Thoughts on comic books
When I was a child, my mother regularly bought comic books for me at the pharmacy. My brother and I pored over the adventures of Donald Duck, Little Lulu, Beetle Bailey and Dennis the Menace. We read comic book versions of Twilight Zone and Lost in Space, along with much of the Classics Illustrated canon (Jane Eyre, the Odyssey, A Tale of Two Cities, The Time Machine). We also had the Beatles comic book of Yellow Submarine. I still remember the frame showing Lovely Rita, Meter Maid, pouring the letter “T” out of the spout of her teapot. Sadly, we wore it out by constant rereading and it was thrown out after the cover dropped off and it began disintegrating. If we had refrained from enjoying it, and had kept it safely inside a protective cover, it’d be worth about four hundred dollars today; but real life isn’t like that. How were we to know it had future value, like gold or bonds? To us, it was simply a childhood amusement.
Slightly later on we enjoyed Cracked, and we clamored for Mad on a regular basis, hooked on Mort Drucker’s outstanding caricatures of contemporary movies and television shows. By the time I went off to college I had accumulated several copies of the underground comic Zap and was reading Doctor Strange and Howard the Duck. It was extremely embarrassing to be the only female in the comic book store, which was usually filled with nerdy young men who were slowly and methodically perusing the latest issues of Marvel and DC’s superhero titles. (No need to hurry on their part, for they had no dates to go home and prepare for; the life of a comic book aficionado is a lonely one.) “Am I a nerd like them?” I asked myself at the time, worried. I’d peer at myself in the mirror in my dorm, trying to discern signs of geekiness that needed to be covered over and disguised. By the end of college I had stopped reading newsstand comic books and turned instead to underground comix and the first graphic novels.
My husband on the other hand grew up in a home that had no comics except the daily funnies in the newspaper. He was astonished to find that I read comics and graphic novels, which had never registered on his radar. And I was equally astonished to find that he had completely missed out on what I considered an essential experience of childhood: poring over comics, their word balloons, their images, their continuity. As a result, even today he hesitates when I suggest that he take a look at a graphic novel or comic book; he lacks the basic wherewithal to comprehend and enjoy them. To him they are alien objects that don’t show up on his radar, essentially unfathomable. When he politely looks at something I recommend, he doesn’t really “get” it. I view his parents’ failure to supply him with comics during childhood as a failure to enrich his growing mind. But his response to the comix makes me ask myself again, worriedly: “Am I a comic book geek? Is there something wrong with ME?”
I suppose it seems odd that someone who reads literature of the 1700s and 1800s should also enjoy comic books; but I see no intrinsic difficulty. Antique novels and contemporary graphic media interest me in completely different ways. Since there is no rule against mixing literary forms, I persist. I love a good clean line drawing filled with rich color or majestic black-and-whites; I love a segmented narrative divided into frames. A comic strip has an analogue in daily life, after all; for isn’t each day of our lives a new frame that continues the narrative? It’s up to us to design and color them wisely.