Sunday, November 17, 2013

Little Mitchell and the Comic Book Store

A couple weeks ago I was visiting my local comic book shop to pick up my weekly bounty of graphic literature. While browsing the shelves of newly released titles, I swear I heard a woman call my name. But I ignored it, for I didn't think there were any other patrons in the store that I knew. Then I heard it again.

"Hey, Mitchell. Come look at this!"

I slightly pivoted my head around to investigate who this woman was and what she so excitedly wanted me to look at. A woman stood a couple yards away looking at another rack of comics and a young boy ran up to her. I quickly understood that this lad was also named Mitchell so I figured I did not need to answer her call as well. As the mother and son talked, and I, admittedly, eavesdropped, I garnered that this was their first time in a comic book store

The proprietor came to the same understanding at roughly the same time and asked if he could help them find anything. The mother politely declined, explaining they were just taking it all in and browsing to see if there was anything young Mitchell would be interested in reading. The boy jumped from comic to comic, toy to toy, collectible to collectible, frantically explaining to his mother about various Batman characters he had seen on cartoons (I'm fairly certain I have done the same thing to my own mother in the past).

As I finalized my selection of comics that were decidedly not intended for kids (hey, theology is messy business), it became clear that little Mitchell had been watching cartoon adaptions of comic book superheroes and was interested in making the jump to reading about those characters in their original medium. In my mind I wished him luck. I hope he becomes quite engrossed in the venture. A whole world of wonder, excitement, and endless possibilities exist in the pages of graphic literature. On that day little Mitchell's entire world could have been changed. Who knows? Maybe someday he too will write a Master's thesis on graphic literature.

Or, perhaps more simply, may he find a source of hope and solace in comic books and the characters and stories held within. Because, inevitably, life will from time to time suck for little Mitchell. It's inevitable. It happens to all of us. Most of us push through the struggles and live to see another day. Some don't.

Critics have claimed throughout the history of the medium that stereotypical superhero comics are harmful for providing mindless escapism that stymie a child's capability to deal with the real world. However, I contend that comic books, and stories in general, can provide a means for individuals to cope with and overcome life's difficulties. And I am not alone in this assertion.

Creator Dean Trippe recently produced a digital comic entitled Something Terrible. An autobiographical work, it addresses Trippe's horrible experience with sexual abuse at a young age and how it scarred him. But it also covers how young Trippe discovered Batman, comics, and all things nerdy. This may seem unrelated, but the later greatly helped him cope with the former. It's short, it's simple, and it is flat out heart-wrenching. The last panel is a magnificent picture of Batman welcoming Trippe into the TARDIS from Doctor Who which is populated by all sorts of comic book, cartoon, and movie characters from Trippe's youth. It's the picture at the top of this post.

On it's own, it's an amazing picture. In context, it makes me shed so many, many manly tears. And I am not ashamed to admit that.

A prose epilogue closes out the comic giving a clearer explanation of what the panels in the comic depict. I advise you to read the comic, then the epilogue, then reread the comic. It will wreck you. But it wrecks you in a way that is filled with hope and optimism. Because if Batman could help Trippe cope with something terrible, then surely there is a chance Batman could also help little Mitchell, should he ever need it.

This is not an isolated example of comic book creators dealing with such grave matters. Recently, comic book scribe Matt Fraction responded to a dire question on his tumblr. You can read the original post at his site, but I will also repost the entirety of it here, for I would like you to read it. Now, I will warn that it contains adult subject matter and mad swears, for those of you who like to be warned about such things. Even if that frightens you off a bit, I heartily implore you to read it. Please.

A user asked Fraction:
"Sorry to put this on you but I have an honest question about depression an suicide. Isn't it completely possible for it to be a alternative for someone. Can't there be someone out there who genuinely is tired and doesn't want to continue. I know there is beauty and wonderful things in this world. There are things to look forward to. There will be more pain but also more laughter. But what if I'm not interested?"
 Fraction replied at length with honesty, embarrassment, humor, and hope:
"well… well first off, i’d say, seek professional help immediately. because i am wildly unqualified to answer your question with anything but experience. and first off, my experience says, if you are in such a deep and dark place where you say things like this to total strangers on the internet, you need to be in contact with someone that can help you start to heal.
second, i’d say… you’re wrong. i’d say the things any of us don’t know, especially about tomorrow, could blanket every grain of sand on every beach of the world with bullshit. And to simply assume you are done tomorrow because you are done today is a mistake. a factual mistake, an error, a critical miscalculation.
i’d say, read Tad Friend’s piece JUMPERS in which he seeks and finds and talks to people that jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge — and lived. And they all say the same variations this: “I instantly realized that everything in my life that I’d thought was unfixable was totally fixable—except for having just jumped.”
And know that this piece has kept me in my seat on more than a couple dark nights.
And i’d say — i’d say i felt that way before too, and i was wrong.
And then i’d tell you something i don’t even think my wife knows. this happend years before we met — shit, more than a decade — and it’s not   the first time i came close to suicide was on a thanksgiving night. i’d eaten well and then as the house shut down i went into the bathroom, drew a bath as hot as i could manage to stand, and climbed into the tub with a razor  blade.
As i started to cut, as the corner touched my skin and that jolt of pain fired into my head, i stopped and thought — y’know, last chance. Are you SURE?
And i was tired. I sounded like you, that i knew there’d be ups again and downs but i was just so fucking TIRED i couldn’t stand the thought of having to get there. I felt this… this never-ending crush of days that were grey and tepid but for some reason i was supposed to greet each one with a smile. the constant pressure of having to keep my shit in all the time was just exhausting.
I wondered, then — well, is there anything you’re curious about. Anything you want to see play out. And i thought of a comic i was reading and i’d not figured out the end of the current storyline. And i realized I had curiosity. And that was the hook i’d hang my hat on. that by wanting to see how something played out I wasn’t really ready. That little sprout of a thing poking up through all that black earth kept me around a little longer.
I realized then that it had been so long since i’d laughed. I was numbed out and shut down and just… i missed laughing. maybe if i laughed a little i could get moving again. so i’d wait for my comic to conclude, try to find a few laughs, and then reevaluate.
So I’m in the bathtub and i got this real sharp-ass razor, right? And i look down and there’s all my bits floating in the water like they do and i thought okay, let’s get funny and i got to work.
I shaved off exactly half my pubic hair vertically. The end result was a ‘fro of pubes that looked like a Chia Pet that only half-worked. I started to laugh as I did it. And every time i’d piss, looking down made me laugh.
Because JESUS what a nightmare.
Shortly thereafter I got very heavily into Chuck Jones and Tex Avery. Way less chafing and way more funny.
jesus. i was still in high school at the time. dig if you will a picture of the chubby weirdo that was always giggling at his dick in the bathroom. that was me.
And then I guess I’d tell you about Dave, who did the same thing as me a few years later, only DIDN’T have my hilarious Chia Dick strategy in mind and got the razor in and up. And as he started to bleed out “Brown Eyed Girl” came on the radio and he realized he’d never get to hear that again so, in a bloody comedy of errors — I swear to god this is true — he got out of the tub, tried to get dressed the best he could, went downstairs calling for help only to find his family gone, went out to his car, and drove to doug’s house only to find doug not home and so, then, finally, he blacked out from blood loss sitting there in his car, playing a van morrison CD on repeat, until, by luck, Doug’s mom came home and found him.
Fucking Van Morrison, y’know?
A song, a comic, something dumb, something small. From that seed can come everything else, I swear to god.
I guess last I’d say… I’d say that, look — if you reached out to me for an answer, than I have to reach back out to you and insist you hear it.  Because it means, what, you know me? My work? You read my stuff and thought, well, fuck, if anyone would know why I shouldn’t end my life, if anyone alive is QUALIFIED TO SAVE ME it’s the guy that had britney spears punch a bear? okay — okay, then, so as THAT GUY I’m saying: Get help. Now, today, tonight, whenever — get to a phone and find a doctor that can try to help you heal, that can try to recolorize your world again, that can help you start caring again. All you need is that one tiny thing, that speck, that little grain of sand. the World Series, AVENGERS 2, Tina Fey’s new show, the first issue of PRETTY DEADLY, some slice of the world you’ve never seen, some drink you love, who the fuck will love your dog like you do if you’re gone, what if jabrams KILLS it on the new STAR WARS, the hell are you doing for Halloween, you ever feed a dolphin with your bare hand? because i have and I am fucking telling you IT IS A THING TO EXPERIENCE and oh god WHAT FUCKING FONT WILL STARBUCKS USE ON THE CHRISTMAS DRINK SLEEVES THIS YEAR — i don’t care what or how dumb but i promise you somewhere in your life is that one fleck of dust that can help start you on the road back. That’s all it takes. One fucking mote, drifting through your head.
And because you asked me I am answering you because i know, motherfucker, i know, i know, i know the hole you are fucking in because I was there myself and if you look hard you can still see my writing on those walls and if you stare long enough i swear to god it’s pointing to up"
My favorite line from all that?

"A song, a comic, something dumb, something small. From that seed can come everything else, I swear to god."

When I was going through my own rough patch and some serious depression, I posted a picture on my Facebook of Matt Smith, the 11th Doctor, dressed as Batman and said, jokingly, how this must be proof that God loves me. My mom saw that and expressed relief to me that I was at least able to find humor in the little things in life. I was just impressed that my mom could identify the 11th Doctor so well.

You want something to look forward to in life? Start reading Saga. Start watching Doctor Who. Start thinking about Ben Affleck cast as Batman and how angry or excited that makes you feel and you'll just have to hang on until the Man of Steel sequel comes out for your fears or hopes to be validated.

Just start reading graphic literature and you might find yourself blown away by the inspiration and hope these stories can include. I mentioned before that Trippe's comic makes me weep good and plenty. There are other moments in comic books that do that as well.

In All Star Superman, the last son of Krypton stops a young woman from jumping off a building.

There are many reasons why I love All Star Superman, and one reason is because this page makes me tear up every time I read it.

In Saga, Sophie is a young slave rescued from a brothel. And Lying Cat, well, he's a cat that tells whenever someone is lying.

Yeah, my eyes are not dry when I read this either.

"But Mitch," someone may ask, "this is all well and good, but what does it have to do with theology? Isn't that what this blog is about?"

Well, I think that if you boil down Christian theology to it's core, it would be "Love one another." In these instances, Dean Trippe and Matt Fraction have used their own experiences to try to help others, complete strangers, who might have similar struggles. In essence, they are saying "I don't know you, but I love you, I believe your life has worth and value, and this is the crap that I went through and how I survived it. Maybe it can help you too."

Now, I don't begin to assume the religious leanings of either Trippe or Fraction. That's not my point. My point is that we all could learn from them. That we don't have to be in this alone. That we're not alone. And the comic book format is a perfectly legitimate medium for transmitting that message.

Seriously, go buy Something Terrible. It's only 99 cents! Shoot, drop me a line and I might just buy it for you.

In some way, we are all a little Mitchell. And there are so many wonderful stories waiting for us to read. Those stories might just change our lives.

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