Confessions of a
"Ummm, hello. M-My name is D-David ..and I'm a I'm a "
"Go ahead, son, say it!"
"I'm a ..a ..a comic book addict."
Being a comic book reader is becoming a harder and harder thing to do. No, I'm not talking about rising prices or distribution problems. I'm talking about pessimism and misconceptions.
It's no big secret that the general public believes the misconception that comics are bam-pow-socko literature meant for kids. It's also no big secret that many people, both inside and outside the industry, believe that comics as we know them are doomed. Low sales, no new readers, etc.
Quite frankly, I'm sick of reading columns about how we can change the public's opinions of comics or how we can save the comics industry. I'm here to tell you what's right with comics and why I love reading comics. If we, meaning comic book readers, continue to dwell on the negatives of our hobby, then our self-fulfilling prophecies of doom and gloom will ultimately become reality. Lets focus on the positives for a change! So with that, allow me to present;
Twelve Reasons Why Comics are Great!
1) Comics are Active Forms of Entertainment
A comic book isn't something like a television program or movie, where a passive audience stares silently while flickering images move across a screen. A comic is interactive. The reader can move along at his or her own pace, turning the page whenever they're ready to, not when something forces them to.
Unlike movies, comics can be rewound or fast forwarded with ease. Did daydreaming cause you to miss something important? Simply turn the page back and re-read whatever you missed. Can't stand the suspense? Flip forward a few pages to see if your favorite hero survives his encounter with the dastardly villain. And best of all, if you have to go to the bathroom, you won't miss any key scenes. The comic will wait for you, and you can pick up right where you left off.
2) No Special Equipment Necessary
To enjoy a comic, you need only a pair of eyes and, perhaps, reading glasses. You don't need any fancy equipment, pads, or clothing, like some sports require. You don't need batteries. You don't need to be in a certain place. You don't need other people to help you. It doesn't matter what the weather is like. Just pick up a comic and read. It's as simple and inexpensive as that.
3) Comics are Educational
I learned more about World War II by reading All Star Squadron than I did in any history class. Comics are sneaky like that. They encourage reading, improve vocabulary, and teach you things all while entertaining you. For example, in the recent issue of JSA (#18), I learned three new words/concepts ("Transmyocardial revascularization," "Meniere's disease," and "cochlear").
Nobody beat me over the head and forced me to learn what those words meant, but because I wanted to better understand the story, I looked them up in a dictionary. Comics aren't juvenile literature. Some of them would make great teaching tools (such as The Kents or Nathaniel Dusk), and some of them are literary gems in their own right.
4) Comics Inspire Creativity
I've yet to meet a comic reader who's never imagined a story of their own. Wouldn't it be great if Superman and the Flash teamed up to .? How does Nightwing's mask stick to his face? I could go on and on.
The point is this: In a society that teaches us to "stay within the lines" and to conform to society's ideals, comics encourage us to expand our horizons and think outside of the box. What if humans really could harness cosmic energy? Could we make flying cars? Comics help to encourage the belief that anything is possible.
5) Comics Create an Appreciation for Art
Back in high school, when I was a dumb kid (some might argue that I'm now a dumb young adult), I took an art class because it was an easy grade. I really didn't care one iota about art, and one time I managed to get kicked out of class for saying my favorite art form was the female body. While I'm still an avid admirer of female beauty, I have managed to appreciate art through reading comics.
Reading a comic for the story is easy, but when you realize how the artist tells the writer's tale through panel layout and directed action, you get a better sense of what storytelling is all about. I find it amazing that artists can convey complexities such as muscular structure and emotional status through simple brush strokes. And while I still can't remember the difference between expressionists and impressionists, I can recognize the difference between Nick Cardy art and Gil Kane art, for example. I can enjoy the differences in various artists' styles. Now if I could only figure out what a separator does ..
6) There are a Variety of Comics to Read
People moan and groan that the only genre comics does is superheroes. They lament the good ol' days when westerns, romance, war, and mystery titles abounded. To that I say p-shaw! Go into your comics store today, and you'll see hundreds of titles on the racks. Not only will you see many companies, ranging from giants like DC to tiny independent publishers, but you'll see a variety within companies as well. DC alone has something like six imprints - Vertigo, Homage, Paradox Press, Helix, Wildstorm, and the "regular" DCU.
Going even further, in the mainstream DCU, a Batman book caters to a different audience than Starman. Starman caters to a different audience than Creature Commandos or Hourman. How many of these titles, which aren't big sellers, do you think DC would have published in the "good ol' days"? They certainly wouldn't be publishing something at a loss (i.e. Hourman), something in an unusually sized format (JLA: Heaven's Ladder), or something that caters to a more mature audience (all of Vertigo). And even Superman had only two titles in the 1970's, not four or five.
My point is this: The direct market has allowed the comics industry to specialize its products to the demands of its customers. Comics shops are able to take risks on selling certain comics because they cater to a known audience. Would Powerpuff Girls have survived on a 1970's newsstand? Nope. But with comics shops, the title has a better chance of reaching its targeted audience.
I admit I'm goofy, but I love the smell of old comics (even new comics have a slight smell to them). I stick my nose into the book's spine and inhale deeply. Ahhh! There's nothing like the smell of musty newsprint! I must warn you, though. If people see you doing this, you're going to have awful lot of explaining to do.
This isn't anything new or original, but comics are pure, healthy escapism. Let's face it, the world can be a downright cruel place, and if comics help you forget your troubles for an hour or so, then by all means, keep on reading! Comics offer a chance to step into a different world, one that's full of wonder and excitement. Whether its Gotham, Metropolis, or the 30th Century, your mind is free to roam without limits or bounds. As someone who's familiar with the typical cubicle filled workplace, I can understand the need to escape. And I'd rather be a comic book addict than a drug or alcohol addict.
9) Better Quality
On average, comics today are written better, drawn better, edited better, colored better, and lettered better than ever before. Comics today are a thousand times more sophisticated than they were in the Golden or Silver Ages. Yes, there's some thrill in reading a great historical comic (i.e. the many Millennium Editions), but I'd rather have a well written modern story about a golden age character than a golden age story full of cliches, stereotypes, and deus ex machina. I'm not saying that all old comics are bad, nor am I saying that all modern comics are good. Every age has its clunkers and gems. We've just got better clunkers.
10) Comics Have a Dedicated Talent Base
Artists could be making more money in the advertising business. Writers could be making more money in Hollywood. Many comics creators have and will make the jump to "greener pastures." What amazes me, though, is that based on what I've read regarding pay rates, royalties, and the pace of work, that more creators don't leave.
Two conclusions may be drawn:
a) Comic pros are a dedicated bunch who enjoy what they're doing
b) If success in comics leads to better jobs in other industries, then pros will be driven to prove themselves by producing great comics.
In either case, fans win. Fans just have to keep in mind that the pros are human. They make mistakes just like you and I, and they don't want to produce bad comics any more than we want to read bad comics. Nobody sets out to purposely fail.
11) The Industry is Stable
Fans know the exact date that next month's issue of Birds of Prey, for example, will come out. And in most cases, especially with the two big companies, the comic will be there on that date. What could be more frustrating than not knowing when, or if, your favorite comic will be on the stands? Would you really want to check the newsstand every day to see if it shipped? I wouldn't!
Today's fans also have a better knowledge of future happenings in the industry. We know when a series is going to be cancelled; we don't have the rug pulled out from under us. If we didn't have news sources such as Previews or CSNsider, you'd constantly wonder what happened to your favorite series. Was it cancelled? Is it late shipping? Did my shop simply run out?
We can pre-order stuff and tell companies and retailers what we like and don't like more efficiently than ever before. Because of all the complaints aimed at Previews, especially for containing spoilers of future storylines, it's easy to overlook what a significant and elegant role it plays in creating a more efficient marketplace.
12) Comics are Meant to be Enjoyed
I don't "collect" comics because I think they'll be worth something in the future. I buy comics because I enjoy reading them. I simply love this crazy hybrid medium of art and story!
Go grab an issue of your favorite series, settle down in a comfortable chair, and read about the happenings in your favorite character's life. Savor the moment by reading slowly. Don't zoom through the issue simply because you think you're behind in your reading. The world is fast enough already. Chill out.
Savor the subtleties of the dialogue and the artwork. Try to recognize how the colorist and letterer contributed to your feelings about a scene, a page, or the issue as a whole. Pause for a moment and wonder what an associate editor does. Laugh at the corny in-house ads.
Just have a good time, because that's what reading comics is all about.
David R. Black is Fanzing.com's magazine editor and chief archivist. A big fan of "The Warlord," he has a cat named Shakira and is looking for a girlfriend named Tara....
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This article is © 2001 by David R. Black
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