I’ve never understood the need to tell people that a thing which is giving them joy isn’t as awesome as they think it is. We’ve seen it most recently with Pokemon Go, but it happens all the time, with phone brands, foods, movies, everything. The only time it doesn’t seem to end in words like “childish” and other argument starters is when it’s a type of food. It’s a good thing when other people like different candies than you. Then they won’t try to steal yours.
Now that’s a bit childish.
That behavior of judging people for liking something different actually impeded my relationship to comic books for years.
As a middle schooler, I could read at a college level, so I was always getting encouraged to read more and more advanced things. I got a lecture from my teacher for rereading the last Harry Potter book one too many times (which confused me. My mom read it seven times before I was allowed to touch it.). The teacher ended up chasing me into the library, where I found the Lord of the Rings and all sorts of other wonderful stories, but neither she nor anyone else nudged me towards comics. At some point I picked up on the stereotype that smart kids didn’t read comics. Which didn’t match my love of superhero movies at all, but I didn’t notice the dissonance.
The first graphic novel I’d ever read, aged ten, was called Abadazad. I didn’t even realize it was a comic until I started flipping through it again as an adult. In my memory, my imagination and the pictures on the page blended together seamlessly.
The first graphic novel I read when I actually knew what it was was the second volume of The Ultimates. I snuck into the high school library’s graphic novel section and grabbed the first thing with Captain America on the cover before any of my schoolmates could notice. I half expected the librarian to question my reading choices when I checked it out. She didn’t.
Now there’s a small but proud pile of comic books on the table in my family’s living room. I keep meaning to pack them up for going back to uni but I also keep wanting to reread them. The other day I really confused the other adults at the library when I laughed out loud at a manga I was reading.
And I understand it when people dislike comics even less than I did when I could barely ken what a comic was, because they’ve been good for me. Given me a common interest with people so I could socialize better. Helped me smile more when mental illness kept stepping on my tail.
Stories in general are powerful things. They teach the values of a society. They help people see life from another’s eyes. They give hope. They help outcasts realize they aren’t alone. But there’s something about stories told through comics that I find extra special. Part of that is simply because I’m a visual thinker, but not all.
Comics put writing and art together to tell a single story. You wouldn’t think that would work so well, since the part of your brain that makes you understand what you’re reading and the part of your brain that figures out what pictures are saying don’t always work together very well. Somehow, though, comics make it work. Pictures are worth at least a thousand words, after all, and they’re saying things that people want and need to hear.
Take Bucky Barnes of Marvel. I’ve always empathized with him because of the way circumstances in his life turned him into something he never wanted to be, but he kept going. I could write entire essays about him–his regrets, the way he doesn’t think of himself as a good man even though he’s always trying to do good, the way he’s made the title of the Winter Soldier his own despite his never choosing it–but it would be simpler for you to read the last page of the recent Thunderbolts, issue 3. That captures the best things about this character pretty quickly.
Or there’s the comic they finished last year, Loki: Agent of Asgard, which I keep rereading. Concept: Most of the universe, including his future self, is shoving Loki into a big black box marked “villain.” Loki doesn’t want to go into the box.
That’s a story about redemption, and choices, and finding a path other than the one fate writes for you, and it’s incredibly relevant to anyone who is trying to “grow up” without knowing exactly how to do so. There’s a conversation between Odin and Loki, in the space that is not a space, that gives me chills.
“Did I not say? I know you. I know everything you are. And I love you still.”
It’s things like that that keep sending me back to the comic book store, and keep me working on making comics of my own. So, please, world, and my subconcious, quit popping my balloons, and let me enjoy my superhero comics in peace. Better yet, join me in speculating on whether Ms. Marvel and Spider-Gwen will ever get to team up.