Comic Books: Reading for the Crazy Busy
You’ll have to forgive me if I my grammar’s a little groggy this week. I woke up yesterday with a nasty cold, which has now shifted and set up camp in my tonsils. Thinking is fun, I got out of breath just walking across the room to get my laptop, and let’s not talk about what’s coming out of my nose right now. I am gross.
Anyway, I thought today would be a good day to talk about my new found love for comic books. My hope is that my enthusiasm will shine through the ill.
As most of you will know, I’ve always been a bit of a nerd. As a kid, I was the one who sat in the corner writing (when I wasn’t busy being a Kidiot). As a teen, I used Star Trek and Stargate Atlantis as my security blanket to calm me down before school. As an adult…well, I’ve finally discovered joy in comic books.
That’s not to say I hated them before. I just never really got on with them. I’ve always found comfort in words on a page, but there was never enough text in comic books for my liking. Not to mention, I really struggled to process images and words at the same time, so I’d often miss a joke or plot point and would have to read whole sections again.
However, in the last year or so, I’ve found myself building a collection. It started with the Harbinger series, which I came across on Amazon. A friend bought me the collected Blacksad for my birthday, and then the wonderful Chloe Dungate (aka Scarfdemon) put up a video of comic book recommendations. Suddenly, I’m up to my eyeballs in clever storytelling and gorgeous artwork. It’s great.
So, what caused this change of heart? Well, two things:
- My understanding of how comic books work has greatly improved since I was a kid.
- My life got ridiculous.
When you’re an English student, people make the assumption that you spend every waking moment of everyday having a good old read of a nice book. But, the last time I managed to read a standard prose novel of my choosing was over the summer, before my course started. Even then, I was reading Supernatural books because I thought I’d end up covering Supernatural fanfiction for my dissertation. Turns out, I should have been reading the collected work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The best laid plans, hey?
The fact is, I’ve been so swamped with reading heavy linguistics papers that the last thing I want to do in order to chill out is read more dense text. Hell, I’ve been struggling to get myself to write because I know I need to make edits to The End of Atlas before I can continue, and ow, my brain.
But in comic books, I’ve found something rather wonderful. A place I can enjoy the quiet comfort of words without having to summon an image of the whole world. Instead, it’s right there – on the page – drawn for me. Not to mention, a number of comic books are so quick to read that I can sneak one into the hour before bed, or into that awkward period after breakfast, but before I have to trek to see my dissertation tutor. They are the perfect reading material for someone whose life has become crazy busy.
Somehow, I’ve grown to love comic books so much, that I’ve even found ways to incorporate them into my MA work this year. In my first semester, I wrote a paper outlining how Harbinger uses non-textual elements to tell its story, and then used that as evidence to support myself as I ripped into two of the main theorists on the topic of “visual grammar” (possibly a little too much). For the semester just gone, I proposed my own question, analysed the use of gesture in Princess Princess Ever After, and provided a comparison between those gestures and the gestures we use in real life. I showed, amongst other things, that gesture in comic books can be used to replace language in order to avoid cluttering cells with lots of texts. So a cheering crowd can be represented by characters waving and punching the air.
Basically, what I’m saying is, comic books are super cool. They’re short and sweet, but they’re also this incredibly complex communicative tool. They frequently get put in the box of “kid stuff” or “nerd stuff” (as if that’s a bad thing), and are ignored for no good reason. There’s such a variety of comic books out there now, beyond the traditional superhero stories, that it’s just impossibly frustrating to hear people dismiss them as “not my thing” without ever having read one (as happened to me the other day whilst perusing the comic book section in Waterstone’s).
So next time you’re busy, but you really want that joyous feeling of reading a whole book in one sitting, try a comic book. Or two. I mean, no pressure, but you might be pleasantly surprised.