Thursday, May 3, 2018

Why I Read Comic Books

For an adult comic book fan, this can be the most repetitive question that they have to answer - "why do you still read comic books?"

Since nerd culture has really taken over pop culture, the question has lessened, but it can still linger. And it largely stems from an old perception of comic books, that dates back to when comics were available for ten cents at the corner drug store - "comics are for kids".   It's the Bif! POW! Adam West Batman interpretation of what comics represent.    As with most things, its a fight between perception and reality (which reminds me that I'll have to do a Why I Watch Cartoons post later on).

First, it's important to establish what a comic book is.  Comics are publications that consist of visual storytelling in the form of sequential juxtaposed panels that represent individual scenes.  These panels are often accompanied by brief descriptive prose and narrative, often in the form of dialog balloons.  The art form is most often thought of as the combination of visual art and narrative prose, though there can be purely visual comic books.  The most recognizable examples are the comic strips in the newspaper.  Comic books are generally longer form stories that have the same approach, though they are no longer locked into as structured of a grid-pattern for the flow of the story.  Page count and physical size can vary.

And the great thing is since the art form is a mixture of visual art and prose, the combination can be played with.  There are "silent" comic books that convey the story only through art.  Comics are one of the few art forms where the image and prose can be incongruous, that is the art and prose can be telling different stories, either complimentary (overlaying a poem onto a series of art panels that conveys the deeper meaning of the art) or in opposition.  When they are in opposition and used well, it can reveal a deeper truth of the story, what we tell ourselves versus what we do, all in the same frame.  Likewise, comics are one of the better visual mediums to get in a characters head.  Thought bubbles, though out of fashion, do have a place as a storytelling technique.

It's important to note that comic books refer to a medium not a genre.  Most often when people picture comic books they think of Archie or superheroes.  This is understandable as superheroes account for a large portion of the comic books published in America.  But they are not representative of all that comic books represent.  The list of genres covered by comics now is immense.  One of my favorite series from the past few years was The Fade Out by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, a Hollywood noir set in 1948 Los Angeles about a screenwriter who wakes up in a room with a murdered starlet.  Each issue included prose pieces on famous scandals of the Golden Age of Hollywood.  And there are a lot of noir comics that are published.  If you like crime, espionage, adventure, fantasy, science fiction (hard or soft science fiction), even Westerns, there are comics that are currently being published.

Further, comic books have tackled very heavy topics.  The most famous example is Maus by Art Spiegelman, which told the story of Spiegelman's interviews with his father and his father's experience as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor.  More recently, Representative John Lewis's March trilogy became a New York Times best seller, chronicling his experience in the Civil Rights Movement.

The stories that can be told are limited only by the imagination and will to do so.

Of course, I still love superhero stories as well.  I love their power to convey simple and complex morality tales.  A place to retreat where we know that good will always triumph over evil.  No matter how dark it looks, no matter how much has been lost, right will prevail.

Superheroes are our modern myths.  They provide ideals that we aspire to and convey larger than life stories of struggle, triumph, perseverance, and hope.  Like any good science fiction, they are allegories through which the pressing issues of our times can be explored (Watergate in the original Secret Empire in Captain America, racism in Weird Fantasy #18 by EC Comics).

Plus, comics have an unlimited budget.  Movies are just now catching up, but comics can still beat them in terms of mind-blowing visuals.

And the end of the day, comics entertain me and inspire me.  I've read many bad ones, and I've read many excellent ones.  Those that have stuck with me throughout my life.  I've cut back on the number that I read and I am definitely enjoying being able to have them on a tablet (though I do miss the tactile feel of holding a comic book).  But I keep coming back and am looking forward to passing that love on.

Until next time - same blog-time, same blog-channel.

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