Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I Believe In Comic Books

I believe in comic books.
When most people hear "comic books," the immediate thought is mor than likely of some capes and tights and some muscle-y dudes or muscle-y ladies slamming each other into buildings or punching a battleship. Y'know -- books like the ones those corporate suits produce over at the two big companies... or like the other book I do, Invincible.
You see, I'm a comic fan; I love that stuff.
But comic books, as a whole, are so much more. The good news is this isn't news. Comics have been much more from the very beginning, actually. And lately we've had things like Sin City and Hellboy, Cerebus, the fine crime comics from the likes of Brubaker and Phillips, classics like Minimum Wage or Love and Rockets, modern comics like Casanova, Morning Glories, Hack/Slash, Elephantmen, Chew, Preacher, Y: The Last Man, The Walking Dead (whatever that book is) or the upcoming Saga.
So non-super hero comics are nothing new... and whoo boy is that a good thing.
Still, though... the vast majority of comics feature superheroes, and the vast majority of those comics feature old superheroes, stale musty ideas from the middle of the last century or later. Around 60 to 70% of the comics produced each month fit that bill, so we've got a long way to go.
- Robert Kirkman

This short essay by Robert Kirkman appeared in the back matter of Thief of Thieves #1. Is that what they call it? Back matter? The material at the end of a comic book that usually contains miscellaneous ads, solicitations, and letters to the editor? Well, that's what I'm calling it. Thief of Thieves is a comic book that isn't about superheroes. Odd concept, huh?

Robert Kirkman should know a lot about non-superhero comics and the appeal they can have. See, Kirkman created and writes a little book published by Image called The Walking Dead. Even if you've never read it, you've probably heard about or have even seen the AMC television show that's based on it. The appeal of the show has led to increased interest in the comic among people that would normally never step foot in a comic book shop. Some of the big box retailers now carry trade paperbacks of The Walking Dead.

I love superheroes. So does Kirkman. But he also understands that not everyone is obsessed with that genre, and by focusing almost exclusively on superheroes the comic book industry is severely limiting its audience. Kirkman doesn't want to get rid of superhero comics. He even writes one! His book Invincible is nothing if not a love letter to the wild, fun, and bombastic tropes of the superhero genre. It is a fun read, but it shouldn't be representative of the whole medium.

Some of my favorite titles have nothing to do with superheroes: The Unwritten, Preacher, Y The Last Man, Saga, etc. More and more the industry is producing a larger variety of comics that are not about capes and tights. And some of these, like the ones I just mentioned (and Kirkman mentions above) are really really good.

The funny thing is, some of the larger populace is still stuck in the mindset that comics only means superheroes that encountering other genres in the format is perplexing. There are fans of The Walking Dead show that don't realize it's based on a comic book. If you show them the black and white comic, they think it's a coloring book based on the TV show.

Progress is being made in showing the world that comics can be so much more, but there is still a long ways to go. Again, with this progress comes, at least in my crazy mind, more opportunities for theological issues to be explored with the medium.

At the end of his one page essay, Kirkman outlines a dream of sorts. Are you a movie fan? Are you a TV fan? No, you're just a dude that watches movies and TV fairly often. It's acceptable, normal behavior in our culture. So why am I a comics fan? Why can't I just be a dude that reads comics?

As comics grow and mature as a medium, and begin to tell more and more stories that appeal to a wider audience, they will become a much more inviting form of entertainment.
You'd never describe someone as a movie fan-- everyone watches movies. THAT should be our goal for comics, as retailers, as fans and creators.
I want to meet someone new, and NOT be surprised to find out that they read comics. I want not reading comics to be as weird as those weirdos who don't own a television.
I believe we can do it, I believe we're already more than halfway there.
I believe in comic books.
In my life, I've noticed this is actually happening. Or maybe it's always been happening and we've all been too scared to admit it. In Junior High I never would have told people, especially girls, that I was into comic books. That just wouldn't have been cool. Now, and maybe its because after writing a dang thesis I'm so engrossed in the subject, usually the first thing I say about myself when meeting someone new is my fascination with comic books.

"Hello, my name is Mitch. And I like Batman."

Surprisingly, I'm usually met with a positive response these days. Frequently people will also share with me what comics they have also read. Sadly, this still surprises me. But maybe one day we will achieve Kirkman's dream and I can ask anyone what they read and we can instantly bond over a shared love of Hellboy or Fables.

I believe in comic books.

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