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‘It’s not just about DC and Marvel’: How comics are a literacy gateway drug

Magic Torch Comics’ Paul Bristow works with schools and community organisations to create comics for good

Marvel and DC may be rewriting the book on success in Hollywood but their humble beginnings in comic books can have an impact on literacy that is nothing short of heroic.

A far cry from the Batmans, Spider-Mans and Wonder Womans of this world, Scottish social enterprise Magic Torch Comics is working with schools and community organisations to boost literacy and help turn their stories and messages into unique panels.


Founded in 2012, Paul Bristow and his team have transformed local Scottish historical or folk tales to bring them to life as comics, as well as delving into social issues like how refugees can be integrated into British life.

He insists that putting the power to visually tell a unique story in the hands of schoolkids, usually over the course of four weeks, can do just what Pulitzer Prize-winning author Art Spiegelman has described with his famed “Comics are a gateway drug to literacy quote”.


The Big Issue magazine is a social enterprise, a business that reinvests its profits in helping others who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, or whose lives are blighted by poverty.

As well as offering the chance to create, Paul insists that Magic Torch can help light the way into reading widely, whether it be comics or other literature.

“When we’re with a group, there is a bit of studying the language of comics and how they tell stories because it is different from a book, a poem or a film,” he said. “It has its own rules so we try and explore that a wee bit and enable people to be directly involved in telling their stories – it’s not like we just turn up, draw it then go away.


“I think that sometimes people just think that it is Marvel or DC and it’s brilliant to be able to show folk that there are these other amazing comics and creators who are worth looking at. The UK indie comics scene is in rude health.”

Read more from Paul and Magic Torch in this week’s Big Issue World Book Day Special, which also includes a unique chance to win a two-book deal with HarperCollins as Britain’s next great crime writer. Get your copy today from a vendor or The Big Issue Shop.

Image: George Munro/illustrations by Mhairi Robertson and Andy Lee

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