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 endeavor.
My father used to collect comics, and all of them are gone.
He also used to collect baseball cards, so he’s told me. By the time I was born, everything he used to have was gone, left to a cousin when my father left for Vietnam at age 18; a cousin who, as far as anyone knows, sold the whole lot for drug money. Whatever adventures and stats, whatever premiere issues and rookie cards I might have inherited, I’ll never know. And as I inch closer to my 30th birthday, I’ve come to realize that I don’t want the same for my future children.
I collect records, actual LPs found from the few record shops that still exist in the Chicagoland area. I also have a collection of baseball cards from the mid-90s, an illogical set of Magic: The Gathering cards, and lots of books. It’s possible that my kids won’t care, and that my collection that’s passed down will be sold in a garage sale (hopefully not for drug money) or donated to Goodwill. But that’s not the point: the point is to leave something behind, a legacy, even if your legacy is made up of the things you’ve collected, physical things that aren’t necessarily inherently valuable, but whose value is accumulated through experience of sifting through crates and boxes, searching for those missing pieces of your collection. Something that provides insight into who you were before you became “Dad” or “Mom.”
As a collector, I’m a completist. This means I’ll drop a few dollars on Goodbye Cruel World or Presence simply for the sake of filling in those gaps in my collection. Because of this, no matter how tempted I was to start reading comic books, I was reluctant to start anywhere than at the beginning. I’d feel compelled to pick up Action Comics #1 and start reading, but it’s completely impractical and unnecessary (and, on that note, impossibly expensive).
Of course, I know that this is ridiculous, and if I had grown up buying whatever comics looked interesting and doing my own homework, by now I’d not only have a sizable collection of my own but a solid grasp on what I liked: which heroes and storylines I followed, which artists and writers I admired, and what might make for good points of entry for a comic book novice. But since I didn’t read or collect many comics, and my father’s are lost forever, I have nothing to pass down.
This doesn’t mean I’m going to run out and start snapping up current issues of of all the Batmen and X-Men and Wonder Women under the sun. Passing down something I started hoarding at 30 instead of something I cherished as a child isn’t exactly the picturesque father-child moment I’m hoping for. What it does mean, however, is that I’d like to help my future children start their own collections, and I need to give them a place to start.
It’s possible that I’ve romanticized comic collecting too much, but I think it’s equally possible (and perhaps more likely) that I haven’t romanticized it enough. The thought of my future son or daughter excitedly flipping through the pages of one heroic adventure after another, or poring over the pages of some heady yet accessible graphic novel, is what inspired me to take on this project. I’m going to jump into comics—with training wheels, or arm-floaties, or whatever metaphor we’re going with—with the goal of figuring out my place in a vast world of heroes, villains, and endless possibilities.
I’ll have the help of Planet Arbitrary’s Joe, our resident comic book expert, and both of us will be blogging about our experiences right here on the web site. I’m the first student enrolled in Nerd School, signed up for Comic Books 101. Joe is taking this opportunity to take stock, revisiting his collection and rediscovering some old favorites, writing about what it means to have grown up reading comics and assembling and reassembling your collection. And I’ll be writing about what he gives me to read from the perspective of a neophyte eager to learn and discover what appeals to me about the medium, trying to make some headway and overcoming my need to “complete” things. One day, I’ll have a collection of choice favorites to pass on, and hopefully rediscover as I share with my own eager students.
You can also hear Joe and Kevin on their podcast
Read along with Joe and Kevin!
Next up- The Death of Superman