I have an embarrassing secret…I am a grown man and I love comics! You might say, “Why is that embarrassing?” or, at least, that is what I hope your response would be. That would show how far comics have come (which I really hope they have). But over 20 years ago, that was not the case. Reading comics was geeky and nerdy. And I’m not talking about Geek-Chic either. I’m talking ‘bullies-will-make-fun-of-you’ geeky. As a teen, I would never reveal the fact that I read comics to someone unless I knew they read comics too. But even still I continued to read comics – keeping my habit secret and knowing the consequences if it got out.
So why did I keep doing it? Because the comics were so good and I could not get enough of them. I started reading daily comic strips (Calvin & Hobbes), comic books (Spider-Man), and later collected versions of Maus, Bone, manga, Watchmen, Frank Miller’s Batman, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Chris Ware, and the list balloons from there. Libraries did not carry so-called Graphic Novels back then, so I had to rely on my measly allowance and paychecks. I would re-read my books several times over. Art Spiegelman, creator of Maus, once said, “Comics are a gateway drug to literacy.” I was the embodiment of that quote. Comics are not given enough credit for reaching reluctant and struggling readers. However, I was really not neither of these. I enjoyed reading ‘regular’ books as well as comics — but I preferred and still prefer comics.
The reason I prefer comics is the synthesis of word and image. Some people think the pictures take away from the imagination, but I see it as experiencing more than the written work expresses alone. A picture is worth a thousand words and incorporate details only discovered after multiple readings. The artist can also create a complete, rich, and unique vision. I feel like I get into the creator’s mind. The artwork has the potential to open different levels of interpretation and critique. For some theory behind comics check out the classic “Understanding Comics” by Scott McCloud and the more recent “Unflattening” by Nick Sousanis.
But there are some things that comics are not. Comics are not something you grow out of (unless you want to stop reading them). They can grow with you from the kid-friendly “Owly” by Andy Runton to the adult “Saga” by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples. Comics are not necessarily stepping stones to “real” books (although they can be). Comics are their own thing and, while different, stand as equals to ‘real’ books. Check out some of these award winning titles to see some of comics’ possibilities: “Maus” by Art Spiegelman, This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki, and “March” by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell.
As you can tell, I am no longer embarrassed to admit to loving comics. I’ve seen the young readers’ eyes light up as I find them the latest volume of their favorite series and I’m glad the stigma has largely vanished. I know the power of comics and I hope readers will also give them a try. Luckily, libraries have also changed over time as well. When I started selecting graphic novels for Geauga County Public Library over 10 years ago, the collection was small and limited. It has expanded greatly since then and fill many shelves. In coming posts, I hope to show you some great comics — for kids and adults. Some serious ones and some pretty silly ones. If you have any suggestions for great reads, please share them with us! Until then, I will see you in the Funny Papers!