So most of you that have seen the posts I’ve been doing have probably noticed that the majority of them are about comic books. You’re probably asking yourself, “Who’s this nerd, and why does he keep writing about things that I couldn’t be paid to touch?” which is fine, but, comics are one of my favorite things, and they’re a medium that has such range that pretty much anyone can find anything they’re interested in once they take that first fateful step. So, I’m going to use this post as a crash course in answering the million-dollar question, “Why read a comic book?”
- Okay. So the first and most important reason? Comic books are fun! They’re bright, beautiful pieces of art wrapped in story. Writers have gotten infinitely more complex in the comics world for the last thirty years or so, but the main reason comics are still popular is the same reason they became popular in the first place: most of them are big and fun examples of pop art. I also kind of dislike the term “graphic novel”, because it implies some sense of self-seriousness when some of the best comic books are great because they don’t take themselves seriously at all.
The whimsical or dark nature of comic books waver depending on the title or subject matter, just like any book or television show, but the main source of income in the industry still comes from the books put out by Marvel and DC. These are the two publishers that own almost all of the popular superheroes and put out stories featuring them every month, and while comics have become much more diverse in recent history, which I’ll get to later on, comics are still pretty much powered by goofy tales of people wearing bright colors and beating the hell out of each other. Which is a good thing! There’s this determination to be serious running through dramatic entertainment right now, and when it works, it really does work, but comics have the unique ability to blend the soapy nature of television dramas with the unrestrained spectacle of modern Hollywood blockbusters (also, no coincidence that most of them are based on comic books now, too). That four-color fun still makes comic books unique among other mediums, because comics are unafraid to be as genuine as possible while still being about things that are relatively ridiculous. One of the Flash’s most horrifying villains is a telepathic, 2000-pound gorilla. Which is very stupid. And awesome.
- Another reason comics are such a worthwhile endeavor to jump into, especially now, is because the industry as a whole has never been more diverse. Comics went through their version of puberty in the 1980s, when Frank Miller and Alan Moore both dropped The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, respectively. Both of those books were very different things, but what united them both was an unrepentant embracement of darkness. The Dark Knight Returns was about an older Batman that comes out of retirement much meaner than before, and Watchmen took a nihilistic approach to the whole idea of superheroes. Those books were a shock wave that sent the entire industry into a creative fervor with such luminous books like Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman and Grant Morrison’s Animal Man coming in the next few years. Since then, comics have continued to evolve and grow in such a way that it should shame other mediums. If any other medium, like say, television, had undergone the same changes that comic books have in the last thirty or so years, you couldn’t put a number on the amount of books or documentaries that would have been made on that change. And this isn’t just an uptick on the level of storytelling, like the revolution that happened in television after The Sopranos (h/t Alan Sepinwall), but a fundamental restructuring of what a comic book can even be. What’s really been great to see, is that even though Dark Knight and Watchmen were both very dark and adult-oriented, that didn’t make comic books too pretentious to still embrace the bright colors and psychedelic atmosphere that made them so appealing in the first place. Books like Marvel’s Hawkeye or Image’s Sex Criminals are both completely different than a “normal” comic book, but also in completely different ways than what Miller or Moore did. Jason Aaron’s writing Thor: God of Thunder right now, and it’s Thor in Asgard dealing with high-fantasy problems like those you might find in The Lord Of The Rings.
Mark Waid and Chris Samnee are putting out old-school 70s tie-die Marvel with their run on Daredevil, where the titular character is forced to deal with street crime, but still gets to team up with the Silver Surfer or fight Doctor Doom from time to time. There’s so many different options to read, just in the world of superheroes that alone would be enough to dive right in. But Brian K. Vaughn’s writing a modern sci-fi epic called Saga for Image that might be the best book on the stands every month, and it has nothing to do with capes or megalomaniacs. Instead, that book chooses to use space as a setting to explore what the 21st century family looks like, through characters that look nothing like us. Those are just some of the books that are out there, just waiting to be read, and if none of those sound appealing, there’s almost certainly something out there that you will like.
- Lastly, why is now the best time to jump into comic books? They’re so damn easy to get. You can buy them in a brick and mortar store like the old days, and fraternize with fellow nerds, or you can head to comixology.com and buy them through their website or their various mobile apps. They’ve become just as portable now as they used to be back in the 60s when you could buy them for ten cents, and I may or may not have written an entire paper on the renewed portability of comics in college, because I’m that kid. But it really is important to note just how much digital comics have changed things. I used to buy comics in a comic shop from the time I was in 7th grade through my first two years of college, and as much as I loved it, I don’t even think I’d still be reading comics monthly right now if I couldn’t buy them online. The hassle that used to be involved in getting access to them has been voided, and speaking as someone who used to drive halfway across town to get comics, that’s a big deal. Comic shops are still some of my favorite places on earth, but they’re nowhere near as accessible or ubiquitous as the Internet is, which makes it easier for newbies to get their feet wet.
So, all of this is to say that comic books are something that I’m almost positive most of you have overlooked at some point in your life, and I get it. They’re mired in a stigma that stems from stereotypes about fat nerds with ponytails salivating over continuity (which, I won’t lie, is something I’ve seen plenty of in my time reading them), but that doesn’t mean they’re not valuable forms of entertainment. They’re only getting more complex, more diverse, and easier to get a hold of, so there’s no point in not trying one out. Any of the other books I’ve reviewed are good starts, and from here on out, I’ll be reviewing books that are easy for new readers to pick up on.