Children’s comics is undergoing a change in Hungary: in recent years several YA graphic novels have been translated and further titles are promised. In this small country with a conservative book industry, publishers have been hesitant to publish book format comics, and publishers of children’s literature did not publish comics at all. This seems to be undergoing a change, and I am really happy about it.
The target audience of comics in this country is 20-40 year-olds, most magazine format and book format comics are sold directly on festivals and comics fairs. The canonical works of the 1980s – comics have grown up – era are translated now + newer titles by DC and Marvel, which results in a masculine market that is a) unacknowledged by the gatekeepers of literature (literary publishers, magazines, writers, influencers) b) not particularly open to children’s titles.
I hope that the new children’s titles will attract young readers and also hope that there will be a time when Hungarian authors will also be able to have their stories published as beautiful colorful books.
In my essay I provide a background on the history of children’s comics in Hungary and also of the prevailing stereotypes about comics.
The stereotype that comics will a) teach children to read or b) make children like literature is particularly strong in this country because until the 1980s the ONLY available comics were adaptations of literary works. This tie with literature was the only way comics could survive until state socialism but it has a big drawback: for decades it has been DEFAULT to compare comics to the original literary works and get disappointed. The literary work was shortened, which was deemed barbaric, the comics were text heavy (but noone noticed that in a way we do, because they did not know comics of the capitalist west), and the children were still not queuing in the library to borrow the original literary works!
I also speculate the reasons why children’s literature is so sceptical about comics, claiming that one of the reasons is the culture of collecting toys and gimmicks, which is associated with cheap entertainment. This culture arrived in the late 1980s and in the 1990s. In this era new kinds of comics were allowed to be printed (breaking away from literary adaptations) which were most of the time related to cartoons. Children (among them myself 🙂 ) in this era met comics in a complex transmedial environment: magazines, books, stickers, notebooks, scented rubbers, cartoon series, anime series (of course we did not know the word anime). All this culture of objects and the idea of collecting are alien to the culture of children’s literature in Hungary, and I might be wrong, but this might be the first essay in Hungary that deals with this topic. (I have learned a lot about comics and transmedia from Frederick Luis Aldama’s interview with Benjamin Woo – it’s on youtube, check it out.)
I was also asked to include how comics can be read, somehow this question is very important in Hungary. I am constantly asked how one reads comics properly, and in 2018 when I was co-curating a major comics exhibition I also had to address this issue in one of the texts on the walls. I use the “art of tensions”, the model by Charles Hatfield in Alternative Comics (2005) because I think the idea of having four layers of meaning is a simple model that shows the complex beauty of comics. This model is also very teachable – the portal where my essay is published addresses teachers and professionals working with children’s literature, and I hope they will find my essay and Hatfield’s model useful.