Do you read comics? Or have you read them in the past? If you’re reading this blog or listen to podcasts like The Smoke Breakers then I’m guessing the answer is yes to one of those questions. Do you remember what drew you to comics in the first place? Was it the colourful artwork, gorgeous covers, or the stories of the fantastic on the inside?
I love reading comic books. I always have as far back as I can remember. Like many, the first time I saw a superhero was in morning cartoons on television in the early 1980s. Super Friends, Spider-Man, Masters of the Universe, Thundercats and many others where mesmerizing to me as a kid as where the superhero cartoons on the 1990s like X-Men, Fantastic Four, Iron Man and Batman The Animated Series.
I still remember the first time I bought my own comics. It was in 1990 and on my way home from school I missed my connecting bus to finish my journey. So while I waited for the next bus, I look through the toy store next to the bus stop and they had a large amount of direct comics from the states. And in that humble little shop I bought a Batman and X-Men and between sitting down at the bus stop and getting off the bus, I had read those two books three times each. And that ladies and gentlemen was that, I was hooked. I didn’t need drugs later on in life because on that day my imagination was set free and has run wild ever since. I needed to read more and find out everything I could about these characters and what other ones where out there. And as my addiction grew, I discovered so very much.
Now I had read comics before this faithful day and I knew the pages held beautiful artwork and crazy characters like Asterix and Obelix, Tin Tin, Garfield and The Phantom on their different adventures. And while I still love these books to this day, they didn’t have the impact on my young mind as the caped crusader and that band to mutants.
Maybe part of it was that I had bought them with my own money, or these characters rescued me for panic on that day, but these spandex clad heroes have been a part of my life ever since. And from them, and the writers and the artist who create them, I have learned so much. Learn as much from them as from school, parents and the ‘so called’ more important books. They have helped me to become the man I am today. And if you ask my friends and family they might say I am good and right and true, a true hero. Hey, I can dream can’t I?
I understood honor, duty, the ethics of right and wrong, philosophical dilemmas, guilt, fear, and the consequences of ones actions. A lot of what was once the purview or history text and the bible, I got from comic book superheroes. They enlighten and have opened up my mind to question and except. Maybe I am the odd one. Maybe there are others like me who learned these things from comics. But I haven’t met anyone who has admitted it.
I know they helped me because when I was a kid I was no happy. I had emotional problems, anger issues and was placed in therapy at the age of 8. But after I started reading comics, the change was so unexpected, my parents and my therapist where amazed. You could say comics saved me.
But for all my love of comic books, the graphic novel collections, the collectables and the movies and TV shows that have spawned from them, I still find myself defending them. And recently, with the movie universes of Marvel and DC gaining more and more of an impact in popular culture, I find myself defending comics more and more. One of the things I have to set people right on is the age old assumption that comics are just for kids.
Admittedly, in the 1930s when the comics craze began, the artwork, titles and stories where targeted at boys and teenagers. But those kids grew up, as kids often do, And if the publishers wanted to keep them, they had to evolved. And they did. It did take them a while to catch up but they had to contend with therapists, parents groups and right wingers attacking the industry so it wasn’t until the end of the 50s and the beginning of the 60s when the Silver Age of comics started that the comics industry redesigned and created amazing characters again did the stories begin to evolve. The 60s counter culture and the university academics began to take notice and praise the imaginative and inventive story lines as well as the political and social elements running throughout the books. This and the relaxed comics code of the 1970s helped with the tales the writers and artists wanted to tell. For the first time in decades, adults where reading comics as much as the kids, and government agencies began praising them, the same government that attacked them in the 50s, for their social commentaries, especially their anti-drug stories. What other “children’s” entertainment can boast the same?
And with this turn around, writers and artists like Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Brian Bolland and Frank Miller created works such as Batman: The Killing Joke, The Dark Knight Returns, V For Vendetta and The Watchmen, works of great literary importance that have been praised by critics, academics and fans alike. And even appear on many Top 100 and Best Seller Lists worldwide. These stories where not created with kids in mind. They are dark, violent, brooding works that rival classic gothic literary tales.
Superhero fiction does teach important lessons, believe it or not. From the straight forward storylines to the bizarre, to the murky water of the grey area storylines, they give examples of right versus wrong, good versus evil, and light versus dark. But I believe in my adamantium laced bones that this goes deeper. Using superheroes, their friends and relationships, the world that they live in and their interactions with the super villains (even if sometimes the villains are the heroes) we are given lessons in the virtue of truth, ethics and morality, the responsibility of doing the right thing, the responsibility of ones actions and accepting the consequences, and philosophical questions like do the ends justify the means. With the changing times, it is any surprise that people may find these lessons in superhero fiction, and not from more traditional or classical sources like the bible or classics literature.
For all those people out there who believe that people who read superhero comics and watch superhero movies and television programs are somehow illiterate or less intelligent, or are defective in some way, I say shame on you and get your head out of the ass of dust covered academia snobbery or traditional stiff upper lip, chinless boarding school teachings. Academia is starting to see comic books and not only an art form but a separate medium for telling stories. And it would surprise some people, especially those snobs with the weak chins, that many comic book creators are not only intelligent, well-read people, but many base their creations and stories on the classics these tweed lovers hail as oh so important.
Comic books, and their big brothers, the graphic novels, are no longer second class or second hand entertainments. They are out of the shadows, in the public eye, big business and no longer just for kids. They are eternal, they are important, they are life savers, they are inspirational.
Now, this rant is over.
Just go and get yourself a comic or graphic novel and fall in the realm of sci-fi / fantasy storytelling and sequential art and find out for yourself. Make up your own mind on the form and hopefully you will enjoy the experience instead of trashing a vibrant world that started with comic strips in newspapers over 100 years ago.
Quick Robin! To the Batcave!