I’ve always enjoyed the company of people who are curious and passionate about stuff. A.k.a., readers. These are my people.
My most favorite kind of reading-people are those who share a love of comic books. This is not to be confused with comic collectors, a.k.a., people for whom a comic book’s greatest value is in speculation and price guides. I’m talking about real comics readers. Whether they hang out in comic shops every Wednesday (new comic book day), wait for the trade paperbacks, or prefer to read manga and graphic novels while sitting in the aisle of a bookstore or library. I dare you to find a comic reader who isn’t a beacon of passion and enthusiasm. Or at the very least has strong opinions about character continuity, consistency, retcons, the best art styles, and who could beat who in an all out brawl.
As kids, my sister and cousins and I would search through the yellow pages and seek out every comic book store in our county. And whenever we traveled, we’d do the same, in our hunt to discover new and interesting books. Old, new, serious, funny, black and white, color, 3-D: no comic wasn’t worth checking out. And, by traveling in packs, we could each buy a different comic and then report back or trade with each other afterwards. I only read the occasional X-Men book, but my little sister couldn’t get enough, describing to me the endless plot twists, crossovers, characters, secret origins, and relationships in so much detail I felt like I did read them, after all.
For too long, comic readers have been branded as nerds and misfits.
I don’t need to reinforce stereotypes we are all too familiar with. Maybe we all know someone like “Comic Book Guy” on The Simpsons, but he does not represent the hundreds of thousands of people who have kept comic shops afloat during some crazy economic times. There has always been a quiet comics-reading community of men, women and children of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities who love sequential art narratives…or just think Batman is really is cool. There have been underground comic movements, self-publishing booms, and long-running cult series created by artists who slaved away with only minor acclaim. The height of my comic reading craze was in the mid-to-late 90s (when people received free AOL disks in the mail and we still used encyclopedias). And even though it was a passion I shared with my closest family members and friends, it was far from “mainstream.” A comic book being referenced on a TV show, or adapted into a movie was a huge deal. But all us comic book readers knew there was a change in the air…
Somewhere along the line, the Internet made nerds into millionaires, comics became graphic novels, and the geeks inherited the earth.
Now, almost everyone knows what adamantium is! It’s a very different world for comic readers now than the one I grew up in. When my friend Rich Zimmer and I convinced our high school English teacher, Ms. Caraway, to let us make comic books about Beowulf instead of writing a traditional book report, we felt like we were really getting away with something sneaky! Like kids being tricked into whitewashing by Tom Sawyer, Rich and I were too excited to realize we ended up doing way more work by writing, pencilling, inking, photocopying, and assembling books compared to the other students! We were making comics in school. By the time another english teacher, Mrs. Siedleki helped us form an after school comics club as an extension of the literary magazine, we felt like giddy inmates running the asylum.
In today’s world, teachers incorporate comics into the curriculum so often that it’s almost normal. I was lucky to have a teacher ahead of the curve, and wonder if kids today just take it all for granted. They don’t have to beg their parents to drive them to the town with the nearest comic shop. They can simply ask their school librarian for a recommendation.
I’ve always bought comic books and graphic novels as gifts for non-readers with the hope they too might catch the bug. Getting my high school girlfriend’s parents to read and enjoy Sam Keith’s The Maxx was one of my earliest victories.
Now that I’ve grown up to be a full-time cartoonist, I get to travel the country and meet countless teachers and librarians who I consider kindred spirits: people who share their passion for reading and creativity on a daily basis, potentially unleashing boundless creativity and inspiration. I love reading all the comics these kids create in and after class.
We still have to deal with some misconceptions and judgment from non-comic readers. Misguided people who still don’t consider comics “real reading.” But those people are the true outsiders. Comics is not only real reading, it’s “dynamic reading.” The love of comics is infectious and leads to so many amazing possibilities. It opens doors and makes connections between words and pictures, people and places. I know that our combined passion will win them over and give us all something to share.
Dave Roman is the author of several graphic novels including Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity, Teen Boat! and Agnes Quill: An Anthology of Mystery. He has contributed stories to Explorer: The Mystery Boxes, Nursery Rhyme Comics, and worked as a comics editor for the groundbreaking Nickelodeon Magazine from 1998 to 2009. You can find him online at www.yaytime.com.