Why I Love Comics

I love to read comics. I love to talk and write about comics. And I love to create comics. It seems like over the years, bit by bit, I’ve become something of an expert on comics. I have varied interests than include fine art and pop culture. You can easily find me engrossed in the latest superhero movie or questioning whether or not we already have too many superhero movies. (Yes, we do). Anyway, I find it sometimes to be a worthy challenge to educate someone on comics who admits to knowing nothing about the subject beyond the “Sunday Funnies.” At other times, it is too much of a challenge since that person has no real point of reference beyond a marginal interest. So, the best I can do is comment when I feel like it. And, as for writing about comics, I tend to take the same attitude. I write about what I like when I want to. Sometimes I’ll write about why a comic did not work out. Sometimes I’ll write about a comic I really can not support. But, mostly, I think I gravitate to something, get excited about it, and start writing.

And why do I love comics in the first place? It all goes as far back as I can remember. I always wanted to do something “creative,” for lack of a better word. Of course, I never stopped drawing once I picked up my first crayon. But it got far more elaborate than just wanting to draw. I wanted to create whole worlds. I put on plays. I built space ships. I tirelessly drew comic strips and then comic books. I couldn’t help myself. Didn’t other kids like to do the same? Apparently not. That is what was hard to understand, at least at first. It was a little heartbreaking to see that a lot of kids, most kids, had no real interest in pursuing art. I, on the other hand, had no real interest in pursuing sports. And, to my chagrin, and torment, sports were attractive to many kids. Flash-forward a number of years, and I still draw. I know how to draw. And the typical kid who gave it up now sells insurance and smokes pot. Great.

My generation, Generation X, did not have the luxury of having a whole cool geek lifestyle ready and waiting to be slipped into like a new pair of jeans. My generation had to do a lot more fumbling about in the dark. But, if you were persistent, then it did not matter how many people might have tried to ridicule you or discourage you from “becoming an artist.” That was the thing. All of us “geeks” had an idea of wanting to become something, an artist maybe, something more than just average. Here, I could try to describe Gen X a little more. Suffice it to say for the purpose of this post, it was rebelling against the excesses of the previous generation, the Baby Boomers, the Me stuff, too much navel-gazing, sex, drugs.  And Gen X loved irony, and self-deprecation, especially ironic self-deprecation, despite the pitfalls of being easily misunderstood. More on this for another post. 

So, for me, my peculiar/particular ambition always involved writing and drawing. The world of “alternative comics” did not quite exist just yet. Neither did the world of “alternative music” for that matter. It was building its way up from the underground. “Alternatives” to the mainstream culture were out there but you had to seek them out. They were not just a click of a mouse away. (But, even today, you still need a desire to know where to click.)  Mainstream comics were of little help back then as they were struggling to remain relevant. Something like “Watchmen” could truly be called, “ahead of its time.” It would take many years before it would be fully appreciated by a broader audience.  And just how you went about becoming an artist was mysterious. Was art school really the answer? (No, not really — but it could help). Learn by doing is the best lesson of all. Little did I know, or fully appreciate, that all the work I did on my own, without the “support” from critiques and discussion groups, was going to be the stuff that ended up being most significant.

The tried and true path you can take if you specifically want to become a writer or an artist is to go to college and that is what I did. Of course, no one can really “teach” you how to become a writer or an artist but what can you do? Travel the world? Yeah, that would have been nice. So, I took my share of English lit courses and creative writing courses. I took more than my share of studio art courses and ended up earning a BFA. However, one of the most useful things I did during my time at unversity was to write and draw a comic strip in the student paper. At around that time, I was getting my first looks at Blutch, the Hernandez brothers and Chester Brown. Just like punk, you had to go to the shops to find it. And still, even though I’d already read quite a lot of comics and drawn quite a lot of comics, I did not necessarily identify myself as a cartoonist. I was into a lot of things and I just happened to also draw comics.  Comics as a career choice just was not convincing me. I wasn’t hellbent enough on pursuing it, I suppose. I just did what I did. Also, I didn’t want to get pigeonholed into only drawing comic strips, which was what I was primarily doing with comics at the time. Comic strips, all by themselves, seemed too limiting–and I still believe, in general, that is true. Just look at the vast majority of online comics. I will have to save this topic for a future post since, of course, there is a lot more to say on this.

So, the sad fact back then, some twenty years ago, was that breaking into comics was even less of a career option than it may seem today. And, even today, it’s not so obvious but the information is far more readily available. Basically, you do what you do because you love it. And, if you’re smart, you’ll figure out how to get what you do from a hobbyist corner into a professional arena. If you’re really smart, you will keep doing what you do and keep getting better and better. Sometimes, it is true: the money will follow. And, if not, you’ll be smart enough to know what you have accomplished.

And the better educated you are, the better for you in more ways than one. That does not necessarily mean college. In fact, college can really get in the way. What anyone should do, especially a young person, but this applies to any age, is to read as much as you can. Try out as many novels as you can, from classics to pulp fiction. Read as much history as you can. Read on a variety of subjects. Know your art history, science, even math. All of that makes for a much better comics reading experience. Otherwise, if you’re uneducated, you’ll have a limited sense of taste and comics will all seem the same to you, bad, good, great. Well, maybe you’ll appreciate that some comics are better than others but you’ll still miss out on appreciating what makes one comic better than another if your general knowledge is lacking. Education is a lifelong process so you’re not expected to get every reference every time. Just make an effort.

Comics, like sex, gets better with age. It was Will Eisner who said that the ideal reader of comics is someone at age 50 and beyond. I think that’s the age that he was writing his graphic novels for. Of course, younger people appreciate stuff like “A Contract With God” too! But I understand what he was getting at. By a certain age, works of art take on a greater resonance and that’s because it is, by that time, that a person has gotten a chance to really experience life, gain some humility and wisdom. What seems to remain a big secret for the general public is that comics is a serious art form. It can be put to use for various purposes, among them a ton of very bad comics, but it can also be put to use to create wondrous works of art.

I invite you to keep checking in here. I will do whatever I want, whenever I want, but I am going to make an effort to organize things here a bit.

I’m going to try something out.

Mondays: I’ll do a fresh review of a single issue that just came out recently, most likely the week before. So, a review of a comics single, for the most part. Maybe sometimes an essay on a favorite topic.

Wednesday: I’ll save that for something special. I can provide a book review or an interview or some other special feature.

Fridays: Well, I’ll say that can be “Friday Funnies.” Or “Friday’s Treat.” It will be a comic, or a piece of art of some kind.

Maybe I should include a DONATE button on here too. Yeah, I’m really thinking about what to do next with Comics Grinder. Y’all feel free to provide some feedback from time to time. I love to freelance and contribute writing to other sites. God knows I have enough experience with that. I could tell you some stories. Overall, I don’t regret most of it. And, hey, I’m a good guy and keep things professional. Depending on who you are, there’s a little of everything here at Comics Grinder and there will surely be something that appeals to you.

And also be on the look out for my random posting when something catches my fancy.

Okay, that’s it for now. Take care.

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Filed under Comics, Comics Grinder, graphic novels, Henry Chamberlain, Will Eisner

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