Spreading the word in pictures

AROUND the long tables of the classroom, the group of 25 youngsters are beginning to get a bit fidgety.

Some are kicking their heels, others are whispering to each other, and most seem to want to avoid the questions being fired at them by comic book author Alan Grant.

The writer is trying to find out how many of the children are avid young readers. The answers, however, are not encouraging.

"Do you watch TV?" "Aye," comes a chorus. "Do you watch DVDs?" "Aye." "Do you play video games?" "Aye." "And do you read books?" "No."

Just when all seems lost, a small lone voice pipes up from the back of the room: "I do!"

The children, pupils at the Wester Hailes Education Centre, are in the WHALE Arts Centre as part of a workshop on Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped.

Most have read the graphic novel version of Stevenson's classic, created by Alan and artist Cam Kennedy for the Evening News-backed One Book - One Edinburgh reading campaign.

And as part of this morning's workshop they have also seen another adaptation of Kidnapped, the two-man play When Kilts Were Banned, which races through the story in around 30 minutes.

When asked whether they will now go on to read the novel, however, they seem a little uncertain.

"I've got the big book in my bag but I haven't started it," says Aaron Aitken, 12. "I don't know if I'll manage to read it. The play was really good though."

"It's a really big book and I think the size does put you off," admits Steven Reid, 12. "I've read the graphic novel and it was good, but I don't know if I'll read the actual book."

When Alan puts this question to them straight, around six children stick their hands up, while the others shrug and scoff.

One of those who believes she will read the book is 12-year-old Chelsea Neil, the one person who earlier admitted to reading books at home.

"I liked the play and I've already started reading the novel, but I've not read that much of it yet," she says. "I like Robert Louis Stevenson though, and we did a play of Treasure Island at school last year which was lots of fun."

Perhaps because they are a generation who prefer TV or films to books, it is the quick-fire theatrical adaptation which most easily holds the children's attention.

As actors Duncan Edwards and Gavin Paul dash around the small stage, changing costumes and throwing around props, the kids all seem totally caught up in the story.

"We've got lots of these performances coming up, but it's been great so far to see the kids paying attention and hopefully enjoying the play," says Duncan.

"We wanted to try to show them a few different versions, so that they would hopefully find a way to get into the story," says Laura McKenna, manager of the WHALE arts centre.

After the play, the kids go to meet Alan, one of the creators of Judge Dredd and a writer who has worked on superhero comics such as Batman and Spiderman.

When the question: "What's Judge Dredd?" rings out early on, however, it's clear he's got a tough task ahead of him.

Alan has come along to talk about writing, but after establishing that most of the children there are not comic book fans or great readers, he decides to try to give them a little motivation.

"There are studies which show that when you're watching TV, you only use one half of the brain, and the other half goes to sleep," he says. "When you read a book, it switches over and you use the other half of your brain.

"If you read comic books though, you'll use both halves of the brain, and so people who read comics tend to be smarter than people who don't."

He asks them to guess how long it took artist Cam Kennedy to draw the graphic novel.

"Six days," says one boy.

"Two years," suggest another.

Alan smiles, revealing it was actually nine months.

They are keen to know how long it took Alan to read the book, and he tells them it took him two days, and that he read it six times.

But for most of the children the most important question is about money. Almost all of them want to be millionaires - the exception being one lad who wants "to be a billionaire"!

So the knowledge that the creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles can make up to $50 million a year, simply for owning the rights to the characters, is something worth considering.

"It's amazing, but it's something children always ask - 'are you a millionaire'," Alan says.

There is some comfort for the writer - while most of the children say they don't read comics, 12-year-old Mohamed Sherif admits he is quite a big fan.

"I read lots of comics, really just anything with action and adventure stories," he says. "I'm sure I've read some of his [Alan's] Batman comics, and I think comics are great fun. I was quite pleased at getting the chance to meet him."

At the end of the session, as they file out, most of the children ask Alan to sign copies of the graphic novel of Kidnapped.

"I'd love it if more of them went and read the novel, but as long as they are reading the graphic novel then at least they are reading something, and I would be quite happy with that," he says.


SOMETIMES, a child eye's view can be very different to an adult's one.

When the class met comic writer Alan Grant, they came up with some very unexpected questions.

• One boy asked: "Why do you have to write? You can just type things now."

• When he told children he used to work in a bank, he was asked: "Why didn't you take all the money and run off?"

• After saying he spent weeks cutting down Kidnapped to create the script for the graphic novel, Alan was asked: "Couldn't you just copy it from the book?"

• He was also asked if he'd "ever written a Winnie the Pooh comic".

• And after telling the kids that he got 100 per cent in his arithmetic exams, one voice could be heard asking: "What's arithmetic?"

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