Ask any fan about how they came to love comics, and you’ll get any number of stories. Maybe they inherited the beat-up single issue Supermans from their cousin. Perhaps they had a teacher use one in a classroom. My journey is a little more roundabout.
When I was very young, I would go with my dad to the record store and sift through a box of old comics in a cardboard box on the floor, my objective being to seek out Casper and Wendy issues. As I got older, however, I thought comics were only about superheroes, and I couldn’t connect. It wasn’t until a couple decades later, when a friend lauded the work of Daniel Clowes, that I realized comics weren’t all superheroes. Clowes didn’t quite stick for me, but I was intrigued.
Soon after, I picked up Marjane Satrapi’s coming-of-age memoir Persepolis in anticipation of the film adaptation. I loved learning about a part of the world, culture, and historical era I had previously known virtually nothing about. I connected to the trials of a young woman trying to find her place in the world, and I was captivated by the bold use of black-and-white imagery that was both cartoonish and devastating all at once. I’ve been hooked ever since.
I love connecting with other people who love comics in their own way, but it isn’t always a joyful experience. There’s still a lot of distrust and dismissal of the format’s strengths, and like so many other situations in life, it can be easy to entirely write off something after one bad experience.
Comics, of course, rely heavily on images and require a certain discipline in developing visual literacy to get as much meaning as possible out of them. If you are curious about learning more — whether you are new to comics or have read them for years — I highly recommend Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics to get a better sense of the art and structure of the format.
They also tend to be called different things — comic books, graphic novels/memoirs/non-fiction, floppies (for single issues), trades (for a volume collecting several single issues), funnies, cartoons, etc. — and some people feel comfortable using some of these descriptors more than others.
I have read, participated in, and presented upon this topic for several years now. To me and many others, it doesn’t matter much what term you use, and you’ve probably noticed by now I tend to default to using “comics” as an umbrella term. I’m happy to talk about them in any way people most prefer.
A surprising result of developing my love for comics has been how much it has broadened my reading as a whole. Before coming to the format, I read almost exclusively literary and historical fiction, but I found I was much more willing to try out a new genre by starting with its presentation in comics. Science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, mysteries, memoirs and biographies, true crime, self-help, romance, history, politics… and yes, even superheroes. I have also found I have developed a deeper appreciation for visual art by taking the time to understand what goes on in each frame of a comic.
I have enjoyed meeting many comic book lovers in our community since moving here, and I am looking forward to expanding our library’s selection of quality comics. If you have your own story to share, please stop by the reference desk one day and tell me all about it.
Lindsay Beckman is head of adult services at Montrose Regional Library.