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How a former Spiderman editor came to work on comics to help kids with literacy

A chance meeting in a Welsh fish-and-chip shop has led to a new online comic for teenagers designed by ex-Marvel Comics editor Tim Quinn.

Quinn (pictured, below) was at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival when he met Philippa Bateman – a former teacher who had co-created the Dockside phonics scheme for older readers – while queuing for chips.

The pair, who are both from Liverpool got chatting and found that they were both interested in inspiring children to read, and later Bateman explained her idea of creating stories for teenagers who are struggling to read.

The stories, she outlined, would only require the reading abilities of young children, but deal with issues of interest to teenagers, and Quinn agreed to join her and co-author John Townsend to work on the new comic strip, called Street!

Quinn, who has previously worked on the Spiderman, X men and Ironman comics, said: “I see comics as a great way of making non-readers into readers by using extraordinary artwork to pull them in. I remember that myself when I was five and my older brother had comic books and I wanted to read them, they inspired me to want to read.

"Spiderman is about a boy who was bullied and loved books. I remember reading it as a kid and thinking, it could be me, those problems added a sense of reality to the wild and wacky world of skin-tight lycra and masks.

“Problems are what it's all about when you're a teenager," he added. "That's why it's important for schools to build up children's self-belief. To read, you've got to enjoy reading, and that was the beauty of Marvel, it didn't lay it on with a trowel, there were problems and a sense of humour. ”

Bateman and her co-author John Townsend, have written a series of stories based around issues of interest to teenagers such as bullying, teenage pregnancy and body image and they have been illustrated by Quinn and fellow artist Russ Leach. The stories include twists and funny moments.

"I can't bear to go into schools and hear struggling readers say, 'I'm reading far more interesting stuff at home, this is so embarrassing,” Bateman said. “It is awful when you're 12 to get books that are babyish. We wanted something interesting, that look interesting. The beauty of comics is that they work online and with these at the end is a blank comic strip you can fill in."

Street! is being distributed by charity Endeavour, which works with young people who are disaffected with education. “We needed to find a way to reach teenagers,” Bateman added. “Endeavour do adventure activities with children who are excluded or have excluded themselves. We persuaded them that they could also offer young people these comics.”

The initiative is being funded by the Nominet Trust and IBM’s community programme. The comics will be available on the IBM Reading Companion web platform – an online bank of books which are designed to be read alongside voice-recognition technology that detects how the reader is doing.

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