I really struggled to read books when I was young.
My first Early Reader was Plop, the Owl who was Afraid of the Dark, and I absolutely loved all those choose-your-own-adventure books from the 80's where you'd die like 5 times before reaching the grand finale, but I cannot remember my first non-picture book, and by non-picture book I mean a piece of literature completely devoid of illustration. Why is that, I wonder?
What I do remember though is struggling to read beyond the first few chapters of any non-picture book, fiction or non-fiction. If the book had no illustrations whatsoever, I wasn't interested. It's a shame really, because I missed out. Of course, I was encouraged to read by my parents and my teachers and librarians, and there were books all around. But for me the leap from picture books to chapter books was too big. I just couldn't jump that far. Nowadays there's a plethora of heavily illustrated chapter books, which is fantastic, but I really can't recall that many from back in the 80s.
I found reading at school particularly challenging. Maybe I had a short attention span or was easily distracted. Nothing really excited me the same way pictures did, but I had outgrown all the illustrated books at school.
Then I discovered another form of lit, in a gas station. It combined complex narratives and diverse themes with amazing illustrations. The perfect combo. I was 10 or 11 when I bought my first comic book. It was Uncanny X-Men issue 220 (and this was way before 'ole Wolverine and co had crossed beyond comic book fandom into the mainstream). "What does Uncanny mean?" I remember thinking to myself. I took the comic home. I read it, and read it again and again and again. Of course, it ended with a cliffhanger. I wanted more. More from Chris Claremont and Marc Silvestri. (I should add that I was well aware of British comic books like Dandy and Beano, which I loved, but US comics were clearly very different and sated my appetite for meatier, longer, more grown-up stories.)
Before long I was hooked. Really hooked. Comic books were a revelation to me. The stories were spectacular and the characters, in spite of their powers, were real. I couldn't get enough. Real people with real lives and real challenges. I could not wait until the next instalment of X-Men, so I started reading The Avengers and X-Factor and Spiderman and Spider-Ham and She-Hulk and Elf Quest and The New Mutants, which quickly became a favourite probably because the characters were teenagers and the artwork by Bill Sienkiewicz was like nothing I'd ever seen before. Still it wasn't enough, so I started buying back issues and reading whole series' of discontinued titles. I loved discovering obscure comics, mini-series' and one-offs.
By the time I was 14 I had acquired hundreds of comics, and not just Marvel. I had branched out to DC, Dark Horse, Harvey and Image. My first graphic novel was Watchmen, which was probably a little too adult for an adolescent. I devoured it in one sitting.
I was fully immersed. All the while my reading skills were improving, my vocabulary expanding (I wonder how many other 10 year olds knew what Uncanny meant) and I felt every emotion under the sun by living vicariously through my comic book heroes.
As an adult I can look back and fully acknowledge that comic books were my bridge between illustrated books and all other forms of literature. I'm currently knee deep in John Grisham's new thriller, and I've just finished an awesome graphic novel called Patience, by Daniel Clowes.
I'll end this blog post by saying that, if you or someone you know really struggles to reach Chapter 3 in any kind of book, you should buy a comic book! You might never look back.
Below are a bunch of comic book covers from the same month in late 80s, around the time I started collecting. I absolutely loved these Marvel 25th Anniversary covers, if only I had collected them all!