As a kid I had a pretty crazy imagination. I went in deep into my own self-created worlds when it came to playing with my toys. Grand worlds unfolded in my basement and backyard when the Star Wars action figures were set up. The woods behind my house was the sight of many battles with ample amounts of toy artillery and weaponry. I would record movies like Scanners, Blade Runner, and An American Werewolf In London off of TV and watch them over and over. So it really surprises me that I never got into comic books when I was younger. I loved superheroes, with Batman, Spiderman, The Hulk, and Superman being the ones I enjoyed the most. I had posters, t-shirts, I watched the cartoons, and had ample toys to prove my love of these Marvel and DC superstars, yet I never got into collecting comic books. I had the one-off book like The Death of Superman that my mom would buy me when we were picking up a prescription for me at Hook’s Drug Store(I was sick a lot as a snot-nosed kid with Bronchitis), but mostly I’d gravitate to the toy aisle and beg for a Star War action figure I hadn’t yet gotten.
It’s not like I didn’t enjoy reading, I did. And the melding of storytelling and colorful illustration seems like it would’ve been perfect fodder for my adolescent mind. Yet, I never broke through. I remember one of my brother’s friends gave us a box of his comics when he was a kid, which would’ve been from the mid-70s. Now, before you start drooling at the idea of a box of 70s-era Lee/Kirby/Ditko Marvel magic the box was actually filled with a bunch of torn up Dudley Do-Right and Richie Rich comics that were in pretty bad shape. Even at 6 years old I knew this wasn’t some treasure chest of comic book gold, so they disappeared into the ether of my childhood. I do, however, remember a book we had when I was a kid that I loved. It was an illustrated history of aviation. It ran the gamut from the Wright brothers clear to the Apollo moon landing. There were beautifully drawn and painted pictures of various airplanes and jets, as well as some old black and white photographs of WWII bombers flying over Europe. There was one illustration in-particular that I remember I was always drawn to. It was a depiction of an air battle between a British bi-plane and a German bi-plane. The sky was a mix of charcoal black, dingy gray, and fire-orange as the two planes shot rapid-fire at each other. One of the planes was on fire, but I can’t remember which one. Anyways, this picture both thrilled me and terrified me. It looked more like a depiction of some post-apocalyptic world than Europe circa 1916(though thinking about it, I imagine Europe probably did look like a post-apocalyptic wasteland in the throes of WWI.) That book, when I look back, was the seed of the love for graphic novels and comics that would eventually grow in me. It took 25 years to grow, but it did.
My first foray into the world of graphic novels was Watchmen. I bought Watchmen 10 years ago and was enamored with the story, but also with the medium of graphic novels. The story unfolding in both narrative and visuals. I thought Alan Moore’s tale of “real” superheroes with faults, psychosis, and emotional turmoil was a genius take on what we’ve always known as our God-like superheroes. Sure, Batman, Spiderman, and even The Hulk displayed elements of human relatedness. They weren’t perfect, but they tried. But Watchmen went that one step further and created these broken and very human characters that not only did bad things, but in some cases(The Comedian, anyone?) were downright horrible people. I read that book three times in that first year, and have read it a few more times since. I also got into Preacher by Garth Ennis, as well as his Hellblazer run. I love Ennis’ sometimes absurd and usually profane take on religion throughout Preacher, as well as the character of John Constantine, tricking the devil and his brothers into keeping him alive and healing him of his lung cancer. Ennis seems to take a perverse pleasure in these blasphemous characters and turning the church onto its head(Ennis is Irish, so maybe a Catholic upbringing took its toll on him?)
Regardless of the reasoning, I love the toying with taboos and flipping the middle finger to established rules of the game. I sort of dropped out of buying graphic novels for a few years until 2010 when I began collecting Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. That book brought me back in with a nod to one of my horror heroes, George A. Romero. The zombie world had been done and done and re-done till it seemed nothing else could be done with it. Kirkman decided to keep the cameras rolling long after the ending credits of the typical zombie story. How do the survivors, well, survive? The Walking Dead shows us how a certain group do it, but not without great loss and lots and lots of zombie gore. He also shows us that the zombies are far from the worst threat in a zombie apocalypse.
So now, I’m all in. Thanks in big part to my son. He started collecting .50 comics at our local comic book store when he was probably 5 or 6. First because he liked the illustrations, but soon enough he got sucked into the stories. He’s now an encyclopedia of comic book knowledge. We go to every superhero movie that hits the cinema, and he gives me books to read he thinks I’ll like(I have a stack of Marvel Zombies graphic novels waiting for me at home.) Over the past Christmas holiday I went graphic novel crazy and picked up The Killing Joke, Batman: Year One, and The Dark Knight Returns. I loved all of them. Frank Miller has a very macho approach to the Dark Knight. Lots of big, nasty guys getting what’s coming to ’em. Not in a meathead way, but more like if David Mamet decided to write for DC. Intellectual, but gritty. Alan Moore always goes for more of the psychological aspect of the lore, and I love that about his writing. I’m reading V For Vendetta now(borrowing my daughter’s copy, mind you) and I’m loving it.
I’ve also discovered the wonderful world of Brian K. Vaughan. His Y: The Last Man series is amazing. Saga is another ongoing series he’s writing with illustrations by the amazing Fiona Staples. It’s a galactic “Romeo and Juliet” kind of tale, but written very down-to-earth. Real talk, real emotions, and amazing story. I just finished his The Private Eye as well. Highly recommend that one, too. Deals with identity, media, and privacy but in a way that Philip K. Dick might’ve done. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sales’ Batman: The Long Halloween and Dark Victory are on the list next.
Why did it take me this long? I don’t know. But I’m glad I’m here. I think maybe seeing my son’s love for the comic book world made me open up a bit. Once I did I see what an amazing art form it truly is. Now, onto some reading.