A NEW breed of comics, far removed from the World War II heroics and boarding school high jinks of our childhood reading materials, are winning over our gadget-loving kids.
hile comics from bygone years like 'Warlord' and 'Bunty' were mainly aimed to entertain boys and girls, modern comics have far higher aspirations.
Pick up any of the publications aimed at our pre-schoolers and you're more likely to see cover stickers proclaiming their support for the early years curriculum and social and emotional learning rather than offering 'True stories of men at war.'
Magazine distributors tell us that the older comics like 'The Beano' and 'The Dandy' are declining but a new breed of fun-to-learn titles are now the big sellers.
This is evident in local newsagents where ever-increasing shelf space is devoted to weekly instalments of the adventures of 'Peppa Pig', 'Thomas and Friends' and the 'Waybuloos'.
The contents of those groaning bottom shelves may even be good for little brains.
The traditional suspicion that comics are low-grade entertainment and are bad for kids is being dispelled. A recent Canadian study says that comics should be used in the classroom because they are such a useful tool in teaching children how to read -- particularly where boys are concerned.
This means that parents could be actually doing their kids a disservice by not allowing them to spend their hard-earned pocket money on corner-shop comics.
Comics are certainly making a comeback on the bottom shelf and even providing stiff competition for books, according to newsagents. Carmel Felle runs the Roselawn newsagents in Roselawn shopping centre in Dublin's Blanchardstown.
"Books can be expensive while comics are cheaper and very up-to-date and colourful. The comics can cost anywhere from €2 to over €5 while books cost a bit more."
Carmel has no time for those people who say that comics are a waste of money.
"I think they are a wonderful resource for kids and anything that starts children reading is brilliant," she says.
In her view the anti-comic brigade are, well, just comical. "Some people think they are rubbish but I think they are an essential part of any young person's life," she adds.
Surprisingly the comic sector is one of the few in the publishing business that is thriving.
"Comics are still selling very well even with the recession and it's actually a growing sector. It is very much a central part of the business."
Other children's publications have not fared so well. "We find that the annuals are not as popular as they used to be," says Carmel.
This sentiment is backed up by the magazine distributors.
"In the children's comic category, pre-school titles -- particularly the Fun to Learn titles -- are the biggest sellers. The older comics like 'The Dandy' and 'The Beano' have declined in recent years," said a spokeswoman for Easons.
The diversity of comics is one reason for their current success. They now cater for all age ranges and tastes.
"There are so many different ones out there and they all still sell, which is amazing," Carmel adds.
"For the younger ones there is 'CBeebies weekly', 'Peppa Pig', 'Thomas and Friends' as well as 'Waybuloos'. The older ones are into things like 'Ben 10', 'Jacqueline Wilson', 'Toxic' and 'Match Attaks'."
Newsagent Carmel also marvels at the amount of work that goes into modern-day comics compared to their one-dimensional predecessors.
"A lot of thought goes into comics for kids nowadays. They come out weekly or fortnightly and each new edition is eagerly awaited."
Magazines like the 'CBeebies Weekly', which features characters from pre-schoolers' BBC programmes, includes an editorial at the front for parents. This points them to the make and do and arts and crafts features in particular.
The CBeebies magazine is scientifically researched but still manages to be fun. It is based on the six areas of learning which supports early years development. These areas are: communication; maths; being creative; finding out; physical development and feeling good.
The Fun to Learn range of magazines features characters such as Peppa Pig and Ben and Holly, and are aimed at three to seven-year-olds. The mission statement says: "With an editorial emphasis on learning through fun, the magazines encourage pre-school children to participate in early educational activities as they work through the magazines with their parents."
One of the main features of these titles is the pull-out workbook which encourages the parent and child to interact. Stickers are also used extensively which makes learning fun and rewarding.
In her shop Carmel finds that the customers for these new-generation comics come in all shapes and sizes.
"You find grandparents coming in to buy them for their grandchildren. Parents also buy them as well as the children themselves."
But what do the kids think of the reading material on offer? Sixth class pupil Colin Byrne (12) lives in Dublin's Castleknock and is a big comic fan. "I love graphic novels and comics but I really like Japanese comics."
Colin's been a fan for a long time. "When I was younger I got a lot of action comics like 'Atom'. I started off reading comics and now I am very into books."
So what does he like best? "I like comics because they are easy to read and up to date. I like 'Spider-Man' and 'The Simpsons' too."
Colin's sister Gillian (eight) is another big fan. "I like to get magazines too. I really like 'The Simpsons' because they are funny and I watch them on TV. I used to get 'Peppa Pig' and 'Dora the Explorer' when I was younger."
The special features like the giveaway on the front cover and the stickers are her favourite thing. "I like the stickers and the toy you get. I wish I could get 20 a week!" she says.
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