They’re blowing up the box office, and they’re once again on our reading lists-and we love it. Comics have returned to the mainstream, and the fans aren’t just kids. College students and adults are picking up the latest issue of Amazing Spider-Man alongside the latest issue of TIME. It shouldn’t surprise us. Illustrator Scott McCloud has argued in his popular Understanding Comics, that the comic medium can convey as much depth as an Oscar winning film, or New York Times bestseller. Good stories come in all shapes, sizes and mediums. Even comics.
Are they worth your time? I say yes. So, for our Blepo audience, here’s a short primer to help navigate the interesting world of modern comics.
1) Comics can still be for kids. Some are silly adventure stories aimed at younger audiences. Boom Comics has a lot of these, as does Marvel and DC. Boom currently relaunched Garfield and Peanuts, and has a series based on Adventure Time.
2) Comics have grown up. Starting in the 70’s and 80’s, comic books started getting more gritty and realistic. Many cite Frank Miller’s Batman, and Alan Moore’s Watchmen as pivotal to this change. You’d be surprised to learn that V For Vendetta, Road to Perdition, Cowboys Versus Aliens, and A History of Violence, were comics before they were movies.
3) Some comics are just good stories well told. Just like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, many comics are epic tales that take place in underground cities, or in places far far away. Great examples include Bone, Neverwhere, and even comic adaptations of classics like Pride and Prejudice and The Wizard of Oz.
4) It’s not just about heroes. There are many genres when it comes to comics. They cover superheroes, noir, horror, humor, fantasy, steampunk, and autobiography. A recent example is Craig Thompson’s Blankets. It’s an autobiographical graphic novel of how he left his religious upbringing. Art Spiegelman’s Maus stories are about the author’s Jewish parents and their lives in Nazi Germany.
5) Enjoy the visuals. Some of our cultures most iconic images come from comics. Superman in front of the American flag, Spider-Man swinging in the air, the Avengers preparing to fight. Comics have contributed skilled art work to society, at a time when things like this, are considered art. I’m grateful for that. Sometimes commercial art is more appealing because it has to be good. So, pay close attention. Words alone don’t tell a story in a comic, the pictures have to work in concert with the dialogue. The best stories are the ones that make the best use of both image and text.
6) Comics tackle current issues. Marvel’s Civil War story arc dealt with privacy vs. government intrusion. The Fantastic Four (currently known as the Future Foundation) usually involve stories that investigate the impact of new technology on our culture, and the price it will have on us, and our values. And this is why a lot of people like comics, the stories offer a way to explore the questions society is facing.
7) Controversial issues get covered too. Marvel recently announced that a gay X-Men character will be getting married. DC also made headlines this week, announcing that a popular character will come out of the closet this summer. Popular culture won’t always be in sync with our beliefs, but it’s a good way to know what the cultural temperature is like. Which leads me to my next point….
8 ) Life’s great questions, even religious ones, get covered. When you have characters facing moral and ethical dilemmas, as well as death, it gets them thinking about the big questions. Some popular storylines have included characters meeting God (or gods), the death and resurrection of countless characters, and the questioning of faith itself (If you’re interested, here’s a website dedicated to the religious affiliation of many comic book characters). There actually are a lot of believers working in the comic industry. You just have to look for them. People like Axe Cop creator Ethan Nicole, Ratfist writer Doug TenNaple, and Blepo’s founder Miguel Martinez (creator of Fleabitten). Of course, not all portrayals of faith will be positive. I mentioned Blankets as a story about the loss of religious faith. You also have Garth Ennis’s Preacher series, which centers on a former Pastor who’s mad at God. The truth is, different writers have different bents. Like some of our favorite directors, different writers have an affinity for gore and violence, while other’s keep it pg-13. And this got me thinking about my last point….
9) Always read with a little discernment. We’ve previously written that Christians should be free to enjoy the culture around them. But never do it blindly. Illustrator and writer Bob Luedke, himself a believer, had this advice for parents worried about what their kids were reading:
[I]f they young people have been brought up correctly and/or are strong in their faith, there isn’t too much in mainstream comics that parents should worry about (especially by this age). They are basically the same as viewing most PG13 movies/dvd’s.
So, read well and read widely this summer. Just make sure to enjoy it. And to get your started, here’s a list of popular graphic novels.