COMIC BOOKS: A TRADITION PASSED DOWN
My love of comic books, as with many of my loves in life, such as baseball, football, Star Wars, Ray Bradbury, and Armchair Quarterbacking, is a result of who my father is. In oh so many ways, I am my father’s son, despite us never having had many deep conversations in my life so far. He had been a huge comic book fan and collector as a child and he still had a modest collection of comics sitting in the area of the garage, which was high enough to keep the bugs and water away.
This was a 10 foot long converted dresser that held these treasures, and though it was chock-full of a variety of comics, it was only a small portion of what my dad had collected over the years. Unfortunately, his original collection (which consisted of the original appearances of Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, and X-Men) was lost in a fire, which is why he was so careful to keep the books where they wouldn’t be able to be damaged. he told me stories of when he was a young boy and being excited to go down to the local store to pick up comic books right off the spinner rack.
Comics were the escape from reality I turned to when I was inside the house and had to stay there, and I would literally lose myself in whatever I was reading (which was anything I could get my hands on). After I discovered his stash of comics in his bedroom closet when I was young, I started going there to curl up in between all the random knick-knacks and camera equipment my pops had acquired over the years, and began reading through the comics one by one.
He had The Fantastic Four, Superman, Justice League, Batman, Spider-Man, The Spirit, Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., and tons more random editions. Superman wasn’t really interesting as a character, but I loved the drama that surrounded him trying to keep his secret, and it was interesting to read stories that were about him as a kid and teen to see how they changed up elements of his life, not to mention the absolute silliness of him openly monologuing to himself.
The Justice League didn’t really leave an impression, but Batman was kick-ass with all his high-tech gadgetry. Dr Strange was probably one of my favorites and was my first exposure to the idea of astral projection and interaction with the spirit world to combat the ills of the planet, which I thought was awesome it’s also why I’m excited for his upcoming movie!. The adventure and sci-fi stories were pretty hit and miss, but I think that’s where my emphasis on first person narration came later when I started writing short stories.
However, The Spirit was by far my most beloved book. This told the story of police officer Denny Colt, who was gunned down only to be resurrected to bring justice to Central City as the masked vigilante, The Spirit! Will Eisner’s deft storytelling and noir narrative was my intro to such themes and books. The artwork itself was amazing and could put many artists past or present to shame. The sequential storytelling of his pictures flowed like water throughout each page, and word captions weren’t necessary to understand the stories he told, thus leading to Eisner being called the King of Storytelling. I think what first drew me to the book was the tabloid size of it along with the black and white interiors, which to me was a novel idea since all I’d read up to then were color comics. Mr. Eisner and The Spirit to this day have had a lasting impression on my writing and art tastes.
However even the lamest comics had a leg up on the books I read, because they had pictures! I’ve always been a visual person. I think in pictures/moving pictures and the bright colors set off by dark inking were like a buffet for the eyes. The way I see the world and draw is ridiculously influenced by comic books, most clearly seen in the drawings that adorned my notebooks and sketchbooks. I’d get lost for hours in those images, which even in the lamest adventure story were still pretty kick-ass, featuring all sorts of impressive made-up monsters in them. Sometimes there were even adventure stories about strong children, which I loved, such as Captain Marvel. It told the story of a boy, Billy Batson, who gains the powers of several gods when he utters the word, “SHAZAM!” Yet Billy still retained the mindset of a boy while in a man’s body.
All of this has spilled over into my children’s lives now as well. My daughters have begun their descent into comic book collecting with their first forays into the art form being Teen Titans, My Little Pony, Adventure Time, Archie, Ms. Marvel, Supergirl and others. Being 4 and 11 hasn’t kept them from being interested in Marvel’s movie universe or DC’s TV universe. I have now passed on my love of comics to my children as father did with me so many years ago. My hope is that they too will pass this on to their children so we all would have been able to have one common interest to talk about and share in the adventures of super heroes like Wonder Woman and Thor.
My love of comic books spilled over into loving cartoons, certain anime, newspaper comics, and of course, other comic books that later would capture my imagination like Grendel, The Sandman, Watchmen, Madman, Elfquest, Cerebus, and more. I love the ridiculousness of comics, free from the pretension that often ruins books that would otherwise be really awesome to read. I like that people use this less “serious” format to discuss and explore everything from the craziness of human DNA to completely imagined landscapes to real life biographies. At the same time, today’s comic books tell stories that run the gamut of genres; they include serious, noir, thriller, biography, current events, cartoons, adaptations, and superhero fare. Of course, even if the story sucked, at least you had some interesting pictures to look at.