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Comic Snob

comic-snob-article-image-1-e1481765005383When I was a kid, I did not read comic books. I didn’t know much about them, other than that occasionally my brother got to buy one at the grocery store, while I got the more sophisticated (I thought) YM or Seventeen magazines. I thought comic books were for boys, although that really never stopped me in other areas in my young life, like being the only girl on the baseball team. But the stories in comic books seemed silly and boring, and they always seemed to be about Superman or Batman or Archie.

Though my family did read – my Mom read romance or “fluff stuff” as she called it and my Dad loved political thrillers and sci-fi – like many 80s kids I wasn’t exposed to a lot of alternative media. Comics stayed in my mind as a thing for little boys, who perhaps used them as an entry point for reading more serious literature. My brother, who struggled with reading, probably colored and shaped this perception.

As a pre-Internet era kid, if you were not exposed to something in person by stumbling across it at the library or a friend’s house, you might never get access to it. Although I loved art and books, I mostly relied on friends for recommendations, and no one that I knew was into comics, so all I knew about them was the stuff I saw my brother reading. Until I went to college. Ah, college – when you finally find your people. My people are the art nerds, and many of these new friends were interested in reading and creating comics.

The first time I stepped into a comic book store I was vaguely embarrassed. I had seen comics that my college friends were reading and they seemed ’cool’ enough, but I couldn’t shake my lifelong opinion that they were really for kids and, maybe, immature adults. But from that first time in a whole store of comics, I saw how wrong I was.

There were people who had normal body types and weren’t superheroes! Women who weren’t just damsels in distress, gay and lesbian characters treated with humanity, people with white, black, and brown skin. Hand drawn art, digital art, watercolors, mixed media. Fiction and non-fiction. There was a variety I had no idea existed, and I have never been quite the same since this realization.

I love art and stories, and comics and graphic novels are just a marriage of the two. Sure, finding ones you like can be slightly trickier than picking up your average book. If you don’t like the art it can be hard to enjoy the story, or you may love the art and find the story dull. But art and words are the medium, and as I have discovered over many years of reading comics, any type of story can be told as a comic.

Yes – there are a lot of superhero comics and mostly, I am still not interested. But Ms. Marvel is now a young Muslim girl! And Squirrel Girl is a totally bonkers take on the genre! There are comics of every type. If you can write a book about it, then a comic equivalent can also be created.

In some cases, there are graphic reinterpretations of classic books. There are graphic versions of Shakespeare plays, the Odyssey, Beowulf, and Jane Austen novels. A Wrinkle in Time, Fahrenheit 451, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and even the Book of Genesis have all been adapted.

My favorite tend to be the autobiographical. Gabrielle Bell writes about the general ennui of life. Lucy Knisley’s books chronicle different periods, usually centered around travel, family and food. Lynda Barry is the master of showing us how awkward and confusing childhood can be. Jeffrey Brown tries to show us what being a shy, big-hearted, weird man trying to figure out love and how to navigate daily living feels like.

Children’s books are an obvious analogue – we are used to illustrations in children’s literature. There are early readers like Luke on the Loose by Harry Bliss, T-Ball Trouble by Cari Meister, and Stinky by Eleanor Davis. There are chapter books like the BabyMouse books by Jennifer Holm and the Lunch Lady books by Jarrett Krosoczka. Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke, Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson, Amulet by Kazu Kibuishi, and Bone by Jeff Smith are all popular graphic novels for kids. Raina Telgemeier, author of Smile, Sisters, Drama, Ghosts and new graphic editions of the Babysitter’s Club books are blockbusters of children’s literature!

History? Try “The March Trilogy” by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, which illustrates the 1965 Selma-Montgomery March and the history of the civil rights movement. Or “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi, about life in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. “Hip Hop Family Tree” by Ed Piskor is collection of stories that chronicle the history of hip-hop in the 70s and 80s. “Hark! A Vagrant!” by Kate Beaton (my absolute favorite humor/history comic collection ever) mainly focuses on European and North American history, but you can enjoy the jokes even if you have no idea who she is talking about!

Fantasy and Science Fiction? Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, is one of the top comics of the past few years. A space opera about star crossed lovers just trying to keep their family together, it has a lot of heart. Sandman by Neil Gaiman, is a classic that has a little bit of everything – mythology, folklore, and fairy tales – all bleeding into our reality. Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman is a cultural phenomenon, with its currently 26 volumes and a successful television adaptation. Rick Grimes and crew fight zombies, and even more deadly, other survivors in a post-apocalyptic landscape.

Science? Neurocomic by Hana Ros is an exploration of the functions of the human brain. The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer, by Sydney Padua, is a thoroughly researched story of the collaboration between these two scientists. Radioactive, by Lauren Redniss, tells the story of Marie and Pierre Curie, and both their personal journeys and scientific work.

Cookbooks? Check out Lucy Knisley’s “Relish,” or “In the Kitchen with Alain Passard,” by Christophe Blain.
There is The Cartoon Guide to Statistics, a graphic explanation of health care reform, and books on weather, math, logic.
You get the point, as I did, after a long journey that really started by walking into a comic book store for the first time – there is just as much variety in the comic and graphic novel medium as there is for any other type of book. And if you can’t find something exactly of the topic you are looking for, someone is probably working on it.

Nicole Guerra-Coon is a part-time Children’s and Reference Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library. Read Nicole’s column in the December 15th issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.


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