This Memorial Day weekend marked my first anniversary of reading comic books. Well, maybe it did. I wish I had noted the actual date the first time I walked into Galactic Greg’s in Valparaiso and purchased my first comic book (Hawkeye: Blindspot #1), but I know it was early summer – by the academic calendar, not the Julian one – and so what the hell, let’s call it Memorial Day weekend. Here are some of the things I’ve learned in this first year.
1. Comics are like crack for people with collector mentalities. I have always collected things – cans, stamps, books, CDs – and the publishers of comics know exactly how to exploit this. They number everything! Monthly issues of comics are numbered, and so are the collections released in trade paperback format. This is just evil. Once you start gathering together a few numbered things, it becomes necessary to make sure you have all the numbers in order. Suppose a musical group has some albums named Crumpled Lunchbox, Green Bruschetta, A Flock of Knit Scarves, and The Laundry Basket Follies. It may not bother you much if you were missing Green Bruschetta, but if their CDs were named simply 1, 2, 3, and 4, and you were missing 2, you would go to extremes to make sure you filled in that gap. The smart people who publish comics exploit this. The bastards. Ironically, for all the numbering they do on the outside of the books, they do not number the pages inside.
2) 2011 was a good time to start reading comics. A lot of Marvel series were restarting with #1 issues, such as Daredevil, Ghost Rider, Moon Knight, Punisher, Uncanny X Men, Wolverine and the X Men, The Mighty Thor, Captain America, and Venom. (I tried most of these; Moon Knight and Ghost Rider eventually got cancelled.) DC was going to relaunch everything, starting all over at #1 for 52 titles. Dark Horse was firing up some new versions of older comics, such as Magnus: Robot Fighter, Doctor Solar: Man of the Atom, and Turok: Son of Stone (all of these have now been called off).
3) I’m a Marvel man. There are many either/or questions out there: Cubs or White Sox? PC or Mac? Ford or Chevy? Rare or well done? Ginger or Mary Ann? In the comic world, it’s: Marvel or DC? This is not a question of exclusivity, but more that you just develop preferences – and while there are some DC titles I enjoy, I have developed a noted preference for Marvel. This might be because I held off on reading DC comics until their relaunch of all their titles starting in August 2011, and by that time I had grown to like many Marvel series. But I think that in general, Marvel characters are more likable, the books often display a broader spectrum of humor, and the overall Marvel universe seems richer.
4) Give everything a try. Or, don’t judge a book by its cover – literally. Regardless of how silly the premise or strange looking the book, don’t dismiss something superficially. Right now, one of my favorite titles is DC’s Swamp Thing – but at first I dismissed the book, thinking , “How good can a series about a green, gooey, slimy monster be?” And then I saw the first several issues getting rave reviews, so I gave it a try – and now it’s one of my favorites. No premise is too ridiculous, it’s all about how adept the writers and artists are at handling it.
5) Dig for gold. Outside the Marvel and DC worlds, there is a wealth of other material to explore, and that is where many of the true gems are found. This is the same as in the music and literary worlds, too. Once you look past the best seller lists and pop phenomenon, you start getting to the really good stuff. I think by now, some Dark Horse titles like Hellboyand the Star Wars tie-ins are very mainstream, but others – like the Hellboy offshoot BPRD – are still somewhat in the shadows. Other more independent titles I am hooked on are The Sixth Gun, Chew, and Invincible. More experienced comic afficianados will probably laugh at that and point to a cornucopia of more obscure titles out there, and I may find them someday – but for now, I feel like I’m doing well at exploring in the wings.
In all, it has been a good year. I have seen my tastes evolve towards non-ultra-superhero characters. I imagine there is also an argument about what constitutes a superhero, but I distinguish a true Superhero (capital S) as a character who can do just about everything and is nearly invincible (not Invincible). So yes, I’m talking about Superman and the like. I do not find those characters interesting. The ones I like better are superheroes (lower case s) who are merely people with “mad skillz” at something, originating through a strange twist of fate or simple life-long training. So clearly I much prefer Batman to Superman. One of my very favorite characters so far is Hawkeye – perhaps because a Hawkeye book was what got me started in all of this, but more because he’s just a dude who is really good at something. He has flaws and is vulnerable. His victories are obtained through cunning and skill, not just by punching the villain in the face harder than the villain is punching back.
Why do I like comics so much, at least so far? First, it’s because I can finish a complete story in a short amount of time. I used to devour books at a fast rate. But with age, growing kids, and an inability to stay awake past 9pm while reading, it’s harder to find the time to plow through hundreds of pages of writing. But I can read a single issue of a comic in about ten minutes. That’s the length of time I can lay in bed at night before falling asleep, or the duration of a good bowel movement! Second, the stories can just be fun, but also with deep themes and emotional hooks when written well. Thirdly, I have a great appreciation for the act of creation of a comic book, because it’s something I could never do myself. I could probably write a book if I tried – or at least, given enough time and coffee, I could go through the act of typing out 400 pages of text – as long as quality wasn’t an issue. And with music, I figure if I had enough time to devote to it, I could learn to play an instrument at a novice level. But in both endeavors, there are people with gifts – a writer or musician – I could just never match, no matter how much preparation I had. And in comics, I find the same thing in the art. My 8 and 10 year old daughters can already draw better pictures than me; a skill for drawing is just something I never tapped into. And so when I read comics, I get to look at images that I would never, ever be able to create myself – and that’s a pretty awesome thing.
SoI have finally unleashed that last segment if inner nerd that was hiding inside. I’ve done all the other stereotypical stuff to some degree – fantasy books, sci-fi, roleplaying games, video games. Mywife blames my newfound interest in comics on The Big Bang Theory and its scenes in a comic shop. I blame it on that, and the ProgPower USA message boards, where people who share similar musical tastes have started threads on comics, too. I’m looking forward to another year of fun and spending!