Dsylexia and comics

Dawn of the Unread is a reading project in support of libraries which will use multiple narrative strands and techniques to suit readers of all abilities. This guest post from author Marcus Bennison explains how Illustrated Classics helped him deal with his dyslexia and embrace reading and writing.

classics illustratedI didn’t know I was dyslexic until ten years ago; I thought I was dim. I was a clumsy child and crashed into the buffers with maths at 13. Dyslexic, dyspraxic and dyscalculic – the classic combination; but no-one knew anything about it at school and it wasn’t talked of at home. I was bright, but bumped along at the bottom of the class.

I’ve always read – but slowly, because white space seemed as important as black letters. I love the sounds words make, but spelling them is hard. I regard the shapes of words; if they look right, they’re probably spelt right. Sometimes there’s a crisis with punctuation – the appropriate apostrophe is the current concern. My handwriting is appalling and I shape letters strangely. I can’t read graphs and boxes bounce, so filling in forms is a nightmare and sometimes the computer keyboard is impossible. Reading music is a lottery because the stave lines plait themselves and I’ve no idea where the notes lie. So I listen hard and trust to my more musical colleagues’ forbearance.

Robur the Conqueror - Jules Verne

Robur the Conqueror – Jules Verne

One day, my mother bought me a magazine unlike any I’d seen before. It was Robur the Conqueror – a Jules Verne tale about a flying boat in comic form, published by ‘Classics Illustrated’; you can still get them. Suddenly I saw characters as realised people in the simple drawings; the novel adaptations were in familiar words and the story was easy to follow. Although I didn’t know it then, these comics were my introduction to dramatic play form. More classic literature followed in graphic format – Jane Eyre; The Count of Monte Cristo; The Iliad. It was the breakthrough.

Dyslexia means that sometimes I see things others don’t. Dyslexia makes me function differently; maybe more creatively. I don’t sequence thoughts the way others do and make decisions as much by instinct as logic – a bit like finding the right answer to a maths problem without showing the working. I read more between the lines; take the longer view. I read poems sideways; they are word islands on a calm white ocean. Words are chords; sometimes they’re colours.

I teach English, History and Performance, (dyslexics are often performers) so I have read aloud hundreds of plays not for the words, but for the sounds they make. So my writing tends to be alliterative with emphasis on imagery, simile and metaphor. The music of the words is all important – I’m unsure where speaking ends and singing begins. I prepare my material as if I was doing stand-up; my notes are a script. It doesn’t work very often, but when it does, eloquence and erudition like the debaters of classical times may be felt. Occasionally there’s a round of applause.

Dyslexia is a gift, although it brings frustrations. I read in the theatre in my head, which is why ‘Classics Illustrated’ was so important to me. Well done Mum!

Marcus Bennison is the author of Warped Rulers, Bank House Books. £11.99

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