Learning to Read #1
A recurring theme in education and schools studies is that many boys appear to lose their love of reading at around the age of 7, and from this point onwards, their attainment in reading and in English falls behind that of similarly aged girls.
In honour of being an exception to this trend, I’d like to put some love out there for one of the reasons why I kept on reading at this age. Seen with hindsight, yes, I was reading something that was racist, sexist, and violent. It was something that would never be considered as a classic of literature, but this never bothered me at all. None of this even entered my head. Every Tuesday, I’d come home from school, treat myself to a chocolate bar and sit down on the sofa to read my weekly installment of the Victor.
It was an event. A ritual. It was something to look forward to, from the cover feature of a “True Story of Men at War” with the variations in design for whether it was an army story or an RAF or Navy story, through 30 pages and a wide range of strips inside. This was the early 80’s and we just didn’t have many alternatives. Cue the rose tinted glasses and the nostalgia, but it is true. There wasn’t much childrens TV to watch, so we could either play on the building site at the end of the street, or read comics. The Dandy or Beano were the comic of choice for some – for me, it was the Victor.
And it kept me reading. The typically episodic content, with a regular turn around amongst the main characters. The themes and the stories. Yes, I agree, the stereotypes were terrible. Take, for example, Alf Tupper; the honest, working class underdog, a part time runner, part time welder, generally homeless and broke, surviving on fish and chips and still managing to beat the toff to the finishing line. Despite this, I was always excited to see what drama he would survive next.
You had Joe Bones the Human Fly, a soldier in World War 2 who couldn’t dress himself but could climb up anything, and, despite his general ineptitude, still give Jerry a good biff on the nose. Glasses of Glory took the scope beyond the Second World and allowed the British heroes to get the better of a whole new selection of utterly stereotypical foreign types.
All of the standard tricks of the trade for childrens comics were there. We got regular free gifts that were carefully aimed at the target audience – military style badges or toy guns or those model planes that you wedged a plastic propeller onto. There was a blend of other themes, a bit of comedy, a reasonable selection of football or other sports comics, sometimes a fantasy story or a science fiction tale.
You always had a hero to fall back on, even when the stories were hugely far fetched. Morgyn the Mighty, for example, ended up time travelling to the far future. Really? And exactly what is he wearing and who is he rescuing?? Morgyn started out life in the Rover Comic in 1928, did a brief stint in the Beano and then transferred to the Victor in 1963. I think you can guess the sort of hero he was.
The Victor was a D.C. Thomson and Co staple, and ran from 1961 to 1992. There was no way that it could have made any kind of transition to the modern era. Should I be celebrating, then, something that was so painfully of it’s time? A dinosaur? A relic of an age that seems a long way from us now. For all of its failings, it kept me reading. I read the print of the huge pile of comics that I collected in my house. I moved on, by the late 80’s, to more grown up comics such as Crisis and 2000AD. I moved on, during the mid 80’s, to actual books such as 1984, James Bond, Agatha Christie and a huge selection of fantasy and science fiction books. This, for a teenage boy in deepest Cumbria, was a novelty. And a success. I’m not saying that we should force feed our teenage boys with material that we know is inappropriate, but I am saying that if we do get them engaged with reading, we might not like everything that they want to read. Subscriptions to Viz might suddenly increase….
For all the failings of the Victor, I remain very loyal to it, and I owe it a significant debt. Hooray, then, for the forgotten heroes of the comic market in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Three cheers for Hotspur, StarLord, Battle and their like. Thank you, to the Victor and everything you did for me.