Why Do You Still Read Comics?
Like any other kid, my brother hated reading and just like any good sister, I loved it because I wanted to show our dad I was the “good kid.” In an ingenious move, our uncle gave my brother some comic books which easily became the lesser of two evils for him. He was reading, yes, but there were pictures, fighting – and perhaps the real kicker here – it was about characters he already knew and loved from TV. The first comic book I remember reading was an early 90s issue of X-Men that I stole from him. Sad to say I don’t remember the exact issue, but I remember holding the book open across my knees, the pad of one finger tracing over Gambit as he twirled his bo-staff and then grinning as I turned a few pages and saw Jubilee sassing at Wolverine. Action and smart-ass dialogue? I was happily hooked…
It can be difficult to pinpoint the exact moment one falls in love with comic books, mostly because a lot of us start so young and the love carries over as we grow. As a late 80s/early 90s kid, my generation was doomed to fall from the start. Both DC and Marvel were killing it with Saturday morning and the ‘home from school’ cartoons. The X-Men series set the team standard for many today while the Spider-Man series introduced us to one of Marvel’s cornerstone heroes – not to mention completely reviving his popularity with start of the Ultimate Spider-Man comics. Not to be outdone, DC’s Batman: the Animated Series brought us one of comics most beloved anti-heroes of today, Harley Quinn – and let’s not even get started on Mark Hamill’s Joker (but seriously, who else is ridiculously excited to hear he’ll reprise the role for Killing Joke?!).
So with the nostalgia aspect a given, the question I most often hear never fails to be:
“Why do you still read comics?”
It’s a question, usually asked with a hint of condescension, I know I’m not alone in being asked and there’s a myriad of pat answers I’m used to giving. But when I sat down to write this, my first article for the Geek Lyfe, it seemed a natural place to start as I embark on this new aspect of my comic book journey. Do I even know why I read them anymore? Is it merely habit that keeps me going to my comic book store every Wednesday without fail?
As I sat to put words to something that is oddly very personal, it occurred to me that I remember the formula that first got me into comics – the cartoons, my lazy brother not reading and me, stealing his comics when he was done or just not looking because I wanted to be like him. I remembered the feeling of being six-ish years old and getting swept away by stories of superheroes, imagining myself as one of them fighting against all odds to save the world. More to the point, however, I remembered the exact instant I re-fell in love with comics as an adult which is actually the more significant moment. I remember down to the issue number and pages, down to the exact evening it happened – and I’ll warn you now that this moment so dear to me contains potential (but only mild) spoilers for the upcoming Captain America: Civil War movie.
The Civil War event started a few years after I graduated high school and I vaguely remember reading it – entertained to be sure – but inwardly railing against at my fave heroes fighting against each other. More recently, however, right before the announcement came revealing that the Marvel Cinematic Universe would indeed be tackling this story arc, I was at dinner with my husband. I’m not sure what prompted him to bring up comics because while he’s enjoyed the movies, the books have never held any appeal to him. As we sat waiting for our food, though, he pulled out his phone and showed my a series of images he’d stumbled across – the scene starting with the page below:
It’s from a now infamous scene in Amazing Spider-Man #537, the War at Home story arc the runs alongside Civil War. We sat huddled together reading as the Cap quoted Mark Twain and lectured Spidey with a powerful, personal story that, for me, really personifies Captain America entirely with the summation of his speech ending below:
When we finished reading the scene in its entirety, discussing the merits of it with me trying to explain the setting behind it more thoroughly without giving too much away, I sort of smiled vaguely as our food arrived. In the first silent moments of eating, I pondered why reading a scene I’d read years ago felt so different to me now – why it was resonating so much stronger than it had before. The artwork was just as stunning as it was in 2007. The sense of lighting, the soft blue tones and velvet shadows that led the conversation a sense of sincerity had been unchanged throughout the passage of time, forever sealed in that moment of comic book history. The words were also untouched, reading no different than the first time I beheld them. So why did it all feel more poignant?
The epiphany I then had was so obvious I nearly smacked myself on the forehead. I myself was different from the last I’d read it, so naturally I saw it with new insight. That got me thinking to other comics, the ones I’d been entertained with in my youth, and wondering if maybe I should re-read them as an adult. See if I saw more to them now than I had in the past.
So that’s what I did and it was that process of re-reading, of going back to the beginning and then branching out into modern comics from other publishers, that provided the very answer to that often annoying, repeated question.
“Why do you still read comics?”
The answer, in part: because as astonishing as the tales are, they are also steeped with very real, relatable human characteristics that we self-identify with. I read comics because as I grew up, they grew along with me and stories I cherished for their action and intrigue evolved into stories I can now re-read with the benefit of adulthood and find humanity in, find deeper meaning that others may not even realize is there. I can read a comic book for entertainment, then read it again and find just as much symbolism and wisdom as any Oprah Winfrey book club novel. More to the point, I now see the challenges that come with telling a story with both art and words; the art having to portray just as much as any long, stilted paragraph in a Dickens novel and the words having to be chosen wisely for their economy. It’s a delicate partnership of pictures as words and words as pictures that when done properly is not merely entertaining, but also entirely awe-inspiring.
In short, I read comics for the same reason people read any novel or book. I’m not only entertained by them but I’m engaged on an intellectual level. I find meaning beyond the fantastical nature of the stories and appreciate the unique effort of this method of storytelling. THAT is why I still read comics and why I happily continue to do so and it is so very fitting that it was Cap who reminded me of that.
But perhaps the reason is different for you? Maybe you enjoy the fighting and action – maybe a different character spoke to you and drew you in to their world… The beauty of this dreaded question is that there is no one right answer. As annoying as being asked it so frequently can be, feeling like we have to defend ourselves or prove our worth, I’ve come to look at it as an opportunity. A chance to explain my love of comics to someone who may not understand otherwise. Perhaps all they need is a little insight in order to give comics a chance themselves. Or maybe the one asking me already loves comics as much as I do and we’re comparing notes, bonding even, over a shared love. Becoming friends as we talk over each other expounding the virtues of our favorite characters or series while not-so-subtly trying to convince the other that our series is the best because of reasons a, b and c. Even if our comic book origin stories differ it’s possible they will share another side to comics I hadn’t considered. Maybe they will give me another excuse to fall in love again because as a writer and passionate reader, I will shamelessly use any excuse to fall for comic books as often as I can.
So as I’ve now confessed my origin story, the moment of truth is upon us: Why do YOU still read comics?
Do you remember the first issue/series that hooked you? Give this girl another reason to fall in love again and let us know in the comments below!