I was walking around the park with my partner, as part of our government-permitted exercise allowance during lockdown, and we got chatting about various things. One was a list of the things we will do when lockdown is over, which led to talking about lists of other things; she escalated the numbers on the list, which sparked in my head the memory of the comic blogosphere meme from 15 years ago: 100 Things I Love About Comics.
A brief history recap: the idea was started by Fred Hembeck, which was then propagated by Alan David Doane; Mike Sterling challenged the blogosphere, and then did his own but also collated all the people who did their own versions. I even joined in with my own entry.
Back to the present and the walk in the park, after I mentioned the meme: my partner challenged me on what I love about comics right now, which got me thinking and I narrowed it down to five things, and the idea for this blog post was created. So, here’s my list of five things I love about comic books right now.
I know this is a bit of a cheat because the lockdown means that libraries are closed (you can get some comic books digitally from the library, but it’s a small selection) and the fact that I just wrote about how great libraries are when discussing borrowing more than 1,000 trade paperbacks/original graphic novels from libraries. However, the blossoming of the graphic novel section in libraries has been fantastic and I love the fact that it’s now normal to have a wide variety of comic books available to read for free. Some of the libraries I visit even have regular comic book forums for people to discuss books, so thanks to libraries and all they do for readers of comic books.
4. Variety of genres
There have always been different genres of comic books, but the superhero genre came to dominate the mainstream industry (as Warren Ellis once said, it’s as if books were mainly nurse romance novels). Now, I love superheroes, but it’s nice to have other genres as well, and we have that in abundance now. The range is exhilarating, from comedy to journalism to biographies to crime to fantasy to memoirs to sci-fi to fairy tales and everything in between. There truly is something for everyone now; superheroes may still lead the field (and certainly in the mind of the average person who is only aware of them via the films) but that is certainly not the case for readers. It’s not even the case for the big two, when you have Marvel infusing the superhero universe with different genres. A wide variety of genres in comic books is a good thing for the medium, so I love it.
Another topic I’ve discussed before, but I love the diversity of characters and creators that exists in comic books now. Growing up, I saw mostly white men in superhero comic books, although I was lucky in that I became addicted to comic books via Chris Claremont’s X-books (Uncanny X-Men, New Mutants, Excalibur), which at least tried to address the male:female imbalance. Now we have far more female characters and people of colour and different sexualities, which is good for comic books and for the audience. Why would you want to keep seeing the same old white people doing the same thing from their same perspective? That’s boring and will drive readers away. Normalising other types of people in comic books will bring in new readers in addition to providing new perspectives in older readers. I’m not saying it’s perfect – we’ve still got a way to go, and the white male still has an overwhelming influence on the industry – but I love that I can read stories by people who are not like me and who can provide me with new narratives that are different to the established ones.
2. Creator-owned comic books
Comic books that are owned by the creators, instead of being work for hire in existing universes, are nothing new but we are living in a great time for the availability of comic books that belong to the people who make them. There are various reasons for this: the proliferation of the trade paperback market, the resurgence of Image Comics as a home for popular and critically acclaimed comic books by people who may have started out in independents, became big names at Marvel or DC but then moved that success into working on material that they controlled, as well as the internet. But it means that the creatives who continue to bring new life to the IP factories of Marvel and DC get a reward for their hard work outside of that arena. I hope this leads to fewer news items about writers and artists who are in trouble because health issues have left them in financial hardship, because they didn’t have to rely on getting work-for-hire at smaller companies after they fell out of favour at the big companies. Aside from that, I love that creators are seen as the important and talented people they are, so a big cheer for creator-owned comic books.
1. Comic book creators
I’m not talking here about the comic book creators you love for the stories you’ve enjoyed – I’m talking about comic book creators who are good people and are doing something for people other than themselves. This is not new – Neil Gaiman has been a Goodwill Ambassador for the UNHCR for a while now, Alan Moore has always been doing stuff for charities, and Mark Millar has done a lot of work for his hometown in Scotland).
But now, as the COVID-19 pandemic causes lockdowns in the developed world, shutting down many industries, comic book creators who are more financially settled are trying to help others who aren’t so lucky. Jim Lee, as the Chief Creative Officer of DC Comics, gets the most attention with his sketches that he is selling to benefit the Book Industry Charitable (Binc) Foundation, and he’s being joined by other famous comic-book artists, such as Art Adams and Walt Simonson. There’s the Create4Comics organisation and the Twitter hashtag, #Creators4Comics, which has famous creators auctioning off items/experiences to raise money for comic book shops (which are closed and no new comic books are being published). But relative newcomer Donny Cates really stands out. He’s had a very good few years as his star has ascended at Marvel, so he decided to help out comic book artists because they are being affected by the lockdown. He tweeted to say that he would pay for commissions to help them out, which is an amazing gesture. He even paid off his local store’s pull list to help them out (and he didn’t want that made public, because he’s that sort of guy). So, the majority of comic book creators are awesome people who live the ideals they write about in superhero books, which is another thing to love about comic books.
There you have it: five reasons to love comics books right now. It’s good to write something positive during the lockdown and to remember that, in addition to all the healthcare workers and cleaners and people keeping the world fed and supplied, people can be amazing.