Guest Post: Why Comics? by Aśka

It’s been a while since we had a guest post here, but today I am delighted to welcome my friend, and the very talented illustrator  Aśka, here to talk about comics to celebrate the release of an important and wonderful new book, Stars in Their Eyes . Over to you  Aśka

Why Comics? by Aśka

I’m a visual person. In fact, that’s an understatement. There is always a movie playing in my head visualising how something feels, or scrutinising an image painted by a cliché, or ‘seeing’ music I enjoy. It never stops.

This may be why I was immediately drawn to comics when I started reading as a child. My favourite books had characters who interacted with the panels they were drawn in, played with space and time, and even the creator (whose hand and pen would sometimes feature). At six years old I had already found my medium. I was hooked and there was no going back.

Today it’s a dangerous game to say you love comics and keep your literary cred at the same time. Historically, comics have been associated with low-brow content, misogynous entertainment, propaganda and even teenage delinquency.

As the form developed and matured, it was rebranded as the more acceptable ‘graphic novel’. I personally use ‘comics’ as an umbrella term for both; apart from the format in which they’re printed I don’t believe there really is much of a difference between them.

Comics are a medium, and just like films, books and songs, they contain a universe of genres within them that vary in quality and sophistication. The same basic language of comics can be used for entertaining escapism, as well as for creating confronting, multi-layered emotional experiences.

I believe it’s time comics were taken as seriously as any other branch of literature, and with that, I present five reasons for my undying devotion to them.

Comics offer a personalised experience

A comic is not just pictures in boxes, plastered with speech bubbles. It uses panels (time), representational and symbolic images, words, sounds and layout to create an experience. It’s a vehicle the reader climbs into and then drives though the story. And unlike any other medium, the reader controls the pace and (to an extent) the direction of that journey.

If you’re disturbed by a part of the story, you can glance over it without losing your place. If you’re enjoying a moment, there is enough there to let you linger and revel in it. If there is a large spread, you can wonder around in it and become lost. The comic creator never knows exactly how the reader will traverse their work, except maybe for the minimal requirement of reading from left to right, top to bottom. But through the presence of this unknown parameter, the comic format creates a uniquely personal experience for each reader. Even as a child I felt this and that’s how my fascination started.

Comics require a high level of literacy

Every time someone says ‘comics are great for early and reluctant readers’, I roll my eyes. Yes, it’s true – the visuals offer an alternative reading of the story and this certainly helps with the interpretation of the text, as well as with the reader’s confidence. But there is so much more to it than that.

The comic reader is expected to assemble the visual, emotive, temporal, sound and narration cues in their mind: comic reading is therefore a much more complex and immersive experience. The more acrobatics your brain performs to extract the story, the bigger the reward. So to gain pleasure from reading a well put together comic work is to know one’s way around more than just the written word.

As children, we treat and train all of our literacies equally. However, when we are adults, it is possible to feel that multi-modal literacy is an innate ability and, unlike the written word, does not require attention or scrutiny. But this is not the case, and there is a deficit in our own ability (and the ability of our children) to be aware of and critical of the various non-verbal cues bombarding us. I will come back to the gravity of this point later.

Comics offer a platform for marginalised voices

Being shunned by mainstream literature, comics became an independent medium, growing and developing in the bedrooms of their creators, on the alternative zine-scene and shared at meet-ups and conventions – far from sanitizing power of the mainstream publishing industry. As a result, independent comics have long been a playground for diverse stories created by people whose voices have been silenced on other cultural platforms.

The personalised experience offered by reading a comic means the relationship between the reader and the storyteller is a more intimate one. A comic that offers a window into the life or opinions of an individual who is different from the reader has a chance of being met with less resistance than other mediums because of the powerful emotional connection that forms through the investment required to read it.

This might explain the rise of the biographical-graphic novel and the introduction of own-voice patient graphic novels as recommended reading across various medical sectors. (For more on this, see:

Comics are not just about amazing art

After years of being quite elitist in my opinions of what constituted ‘good’ and ‘bad’ art, comics have taught me that skilfully executed, realistic artwork is not what makes a great reading experience. After all, leaving gaps in the ‘text’ for the reader to fill in and interpret is how engagement is established.

The essence of comics is creating a space (with parameters decided upon by the maker) where the images and words interact in the reader’s mind, resulting in ‘the story’. An engaging comic could be made with no representational imagery at all – for example, in complete darkness or with ‘dots’ as characters. The success of storytelling through comics does not rest on the ‘quality’ of the words or images alone, but on the pacing, scale and multi-sensory and emotional narrative. This is often considered by the creator way ahead of any drawing taking place, and has little to do with how well the form of the characters has been rendered.

Comics in schools can end our visual illiteracy

As our screens overload with information, and our attention spans shorten, messaging is becoming more visual. Images can say and emote so much in a span of a glance. Each time you look at your phone, tablet or laptop, images are selling you a product, idea, opinion or agenda. Yet visual illiteracy is on the rise, as our ability to recognise and question visual propaganda wanes.

This brings me back to the earlier point that comics require multi-modal literacy of their readers. Treating comics as a valid form of literature, bringing them into the curriculum and studying the mechanisms that govern them is one of the major ways to prepare the next generation for the changing world ahead.

And with these words, I urge the ‘gatekeepers’ of the written word to start recognising and enjoying the rich diversity of what comics have to offer. Publishers of all genres could look into expanding their lists to include comics. Librarians are encouraged to read all the books in the comics-section to ensure appropriate age-classification of their titles. Educators could look to comics to boost their area of the curriculum with visual literacy. And this entire revolution starts with each individual picking up a graphic novel literary fiction and setting off on a journey of their own.

Stars in Their Eyes is a graphic novel by Aśka and Jessica Walton. It’s available in all good bookstores and online from Fremantle Press.

Aśka is an energetic illustrator, storyteller and science communicator who is a passionate advocate for visual literacy. She has illustrated ten published books and is a regular contributor to The School Magazine and other children’s publications.

Connect with Aśka on Facebook and Instagram (@askaillustration).






Meet Me at the Intersection, edited by Rebecca Lim & Ambelin Kwaymullina

We are the voices too often unheard, the people too often unseen. But we are here; we are speaking. And through this book, we invite you into our worlds.
Meet us at the intersections. 

As the introduction to this collection reminds us, there is a startling lack of diversity in the books offered to children and teens the world over. Most importantly, stories told by diverse creators are significantly under represented in the publishing landscape, and thus in bookstores, libraries and schools. Meet Me at the Intersection aims to bridge this gap by offering an anthology written by authors who are First Nations, People of Colour, LGBTIQA+ aor who live with disability.

Included stories include memoir, contemporary fiction, historical fiction, speculative fiction and poetry and each includes a brief biography of the writer and their aims and considerations in producing their contribution to the anthology.

Edited by Rebecca Lim and Ambelin Kwaymullina and iwth contributions form a mix of established and emerging creators, including Alice Pung, Kelly Gardiner and Amra Pajalic, the collection offers a range of unique perspectives of life for readers of all backgrounds.

Meet Me at the Intersection, edited by Rebecca Lim & Ambelin Kwaymullina
Fremantle Press, 2018
ISBN 9781925591705

Rainfall by Ella West

Westport, the town where I live, lies (mostly) between the banks of the Buller and the Orowaiti rivers. The Buller flows fast and deep through bush and gorges. It finally emerges amid a narrow strip of farmland before being channelled to the sea at the south end of the town between two man-made tip heads. After running freely from wild mountains deep inland, I think it must be embarrassed when it becomes a river port and then, even worse, has its final send-off over the dredged river bar into the Tasman. It gets its revenge, however, because when it rains the Buller swells to be the largest river in New Zealand and then nothing stands in its way. It tears whole trees from its banks, will take farmland and close roads. Nothing survives if caught in its waters.

Annie is fifteen, living with her folks in a west-coast New Zealand town, where the downturn in coal production is taking what few jobs remain there. On her way to basketball, she is turned back by the police. Not only does Annie miss the basketball game that day, she sees a coat floating down the swollen river and discovers a mysterious stranger riding a beautiful horse along her beach. Suddenly, the wet, economically-depressed town is immersed in a high-profile murder investigation. Around her, in the only place she has ever lived, everything seems to be changing.

Like the river that sometimes flows quietly, Annie has been drifting through her life. As rain continues to fall, and everything that’s certain begins to dissolve, Annie has to decide whether to be passive and accept everything that happens in her world, or to begin to make her own decisions, to make her own path, like the raging river does. She begins to open her eyes and see what’s actually happening in and to the town where she was born. She knows this place. Now she needs to decide what to look for, what to tell, what to hide. Themes include community, family, safety, first love, rites of passage. A thriller for early secondary readers.

Rainfall, Ella West
Allen & Unwin 2018 ISBN: 9781760296834

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

Unearthed, by Amie Kaufman & Megan Spooner

I swallow hard, gritting my teeth. Millions of light-years from home, standing on the surface of an alien planet, it never truly hit me until now that the biggest thing I’d have to fear would be another human being.

Mia is alone on Gaia, a planet far from Earth. Her goal is to scavenge as much alien tech as she can to earn not just her backer’s approval but something far more important – enough money to buy her little sister’s freedom. Jules Addison is on Gaia too, but his goal is far more important, he thinks. He wants to study the long extinct alien civilisation who once lived here – in the hopes that what he learns might save humanity, and his father’s reputation. With very differing aims, neither is impressed when they meet – but it fast becomes apparent that they need each other if they are to survive the planet, let alone meet their personal goals.

Unearthed is a young adult space-opera blending sci-fi with action, romance and tomb-raiding scenes reminiscent of Indiana Jones, where the pair must cooperate to navigate action puzzles to stay alive and continue their quest.

The dual narrative allows readers to connect with the two main characters and to understand both their motivations and their back stories. Both are likeably flawed and although the story is slow in patches, it is increasingly absorbing, and readers will be left keen to read the sequel and find out what happens to Mia and Jules.

Unearthed, by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner
Allen & Unwin, 2018
ISBN 9781760292157

Small Spaces, by Sarah Epstein

We don’t pick and choose what to be afraid of. Our fears pick us.

When she was eight Tash Carmody witnessed her secret friend Sparrow abduct a child, Mallory Fisher. But nobody believed Tash, because no one else had ever met Sparrow and, over the years since, Tash has come to accept that Sparrow wasn’t real and that some trauma  caused her to create her version of events. Mallory has been mute since the week that she went missing, and, after years of counselling and being sheltered by her increasingly frustrated mother, Tash is determined to put events behind her. But Mallory and her family are back in town and old memories are resurfacing. Tash becomes increasingly isolated from her few friends as she starts to wonder if Sparrow really does exist – or whether she herself is the dangerous one.

Small Spaces is a gripping psychological thriller for young adult readers. The mystery of what happened to Tash, and Tash’s involvement, will keep readers guessing. Tash’s first person narration is interspersed with scripts of recordings of her counselling sessions over the intervening years, allowing readers insight into Tash’s version of events at the time, and what has happened in the intervening years.

Creepy, gripping and unputdownable.

Small Spaces, by Sarah Epstein
Walker Books, 2018
ISBN 9781921977381

The Fifth Room, by A.J. Rushby

‘I…’ I begin to argue, but my dad stops me, leaning forward over the table.
‘Miri, it would be unwise of me to say too much for both our sakes, but I will say this: there are things I used to be involved in – that I used to believe in – that I am no longer involved in or believe in. If you proceed with your current course, there are things I cannot help you with. Matters in which I would be more of a hindrance to you than a help if you were to call upon me. Do you understand what I’m saying?’

Miri should be in high school, but her brilliance and aptitude for medicine have seen her placed in an elite college program and invited to be part of an international secret society. She is thrilled to be part of the Society,and eager to engage in the opportunities it offers – especially the chance to do her own research, unhampered by the need for ethics approvals. But when her research proposal is accepted, she finds herself whisked away to a secret location where she must compete with other young researchers. Miri’s experiment means she is awake night after night , giving the opportunity to see that not everything at the research centre is at it seems. As her doubts grow, she isn’t sure who she can trust, or even if she’ll get out alive.

The Fifth Room is a blend of mystery, romance and psychological thriller. A fairly easy read, it explores concepts surrounding moral dilemmas in an intriguing setting.

The Fifth Room, by A. J. Rushby
Scholastic, 2017
ISBN 9781742762548

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares, by Krystal Sutherland

Esther Solar had been waiting outside Lilac Hill Nursing and Rehabilitation Center for half an hour when she received word that the curse had struck again.
Rosemary Solar, her mother, explained over the phone that she would no longer, under any circumstances, be able to pick her daughter up. A cat black as night with demon-yellow slits for eyes had been found sitting atop the hood of the family car – an omen dark enough to prevent her from driving.

Esther Solar believes her family is cursed. Ever since her grandfather met Death in Vietnam, every family member has been cursed to suffer from one great fear, and to eventually die because of that fear. Her Grandfather, told her will die from drowning, avoids water, even baths. Esther’s father is an agoraphobic who has lived in the basement for six years, And her twin brother Eugene is terrified of the dark. Esther, though, is determined to avoid the curse, by avoiding everything that might trigger a phobia. She’s made a list of them, a semi-definitive list of worst nightmares. Then she meets Jonah, a would-be film maker with problems of his own, who is determined to make her confront, and dispel every one of her possible phobias.

Funny, sad and satisfyingly weird, A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares is hard to categorise, which is a good thing. The cast of flawed characters – teens and adults – are intriguing, and the plot equally absorbing. There’s some tough stuff happening, but the story is ultimately fun.

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares Penguin, 2017
ISBN 978014357391

In the Dark Spaces, by Cally Black

The stranger keeps coming, long-legged stretches of shiny black uniform kicking down the ramp. And it’s not a person. Facing McVeigh is this tall half-crow, half-scarecrow things, all dressed in black. SHiny black armoured ridges line down the centre of its chest and across its shoulders like the back of a crocodile. Its head is a massive beaked helmet. And it’s not a leathery cape, cos it’s moving by itself. They’re wings. Wings that lift higher and quiver….
My scalp prickles. Not right. This is not right. This is a real thing!

Tamara has spent most of her life hiding. Since she was orphaned, her Aunt Lazella has kept her hidden on the ships where she ekes out a living in the kitchens. Now, Tamara is responsible for keepign her little cousin, Gub, silent while Lazella works. But if she can get strong enough to work, too, their fortunes will improve.

When the ship is raided by strange crow-like figures, Tamara finds her fortunes changing in a completely different way. Separated from Gub, Tamara finds herself a prisoner of the invaders, taken back to their hive where she must figure out a way to stay alive long enough to figure out how to get back to her cousin. But, separated by space, this is not going to be asy.

In the Dark Spaces is a stunning spec-fic offering. Set in an unnamed future where fleets of starships mine space for the minerals necessary for survival on Earth, the story explores what happens when an alien race objects to the human presence, which threatens its own existence. Fourteen year old Tamara, who knows too well the downsides of human society, gets to experience first hand the highs and lows of an alternative civilisation, as well as being drawn into the quest for peace.

Tamara is an intriguing character, whose near-silent existence as a stowaway in her aunt’s quarters is swapped for one where she is initially voiceless because of the barriers of language. Her tenacity, coupled with her willingness to learn and to question, are key to her survival, and her loyalty to her absent cousin is a key factor in her survival.

Explroing themes including language, loyalty, human rights and so much more,
In the Dark Spaces is an outstanding read.

In the Dark Spaces, by Cally Black
Hardie Grant Egmont, 2017
ISBN 9781760128647

Mallee Boys by Charlie Archbold

You know, when you walk into a murky river you could step on anything. I’ve never understood how easily some people will just leap on in when they can’t see a thing. I suppose it’s like life; maybe I could do with just stepping in more an looking less.
Sandy’s a funny kid. I say kid, but he’s not much younger than me. He’s fifteen. I’m eighteen. It’s only three years but sometimes it seems like thirty. Dad said I burst into the world, born effortlessly on the way to the hospital, which for a first baby was something. I screamed my lungs out and the doc told Mum she was a natural. Sandy though was way too early. Born premmie, he had to spend his first few months in hospital. Probably daydreaming in the womb and before he knew it he’d just drifted out.
Typical. Sandy causing a lot of drama for everyone. They had to get the flying doctors out and all sorts.

On a farm in the Mallee, Sandy and Red and their dad are adjusting to life following the death of their mother. Sandy is no natural farm boy, scared of goats and allergic to spring. He keeps his secrets tight. Red loves the farm but is so angry with the world that he may as well be a willy-willy – wild and out of control. Their dad is just trying to keep it together. Three of them, no talking, in a brutal landscape of wind and searing heat. It’s going to be a big year.

Mallee Boys’ is a wrenching, real story about grief and survival. It’s also about choosing your path, even if it’s not easy and might take you away from everything you know. The landscape is tough, but full of beauty for those who look for it. Plenty of themes in here: loss, responsibility, change, family, truth, communication. Without their mum to guide them, and with their dad drowning in his own loss, two young men have to make their own decisions and live with them. Recommended for mid- upper-secondary readers.
Mallee Boys, Charlie Archbold

Wakefield Press 2017 ISBN: 9781743055007

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

Sparrow, by Scot Gardner

One two three breath one two three four.
After the dusk burned out and the stars began winking in his salt-stung eyes it became impossible to judge the distance to shore. The stars finished some way above the waterline, but was theat the Kimberley coast he could see, or clouds hanging low over an endless ocean?
One two breath one two breath.

Travelling by boat at the end of a survival trip off the Kimberley coast, Sparrow sees that the boats i about to sink and decides to swim for safety and for freedom. His life in juvie has been tough, and h’es prepared to risk everything for freedom. But there are sharks and crocodiles in the water, and its getting dark. the shore, too, is filled with dangers. Yet none of these dangers are perhaps as dark as the memories that crowd his mind.

Sparrow is a compelling story of survival both in the remote Kimberley wilderness, and on the streets of Darwin. Sparrow, selective mute after a childhood of trauma, relives the events which have lead to him being in juvenile detention as he tackles the new challenges for day to day survival which have arisen as a result of his decision to flee the boat.

A moving, unforgettable story.

Sparrow, by Scot Gardner
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760294472