Wednesday, 18 July 2012

On Reading Comic Books Pt.1

Please note before reading: this article is mainly aimed at people who have never read comics before, but I hope it will also make comic geeks go 'aww' or something. 

I suppose I need to start this article with a confession. I am a huge Star Trek geek. No, let me correct that. I WAS a huge Star Trek geek. I don't think I am anymore. I haven't watched a full episode in ages. Sometimes I flick through the Sky channels and I come across an old episode of Voyager and get really nostalgic, but ultimately it doesn't hook me anymore.

The reason I loved Star Trek? I was pretty much convinced, as a teenager, that I would fit perfectly into the Star Trek universe. I was clever, tall and gawky, with fuzzy hair and not many friends. Where else would I be able to fill my full potential than on the Enterprise or on a frontier space station? I would naturally end up being slim, because nobody on Star Trek was fat, and even if I looked a bit odd, that would be ok because I could just pass myself off as Betazoid, as I have really brown eyes and am quite sensitive to emotions and all that.

The Star Trek universe was a utopia, idealistic and simple. Sure there were battles and fights and skirmishes, but they would always be wrapped up within the hour, and ultimately, someone would always back out of the neutral zone in time. And if a main character were to die, it was always nobly, or by a tar creature, and you would be forever remembered by fanzines and plastic figurines. Unless you were Barclay. Did he even die? I kind of wished he did. 

The Star Trek universe was my imaginary home, but it soon became unsatisfactory. And not just because with the onset of the series Enterprise, with me constantly imagining Scott Bakula moaning 'Oh boy!' to Al. It became unsatisfactory because I realised that the world was cruel. And not necessarily kind to the geeks. My female icons, Troi, Dr Crusher, Kira, Jadzia and Janeway and even the statuesque Glamazon Seven of Nine, were all given their roles because they had good figures. Not because they were like me, a little bit frumpy with fuzzy hair. I grew up, saw the darkness in the world, and left Star Trek behind me.

And now we enter the new era...

About a month ago I watched the film Captain America. And I'm not going to even try to deny that the general peakish of my interest in the Marvel universe had nothing to do with a scrawny kid entering a chamber and coming out all kinds of Chris Evans Hot. Quite honestly, my first thought was more along the lines of 'can I go in the chamber and come out looking like Seven of Nine?' 

But it just so happened that I had watched Iron Man about a week before I watched Captain America, and honestly just presumed that they were distinct Hollywood Blockbusters. But, like, they're not. They are totally linked. As a moustachioed Howard Stark designed the famous shield, I turned to the imaginary person beside me (for I was actually alone) and went: DUDE! IT'S TONY'S DAD! EITHER THERE ARE SERIOUS COPYRIGHT ISSUES HAPPENING OR THIS HAS ENTERED A WHOLE NEW REALM OF META!

Because, you see fellow uninitiated people (here is where the comic book geeks reading this for the 'aww' factor may want to look away) the Marvel Universe is a thing. A whole thing. Stretching over decades, with characters and stories and arcs interacting and merging and double helixing all over the place. This is apparently why the current Avengers film is such a big deal. It brings the principle Marvel heroes together. And I totally didn't even conceive of that before. And then I learnt that the X Men can't get involved because they're owned by another studio and that made me sad. You see guys, there is a whole other world out there. And it kind of pummels the Star Trek universe to shit. As a graduate of a Creative Writing MA (bows) this whole concept of an entire fictional universe, not contained by one novel plus various sequels, but spread out throughout the consciousness of potentially infinite fans, basically gave me a serious nerdgasm. We're talking about narrative fiction on a whole different level here people. And so far, it appears to be awesome. (Cue comic book geeks going: AWWWW)

There is more I want to say, especially about my experience of actually physically reading a comic book for the first time, but maybe I should split this into two parts because I feel I may be starting to ramble. 

So for now, there we go people. The comic book universe is huge. And people have actual superpowers (as opposed to Deanna Troi who could just about tell that somebody felt sad sometimes) and when they die they die ferociously, and then sometimes come back. And because they're not on TV, the characters can live on in your head and if they get a little uncool, then they'll just draft another batch of writers/illustrators in to make them cool again. 

In the next part of this article I want to discuss how you discover comics as a regular person (because, I mean, where the heck do you start?!), how it feels to read one for the first time, and how they compare to other more standardly accepted forms of literary fiction. I also want to tell you about the very first comic book I read, Astonishing X-Men, as written by Joss Whedon, and then I might tell you a bit about how I already have a lady-nerd crush on Kitty Pryde. Go to hell Jadzia Dax. Yeah. You heard me Roddenberry. 

But for now,

Hugs and high fives,



  1. I must put my hand up and admit it - I am a Star Trek fan, but the old school, 1960's Star Trek. I like the characters better and watching and wondering 'How did they get THAT effect?'. It's surprising how many times I can do that in a series famous for having a dodgy lizard-man costume :)

    Trek moment over and as for comic books... my first comic books were the Tintin books when I was about 5. They were the first books I 'read' - I read the pictures. I've got a soft spot for comics ever since, although the worlds of Marvel and DC frighten me. I do have a set of compendiums of the Essential X-Men series so I can read them roughly in order but I find that huge chunks of the storyline go missing, presumably because the X-Men joined up with Spiderman or someone that Summer and the storyline just got picked up again later in Essential X-Men.

    I get your point about the universe being huge for comic books and that being to it's advantage, that you can just rewrite what you didn't like (no one EVER completely dies in comic book world do they?), but equally if your story can be spread out over a whole universe it gets very hard to read it! That and if you find yourself wanting to follow a particular character you may have to employ Ninja Research skills to be able to trace all their stories and back stories.

    Also, if anything can happen in a comic book universe, doesn't that mean there's always a happy ending? Like you said, the uncool characters can always be made cool again, some superheroes can come back to life and while their deaths and lives can be, as you said, ferocious (I still remember the cover of one book with Robin's death. Shocked the life out of me) and more real in a sense than anything on tv, there's always the little thought in my head that, because they've done it before, someone could always just rewrite this bit, or that bit, or just ignore the whole book altogether.

    I often come to comic books through tv too, hence the few Buffy comics I have. Or through regular books, such as the copy of Hatter M I have on my shelf waiting to be read as a result of reading The Looking-Glass Wars..

  2. i love this post. i like yourself was a Trekkie but it kinda goes over my head a bit now and I got into comics a few years back and even though I wouldn't call myself a big comic geek I do know about Marvel and DC as well as smaller Imprints like Dark Horse (who I love) and such and it's made me explore visual stories more.

    Astonishing X-men is one of my fans and I'd really recommend Runaways too.