Why the hell write about comic books? Why the hell even read comic books?
“You’re thirty-two years old, man!”
…I get that a lot.
I’ve been reading and actively collecting comics for twenty-one years now, and I’m not about to stop anytime soon. The first comic I actually purchased with my own money was a newsstand copy of G.I. Joe #80, cover date Late November, 1988. I couldn’t have asked for a better gateway drug to comics: a stand-alone issue, the story was basically about an island rising up out of the ocean which Cobra claimed for their own, and the Joes swooping in to say, “Fuck you, you can’t have it!” As was the case with G.I. Joe, this issue also served as a blatant advertisement for that year’s new assortment of action figures, as the Joes’ assault was largely perpetrated by brand-new characters introduced just in that issue (most of whom would never be seen again, as was also the case when your comic is designed as an advertising tool for a toy line). In the end, after some mighty scuffling, the island sank back into the ocean and Cobra came up empty-handed for like the 957th time, with no deaths involved other than to ancillary background characters (all of whom happen to be Cobras, naturally). Whoops, maybe the Joes and Cobra should have consulted the National Geological Survey before getting all in a tizzy over a chunk of rock that existed above water for about fifteen minutes.
But all that’s beside the point: here was a self-contained, one-and-done comic, that told a single story with a beginning, middle, and end. And by fuckery, it was about my favorite toys. What was not to like? I continued to purchase scattershot issues of G.I. Joe for the next couple of years, but I wasn’t really bit by the “comics bug” until a couple of years later, when X-Men #1 hit the stands. I can’t really say what drew me to it; I’d never read an X-Men comic and knew next to nothing about the characters. But man, that Jim Lee cover latched onto something in my barely-pre-pubescent brain and just did not let go. My ongoing love affair with the X-Men is the topic of a future blog, but for this one, it’s sufficient to say that the course of my nerdish life was set.
Since then, I’ve read it all: new comics, old comics; superheroes, anthropomorphized mice as an allegory for the Holocaust; indie comics, corporate comics; all-ages fare, Vertigo. My love of comics is not limited by genre. Sure, there are certain characters or creators who will always sway my dollar their way, but ultimately it’s the format that keeps me coming back. There is no other format in the world where serialized stories about characters can either be drawn out for years or captured in but a single issue. Think about it: a single season of a cable drama typically contains thirteen episodes, and then must go on hiatus for however long it takes to get the next batch of episodes filmed. Comics have no such restrictions. Sixty-six issues needed to tell the story of Jesse Custer in Preacher? Here’s one issue a month ’til it’s done, no strings attached. No waiting it out for however many months it takes to get the next season debuted. (Unless you’re talking about irresponsible creators who have no regard for their fans, but that’s a topic for a future blog.)
The language of comics compels me, too: having written a few scripts myself, I can personally attest to the tricky intricacy needed to pull of the script-to-panel progression properly. Now, I could read a book (and do!), and have it all spelled out for me: thoughts, feelings, settings, appearances, etc. Or I could read a comic where I’m being shown these things rather than being told them, without having to go through needless exposition. In comics, the act of storytelling hinges on the synchronicity of writer and artist, which is in fact something I can respect far more on a creative level than a prose author telling me word-for-word what’s going on. Economy of words, baby!
And the art… ohhhh, the art. Comics are also the one medium where any and all styles are welcome, generally with open arms (provided they serve the story tone properly). From Dave McKean to Joe Madureira, something for everyone can be found in comics, and the industry is one that welcomes the stylistic diversity these disparate artists bring. This is a freeing thing, and frankly, something of an anomaly in the stiff-upper-lippy world of art. A good artist, when working in total tandem with his or her writer, is a wonder to behold. As legendary as he is, did Neal Adams ever reach the heights he achieved when working with Denny O’Neil? How about Byrne without Claremont? Totleben without Moore, or Robertson sans Ellis? This is not to discount the achievements these artists made elsewhere, but there’s a reason they’re of legendary status for their work with these particular writers: they bring out the best in each other, period. And you can’t find a writer/artist format actively working together at such high capacity in any format other than comics.
This blog is about comics. Not just comics, but the appreciation of the form, the critique of the business practices, and a tip of the hat/wag of the finger (thank you Colbert) of the creative personalities themselves. Because without them, I wouldn’t have comics. And without comics, I wouldn’t be me.