn’t really matter!

Around the same time I started reading the Asterix books. My dad would always go to a petrol station which had a promotion running to get a free Asterix book, so I was constantly pestering my dad to go back to get more!

You’ve mentioned before that your son is dyslexic and comics are the main type of book he likes to read. Why do you think that comics are especially good for engaging reluctant readers or children who find reading difficult?

Comics are great for engaging anyone of any age, but for children who find reading difficult or aren’t particularly interested in reading, comics are brilliant because they’re less threatening. When you pick up a comic book it’s easier to see the story and decide if you’ll like it because it’s all there visually.

If you’re not really into reading or have reading difficulties, someone plonking down a copy of something like Harry Potter in front of you can be really intimidating because although they are written for kids, we forget that they’re 500 pages long! A sea of words can really put people off. Flicking through a comic can give you a sense of the story - you can go into a book shop or library and make more of a decision of whether you think you’ll like the book or not.

Do you have any tips for parents looking to encourage their child’s reading through comics?

I think being able to give a child a taster of what comics are like and then letting them explore the genre more for themselves works well. Something like The Phoenix, a weekly comic, is great because they feature slightly longer, in-depth stories, which are serialised so that kids can get a taster of the kind of things they like and then go out and explore more.

National Literacy Trust research has consistently found that girls enjoy reading and read more than boys. Do you think comics might be a useful tool in getting boys interested in reading?

Absolutely. Comics do tend to be seen more as a boy-centric thing – they have often been targeted at boys so they can definitely be a good tool for engaging boys. My eldest son is 15 and has read all of the Walking Dead comics which I drew the artwork for.

He was so excited and enthusiastic about reading them, especially after we went to San Diego and sat on a panel about the Walking Dead. Even though they were above his age range, my wife and I decided to introduce him to them because he was just so excited to start reading them. Although comics can include some difficult content, I find that they’re much more suitable than watching a TV show or film because it’s on a printed page and you can stop reading any time you feel uncomfortable; it’s just easier to digest all round.

Our book list has lots of comics for children which feature a range of different heroes and heroines from lots of different backgrounds. Do you think we’re seeing a more diverse range of comic books now than before?

Yes, definitely. In places like Japan or France they have a much broader range of readers than we do here, over there men and women of all different ages read comics - but in the UK or US the audience base tends to be narrower. To their credit, big publishers like Marvel and DC are definitely trying to broaden their appeal to reach more people from more diverse backgrounds. It’s also just a general change in the way our society works now - young girls know that they don’t have to read something made ‘for girls’ – they can enjoy superhero comics or whatever else appeals to them.

What tips would you have for children who are thinking of writing their own comic?

Just write what you know, write from your own experience. Your comic doesn’t have to be about superheroes or fantasy – in fact, it’s better to write about your own personal experience and something you know. And read lots of comics to get your inspiration!

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