All I Need to Know, I Learned From Comics

Posted on September 9, 2013


This past Saturday, Hubby and I attended the Baltimore Comic-Con.  It was apparently an enormous success and drew the largest crowds seen in… maybe the whole 14-year history of the event.  The line, for those of us who already had tickets, wrapped entirely around the outside of the building and it took nearly half an hour just to file in through the entrance (and this was after the doors had already been open for a while!).

The line goes around the corner... and around the corner again... and around the corner again.

The line goes around the corner… and around the corner again… and around the corner again.

Inside the main hall

Inside the main hall

Artist sketches were available

Artist sketches were available

Judging by the enormous crowd, the appeal of comics endures, and not just for kids and nerds… far from it!  More than that, walking around the Convention Center, one can see just how much the genre has taken off and changed in the last several decades.  Most of the costumes we saw around the event  were characters I did not recognize; there are many more comics brands now than there were when I was a comic-reading kid in the 1970s. The genre has expanded into the “graphic novel,” and a lot of the newer comics are far more violent and explicit than the older series.  Perhaps this partly explains the adult interest.  Comics are made from video games or television shows or movies, and vice versa.  The whole fantasy world has become much more interconnected.  The video game Resident Evil became a series of movies.  The movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer became a TV series and a comic.  The comic series Walking Dead became a TV series.  And then you have any number of movies lately based on stock Marvel Comics characters:  Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, The Avengers, Nick Fury: Agent of SHIELD, and so on.

Certainly there were new and old comics to be had at the convention, but another big reason to attend is to meet the artists and authors, or hear presentations about the art – its history, current issues and trends, and publishing.

It’s actually a little gratifying to see how popular these characters and stories have become.  I learned to read early, and frankly, See Spot Run got old pretty fast, so it wasn’t long before I “graduated” to comics (which have actual storylines).  My parents tried to steer me toward the typical Saturday-morning-cartoon characters like Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse, but I soon discovered that my brother’s Marvel Comics were far more interesting:  The Avengers, The Incredible Hulk, The Fantastic Four, and many others.

My childhood friends thought it was weird that a young girl would prefer the Marvel comic universe over more lighthearted fare, but it’s interesting what a kid can learn from Marvel Comics, even if they aren’t exactly real-world accurate.  From The Vision, I learned about androids and the phase-shifting of physical matter.  From The Silver Surfer and The Mighty Thor, I learned a whole lot of archaic vocabulary, not to mention the Norse pantheon and mythology from Thor.  Where else would I have heard of Asgard and the Rainbow Bridge? Captain America opened the doors of World War II history (okay, not in any kind of accurate way, but hey, at least it gets a kid asking questions like: “Dad, what’s a Nazi?”).

Vampirella in 1969.

Vampirella in 1969.

One might think that female superhero characters, with their Barbie-doll shapes and skin-tight, sometimes scanty costumes, would warp a young girl’s body image.  Frankly, Warren Publishing’s horror super-heroine Vampirella was already so scantily clothed at her 1969 debut that it has been impossible to shrink her costume at all over the last 40-odd years.  Hubby tells me that as a child, he once had a Vampirella comic and his relatives were so aghast at the character that they tore her image off the cover.

Well, maybe some girls’ body images could get warped by such depictions – I can recall being a bit put off by Vampirella myself – but for the most part, the main thing that I saw when I read the comics was that the women were fully empowered.  Not just in the sense that they had superpowers, but in the sense that they were truly the equals of their male counterparts, a rare thing in those days.  They had their own adventures and fought right alongside their male comrades, and generally did not need rescuing like some wilting flower.  I know they have a different appeal to the young male audience, but hey, powerful female characters were in short supply during my childhood, and Marvel Comics more than filled that void (thanks, Stan Lee!).

More Lila's speed: The Black Widow and The Wasp take on Dr. Doom

More Lila’s speed: The Black Widow and The Wasp take on Dr. Doom

Maybe firing my imagination with tales of strong, brave, adventurous and powerful female characters was the greatest service that the comics provided.  Oh, I knew I wasn’t going to make a life of running around in Spandex costumes, but I also knew that I would never allow myself to be limited by the silly social expectations of the “real world”… because what we create in our own lives is as real as it gets.