Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The comic book appeal

Comic books.

Y'know, I still remember back in the day when I was young and I'd be riding in the car with my dad, on my way to spend a holiday or summer vacation with him, when we'd inevitably have to stop for gas.  After filling the tank, we'd go inside, we'd load up on snacks and drinks and he would always ask, "Is there anything else you want to get?" He already knew the answer, but he made sure to ask anyway.  Sure enough, before the last words had left his mouth, I was running over the to wire spin rack and grabbing the newest issue of Ghost Rider, Daredevil, Green Lantern, and just about any other comic book that I could.  Dad always knew that those comics would keep me engrossed no matter how long the trip was ... with the happy exception of telling him how cool it was that Johnny Blaze turned into Ghost Rider JUST in time to save the day, or how Hal just HAD to recharge his ring, because his 24 hours was almost up.  It was back then that my love was born for the four color medium and all the action packed in those tiny panels.

As the years have passed and I've grown older, I've never left my love of comic books behind.  I'm still fascinated by the worlds of wonder crafted by all of these talented artists and writers, covering all sorts of genres.  I mean, who in their life has never tied a towel around their neck as a kid and pretended to fly "up, up, and away"?  The heroes and villains in these books are our modern day myths.  And though it may seem strange to some to compare the likes of DC's Blackest Night to Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy or Marvel's Civil War to Homer's Odyssey, all of these stories with characters like the Spirit of Vengeance, the Dark Knight, the Last Son of Krypton, the Man Without Fear have inspired generations to reach new heights and overcome all kinds of obstacles.  These aren't all "funny books" anymore, but rather real pieces of literature waiting to tap into our innermost emotions.  A good comic book is escapism at its best.

Sure, as a kid all you could think of is "How frikkin' awesome was THAT!??", but as we grew up, so did the comics we loved.  Superman died (he got better). Batman died (he got better too). Spider-Man got married (he got ... better?). The Fantastic Four saw Johnny Storm's torch get snuffed out.  We've seen characters we've grown up with go through more hardships and loss than we could even imagine, and yet still persevere. There's no shortage of tragedy or triumph in the comic book world, and that's why we keep coming back.  These are our heroes, and though they may be flawed, that simply makes us believe in them more.  We see parts of ourselves in these characters, and we also see parts of who we want to be.

Now, let me stop for a second and point out that I've obviously been talking about the comic book heroes that fill the "classics" role.  I'm talking about the big heroes and villains we knew in our youth and have followed throughout our lives. Captain America, Wonder Woman, Iron Man, the Flash ... these are all alumni from that same school of thought.  However, I don't want anyone to think for a moment that I'm ignoring the stories that fall more into the fringe area of the spotlight.  Books like Joe Hill's Locke & Key, Mike Mignola's Hellboy, or Steve Niles' 30 Days of Night.  While they may strike a different chord than the mainstream books I've been talking about, these books contribute just as much music to the literary symphony as any other titles.

Having said that, I want to go back to my original point. The notion that comics are "just for kids" is ridiculous. Even back in the earlier days of comics, Tales From the Crypt, House of Suspense, and Army at War are just a few examples of early books aimed at an older audience. Comic books, whether they be new releases or Silver Age classics are more than deserving of a spot on anyone's "must read" lists. As a professional writer, I believe that comics have just as much to offer as any other "traditional" works. Their unique combination of art and story are unparalleled in the literary field. As just a regular person, though, there will always be that part of me deep inside, that little kid who still dreams of tying that towel around my neck and fly off to save the world.

1 comment:

Jamie A. Hughes said...

David, I'm totally in synch with you on this one. Comics are, for me at least, another form of literature. So much so, in fact, that I'm tempted to earn my Ph.D. with a specialization in graphic novels and visual communication. I've used comics to critique culture, to test and push the boundaries of literary theory (well, as far as one can in grad school), and to teach students about all things in a medium more immediate to them. Great read, my friend