Day 175 (of 187) do
graphic novels comics still need defending?
Recently came across a vent about a tweet that repeat d a teachers request that over summer vacation that reading be guided because otherwise kids will just waste their time reading fantasy and comics.
Part of me hopes this was a jest (twitter really needs to enable comic sans as a sarcasm font…. #comicsansasasarcasmfont
Part of me worries that comics are still seen as a waste of time. I’ll admit that in university I got a subscription to The Province newspaper in part because of its sports section, but the deciding factor between it and The Vancouver Sun (also good sports writers) was that it had The Far Side AND Calvin & Hobbes. The original tweets of social commentary (to which I still have some Outland strips -between Bloom County & Opus in the Berkeley Breathed collection- cut out hiding here and there). Because even “the newsies” and the drug store comics had commentaries and lessons to learn about society.
Tony Stark had marital issues and a significant alcohol problem. Many of my friends could relate. The hate the X-Men received (x-people as corrected by Deadpool) reflected the hate that the LGBTQ community faced. The struggles of Peter Parker (while in high school)….mirrored many every day angst, all with the escapism of super powers, super villains and hopeless causes being overcome.
My own addiction was towards the works of Carl Barks who opened new worlds with the research he did (with big thanks to National Geographic) in the worlds of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge. But the ‘Nam showed the odyssey too many young Americans (including my uncle) went through and came back…different than how they went. Groom the Wanderer was needed comic relief (literally) with the manic illustrations of MAD illustrator Sergio Aragonnes showing that passions can be followed and even earn a paycheque.
These comics led me into bigger readings. References to historical and mythological events led me into my double major of English literature and History. Comics surged my passion. I was the caricature of the kid with a flashlight reading one more book. They led me to Terry Brooks and David Eddings whole fantasy tomes likewise had me reading “one more chapter” until I reached the end of that chapter and had to push on, damn what the alarm clock said!
These pushed me into enjoying reading enough that I am one of those people who when faced with a list of the best 100 books of… (all time, 20th C, etc) have a lot more checked off than not.
But I’ll admit something happened. I kept reading education books but I wasn’t staying current with some “must reads”. When I worked at Chapters while finishing my education degree, I had a handle on the top 10s and had recent recommendations from darn near all sections (there are some that I roll my eyes at, but I do know some people who have read more pages of Harlequin than some English professors have of all other books combined! There’s a reason they are published: they sell…people read them. But do we value those books when students are picking books to read? Do we celebrate those readers? Or do we bug and shame them. My bias: a page read is better than 100 pages skimmed.
And if we follow a “gradual guided release of responsibility” model, comics are helpful. They help readers connect plots and dialogues with “pictures in their head”. There was a reason so many hated the Harry Potter movies (though they all saw them a time or ten)… the characters weren’t quite what we imagined (they could never be – except for Alan Rickmans Snape – that felt pretty perfect) and that’s what leads to great follow ups to reading: the discussions.
And comic readers are great at followup discussions. Did you read the single shot of Donatello? Is Jack Kirby the best (at the time)?
Is Frank Miller’s Dark Knight the best, or The Watchmen? Or what can we learn from the classics (racism and sexism are on full display in “the golden age”)?
I still stop in at small comic shops and spend a couple bucks. I need to cycle through my own collection now that I am getting older – cull the collection and keep the great ones and share the “others”.
And if reading comics is wasting time….I’m happy to model the way and I’ll be running through a series of “what is Mr Landy reading” images of some comics I’ll flip through during these busy days. Because comic reading can also be very good for self regulation! (Well, most comics – some are gloriously intense – aka the walking dead…) but don’t tell people what to read, celebrate that they are reading, whatever they are reading!