Columnists Joe and Kevin take you through the experience of learning to read comic books. Each week they alternate as Joe (the teacher) explains why he picked a specific book, and Kevin (the student) gives his impressions.
This week, in honor of C2E2 we get into the psyche of why our columnists are undertaking this endevour
The biggest mistake a comic book fan can make when asked the inevitable “What should I read?” is to give someone “the best thing they have ever read”. Seriously, why do we do that?
Did anyone who is a fan of comic books ever read “the best thing they have ever read” first? The answer of course is no. You started by reading terrible mid-80’s John Byrne Superman, or an early 90’s chromium covered Mark Silvestri Image comic your aunt bought you because you were road tripping to grandma’s house.
You would sit there for hours staring at those comics, not caring that you didn’t know who the characters were, not understanding half the plot because it was issue 115, and you had to have been reading the series for the last three years to really get what was going on. Nevertheless you stared at that artwork, and you memorize the characters names. You spent hours tracing the big splash page, and then trying to pass it off as your own to your friends.
These comics were terrible, but they were the entry ways into the world of comics. So how can you dismiss them? More importantly, you could only appreciate how good Watchmen or Sandman is by having that comic book background built up over 10-15 years. This is what makes introducing comics to non-readers so difficult. Comic books are an almost autobiographical medium. Like Vonnegut or Kerouac, to truly appreciate them, you had to come across them at a specific point in your life. To re-create what made you a comic book fan is almost like the plot of “The Boys From Brazil”. All of the right elements need to be there at the exact right time.
This doesn’t even take into account the development of the comic reading muscle. Comic books are written in a language in and of itself. A reader not only needs to know how to understand the specialized language, but they also need a foundation on which to build. When you are just learning to read, you don’t read Tolstoy, Joyce, or even Judy Blume for that matter. You have to start with the Dr. Seuss equivalent.
You have to learn how to move your eyes from panel to panel, and take in dialogue with the picture at the same time. Some comics develop this easier than others.
I don’t want to necessarily be a huge douche bag with this. I’m not the type of guy who sits around and claims one type of comic is better than another. I don’t necessarily think DC is better than Marvel. I don’t believe comics should be bagged, boarded, and graded hung on a wall never to be touched again. I believe comics should be read, especially read for fun. I can treat this academically, but where’s the fun in that?
Kevin asked me to teach him about comics. So how do I do it? I can’t start him on the best because he has no foundation, and I can’t just give him any piece of crap. So I began to think about myself in the way I just described. What got me into comics? What gave me that feeling I described, where I was in the backseat of my mom’s station wagon driving to Lake Shafer, Indiana. More importantly, how can I do this without being a dick?
So I start in 1993, more specifically January. My dad drove me to Amazing Fantasy Books and Comics in Calumet City to buy my first comic book, Superman #75.
Next week: Joe’s take on “The Death of Superman”
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Next up- The Death of Superman