Tuesday, November 15, 2011

"Nothing You Can Do With People Like That": My Julia Child Dilemma

Whenever I’m in the mood for a laugh—or if I find myself feeling the urge to shake my head and wonder what the world has become—there’s nothing that I enjoy more than watching clips from Semi-Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee, a Food Network Program that revolves around an alcoholic woman’s recipes for garish meals and cocktails that could put a grown man under the table.

Sandra Lee demonstrates her culinary mastery.

As mentioned in my last blog post, I’ve been in desperate need of amusement lately, and as such, I’ve witnessed more semi-homemade meals than any person should be subjected to outside of a torture chamber.  But there comes a time when even such classics as the Kwanzaa cake or “sensuous” truffles fail to amuse, and the viewer is left wondering what leverage the woman had on Food Network in blackmailing them to produce her show and when the American populace decided that dumping a bunch of processed foods and vanilla extract together—“It cuts out the packaged taste!”—constituted a meal.  Nauseated and longing for something that could make me respect the art of cooking again, I searched on Youtube for episodes of Julia Child’s The French Chef.

The first episode I watched, “Cook Your Goose,” had enough technique and skill—and a total lack of catchphrases or cocktails—to restore my faith in the culinary masters of the world.  The second episode, “Roast Suckling Pig,” got shut off at the halfway point.

As of tomorrow, I will have spent three months as a vegetarian.  At first, my decision had nothing to do with moral or health concerns: I simply realized, while I was gathering recipes to try when I moved into my apartment, that I didn’t like most meats, so I might as well cut them out of my diet.  Later on, I discovered some of the meat industry’s more objectionable practices, which strengthened my conviction in my dietary choices.  Still, I don’t mean to lecture anyone about meat being murder or how cruel/unhealthy their choices are.  My opinions will differ from others, and there’s no sense in trying to change that.  I know how appealing some meats can be, and it’s not as though my taste for that has disappeared.  In the past three months, meat has always looked appetizing, not disgusting.

At least, not until I saw a pig lying on a table, looking as though it could wake up and walk off at any moment until I noticed the gaping hole in its stomach that was being filled with spices.  All I could think of at that moment was how my cats would look shaved and set in a roasting pan.  After all, in some parts of the world, they’re food as well.

Fuzzy, ill-tempered food.

Still, I didn’t harbor ill will toward Julia Child for roasting a pig.  Pork was always my favorite meat before I cut it out of my meals.  I simply closed the browser and searched for “Julia Child vegetarian,” hoping to find her culinary skills applied to recipes more suiting my stomach.

Instead, I was surprised to find what I considered a very unpalatable quotation from the chef in the August 2009 issue of People magazine:

“We didn’t know many vegetarians years ago. Not eating meat became the thing to do some places in the ’60s, but the movement is much bigger in the ’90s. Personally, I don’t think pure vegetarianism is a healthy lifestyle. It’s more fear of food—that whole thing that red meat is bad for you. And then there are people who don’t eat meat because it’s against their morals. Well, there’s nothing you can do with people like that. I’ve often wondered to myself: Does a vegetarian look forward to dinner, ever?”
Of course, a vegetarian diet can be as healthy or unhealthy as any other, depending on dietary choices.  In fact, with proper nutrition, vegetarians may live longer than omnivores.  But chefs aren’t dietitians, I reasoned.  One only had to look at Paula Deen to know that.  Julia Child could have whatever diet she desired, and that’s not my place to judge.  What made my heart sink wasn’t her distaste for vegetarianism—it’s reasonable for someone so dedicated to food to balk at the thought of restricting it—but rather her comment that the food was lackluster.  As a chef who taught her viewers how to prepare delicious vegetable dishes, why would she think vegetarians wouldn’t enjoy food like everyone else?

Still, I tried not to get worked up over her comment.  She didn’t have to share my beliefs, as I didn’t have to share hers.  I went back to Google and happened upon another unsavory event, this time related by Child’s friend and food columnist Molly O’Neill in a video entitled “Julia Child Battles PETA, Animal Rights.”   O’Neill related a visit that she and Child paid to a veal farm: 

“There was this--there was this big thing about veal, and PETA was going crazy, and there were these terrible stories about veal. And Julia insisted that, um, that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the veal industry and that she and I would sail forth one day, and we would go and inspect a veal farm, which we did.

And, um, it was horrendous [laughter from audience] . . . I worked on a rescue squad, and that's the only reason I have seen worse things. And Julia thought it was great. And Julia would absolutely not bow to the fundamentalism of the animal rights movement because she didn't want to live in a world that was controlled by people getting power over other people and limiting a worldview. She had wonderful politics, social politics--she was a lifelong Democrat and very proud of it and very liberal--and she had some of the worst food politics I've ever been in a kitchen with [more audience laughter].”
I don’t support PETA’s methods of campaigning for animal rights—or their hypocrisy in those campaigns—and monstrous as I find the veal industry to be, I certain don’t want to create a world that’s “controlled by people getting power over other people and limiting a worldview.”  I have no right to try and stop people from purchasing meat, just as they have no right to shove steak down my throat.  What stung so much about the video wasn’t knowing that Child disagreed with the animal rights movement.  Rather, it’s knowing that she seemed to delight in the pain inflicted on the veal calves simply because it went against the morals of the animal rights activists.

I don’t expect the world to stop eating certain foods to suit me.  I just don’t think it’s too much to ask to acknowledge that each chicken leg or slice of bacon on the table was provided by the death of an animal.  And I expected that a chef who worked with that meat every day would respect that sacrifice.

It stings because I know that Julia Child was extremely skilled and I respect her talent.  She brought vibrant flavors and cooking techniques to an audience that had been content with TV dinners.  Even after death, her writings and cooking shows still influence both aspiring chefs and household cooks.  If it were Sandra Lee or Guy Fieri slamming vegetarianism, I wouldn’t care.  It’s only because of my respect for Child that her words hurt.

It’s an interesting dilemma and one I haven’t experienced before.  It’s easy for me to avoid the films of Roman Polanski or Lars von Trier, for example, because I don’t want to support a rapist or a misogynist, respectively, and I haven’t watched their films, so I don’t feel the loss of them.  I never read the Ender’s Game series, so I didn’t suffer for the lack of them when I decided to boycott the works of Orson Scott Card after his horrible comments regarding homosexuality.  But I do respect Julia Child.  I’ve witnessed and admired her work and laughed at parodies of her on television.  She even voiced a character in a cartoon I watched repeatedly as a child.  There’s no doubt that she’s impacted how I view the art of cooking.

In the end, I find that I can’t dismiss her knowledge entirely.  The cultural impact and knowledge she provided are far too great for me to brush aside, especially considering that I’ve learned things from her as well.  But educational as she’s been, I wouldn’t feel right spending money on her works either.  For me, Julia Child can only exist on the public domain, and always with the knowledge of just how much our moralities conflict.

Of course, just like my diet, my resolutions of conflict are only my choice.  If you disagree with my views on the situation, or have handled similar moral dilemmas differently, let me know.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Postcard from Depression-Land

In my freshman year of college, writing was my anti-depressant.

Well, writing and Paxil, but it was the writing that provided instantaneous relief, and distracted me from my own thoughts.

Shy, neurotic, and over a hundred miles away from home, I spent my initial months in the dorm afraid to interact with anyone, wanting to go home and hating myself for being so upset over such an ordinary life experience.  My time outside of class was spent clinging to my roommate and the few friends that had come to Ball State from my high school, sobbing in a counselor’s office, or awkwardly sitting in the same dorm lounge as my friends’ friends, hoping to become comfortable with the group via osmosis.

The average day.
Toward the start of October that year, I began writing fan fiction.  I’d had ideas kicking around in my head for some time, and writing was a more productive use of my time then staring off into space and wondering why I’d ever imagined I could handle attending college.  I expected that no one would read the chapters I was putting online, and that I’d get about halfway through the story, lose interest, and stop.
Instead, I found myself receiving dozens of reviews per chapter, and finishing not only that story, but six sequels, several of which were novel-length, and a handful of single chapter works as well.  I became close to my reviewers and other writers I admired, exchanging emails and trading ideas.  And as I gained friends online, I became more outgoing in my face-to-face life as well, spending my time laughing and talking with dozens of others when I wasn’t in class.  The early days of depression and isolation were forgotten.

Or so I thought at the time.

Based on my own experiences, and those of others that have been recounted to me, I don’t believe it’s ever possible to be fully free of depression.  No matter what medications or therapies that are used to combat it, it’s always hovering nearby like Eeyore’s perpetual rain cloud.  The sun may shine brightly enough to make up for it, or you may be having such a good time that it’s easy to ignore, but there’s always a chance that it will start storming right over your head when you’re at your most vulnerable.

Recently, I had that experience myself.

The return of my depression seemed to coincide with writer’s block, though I can’t say if one caused the other.  I had been updating my writing at an average of a chapter a day for a year now, and it was only natural that I would run out of steam sooner or later.  Of course, I didn’t see it that way.  I saw it as laziness, as disappointing the fans who supported me.  This was my junior year of college, but I was still living in the dorms then, close enough to my friends and their interests to be mostly distracted from the self-abuse I would dish out every time I procrastinated on my writing.

It wasn’t until the summer, when I was away from that support group and living conditions, that I really began the downward spiral.

At work and with my friends, I was fine.  At home, I was a wreck, laying around the house and flipping through TV channels because the idea of doing anything productive with my time seemed too painful and difficult to consider.  I continued to mental yell at myself, now for being lazy and childish on top of not writing.  I lashed out at my friends and family unintentionally, and felt unable to confide in the people I was closest to about my depression.  There was nothing really wrong with me, I reasoned, I was just feeling sorry for myself and I shouldn’t burden others with my whining.

I expected to recover when I returned to college in August.  For a time, I thought I had.  I was excited to live in an apartment, though I was now isolated from the support system that had been so vital to me in my first three years at the university.  My roommates’ schedules kept us more separated than I had expected, and many of my friends had graduated.  Others had gone abroad.  I wasn’t just physically separated from campus, I was also emotionally shut off as well.  Add to that all the pressures of a senior year of college, and my continuing writer’s block, and you can probably imagine my mental health over the past few months.  I hadn’t recovered at all.  I’d just become so apathetic toward my sadness that it seemed like a normal part of my life.

It wasn’t until Sunday that I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt genuine happiness, when I was snapped out of my apathetic haze by two events:  One, a writer friend that I hadn’t heard from in over a year returned to the Internet with a new chapter, citing her depression as the reason for her absence.  Two, a blog that I usually turned to when I needed a laugh, Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half, broke its months-long hiatus with Adventures in Depression, detailing Allie’s own struggles with her mental well-being.

Only then did it occur to me that I couldn’t remember the last time I had really smiled.  I might laugh at pictures I found when surfing the Internet, trying to distract myself from my listless apathy, but the emotion was gone the second the giggling stopped.  It’s like painting a rotting log gold: it might look good for a minute or two, but then the paint will flake off and what’s underneath will come right back out.  It seemed to me that there must have been times in the past few months when I had been truly happy, but I couldn’t remember how they felt anymore.  It was as if the depression were burrowing under my skin, sucking out every other emotion to sustain itself.

I had been robbed of the ability to feel good about doing anything I enjoyed.  And in tandem, my depression was preventing me from attempting things that brought me pleasure.  The same Sunday I realized I was depressed, I sat down at my laptop, intending to write the first fan fiction chapter I’d have worked on in months.  I opened a Word document, stared at the blank page, and immediately closed it.  My conscious thought was I can’t do this, because subconsciously, for months on end, when I sat down to write, there would be a voice in the back of my mind mocking my efforts:  Oh, you’re going to write something now?  Good luck with that, I’m sure your readers will really appreciate you finally updating, assuming they haven’t all quit checking your page.  Yeah, I bet that’s going to be a real work of art you’re typing there.  Go ahead, see how that works out.

That absolute sense of futility is, in essence, the core of my depression.  It’s easy to look at a depressed person and decide that they’re lazy, preferring to wallow in self-pity.  There is no way to adequately explain, to someone who hasn’t felt it themselves, how painful even the easiest tasks, like going to class everyday or taking a shower, feel to those in a deep depression.  It’s akin to being trapped at the bottom of the ocean: you might see the light if you look up, but you can’t move toward it when you’re being crushed from the pressure of the water.  I even beat myself up for my inability to function at these times, because after all, there was nothing visibly wrong with me.  I should have been able to move on with my life.

Then came Allie’s blog post, and the realization that I’d been depressed for so long I’d forgotten how life felt otherwise.  That brought back the tears and the crippling sadness, which I never thought I’d be happy to feel again.  But as long as I was feeling, it was an improvement.  I posted on my Livejournal about my condition the next day, to explain my months of silence, and the reception I received there made me genuinely smile for the first time in weeks.

Which brings me to why I’m posting here.  Depression, in part, is such a monster because it’s invisible.  People caught up in their misery like I’ve been don’t want to bring it up for fear that their unhappiness will be branded as silly, or something they need to get over.  I suffered for months on end with that line of thinking.  But I’m reaching out now, and I’m not going to suffer in silence any longer, nor encourage anyone in pain to avoid reaching out.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Different Sort of Halloween Princess

Yesterday I attended classes as a princess.  An Amazon princess, to be exact.  Princess Diana of Themiscyra, better known in pop culture as Wonder Woman.

Why Wonder Woman?  A better question for me would be why not.  I love Wonder Woman.  She's brave, powerful, compassionate, and willing to kill to protect others while still always striving for peace first.  Plus she has an invisible jet.

That, and I thought her costume would be challenging to sew.
It was.

While dressed up as a superhero, I learned a number of valuable lessons, such as that one must always be prepared for battle.

Even in your own apartment.  

 That super villains lurk around every corner.

Even if they are soft and cuddly and sleeping at the foot of your bed.
But threats don't just come from villains.  Anyone could be after you, even your own family.

The golden lasso does restrain house cats, but just barely.
I also learned it takes a supreme amount of balance to walk around in those boots all day, and that if you're brave enough to leave the house in Wonder Woman's attire, and able to ignore cat calls, you will not only have an awesome day, but people will give you candy for your bravery.

All in all, Halloween rocks.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Doctor Is In.

At this point in my life I really should have known better than to announce that this blog would update every Tuesday, because inevitably, once I give myself a schedule, the forces of interference will converge around me and do everything in their power to prevent me from clicking that “New Post” button.  Two weeks ago, I didn’t update because…well, that’s a story that deserves its own post, and last week, I was afflicted with a sinus infection so severe that I was about three coughs away from an iron lung.  All right, that’s an exaggeration, but I’m pretty sure I either cracked a rib or developed pleurisy, so really, it’s not that far off.

Anyway, while I was incapacitated and otherwise away from the computer, October had begun with or without me.  And this being the month of Halloween, and me being a horror fanatic, of course my returning blog post had to be about something creepy.  What I should write about, I wasn’t sure, until renting the incredibly unsettling psychological thriller Jacob’s Ladder and making a trip to the campus health center in the same week reminded me:

On second thought, I'll skip the anesthesia.
I have a terrible fear of doctors.

In childhood, this was due to a series of painful allergy tests and shots, but as I grew older, the needles stopped bothering me.  I suppose there’s only so many times that one can get a syringe in the arm before adjusting to it, and anyway, needles don’t stab people.  Doctors (and nurses) stab people.

Is it an irrational fear?  Absolutely.  If it weren’t for medical professionals, my weak ginger body would have quit on me before I started kindergarten, mostly likely.  And I thank everyone in the medical field for helping me overcome natural selection.  But with that said, there’s just something unnerving about doctors: the overpowering smell of disinfectant in their offices, the cold metal instruments, the thought of going in for a routine checkup and coming out with a terminal diagnosis.  It’s not that the human body fazes me—my idea of fun is going to look at preserved corpses—as much as the reminder of just how fallible that body is, and how much we depend on others to keep it running.

As Dr. Crane and his mask demonstrate, this goes for psychologists too.
And sometimes those others are just plain creepy.

I could go on and on about why various doctors and medical procedures make me uneasy –maggots on burn victims, people, maggots on burn victims—but it’s easier to illustrate it with a single story from my life, specifically the first semester of college last year.

At the start of my junior year, I began experiencing chest pains.  As I am a hypochondriac, I figured it was just stress and I was making a big deal over nothing.  It wasn’t until I learned that the Yaz I was taking had a good chance of giving me blood clots that I decided a trip to the health center was in order.  Even then, I figured they’d either tell me I was fine or that I should switch pills, and that would be the end of it.

Instead, I went to see the doctor one Friday morning and about forty-five minutes later found myself on a campus van en route to the hospital for blood tests and chest X-rays.  Not exactly how I had planned to start my weekend.

I was unnerved, of course, but not yet because I was in a hospital.  I was just afraid that they would find something seriously wrong with me.  I was uneasy when I registered at the front desk and had blood drawn, but that unease didn’t become full-blown fear until they sent me down the hall to radiology.

The hospital’s lobby had been full of people, heading down the halls or to the elevator, or darting in and out of the gift shop.  Likewise, I’d had my blood taken in the office where I’d checked in, surrounded by other nurses and phlebotomists, and I’d long ago adjusted to needles.  The hospital was brightly lit, clean, and altogether full of unthreatening activity.

The hallway to radiology, on the other hand, was completely empty.

At least they're not scary when they do Thriller.
The building was far from dilapidated, but going to have X-rays for blood clots in the heart while three hours away from my family was frightening enough without adding deserted hallways on top of that.  The halls were absolutely silent as I walked, without even a hum from the air vents or fluorescent lights, and my discomfort quickly blossomed into full-blown fear.  I turned a corner in the hall, half expecting to find myself confronted by an army of Silent Hill nurses.

Instead, I found myself in another empty hallway.  Or at least, a hallway that was empty until I was halfway through it.  Right as I reached the midpoint of the hall, a few yards away from the door to radiology, an orderly appeared at one end of the hall, pushing an unconscious patient on a gurney. (I can only hope that patient wasn’t headed on a trip through medical hell.)  And at that exact moment, with all the timing of an SNL comedy sketch but with none of the humor, another orderly appeared at the other end of the hall, pushing an unconscious patient in a wheelchair.  Neither of those patients ended up in radiology.  I wasn’t, to my knowledge, near a surgical ward or patients’ rooms, so to this day I have no idea where those patients and their silent orderlies were headed.

An X-ray, blood test, CAT scan, Holter monitor test and EKG later, I’ve still yet to receive a definitive diagnosis.  On the bright side, the chest pain has stopped—or at least, it had until I started coughing out my lungs.  The moral of this story isn’t “don’t see doctors,” however.  If there is a moral, it’s just that hospitals are a creepy place to be.

And that’s my irrational fear for the week.  Feel free to share yourself, and I’ll be back next week—I promise—with something else Halloween-related.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Batgirl's Not Weak, She's Human

I stayed out of the Batgirl vs. Oracle debate that broke out in comic fandoms after DC announced the relaunch.  Partly my reticence was because, being able-bodied, I didn’t feel it was my place to say what should be done with a disabled icon.  And partly I stayed out of the discussions because I’d only begun reading weekly issues of comics a few months before the relaunch began.  Before that, I’d just read trade paperbacks, and none of them featured Oracle in a starring role (come to think of it, the one I read that most featured Barbara was The Killing Joke).  I didn’t know enough about her to pick one superheroine role over the other.

On that note, I didn’t know much about Barbara’s Batgirl either.  My biggest introduction to her was Batman: The Animated Series, and while I thought she was as entertaining and engaging as the Robins, I never felt particularly close to her.  She was a spunky teen sidekick, fun to watch, and I identified with her because we were both redheaded girls, but I don’t remember seeing episodes that focused on her, and I never gained a deeper connection with the character.

What I did know about Barbara-as-Batgirl’s return, based on my knowledge of her previous work and the interviews I read with her regarding the relaunch, was that if Barbara was going to walk again, Gail Simone would be the best person to write it.

Gail Simone's new Batgirl series launched on Sept. 7.

She loves Barbara Gordon, she kicks ass at writing female characters, and she’s argued against restoring Barbara’s mobility in the past.  I figured if anyone could handle the issue sensitively and compellingly, it would be Gail Simone.  So, despite having never been particularly attached to Barbara Gordon, I picked up the comic shop’s last issue of Batgirl #1 when it was released on the seventh, curious to see how the transition back to Batgirl would be handled.

To my delight, I loved it.  For the first time, I connected with Barbara on more than a superficial level.  I cheered when she took down the bad guys at the start of the issue, cringed at the flashback to The Killing Joke, and felt my heart go out to her when she was threatened with the injury that paralyzed her again and froze up, unable to act.  The issue was everything I hoped it would be.  I have never been paralyzed, shot, stripped, humiliated, or traumatized, but from my viewpoint, everything felt real.  The explanation given for Barbara’s recovery was brief, but I didn’t feel cheated and I’m sure it will be expanded upon in the future.  Her talk with her father was heartwarming, her interactions with her new roommate were amusing, and the scene with the new villain and the gun?  I haven’t felt so emotionally connected to a comic character in years.

And because I am naturally curious (and mildly masochistic), once I was finished reading, I turned to the Internet to see what other readers thought.

The response to the issue was mostly positive.  Even those who opposed bringing Barbara Batgirl back seemed to respect the way the issue handled the transition.  But there was a contingent of dissent I hadn’t expected, and they took fault with the scene I had found most meaningful: Barbara freezing up when threatened with a gun.

The scene in question.

Batgirl shouldn’t be so weak, some readers argued.  It was one thing for Barbara Gordon to wake up, horrified from remembering her shooting in a nightmare, but once she went under the cowl she ought to be able to suppress those fears.  Superheroes are meant to be larger than life, and it isn’t compelling to watch them struggle with real world issues.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but hasn’t Marvel made a business out of creating heroes with real life problems?  And aren’t they currently the top comics seller?

Ignoring that it’s the first issue—I doubt Barbara’s going to be unable to act every time she’s faced with a gun during Gail Simone’s run—watching Barbara freeze while reliving the trauma made her a much stronger character in my mind.  Before this comic, I only ever saw her as “Batman, but a teenage girl and with a parent.”  She was strong and sassy like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but unlike Buffy, I never saw her vulnerable moments on the cartoon, and I was never particularly close to her.  Here, she may not have kicked ass and taken names in the issue’s final confrontation, but she became a real person to me for the first time, and I’m dying to know what happens next, and on the edge of my seat to see how she will forgive herself for freezing up, and how she’ll overcome her fear.

Sure, it’s not typical superhero action, but wasn’t the first half of the comic devoted to Barbara taking down a group of murderers?  Didn’t she drive a motorcycle through a hospital and come crashing through the doors?  It’s not an issue that was lacking in action, and it’s not an issue that was lacking in emotion either.  To me, the combination of the two makes it a much more compelling introduction.  I’ve always liked the moments when heroes don’t seem invincible best.  Batman self-mutilating in A Serious House on Serious Earth, Superman’s breakdown in Red Son, Wonder Woman’s moral dilemma in The Hiketeia.  In my taste, the characters often seem strongest when shown at their weakest moments.

Others have called that moment regressive storytelling, saying the Barbara already worked through her trauma in her years as Oracle and that a relaunch shouldn’t start off by telling the same story over again.

Well, I haven’t read about her overcoming her traumas before.  For me, this is all new, and for me, it’s making the character more sympathetic and human than I’ve ever known her to be.  And even if I had read about Oracle’s struggles with PSTD before, I’d like to think I’d still appreciate them here.  Frankly, I would have felt cheated if I’d seen the new villain assume the gun pose from The Killing Joke only to see Batgirl take him out with no reaction.  To me, that’s cheap.  As of the relaunch, this Batgirl hasn’t had all the time Oracle had to overcome her traumas, and she has to deal with a new set of threats.  She’s still learning to adjust to her regained mobility, and I’m glad Gail Simone showed what an impact the threat of losing that freedom again had on Barbara.  The realism and sensitivity shown in the issue insured that I’ll pick up next month’s installment, and the next, and so on.

It’s not my place to tell anyone how they should feel about the new Batgirl series.  But I hope those who are critical about the first issue’s ending will be willing to give the second one a chance.  I see the scene as a touching, engaging moment, and this is a book I definitely won’t want to miss.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

"Why Do You Waste Your Money on Comics?"

“Why do you waste your money on comic books?”

It’s a question I’ve heard many times before, but most recently my father asked it last Saturday while we were waiting for our orders at the Cracker Barrel.  I’d been recounting my latest adventure with my friends, when we’d piled into the car on DC Relaunch Day and rushed to the comic shop for the new issues (I got the last copy of Gail Simone’s Batgirl, and it is fantastic).  I was thinking ahead to next week, and the comics I’d pick up then, when that nagging little question snapped me back to the present.

I remember the first time I held a comic book.

In Corydon, Indiana, where I grew up, there are no comic shops.  The nearest city that offered them was a least a twenty minute drive away when I was a kid, and it wasn’t a drive I would pester my mother into making because, having never seen a comic book, I didn’t understand the appeal.   I hadn’t been introduced to the comic book nerd stereotype at that age, but I had books and cartoons and it seemed to me that those were all I needed to be entertained.

That first comic book was a Batman Adventures, revolving around Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn and some sort of mind-controlling lemonade they’d concocted (Or so I remember, anyway, but I was about seven, and back then I thought hammerhead sharks inhabited swimming pools, so who knows how accurate any of this is).  My sister and I happened across it in my great-aunt and uncle’s garage at a family reunion, presumably discarded by another relative around our ages.  Now, like most children growing up in 90s, I loved Batman: The Animated Series.  And like most middle children with a domineering older sister who wanted to be both Batman and the Joker (and Catwoman, and the Commissioner, and anyone else the scenario called for), I loved Harley Quinn best of all because she was the one that I got to be whenever we played Batman.

I was hooked.  There were books about Batman?  Books with Harley in a main role?  Books that I could carry around and read whenever I wanted, unlike the one half hour of the day when I could watch the cartoon?  Why had no one shared this miracle with us before?

(Looking back, I was destined to become a fan fic writer from the beginning.)

Now, if I hadn’t been a seven year old with the attention span of kitten in a room full of cardboard boxes, I would have become a diehard comic reader then and there.  And if I had, maybe I’d be too jaded to care what non-fans think about the literary merits of my weekly purchases.  But as it is, I didn’t start frequenting the comic shops until college, and as such I’m here, defending my superheroes online.

It’s disheartening to see people dismiss all comics (except maybe for stories like Maus and Persepolis) as badly written kiddie-fare or wank material for unsocialized man-children.  It’s annoying to have family members who enjoy the works of Dan Brown turn their noses up at my reading choices.  But most irritating of all is when disparaging comments about comics come from people who, in all other circumstances, would approve of most any book gaining popularity, because at least it’s getting people to read.

I could provide dozens of links to stories demonstrating that even comics featuring men and women in tights and masks are capable of displaying complex themes and characters.  But what does it matter if someone is just using comic books for entertainment?  I was a lucky kid.  My mother is a librarian, and I’d been read to since I was a fetus.  Comics or not, I was going to read.  But not everyone has those luxuries.  And if kids learn to enjoy reading through following heroic adventures and dynamic art in comics, then more power to them.  My mother’s library has begun carrying classic literature in graphic form, and I sincerely hope no one started griping about bastardizing literature when they saw that.

(Though with that said, really, they couldn’t have picked a better artist to cover Shakespeare?)

But comics shouldn’t be relegated to a last ditch effort, either.  They ought to be approached the way most anyone (outside of literary academia and pretentious Amazon reviews) views other people’s reading choices: it may not be their cup of tea, but it’s nothing to mock.  You can have your harlequin romances, I can have my superhero team-ups, and we can all be happy.

In my experience, comics have been so much more than a $2.99 purchase that I read through in five minutes and then instantly forget.  Comics got me into costuming, which taught me practical skills and gave me the excuse I’ve always wanted to run around like it’s Halloween far past October.  Comics got me into fan fiction, which not only helped me polish my writing skills as much as my college courses have, but also introduced me to a writer’s community where I met some of the best friends I’ve ever had.  And it was a comic book, Wonder Woman, who got me involved in feminism.

Wasting my money?  I’ll never regret a penny of it.