When I was a kid I adored comic books. I was (and still am) a fan of Marvel titles, especially Spider Man, The Incredible Hulk, Doctor Strange, The Silver Surfer, and The Uncanny X-Men. I’d run down to the local convenience store the first of every month and pick up my favorites, along with a few others if I had the extra money.
I would lose myself in those stories. I even dreamt about them at night, imagining myself getting bit by a radioactive spider or turning green and mean if I got angry. Unfortunately, I’d read through them so quickly that I’d grow impatient waiting for the next issues to come out, so I took it upon myself to come up with my own characters.
Yeah, my creations were lame. My excuse is that I was only seven or eight years old and my aspirations were much higher than my skills could reach.
I still read comics every now and then. I especially like to find storylines from when I was a kid so I can relive them, recapture a bit of that childhood wonder. Funny thing is, those comics still speak to me. I can still find storylines and plots that are as poignant today as they were back in the 1970s.
Marvel was good at that. The late, great Stan Lee was ahead of his time, in a way. His stories focused on things like racism, feminism, and equal rights. Marvel’s characters tended to be ordinary people who acquired powers, and even though they were suddenly super strong or fast or magical, they still had to deal with everyday problems. I think that’s why I related to them so much. They were gods acting like humans. They were humans who acquired god-like powers and had to deal with the repercussions.
To me, comics are the perfect conglomeration of words and images. Not only did the writers tell amazing stories, but the artists (pencilers, inkers, letterers) helped to illustrate and illuminate the words. It was inspiring. I wanted to tell stories like that, draw pictures like that, have people read my work and be carried away by it.
Funny thing is, I learned a lot from those comic books. Take the X-Men, for example. These were men and women who were born with genetic mutations that made them different than the rest of the population. Because of this, they were shunned and persecuted, despite the fact they were saving humanity every month. But it made me think about tolerance.
People can’t help who they are. They can’t pick what color their skin is, or their eye color, or that they have a malformed arm or speak with a lisp. We can’t help who we’re attracted to or who we fall in love with. But regardless, people are persecuted and marginalized because of these things and more.
Stan Lee taught me that was wrong. He showed me that everyone is special in their own way, and just because someone is different doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. Our differences make us unique and that’s a good thing.
I think that’s carried over into my own writing. I don’t purposely try to put ‘teaching moments’ into my stories, or preach, or push an agenda. But I often find that there’s some subtext in my stories that hits on some of the things I believe in, like equality and tolerance, empathy and kindness. It’s not always in there, but it slips into a few of them.
And that’s really what fiction does, it shows us alternative ideas, different perspectives, and it can help us understand ourselves. No, not every piece of fiction does this, but I feel most of it does. We just have to look below the surface to see it.
Comic books often get a lot of grief for being ‘for kids’, or for the costumes the characters wear. I agree that it can’t be easy for a super-heroine to fight villains while wearing a skimpy bikini, but maybe that’s part of her powers…super distraction!
There’s a lot to be said for storytelling in comic books. They may seem simple on the surface, but if you give them a chance I think you’ll find there’s a lot of truth found on those colorful pages.