“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.