Growing up, I read quite a few comic books. I was the kid browsing comic book bins every weekend, and had a great relationship with my local shop owner. I started as a huge fan of Alien vs. Predator, all if its related incarnations, Mortal Kombat, and various Marvel franchises. Big guns? Ninjas? Superheroes? Aliens? That was my schtick.
I was all boy. When it came to comics, it was all action, all the time. The narrative was never as important as the actions depicted. So, of course, I kind of burned myself out on comics. I’d limited my consumption to nearly incoherent plots, so the narrative was apparently something I needed, despite my opposition to the idea. Narratives meant work on my part, which I didn’t want to do.
I took a step back from comics for quite a few years, then, only picking up Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret because I’d never seen such a large “comic book” before. I was engrossed. I’d caught the bug, again. But, this time it was on the opposite end of the narrative-action spectrum. Of course, The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a child’s book, but it made a huge impact on me. Along with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Hobbit, and Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad, I credit it with fostering my love for reading. Frog and Toad helped me learn to read and appreciate old timers. The Hobbit taught me all about companionship and fantastical quests. The Sorcerer’s Stone illuminated a unique magical universe and encouraged good character.
But The Invention of Hugo Cabret introduced me to structure, in numerous forms. Firstly, by bringing to attention the metaphorical techniques employed by writers, and consequently, the idea of narratives implying more than is stated, and making connections between the real world and literary worlds. So, while each of the other books I mentioned supplied portions of the whole, Hugo formed the whole.
I felt like Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. And I can’t help but be inclined to believe that the comic medium assisted my development. By seeing the world I was reading about, I could immerse myself, and begin to think in terms of whatever fictional universe interested me. So, it occupied a transitional fulcrum to understanding literature. Unfortunately, I stopped reading comics shortly thereafter…my comic shop had closed.
After a few years, I pursed comics once more, but with a more rational approach. I picked up Jim McCann’s Mind the Gap, Robert Kirkman’s Invincible , Brian Vaughan’s Saga, Kurt Busiek’s Astro City, and Jonathan Hickman’s The Manhattan Projects along the way. So, I was exploring the paranormal, superhero, space opera, and alternate history comic genres, rather than just summer blockbuster style comics. But these were all collections of comics, rather than novels. Did they contain multilevel narratives? Yes. But the subplots were the troublesome portion. The stories included cliffhangers, which were completely ineffective and aggravating due to the format. They were definitely a sign of progress, though. I’d moved from action-packed, dry stories to more didactic narratives, then attempted to merge the two extremes, and developing a perspective on the greater comic world in the process.
And that’s when I realized I’d been focusing only on big publishers and some of the more famous writers. Not to sound too much like a hipster, but those entities know their audiences very well, and cater to them as such. So, they’ll pass on ideas that may not resonate with their target demographics. That’s fair business, but does stifle some of the more unique narratives from reaching the masses.
So, I started picking out works of writers unknown to me, with less flashy covers, and was thrilled by the results. Two of such novels were Dylan Horrock’s Hicksville and Brandon Graham’s King City. Both challenged my definition of comics. They weren’t particularly flashy, which actually gave them an endearing quality. But, the writing. No longer did I have to deal with the superhero “All right!” pseudo-segue. Not only that, Hicksville is actually a novel about a comic creator creating comics in a comic-centric universe, so I felt like I had struck gold. I’d finally found abundant nuance in the comic medium.
Now, I relay this story because of the many misconceptions about comics and to encourage others to delve deeper into the comic community. Will you find cliche chauvinist superheroes? Absolutely! But there is so much more! Genres often blur together in comics, with many odd, but just as many beautiful combinations. Comics challenge readers to interpret visual cues, while reading text, on a customized canvas suited to the narrative. So, not only is the content unique, but also the presentation. What other medium allows a creator so much customization?