I was reading through my comics news feed and came across an article, called “But Where Are The Conservative Mangas and Graphic Novels?”
The gist is that the writer found an article about conservative folks catching on that comics can spread ideas for political gain. There are already plenty of comics out there by folks who would consider themselves liberal. I still remember shelving comic books about President Obama and John McCain when I worked at the Browne Popular Culture Library.
However, the article goes on to mention the comments. That’s what got to me.
There were comments essentially boiling down to, “Them there liberals don’t like it when their kids can read!” And worse, “Comic books are not literature, and it’s not elitist to think so.”
I’m going to ignore the politically charged comments right now to focus on comics as literature.
I won’t lie. When I grew up, I thought comics were sort of dumb.
I lived in a village of less than 200 people. The library was a ten mile drive away. The only comics they carried were collections of newspaper comic strips. I never read a Marvel or DC comic until I was twenty years old.
However, the pubilc library carried one anomaly in its comics collection. I don’t know how they got this book but I’m glad they did.
It was Gundam Wing: Episode 0.
That was my first exposure to longer and more serious comics. And it changed my life.
For the first time ever, I saw that comics were like any other book. They can tell complex stories. They can have high drama. They can have glorified violence.
Hell, comics can tell any story they wanted.
When my family and I moved out of the village, we moved to a town of around 20,000 people. To make up for the culture shock, I started working at the public library there.
That was around the time that libraries noticed graphic novels were really, really popular with readers. So the local library’s graphic novel collection was fantastic. And every week there was something new. Actually, three new graphic novels a week came in sometimes.
I devoured everything in their collection, from Blankets to Paradise Kiss. I read comics that told autobiographies. Science fiction. Romance. Comedy. Fantasy. War. Shakespeare. Anything and everything was encompassed in comics.
And I loved it.
Now, the stereotype is that people who read comics can’t read “normal books” (ugh, don’t get me started on “normal”). Or worse, people who read comics are lazy and are terrible students.
I am not ashamed to admit I was an overachiever in high school. 4.2 GPA, clubs, a part-time job to save money for college (it sort of worked).
I was not lazy. So that stereotype doesn’t apply.
The other stereotype is that comic book readers can’t read “works of literature.”
And my favorite non-comic books?
I have a long list that includes 1984 by George Orwell, Beowulf, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, and Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut.
I’m such a nerd for Slaughterhouse-Five that I want to make it a graphic novel.
You could argue that I know these books because I’m a former librarian, but no. That’s not the case at all.
You could argue that reading comics was a stepping stone to reading these literary classics.
That’s not the case, either.
I read comics, graphic novels, and books because they all satisfy my need to read and engage in the world.
Books, fiction or non-fiction, are gateways into the world. They are windows to show us life and how to grow as human beings. How to empathize. How to love. How NOT to love.
Comic books and graphic novels are just a way to tell those stories.
Some people are great with words. They can write the best novels and make great pieces of literature.
I argue that there are many comics that do the same thing.
Is there trash in comics?
Yes. There’s trash in novels, too (Twilight and The Pillars of the Earth included).
But just because some works are lackluster doesn’t mean the entire medium needs to be discounted.
Comics are a valuable medium. We need comics to tell us stories just as much as we need books.
And besides, who are we to say what’s trash? I know people that actually like Twilight and I still respect them as people. Those books are a treasure to them just as much as Maus or Koko Be Good are treasures to me.
My point is, it’s not the medium that counts. It’s the story it conveys and what that story means to its reader.
For me, though, comics will always win. For me, comics are the best and most entertaining way to tell a story.
That’s why I make them. That’s why I write about them.
So what about you? What are some of your favorite books, comics or otherwise? Let me know in comments!