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Committed: Introduction

There’s nothing cool or sexy about reading comics. I mean it, and I should know, I’ve been reading them all my life, since I could only understand the pictures and wonder what the hell the words meant (but when the comic books you’re reading are your dad’s stolen Fat Freddy’s Cat, not being able to read detracts nothing). Up until very recently, my comic book habit was only just tolerated by most of my friends, I’d try to get them into it, giving them graphic novels and saying “Oh, I bought too many copies of Violent Cases, you might like it…” they didn’t). Time moves on, and now at least a few of them see the value of the medium, and I’m lucky to say that some of my friends are even fellow zealots.

010610_violentcasesBut when I was the only little english girl in the playground who wanted to play X-Men, running around pretending to be Phoenix with my telekinetic powers, or the Hulk (I really enjoyed growling “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry”, and then roaring a whole bunch – who wouldn’t?), everyone else wanted to play Charlie’s Angels (and what were their superpowers? Long hair?) When people saw me reading Superman, or Love & Rockets, they balked. It quickly became pretty clear that comics weren’t socially acceptable. Even on my annual visits to America to visit my New York dwelling family, I only occasionally glimpsed a world of comic-influenced play, and that place was clearly reserved for the boys. I could ask to play with their Batman toys, coveting those batmobiles that actually shot little missiles (to this day I still fantasize about inheriting my dad’s), but owning my own superhero toys was a step too far into overt weirdo territory.

Nowadays, despite the growing popularity of comic books and the superhero medium, I haven’t really changed. Deep down, I’m still the quiet, sullen little girl I started out as, and as a similarly sullen teenager, I learned to become a single-minded comic maven. When the comic shop owners welcomed me into their shops, and then pointed me in the direction of the Wonder Woman and She-Hulk comics, I knew that they didn’t understand my taste at all. I wanted to read about disaster and mayhem, heroes and villains far outside of my reality like Sienkiewicz’s uber-dramatic New Mutants, and the deeply grim Killing Joke.

010610_swampthing56I still remember watching He-Man and She-Ra cartoons, and noticing that while he shouted “By the power of Greyskull! I have the power.”, she got to say only “For the honor of Greyskull! I am She-Ra”. Why did she only get to restate her bloody name, why couldn’t she embody power the way he did? Was she any less of a worthy vessel for power? No, this was an unacceptable option, and it was just one of the many very obvious ways in which I felt like I was getting a pretty weak option as a girl. Since there was no way that I was prepared to have any less of my potential (fantasy) superpowers just because of my lack of a penis, I gravitated towards the male characters of the comic book world like Moore’s Swamp Thing, and Miller’s Daredevil. Observation had shown me what the logical conclusion was, and no one’s insistence that (as a female) I ought to be reading Supergirl or Batgirl could sway me. I quickly learned to ignore others recommendations and keep my own counsel.

Times change. Fashion moves on, and apparently a lot of those kids who grew up reading game-changing books like Lone Wolf and Cub, Marshal Law, and Elektra Assassin, became movie-making adults, who’s taste is now influencing the mainstream. At least that’s one theory. Comic books are becoming popular and interesting to people because the one-time geeky outcasts of the world are now the creative movers and shakers of it.

010610_daredevil232Personally I prefer to think that it’s something far more fundamental than that. Comic books are one of the most potent and pure forms of communication that we have. Taking a medium as complex and contrived as the written language, and combining it with a most primitive and direct form of creative communication – drawing… This is an incredible medium. The archetypes created in comic books are so powerful that people cannot help but embrace them., we need this, and we naturally gravitate towards a certain kind of creative invention that exemplifies everything that is powerful, beautiful and graceful about our humanity and what we aspire to. Maybe comic books got some attention because we all grew up and kept talking about them, demanding and getting attention for them. But nothing would have happened if they weren’t an entirely mind-blowing synthesis of art and literature filled with dreams.

Right now, it is an era of the superhero, the mythical gods of our modern culture are everywhere, even within genres which are distinctly non superheroic. One day I woke up to a world filled with movies and fashions influenced by the very comic books that had made me such an outsider. All the time I see little kids playing at being super powered and adults reading graphic novels (or at least pretending to, which is even stranger – they’re pretending to like comic books in order to “belong”, which is the opposite of how it worked when I was a kid). Things have changed, and I’m glad of it, but deep down inside (and occasionally, pretty close to the damn surface too), out of necessity I had to learn to trust my own judgment on these sort of things, and I still do.

44 Comments

Welcome aboard, Sonia…. “Hope you enjoy the experience!”

“Taking a medium as complex and contrived as the written language, and combining it with a most primitive and direct form of creative communication – drawing”

Huh. That’s an interesting way to look at it, as far as the complexity of coded language in written form merged with the immediacy and visceral impact of images.

Peter Woodhouse

January 6, 2010 at 11:25 am

Sonia: From one Brit to another – good luck with the new column!
Cheers, P.

Yay! A British contributor to CSBG

Aw, Cory beat me to the quote, I love that line. And I am so stealing it.

“There’s nothing cool or sexy about reading comics.”

Liar!

Reading comics is very sexy.

Welcome aboard.

Tom from West Chester

January 6, 2010 at 12:09 pm

I’m me thirding here but I connected to the same line as Corey and Layne. I’ve never heard comics quite described that way.

And also welcome.

Oh man, Fat Freddy’s Cat!

I remember as a kid my cousin moved into a new house and he found a box filled with Fat Freddy’s Cat and Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comics. We read them all multiple times, one of my earliest comic memories! Haven’t thought of that in decades, haha!

I haven’t even read the rest of the article yet, I had to leave a comment just from reading that sentence. Even better, “Fat Freddy’s Cat” is now a tag on the blog.

great column! i’m only confused about one thing — is this “own judgment” you speak of at the end your declaration of intent for future columns in terms of what you’ll be discussing, or did i infer something totally different from what you intended?

Nice column, welcome.

Personally I’ve never thought of comics as “pure.” They suck up all sorts of ideas and tropes like a sponge. Of all artists, comic book creators tend to understand that if an idea is any good it’s worth stealing – mix it up with some other stuff and it becomes a new else entirely. Often it’s awesome.

God, I love comics.

oh yeah BTW comics are sexy. that is wrong. just throwing that out there.

I believe she’s saying that, in these days of “comics are cool”, she still has to trust her own judgement on what she enjoys, just as she did when people were trying to steer her towards she-“hero”-girl comics because of her gender.

Welcome, Sonia. And allow me to join the chorus of folks who love your description of the medium.

Welcome to CSBG!

Great article, love the autobiographical foundation to your current musings on the medium…

And as mentioned several times already, the concise descriptions you litter throughout the article to describe various merits of comics are fantastic…

While I don’t share your love of the New Mutants ( not because of Sienkiewicz, but because that title was where Claremont started focusing on pet themes and fantasy diversions over the story at hand ), this was a very powerful opening essay. Again, welcome to CSBG!

Welcome aboard.

Mind Curran, though. He bites.

Hi Sonia!

“There’s nothing cool or sexy about reading comics.”

You belie this statement with everything that follows. It helps if one reads cool and sexy comics, but knowledge of the comics medium and works is a great asset. A lot of cool people recognize that.

T (and everybody else, I guess)–Knockabout/Top Shelf just released an omnibus of all the Fat Freddy’s Cat stories. I’ve leafed through it, and it looks as good as their excellent Freak Bros. compendium they released back in ’08!

Fat Freddy’s Cat is awesome. I had a FFC avatar on another board for awhile. I need to get the Omnibus.

Great first column! Welcome!

Welcome aboard and cheers for the Marshal Law reference!

Enjoyed your column.

I’m so psyched for this column!

Welcome Sonia and I hope to enjoy the comic debates we are sure to have…”I hope I survive the experience” =)

Tom Fitzpatrick

January 6, 2010 at 8:30 pm

Oooooh, at last, someone who can give Kelly Thompson a run for her money! ;-)

Welcome aboard, Ms. Harris.

Spot on about how the tables have turned over the years. Whenever I see the throngs of movie goers waiting to pay for a superhero film so they can be part of the modern “in” crowd, I begin to wonder of many of them used to treat kids like us back when comics readers were considered social outcasts. If I could tell, I’d give them all a swift kick in the ass for past grievances best left forgotten.

And yeah, She-Ra did get the shaft when it came to her calling card. Filmation blew it, they should have given Teela her own spin-off instead. Bow is to Adora what Steve Trevor was to Diana Prince.

Thanks for telling it like it is, Sonia.

T (and everybody else, I guess)–Knockabout/Top Shelf just released an omnibus of all the Fat Freddy’s Cat stories. I’ve leafed through it, and it looks as good as their excellent Freak Bros. compendium they released back in ’08!

Didn’t know about either. Thanks for the info!

Great to see a British perspective represented in CSBG!

Nice article. I look forward to future posts from you and finding out what you enjoy.

My wife bought “Angel Love” and “Katy Keene” because various Shop owners thought that would be her thing. She ended up not buying any at all, but rather ended up reading her brother’s JLI books… which in a long roundabout way led to our getting together…

Strange how a vendor won’t blink at a grown man buying Supergirl or Batgirl, but gets shocked when a woman wants to read Swamp Thing, rather than Judy/Just Seventeen…

Strange how a vendor won’t blink at a grown man buying Supergirl or Batgirl, but gets shocked when a woman wants to read Swamp Thing, rather than Judy/Just Seventeen…

Not really strange because even though Batgirl and Supergirl have female protaganists, they totally cater to male tastes. Cheesecake, tons of wall-to-wall action, science fiction, continuity, etc. If a grown man bought Just Seventeen or Judy I’m sure he’d get looks that were just as odd.

T.
You’re right. The point is that the majority of the vendors would still think that Supergirl or Batgirl would be more “appropriate” for a female reader than, for example, Hellblazer… Simply because the lead is female…

Welcome from me as well. Your experiences are actually not that different from those of comics geeks in general, though being female does make it harder. I hope your columns will be different from Thompson’s in style, not because there’s anything wrong with hers, but for variety. May you have a good time at CBR! :)

(And I too always wondered about the differences between He-Man and She-Ra- it was a clear case of “The girl’s version has to be different!” Oh Well, at least she wasn’t an exact copy either. She-Ra also got some cool powers (like Healing) that He-Man never got. Gee, that could’ve been useful for him a couple of times, grumble grumble… )

Hi.

“Spot on about how the tables have turned over the years. Whenever I see the throngs of movie goers waiting to pay for a superhero film so they can be part of the modern “in” crowd, I begin to wonder of many of them used to treat kids like us back when comics readers were considered social outcasts. If I could tell, I’d give them all a swift kick in the ass for past grievances best left forgotten.”

The perfect encapsulation of the nerd culture’s schizophrenic reaction to being the subject of the current entertainment fad.

This was a good post…except I was all distracted when I saw Violent Cases, trying to remember where my copy is. Man, that is gonna bug me all day.

Daniel O' Dreams

January 7, 2010 at 11:57 am

@Greg Hatcher: Shouldn’t that be: “Welcome to CSBG, hope you survive…” ;-)

Excellent column, Sonia, looking forward to more.

Hey, don’t forget that Swamp Thing had a very strong female major character. There were a few issues that were focused entirely on her. (Issues 54, 55, 59, 81, 84, etc.) Check out the Swamp Thing Annotations at http://tinyurl.com/2jc79

When I was a child, I never imagined that comics would have the influence over popular culture that they now do.
Excellent first article! All the best to you.

“Since there was no way that I was prepared to have any less of my potential (fantasy) superpowers just because of my lack of a penis, I gravitated towards the male characters of the comic book world like Moore’s Swamp Thing”

Made me think of this exchange:
The Big Lebowski: What makes a man, Mr. Lebowski?
The Dude: Uhh… I don’t know sir.
The Big Lebowski: Is it being prepared to do the right thing, whatever the cost? Isn’t that what makes a man?
The Dude: Hmmm… Sure, that and a pair of testicles.

Don’t forget the testicles!
Thanks for the article & welcome aboard!
DFTBA

@Dan K: I agree. A girl mentioning something comics related, or better yet that I see reading some, instantly gets hotness points.

Good article Sonia. Looking forward to following the weekly column.

Welcome to CSBG Sonia.

Like a lot of others, I enjoyed your comment about comics being a blend of the primitive and the contrived communication forms, an insight touched upon in “Unbreakable”. This is one of the things that gives me hope of comics being hailed as a great art form (Maybe not in the near future, but someday…..)

She-Ra was way cooler than He-Man! She had a f-ing pegasus! Plus, on her show the bad guy was actually competent and had taken control of entire planet , placing She-Ra in the role of the super-freedom fighter.

Besides Ra is one of the most powerful god in the Egyptian pantheon and was the embodiment of the sun. Basically she was stating she was the feminine physical manifestation of the effing nuclear fusion.

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