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Reading With Pictures

By Betsy Mikel in Arts & Entertainment on May 7, 2010 6:40PM

2010_05RWP.jpg Josh Elder believes in a simple equation. Comics > Prose. He feels so strongly that he founded a nonprofit based on it. It's now clear he's not the only one who believes comics can change the world.

Reading With Pictures, an organization using comics to promote literacy in schools, has already generated more than $11,000 in funding for a comic book anthology still three months from being released. Furthermore, the Northwestern School of Education and Policy is working with RWP to pursue comic book research, which will ultimately lead to the integration of comics into classroom curriculum. Add the support of countless librarians, teachers, academics, and cartoonists who are spreading the RWP mission across the Interwebs and beyond, and consider how much visibility certain comic artists have been getting as of late. If you haven't heard about RWP just yet, you just have. Consider yourself lucky, because we think this is going to be huge.

For those naysayers who think a good, fat, picture-less novel will always trump a comic book, consider Edler's analogy. "You add poetry to music and you have a song, but combining the two doesn't make the poetry less poetic or the music any less musical." RWP is not trying to replace books with comics. The organization is trying to get kids reading books via comics. "You can recreate any work of prose or poetry in a comic word-for-word within the confines of the comic," says Elder. By definition, comics can do anything prose can do. They tell stories, engage readers, and spark imaginations. In fact, comics can potentially accomplish more than books because they offer the possibility of sneaking art education back into schools. Also, a lot of reluctant readers enjoy comics. Comics get them reading more.

RWP has a lot of projects in the works, and right now they're focusing most heavily on publishing the first anthology. The volume will be released August 18 and will contain original work from over 50 artists from all over the world. It's the first in a series of books that will show how to teach with comics. By generating pledges on, RWP is inviting backers to help put money towards the initial printing cost of the volume. With a $250 pledge, you could have been drawn into the anthology; unfortunately that package is sold out. But there are still plenty of other pledge amounts still available from the $5 pledge for a digital edition to the $1,500 deluxe classroom package.

The RWP team already has a second volume in the works. Even though this first anthology is twice as long as they originally planned, Elder still had to turn artists away to keep the book a manageable size. All this monetary and artistic support just serves as more evidence that comics are big right now, and they're only getting bigger. Using comics to empower kids to read sounds like a really good idea.