I’m not a collector in the “I’ve-got-a-mint-condition-first-issue-of-Fantastic-Four!” sense. I don’t really care how many claws Wolverine has. I’m not overly concerned whether the Hulk is colored green or grey. In fact I don’t think comic book “collector” really applies to me at all. I’m probably more of a comic book “appreciator”. My interest has always been in what can be accomplished with the medium of “visual story-telling”. In that respect, comic books are the best thing going. And there are some great comics out there. Well written and well illustrated but unfortunately not too well known by the mainstream public.
I’m not sure exactly where this interest of mine sprang from. I do know that as a child, comic books allowed me to improve my reading skills. “The Mighty Thor” evolved into an interest in mythology and Norse legends, “Challengers of the Unknown” got me hooked on science fiction. The combination of words and pictures was a perfect springboard for my childhood imagination.
Comics are probably more “accepted” now than ever before thanks to the many comic-film adaptations that flood the movie theatres these days. But this pales in comparison to some other cultures.
When I was in Japan for example, and to a lesser extent Korea, I was simply overwhelmed by the amount of comics that are published and used to illustrate topics as diverse as proper car maintenance to raising children. Certainly there were plenty of Manga titles dealing with meta-morphing robots and the like, but the Japanese have really embraced the medium in terms of what it can be used for. And it can be used for a lot more than just caped crusaders slam-dunking each other. Comic books that are several hundred pages long that deal with relationships and family are not that far fetched, and it’s nothing to see young professionals riding the metro in Japan, deeply engrossed in a Manga tale while awaiting their next destination.
But I digress. There are a lot of great comics out there, certainly more four-color tales than are represented by the spandex offerings of the “Big Two” – Marvel Comics and DC comics.
So just how does one learn to appreciate comic book art? There are a few classic examples that shed quite a bit of light on the subject. Writer Scott Macloud waxes philosophic about just what makes a comic book “tick” in his best selling book “Understanding Comics” (see www.scottmccloud.com for more info). The book, first published in 1994, has been translated into 13 languages and is practically a bible for students studying graphic novel illustration. Art Spiegleman hit pay dirt in 1986, when he produced the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel “Maus” which looks at the horrors of the Holocaust and represents Jews as Mice, and the Nazis as Cats. Right there with those two volumes you have all you need to know.
On the internet there are some cool comic book sites to be found. Hundreds and hundreds of them as a matter of fact. More than a few are dedicated to super heroes and the like. But there are some choice sites that I would almost go as far as labeling “literary”, in that you can find some great resources that discuss the comic book as an art form. Noteworthy among them is a great article and interview at www.rcharvey.com , which discusses the impact of several artists and writers in the field.
Other interesting links can be found www.bulletproofcomics.co.uk . This particular site has links to dozens of other comic related sites on the net. Another stellar site is www.indyworld.com. Again, this is a site that links you to other sites and deals specifically with “independent” titles that are not in the mainstream. www.ringsurf.com is another great site that provides reviews of other sites.
The comic book and graphic novel site at www.ala.org/ala/acrl/acrlpubs/crlnews is another hotbed of information that exposes readers to a lot more than just secret identities and quick-changeovers in a phone booth.
I have a huge admiration for anyone who can take a sheet of 11 x 17 inch Bristol board and a pencil and formulate a story that can make readers thing, make them laugh and make them cry. Maybe make them dream.
Check it out. Spend two bucks on a comic book and read it with your children. Or better yet, search out some of the more “adult” titles and read it for yourself. You may find yourself enjoying what you see and read. You may even find yourself wanting more.
And wanting to read more is a good thing!