Starting out with comic books

Here at DGLM, we’re doing one of our periodic webpage updates, so I was taking another look at my personal essay. Over the past two years, it’s been heartening to receive numerous submissions from writers who felt a connection with me because I grew up reading Tintin and Asterix comics. Full disclosure, though: while I certainly started out with those series, and continued to read them for years, I did move on to more traditional comic books like X-men, Spider-man, and Teen Titans. (Hey, they were big in the 80s.) In fact, I only started with Tintin and Asterix because my parents thought the rest were junk!

It wasn’t until I started earning some spending money that I became a regular at the old West Side Comics on 86th Street—I was there on the day Spider-man debuted his black costume, and for a brief stretch, I could tell you the difference between all the printings of the original Teen Age Mutant Ninja Turtles. Needless to say, my parents still thought they were junk, but at least when I was ready to put them away in high school, they didn’t haul them off to the dump. Though it has been a while since I’ve seen the boxes in the attic—next visit, I think I need to do a thorough inventory…

Anyway, all of this came to mind when I was reading an essay by Jeramey Kraatz at Nerdy Book Club. For anyone who has a low opinion of comic books and worries that they rot your brain, it’s worth a read. I love his explanation of the imaginative aspect of comics, and how, contrary to the common opinion that comics put everything on the page, he shows that the panel format actually encourages visualization and makes readers fill in the blanks. And I think he makes a good case for how comics not only spur further reading development but also writing—seems like a great parenting tip to have kids write their own stories while they wait for the next monthly installment of their favorite series.

So, dear readers, did any of you find your creative spark in the land of Marvel and D.C.? Have you developed storytelling techniques based on the panel format? And, for fun, what’s the best comic you’ve got stored in your parents’ basement? For me, it’s either TMNT #2 or some really old Spideys.

5 Responses to Starting out with comic books

  1. Great topic. Comics helped define my writing because so much of what I do is visualization. I see everything first and then translate it into written word. In fact, I’m probably a frustrated comic book artist (something I wanted to go to school for, but my parents wouldn’t pay so I ended up going to study architecture). As for old comics I still have, the best I have of originals are the first 5 books of Man of Steel, the John Byrne reboot of Superman and the first 20 of X-Factor, when the original X-Men re-formed their own team.

  2. Tamara says:

    I have six-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, and we are currently tear-assing our way through the Graphic Myths and Legends Series (e.g., http://www.amazon.com/Hercules-Twelve-Labors-Graphic-Legends/dp/0822564858/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1348609602&sr=8-1&keywords=hercules+comic). They adore them, maybe because they’re so different from kids’ books (which they love only slightly less). In fact, a myth comic book was the first book each of them voluntary read on their own when they were skilled enough.

    It did, though, have the unfortunate side affect of me having to explain why Hera hated Hercules. Ha.

  3. I had the original E&L’s TMNT #4! The big one? With the greenish cover? I made the horrible mistake of eBaying it during law school.

    It’s so funny you brought this up, because my parents phoned me not too long ago to pick up my old comics. Up until the Inferno storyline, I followed X-Men religiously. I still have issue 10 double bagged and set aside. (It’s not in the best of condition.) Every now and then, I’ll pick up an issue. But I’m usually totally lost on what’s happening. All the old bad guys are good guys now and vice versa.

    Keven Gardner ran a comic book shop that I frequented every time I had some spare scratch. He now runs 12 Gauge Comics and publishes some really cool stuff by Troy Duffy, Rosario Dawson, and Gale Anne Hurd. I’m covertly trying to convince him to let me write something for him.

    Actually, John, that essay was one of the reasons I queried you. Comics were also my gateway drug to regular books.

  4. Kellie Lovegrove says:

    I hate to admit it, but I didn’t read comics growing up. Not because my parents did not want me to. They both read comics growing up and my older brother had an extensive collection. They just didn’t appeal to me at the time. However, I have started reading them more in the last 5 or 6 years. I now know how much I missed out on. I still haven’t read as many as I would like, but I will have to say that my favorites so far are the Daredevil that Kevin Smith did and the most recent Voltron run. I’m dying to get my hands on the Battle for the Cowl series, but haven’t been able to spare the cash for it yet. It will be mine one day though, of that I have no doubt.

    I think the thing I like so much about comics is that it saws you how a great characters and stories can survive. So many of the stories have been retold to keep up with the times, yet all of the artists and writers still try to remain true to the original ideas (more times than not).

  5. D.C. DaCosta says:

    Had to laugh. My experience was a bit different: I read Asterix to improve my French and German! The first time I tried to read one, I started on Friday night with my German-English dictionary next to me. Except for meals and church, it took until late Sunday evening to finish it!
    One thing I did learn from Asterix was how to delineate characters and how to tell the story. (Sadly, the series lost both these attributes when the original writer, Goscinny, died.)
    Tintin packs too much into the story and feels rushed, IMHO.

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