Monday, April 29, 2013

Coming to Comics, Late(r) in Life

I have vivid memories of my receiving my first comic book. I was in 6th grade. Our desks were pushed together to form a table. At my table, there were 4 of us - 2 girls and 2 boys. I remember who they were, but will spare them the embarrassment of getting a Google Alert about themselves leading back to this blog. So, one day at the beginning of the school year, one of the boys told me that he had purchased a comic book grab bag, and there was a Star Trek book inside. Did I want it? It had never even occurred to me that there were comic books that weren't about superheroes. So, I accepted.

The next day, in the morning, I was handed a Star Trek TNG comic book. I don’t remember which one it was or anything, but I do remember pulling out my Trapper-Keeper and clipping it into place on the clipboard-like flap to take home. Both boys at the table gasped in shock and horror at what I had just done. Even though this was a book that neither of them cared about, they were horrified at the thought that any comic book, ever, could have a metal clip snapped down upon its delicate cover. What did I know? I’d never had - let alone read - a comic book before. But that was my first glimpse at how intense some comic book aficionados could be.

That same year, in my Saturday theater program, I became fast friends with a girl who went to a different school, but we spent many an hour together on the weekends. When I met her dad, I learned that he was a comic book letterer. I was curious, and watched him letter some panels, and asked a bunch of questions. I figured that was a pretty cool job, but never really thought much of it.

Turns out, that guy - my friend’s dad - is John Workman and he’s kind of a big deal. I don’t really think that I realized how much of a big deal until the last few years. He’s been referred to as the “best letterer ever” by people who know what they're talking about, and has won several awards. But at 11 or 12 years old, he was just my friend’s dad. I hung out at his house, played with his cats, swam in his pool. And apparently, he could have been on the phone with Stan Lee at any given time.

But Mr. Workman (yes, nearly 20 years later, I still call him “Mr. Workman”) has a ton of interests and one of the biggest movie collections you've ever seen and can talk to anyone about anything, and usually relate it back to comics. Around the time I was 14 or 15, he was working on the X-Files comics books for Topps, and he knew I was a fan. He asked me if I’d like him to sneak my name into the background of one of the books. What? YES! And there I am in X-Files #40, author of a book of Mulder’s shelf (panel on the right), along with several of my friends and even my dad.

But even after all that, I still was not an avid comic book reader. Throughout high school, I got some X-Files books from Mr. Workman when he had extras, and picked up the odd TNG book from the local hobby store even now and then, but I never broadened my comic book horizons, and eventually stopped hitting the comic book store all together. I mean, they were pretty much all about superheroes, right?

Not that I have anything against superheroes, per se. I enjoy the cartoons and movies and old black and white Superman television show. But they were never really appealing to me in comic book form. Maybe it’s the decades worth of stories, or the ferocity with which fans argue minute details (as if I don’t do this about Trek), or the mythology that I just don’t know. An entry point into superhero comics has always just seemed to be so far away.  So it didn't seem worth the effort.

It was not until the past few years that I realized that the comic book, or “graphic novel” if you must, is not a genre. It’s a medium. Just like a television show, movie, or book. It’s just another way to tell a story. Any story. And although superheroes had certainly dominated the medium for much of my life, there were plenty of other stories being told in comic books, and I just had to go find them. So that’s what I did, starting in the winter of 2011.  And this is what I’ve been reading:

The moral of the story?  I think there's probably a comic book out there for everyone.  Saying, "I don't like comics" is like saying "I don't like food."  You may not like some food, but you have to eat, right?  Okay, maybe it's not quite as drastic, but you know what I mean.  Just because one story or art style isn't your cup of tea, doesn't mean that you should stop trying.  It took me far too long to learn that lesson, but I'm glad I did.

Staff Writer for Anomaly
Co-Host of Anomaly Supplemental

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