People who live for pop culture, from Miley Cyrus to Spiderman, are often made to feel inferior by the snooty High Art lovers. But it’s a false divide, as philosopher Susan Sontag so thoughtfully noted. She saw no reason to choose between the Russian novelist Dostoyevsky and the rock band The Doors. “I am – for a pluralistic, polymorphous culture,” she once said, using big words to make the intellectuals pay attention to her. Loving rock and roll did not make her care any less about opera’s Lakme.
More than one type of song can move you; one style of writing informs another. And no one can tell you what is meaningful to you; that decision belongs to each of us.
For some, comic books are beautiful.
And comics are no longer superheroes powing and slamming and biffing and baffing and booming! They are a Certified Academic Field. Yes, Comics Studies is a whole field of research which sees the sequential arts as “complex texts deserving of serious scholarly study,” it says here on the Internet.
If you need to justify your reading habits to parents, spouses or judgemental pals, Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics is a good place to start. A great comic takes work, and an understanding of myth, narrative, and more. Sign this book out of the library and leave it lying about the house for a week. Somewhere obvious, where the Grinch will pick it up and thumb through it.
Then get back to the joys of comics!
Read about the imaginative jumpstart provided by comic books in Attack Of The Mutant, the R.L. Stine (prose) thriller that’s number 25 in the infamous Goosebumps series (yellow dot).
Skipper Matthews is a kid who collects comics so that he can store them, unread and covered in plastic, for resale in the collectors’ market 50 years from now. Except for one book, the long-running story of The Masked Mutant. Skipper devours it upon arrival.
And then one day, Skipper’s life turns into a comic book. And he’s about to get smushed by the bad guy: “I’m a villain,” laughs The Masked Mutant. “I do very bad things – remember?” Bwaahahahaha.
Comics can instill a commitment to reading, to narrative and story (hey, did you hear the one about good versus evil?), and to the life of the imagination. These are all good things.
There’s also real life, which can offer real villains. Marjane Satrapi’s acclaimed memoir, Persepolis: The Story Of A Childhood (translated into English in 2003, and filed in Graphic Novels), offers the story of life during and after the Iranian revolution. This is a child’s vision, in a child’s medium – comics – filled with small moments of joy and everyday events. And dropped in — pebbles tossed from above — tales of harassment, torture, and death. A child’s story in a child’s medium telling a tale that a child should not have to bear.
Little Marjane is a member of a generation that can still recall non-religious schools and classrooms where boys and girls studied together. After the revolution, she is made to cover her head, foreswear Western music and learn her new place in the world.
She grows up surrounded by the ideas and beliefs of others, trying each on for size and comfort – Marxism, capitalism, Islamic fundamentalism, but also mean girls, bullying, vicious honesty, pomposity — until she eventually abandons those that make no sense to her and grows into her own.
The Canadian artist Chester Brown offers a different childhood, also autobiographical, in I Never Liked You: A Comic Strip Narrative (originally published serially as Yummy Fur, then collected up in 2011, and also filed in Graphic Novels).
Brown was born in 1960 and grew up in Chateauguay. Here too are short vignettes of childhood that hover in memory, a mingling of friends and enemies, swear words, young love, older love, death and betrayal. It is, in short, about growing up.
Looking for something completely different? Mixed Beasts: Or, A Miscellany Of Rare And Fantastic Creatures, by Wallace Edwards, is filed under a blue dot. Published in 2005, the words actually date from 1904, when written by Kenyon Cox. The book tells of some of the chimeras found by Prof. Julius Duckworth O’hare, Esq., a zoologist who travelled the word. Here’s a lovely little comic – I mean, picture book, filled with Rhinocerostrich, Hippopotamustang, Pelicantolope.
Or how about the very Canadian Bumblebeaver:
A cheerful industrious beast,
He’s always humming as he goes
To make mud-houses with his tail
Or gather honey with his nose.
You can always find pictures and (some) words in the Lennoxville Library’s New Arrivals section. This week: Teen romance writer Meg Cabot’s Avalon High: Coronation (Volume I: The Merlin Prophecy, Graphic Novel-Young Adult) features King Arthur, reincarnated as a high school football quarterback, as seen through the eyes of his smart, cheerleader girlfriend. And for lovers of art, The Bird King: An Artist’s Notebook, features Australian illustrator Shaun Tan’s beautiful squiggles. They are born out of his occasional inability to be inspired (green dot). So he forces himself to draw, following painter Paul Klee’s advice of “taking a line for a walk.”
It’s great exercise.
– Eleanor Brown, December 13, 2013