There is a misconception in this great society of ours that needs to be addressed and, hopefully, corrected. No, I’m not referring to issues of racial inequality or the widening gap between the rich and poor, nor the debate over same sex marriages. No, this is something much more organic and fundamental. I’m talking about an issue that touches the very core of Americana!
Yes indeed, fellow readers, I am waxing poetic about comic books. For too long, many have harbored the notion that this amazing medium is solely for the pleasure of children and that even then, their value is minimum at best (a momentary distraction while awaiting the newest x-box/PlayStation release). While this unfortunate understanding no doubt exists, it is, nevertheless, far from the truth of the matter. In fact, according to a marketing study conducted by a major comic book publisher, the average age of comic book readers is about 25. As a result, comics – long a popular medium of choice for Americans – have played a significant role in the young, as well as providing a brand for social commentary for adults. In short, there’s much more going on with comics than guys (and gals) flying around in tights with billowing capes. With this basic premise in mind, here are the top 10 reasons why everyone should read comics:
10. Fun To Read
They are fun to read. Really, it’s as simple as that.
The general reason for picking up a comic book (or any other magazine, novel, etc.) is for the enjoyment. This fact does not discount any other benefits, but rather it enhances them. With comics, there is no short supply of fun as we lose ourselves, albeit for only a short time, in a universe filled with wonder and excitement. As with any good yarn that is spun, comics offer us the time tested good vs. evil plots and justice triumphing over tyranny themes. And let’s be honest people; we love it! Virtually every movie, TV show or popular novel featuring the antagonist/protagonist struggle involves manifests euphoric satisfaction in us when the good guys save the day. Without much doubt, comics serve up a healthy dose of good vs. evil. Sure, we know the guy with the big red S on his chest is going to save the day when we peruse his adventures. But reading and seeing how he does it, journeying with the character as he overcomes great odds (in spite of his own formidable abilities); well, it just doesn’t get much better than that. And let’s be honest again with ourselves – who hasn’t done the fantasy routine in their minds where we are the ones leaping from buildings in a single bound or webslinging across the city? We love imagining ourselves in the role of the superhero, and comics allow us to live out this dream every month. Whether you are 15 or 50, this is one aspect of life that simply does not change – and why should it – it’s great fun!
9. Spark The Imagination
Comics have had unexpected influences on people. It’s amazing, really, when you investigate the folks who have attributed comics to be the influencing factor that led them to success. Actors Nicolas Cage, Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas, for example, are comic readers who no doubt find creative purchase as a result. Everyone from up and coming fantasy novelists to web designers note the influence that comics had on their chosen career paths. For those who delved into medium that require creativity, a love of comics isn’t surprising. Comics offer readers a world in which ordinary people come to a point where they are able to do extraordinary things. As writers and artist spin tale after tale revolving around these amazing characters, we – the readers –find ourselves captivated with the ideas of possibility. We begin to wonder about what really is possible; we consider ‘what can I really do?’ This is the stuff that spurs scientific curiosity and sociological achievement. Comic characters were traveling in space and working with computers long before these achievements became an actual reality. But the folks who would one day be the pioneers in these areas of advancement – well, just think about what planted that seed of wonder into their minds in the first place. Comics provide us with a vehicle of inspiration unlike any other. Yes, you still have to work hard and yes, you still have to obtain a great education. But the impetus, the motivation from which all of that hard work is directed has a beginning. Something planted the seed that leads us to achieve great things and comics – yes comics – have a place well situated in this endeavor. So read a comic book – you might become president or something one day!
Along with providing us with the ideas of possibility, comics also- in a more direct fashion- move us to take action. Since the 1940s, comics have been used as a medium to direct the focus of the masses on issues of the day and to provoke a desired response. During World War II, for example, comics were used to invoke emotions of patriotism and support for the American war effort. These included characters urging readers to buy war bonds, to watch what they say (‘lose lips, sink ships’ type of thing) and to conserve needed resources. The heroes battle the Nazis and the Japanese, giving hope that we would do the same in our world. The message was, ‘the going is tough, but everyone’s efforts will ensure victory.’ And we did.
Visionary Stan Lee, in another example, very astutely tackled the issues of the day that were confronting the nation in the 60s and 70s in the pages of his comics. His X-Men dealt with racial bigotry, yet continued to take the high road. The Fantastic Four had ongoing family problems, but worked through them. Spiderman endured tremendous responsibility at a young age, but struggled and persevered. The list goes on. And as we read and enjoyed these exploits, we picked up something along the way: ideas. We read the X-Men and thought, just maybe, the kid we went to school with who was a different color or a different nationality wasn’t really as bad or terrible as we thought (or were taught to think). Comics showed us, in the midst of the kryptonite and mad scientists, that there was a different and better way to look at the world and that it was cool to do so. So we did.
7. Pretty Pictures
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. This is certainly true with comic books. As a visual medium, the comic industry has produced some of the best artists of our times. While their work might be underappreciated and fail to find prominent space in a metropolitan museum, their work is still viewed and heralded by thousands of fans – every month. These are the folks that literally bring comic book story arcs to life. These are the folks that make the magic of inspiration and imagination sparkle. We are, as scientists say, visual creatures. This is to say that we respond, in a very basic and fundamental way, to what we see. This is one of the reasons we find comics so compelling. The art draws us in and defines a wondrous world of adventure and intrigue. A good story line becomes all the more so when the art work pops. We come away wanting more and eagerly anticipating the next issue. We become ardent fans of the artist and the characters that they draw. In fact, we will set around and discuss the nuances of the art work. When was the last time you did that with a piece from Leonardo or Picasso? Perhaps never, but in the same vein, I would offer that there is a greater appreciation, in general, for art across the spectrum. Suffice to say, comics elevates our artist eye. (Image: comic by Basil Wolverton)
Comics are not just for kids (in fact, some are not for kids at all), but one of the benefits that specifically benefits the young is improved literacy skills (and I suppose this could be true for older folks who have issues in this area). Few, if any, would argue the positive and beneficial aspects of having a thirst and desire to read. Literature, in all its forms, opens up a treasure trove of ideas and information. Yet so many children (and subsequently adults), especially in this current age of immediate gratification, find reading to be such a chore that it is avoided at all costs (can you say ‘books on tape’). Comics are a terrific tool to combat this dilemma at an early age. I know this from personal experience. My mother sparked my attention and reading appetite at 6 or 7 by giving me Richie Rich comic books to read. I vividly recall constantly running to her asking for help with a word I wasn’t yet familiar with. This hunger to read and learn never left. Indeed, most of the people I know who have been reading comics since childhood relate similar stories and feelings. Comics are fun and kids can relate to fun. While parents have to be cautious about exactly which comics they allow their kids to read (due to adult content in some of them), there are still plenty of titles that appeal to young readers. By reading something that is considered fun and enjoyable, parents can instill a positive allure to reading instead of a negative one. With this, comics helps one to develop not only improved reading skills, increased vocabulary, and basic story telling formats; but also a desire to learn and to seek out information. Really, who can argue with that?
5. Educational Tidbits and Nuggets
Reading is not the only academic benefit that results from reading comic books. In addition, there is a wealth of information/knowledge that is gleamed from the exploits of the characters found in comic books. Ranging from history to science, writers continually inject real life facts and data into their stories. The goal, obviously, is to infuse a degree of realism into their tales and make the incredible seemingly plausible. The journey turns out to be an education one. Reading issues of Captain America, for example, will teach you a thing or two about the history of World War II. Issues of Batman will provide all kinds of scientific data like how long it takes a dead body to decompose or how long a normal person can hold their breath underwater, etc. Granted, I’m not saying that reading comics is akin to taking a graduate level course in mathematics. But I am saying that there are things that can be learned. For an adult, such information is interesting and adds to our general aptitude (you never know when some of this info will be needed when playing Jeopardy!). For those who are a bit younger; well, it’s like watching those old after school cartoons (conjunction junction what’s your function…) – you learn while having fun.
4. Cool Factor
Who said comics are for nerds? Only in the movies! In reality, the cool and popular kids read comics, too. I didn’t know a top athlete or A-list kid who didn’t read comics. They all did. They knew the characters and followed the story lines. This holds true for adults as well. If you go into any comic shop, you’re going to see folks from every walk of life – from the biker dude to the professional in the Armani business suit. It’s kind of funny, but it’s the guy who doesn’t read comics that is seen as something odd. Even more to the point (and this is coming from a guy’s perspective), mention a comic character in your conversation with the next attractive lady you meet. Odds are she won’t look at you like you have a social disease of some kind. Instead, you’ll probably be amazed at the informative discussion that ensues. This has happened to me – more than once, I might add. I can almost guarantee that if you walk into class, work or wherever people are gathered with the latest issue of the X-Men or JLA, that you will draw some attention. Not because someone wants to make fun of you, but rather because a few of those folks are going to want to check out your issue. I bet you won’t get that kind of positive attention carrying around a Tom Clancy novel (and I like Clancy, for the record).
3. Better Than The Movie
I was too lazy to pull and add up all the box office numbers for movies that have been adapted from comic books. Suffice to say, the number exceeds $1 billion. These movies are both enjoyable and successful for a very good reason: the original material from which it was adapted – i.e. the comic book – is enjoyable and successful. And when you consider that the comic book contains the entire back story in great detail and continues the characters’ exploits every month – well, isn’t that what we all crave when we go to see a good movie? We want the prequel and the sequels. With comics, it’s all there. If you want to get the feel of Batman or Spiderman, the movies only wet your appetite for more. But with a movie, you’re only going to get a two hour block of enjoyment and then you have to wait for a year or longer to continue the story. With comics, you only have to take a zip to your nearest comic shop to fulfill your desire. There, you will find plenty of back issues that detail what has happened, as well as current adventures. Honestly, there are more comics to read than you have hours to read them. Plus, it’s not hard to imagine that the actual comic stories are richer, deeper and more involved than their cinematic adaptions. So if you plopped down 10 bucks to see Spidey swing across the big screen, you’ll spend considerable less for a comic and arguably reap a more rewarding experience to boot.
2. Culturally/Socially Relevant
I did a study once that tracked the evolution of comics in America with the changes that were taking place in our society over the same period. From the 1940s through the millennium, our nation has experienced a number of social changes. We’ve dealt with wars, depressions, economic recovery, more wars, civil rights, gender rights, free love, drug epidemics, and so forth. These issues and the challenges that surrounded them did not escape the notice of comic book writers and publishers. The 40s saw comics used as a propaganda platform for the war effort. The 50s saw comics dealing with the age of scientific imagination (and coping with censorship). The 60s saw comics tackling issue of racial intolerance (with Marvel’s mutant population). The 70s saw women taking a more active role in comics, while the 80s saw comics taking on a darker more violent edge. The comparisons continue of course, but the point is that the comics we read, whether as kids or as adults, were reflective of the society we were living in. And more often than not, there was some social commentary at play within these stories of what the “correct” approach was to the problem at hand. For the masses that were reading and, on some level, absorbing the information that was being conveyed, I believe had an impact to an appreciable degree on our society. We embraced the idea of racial tolerance that we read about in the X-men into our schools and work places. Young women took the idea of self-empowerment that was espoused in those early Wonder Woman issues to heart when confronted with the prospect of gender inequality. Many of the needs of social change were planted as a result of the many adventures that we find in our comic books.
1. Good Ol’ Fashion Values
I wasn’t sure how to label this one. And I freely admit there might even be a dispute about its place on the list. But I think on some fundamental level, it deserves to be right here. I’ve been a comic book reader and collector for well over 30 years. I believe that I and many others like me can first hand attest to all of the points that have preceded this one. Yet the one memory that I cherish most on this journey is the time I spent as a child, at the foot of my mother reading comics. She took the time to sit down with me and read. Then we would talk about what I read and the conversations would delve off into other areas. But the point is that comics provided the means for this to happen. And as I thought about the obvious benefit of spending time with one’s parents in this fashion, I reflected on how I unconsciously perpetuated the same method of familial bonding. We teach our children in so many ways, both directly and indirectly. But comics, at least for me, have offered a direct means to do so. They open the door to all sorts of conversations and topics. And what better time to respond to an issue of the day than when your child asks “Daddy, why is hitting people for no reason bad?” Comics are a tradition to so many of us, one that we probably don’t think too deeply about. Yet it is one that allows us to have the opportunity to pass on a few life lessons to our progeny and, you know, just spend some quality time with people we love. This point alone is reason enough why everyone should read comic books.
by Lee Standberry