Recently I’ve blurted out a few obvious hints on Twitter that I’m dyslexic. I thought I’d write a few notes down as I’ve had a few people contact me wanting to know more and if my condition had anything to do with me being in comics. Please excuse, It’s a bit clunky.
It’s not a rare dysfunction it’s very common. Turns out 4% of the adult population is dyslexic, that’s massive. I first knew I had a problem towards the end of primary school. I’d been stuck on the red reading books when everyone else had jumped up to yellow, green and blue. I had no idea why I couldn’t do what my friends could even though I knew I was just as smart. Then in the first year of Comprehensive I started copying friends work over their shoulder, ticking every box in multiple choice exams and generally making a mess of writing and spelling tests.
During the early 1980’s Exmouth Comprehensive had the biggest pupil population in Europe I found I could easily hide in the system and get through school without doing any real work at all. Pupils in the lower sets had behavior problems which deflected attention from me. I messed up all my final exams but had one moment of glory, a grade A O-level in technical drawing. I’m the only person in that school year to achieve this result which made me very proud. After school I wanted to become an architect but unfortunately didn’t have the right qualifications so started on a building course and retook my academic CSE’s (before GCSE).
After being disenchanted with building I picked up the minimum qualifications for a BTEC foundation course in Art which in turn and with luck and help from friends moved to an HND in Illustration. I’ve had a lot of help from friends for which I’ll always be grateful, most of the time they’ll put it down to me being lazy. I’m happy to go along with this as it seems less embarrassing than telling them I’ve a learning difficulty.
I’ll tell you what I see when I look at a page of text but it could be different to what other people with dyslexia see. The brain is complex and there is a dyslexic spectrum. No two people have exactly the same problem. Like every neurological dysfunction names are given to crudely cover broad areas with many differences.
I can only read one letter at a time. The rest of the text is out of focus and in motion (swirling). Each letter of the alphabet has a different focal point. For instance an ‘n’ is in the background a ‘g’ is in the foreground and an ‘e’ is somewhere between the two. By concentrating tunnel vision onto an individual letter it magically comes into focus and stops moving. With many years practice reading can be done relatively quickly. As well as that translating text and understanding it are two separate jobs which need to be worked on simultaneously, once mastered its impressive stuff. Obviously this has an effect on reading confidence. Filling in forms is also difficult and I can easily spend a half hour writing a one sentence e-mail constantly checking between the lines to see if I haven’t accidentally insulted or confessed an embarrassing illness to a client.
Once, to prove a point I cut a small hole in a piece of paper, the hole being big enough to read just one letter. Scanning a line of text one letter at a time through the hole made very little difference to my reading speed.
The last book I read was twelve years ago. It promised to pin point the lost city of Atlantis with unquestionable proof. After putting in so much effort to reach it’s obviously silly conclusion I felt cheated. Thankfully I’ve switched to audio books and most of my reading now consists of newspaper articles and scripts.
Why is reading text so difficult when other objects on the page like pictures and icons are perfectly stationary and crystal clear? I’ve no idea but they are. This could be the reason why comics as a medium are so important to me, especially when I think back to when I was young and the affect they had on me.
With 4% of the population with dyslexia you would think that comics would be widely available in schools. To connect a picture with the text gives a certain amount of confidence that the story is going in the direction described and confidence is the key. Even if there are no pictures on a page there are still ways to build confidence using text. Breaking sentences into groups, making patterns with words, making words different sizes and using different type faces, surrounding words with space, it all helps. Spike Milligan used these techniques in some of his poems and the same can be seen in comics where words are written in different ways to illustrate different sound effects.
Imagine a school physics book with each page a sequence of panels containing Icons, symbols, bullet points, speech balloons and diagrams. The paradox is that the puzzle of reading seems to be fixed by creating a second layer of puzzles. A dyslexic reader facing a pictorial puzzle would be put back in control and especially for children it would turn a frustrating activity into an enjoyable one and with enjoyment comes a repetitive learning which in time will build into the tools needed as an adult to translate and read more easily. It’s a different type of learning that requires the creation of a different set of neurological pathways, a long process that goes beyond school years but is achievable.
To sum up I’ve never missed what I’ve never had and those new pathways have come in handy in ways I now take for granted. It’s all about those all-important school years and the confidence given with the right education. Let’s get comics into schools.
A recent trip to hospital saw an opportunity to do some sketches. I’d been pumped full of all kinds of drugs and was in a very content and peaceful state of mind. Two of them are sketches of the nurses (the big eyed nurse was on night duty). I was looked after really well. One is a sketch waiting for the train back home from Paddington Station. (I’m better by the way).
Design point: wasn’t sure how this cover would be cropped so made sure the widest part of the sun lined up with the samurai’s eyes and with a great job from the cover designer it seems to have worked well. Also I’ve noticed many covers recently only using two main colours for a more eye catching design, so here decided to have a go and do the same.
For this cover I was asked to draw three parody comic books taking off famous Superman, Spiderman and X-Men covers and changing them into 2000ad covers all read by a freaky alien. As you can see this had to be drawn in many parts and brought together for the final image. (Available in May).
Here are a few sample pages from John Wagner’s Days of Chaos. (A Judge Dredd story serialised in 2000ad). Thought it’d be interesting to show the pages without colour and lettering.
Sarah and Leigh from Factory Road studio have kindly sent me a disc of photos from last months DJFood (and me) exhibition. Sarah Coleman (aka Inkymole) is a successful illustrator, her work you might recognise, check out her blog… http://www.inkymole.blogspot.co.uk/
This collection of sketches directly drawn onto prints has been photographed and collected together randomly by Kevin Koakes aka DJFood. subconsciously creating a comic strip that was never ment to be.
Friday the 1st June sees Factory Road Gallery’s opening night featuring work by DJFood and me. Work from his album The Search Engine, 12″ disc artwork, comic pages, pages from doodle book Broadcast and much much more.
Be sure to drop by if you live around the Leicestershire area (they have special DJFood chocolate bars!!!)
Factory Road’s Blog http://factoryroadgallery.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/dj-food-and-henry-flint.html
Kev’s DJFood website. http://www.djfood.org/djfood/factory-road-gallery-goodies
Here are two 2000ad covers and their roughs for Judge Dredd’s Days of Chaos story written by John Wagner. Also a Judge Death sketch thrown in at the end there.
My tribute to Brett Ewins for http://forbiddenplanet.co.uk/blog/ who is still in Wormwood Scrubs. he was the first professional to contact me when I was 17, 5 years before getting my first break. Thanks for the encouragement, Brett. learn more about his case here and spread the word… http://tonyvwright.tumblr.com/post/18909727661/brett-ewins