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Social Studies

Comics and Me

Emily Flake

By Vincent Williams | Posted 9/12/2007

Y'know, I could get into some highfalutin analysis about comics as an indigenous American art form and its ability to allow an artist to maintain the purity of his or her vision. And all of that is true. Comic books, along with jazz, are an art form that America has contributed to the world stage, and, intrinsically, this form allows an artist to directly funnel creativity onto the page. But, while all of that may be, this isn't really why comics have been with me for most of my life. I love the colors. I love the energy. I love the crackle of madness that only comics can give. I love the wide open possibility that comics provide. And that has always been the relationship between comics and me.

My first memories of comics go back to my dad. He used to get paid on Thursday and bring my two siblings and me a treat. My sister would get candy, and my brother would get some type of cheap toy. Me? I would get three comic books. I remember every Thursday waiting with baited breath to see what would my father bring home for me to read. Not for nothing--it's worth noting that this was the late '70s. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about Jack Kirby's output during that period (Social Studies, July 11), but, honestly, pretty much everything in comics was batshit insane. For instance, the first comic that I really remember was an issue of The Secret Society of Super-Villains, a book that revolved around the misadventures of, well, some supervillains. On the cover of this particular issue, the resident hero, Captain Comet, a mutant from 100,000 years in the future, is fighting a talking gorilla, an evil magician from a parallel universe, and a woman possessed by the spirit of a malevolent alien space princess. Can you imagine what an image like that does to the mind of a 7-year-old?

And that was just one comic. I can't even describe the dizzying euphoria I would feel when I went to the Giant on Liberty Road or a local 7-Eleven and see one of those hey kids! comics! spinner racks. The books seemed to swirl on their own with garish color and clashing, outlandish imagery. Shoot, and then, and then, the comic shops came. Not to get all, "I'm old skool," but I remember when Steve Geppi had that comic shop over in East Baltimore in the basement. Hell, I remember getting comics from Geppi himself. It was a heady time. I went to my first comic convention during this period, and though my father had talked about reading Plastic Man and Blackhawk comics when he was a kid, I really started to feel like I was a part of something that was bigger than my own experience.

The thing is, a lot of folks have memories like that, but when they reach their teen years, a lot of folks put the comics down. I never really got to a point where I wanted to stop reading them. True, in my early teens, it was more habit than anything else, but there was no gap for me. Before inertia got a chance to set in, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen came out, and, once again, I felt that crackle. Just when I thought I knew what to expect from comics, Frank Miller took that hoariest of characters, Batman, scrapped off the fat, and reminded all of us that the character wasn't just children's fodder--he was an American icon. And what Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons accomplished with Watchmen could warrant its own column. Narratively, structurally, metaphorically, the creators deconstructed the trope of the superhero and produced something that transcended the children's tag that had been on comics since the '40s.

After that, I never doubted comics again. That crackle that captured my heart and imagination when I was 6 rumbled from the most amazing places. Whether it was the quiet naturalism of the Hernandez Bros.' Love and Rockets or the Dadaism of Bob Burden's Flaming Carrot, the skillful craftsmanship and passion of Don Rosa's Uncle Scrooge or the political, social, and racial commentary of Christopher Priest's Black Panther, comics have never let me down. And every week, I'm right back at the shop to check in with one of the oldest relationships I have: me and my comics.

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