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Why I Like Comics (Even Though I’m Not Getting Any This Week)

Nothing on the Incoming Inventory this week. This makes it look like I don’t like comics because I don’t buy enough of them. This is not true. I love comic books and the genre fiction that they do so well.

I believe that comic books are the best place for genre fiction because the suspension of disbelief is quicker in the comic book. This is not ‘childish’, the quality of comics that the majority of people associate with the medium (although there is a truth to the repetitive, simplified view of the good vs evil world exists in superhero comics).

It is ‘child-like’, the ability to imagine and pretend and believe in something unusual and out of the ordinary and accepting it completely. Teenagers from the future with planet-specific powers? Okay. Radioactivity giving super-powers, rather than an agonising death? Sure. A ring that gives you unlimited powers based on your will? Why not.

There is something about the nature of a comic book, the combination of words and pictures, that allows for any variety of mad, bizarre, crazy ideas. I’m not talking about the obvious insanity of, say, Superman of the ‘60s (shooting mini Supermen out of his hands?) – I’m talking about the ordinary, immediate other-worldliness of superheroes, or a samurai rabbit, or a sword-wielding aardvark, or an angel and a robot as a girl’s flatmates, or violent dairy products, or … well, you get the picture.

These outlandish worlds just work better and purer in comics. Something as simple as spandex works in comics, whereas it is an effort on film (which is why the X-Men wear leather), or the sheer physicality of the Hulk (which requires CGI on film) – the essential nature of the superhero, the costume, is allowed to work in the pages of a comic book.

The problem of doing superheroes outside of comic books has been in justifying them. Film and television have to set up and explain and rationalise the whole setting before you can even get to the good bits (or, in the case of Hulk, spend too much time setting up and then forgetting to even do the good bits). Comic books don’t need that. Open a page, and you’re there, straight away. Films have to find the right tone (X-Men, Spider-Man, Batman Begins) or it doesn’t work (Catwoman, Elektra, Punisher, etc.)

When I first read stories where a man shot concussive force out of his eyes, or another turned into organic steel, or a man with a tail teleported, or an unkillable man with claws housed in his arms, my first reaction was, ‘Fucking cool!’ Not, ‘Well, that’s impossible, so this is nonsense.’ You might say that I was predisposed to the ideas, which is why I sought out the material in the first place, but I believe the quality of comics allows for it.

(The ability to read comics, to cope with panels, dense with exposition, action and dialogue, and the transition from one to the next, is necessary, and some people simply can’t do it, dismissing it as childish, but the magic is still there for those who accept it).

Cartoons have, of late, being doing a good job of putting superheroes on screen (I haven’t seen much of the last 5 years of cartoons, such as Justice League Unlimited, as I don’t have Sky or cable to get the channels that broadcast them), even if they limit themselves by the constant need for action, for movement, and the pandering to a younger audience, but there still remains a need to justify it, by having a particularly stylised world for them to inhabit. You will never see the range of styles in comic book art in cartoons, although we can but hope.

Comic books are a great medium for telling stories that aren’t easy to do in most other formats. I have read many a comic book that has taken me to another place, and I look forward to doing that for a long time to come.

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