This week, Operation Speak Out With Your Geek Out can be found running through blogs and other social media to celebrate our geekdom and to raise awareness of who we, as geeks, really are, and in turn break down some of the negative stereotypes by getting us to talk about the things we enjoy and why we enjoy them, in the hopes that others may learn to appreciate them too.
So, originally, I was going to write about RPG's or Gaming as a whole; I'd even considered tossing in tidbits about my experiences within the gaming industry as a freelancer. But as my last few posts have been very gaming-centric, I thought I would try to expand a bit beyond that structure... but not too far. Because both of the games I've talked about before games find their core concepts in a medium so fine and elegant, it could only be considered Holy (Too far? Nah.) COMICS!
I've been reading comics since sometime in 1979 when my cousin, Robert, gave me my first two folded, beat up issues of a mostly forgettable Thor issue and The Man Called Nova #25. Admittedly, these were his castoffs. Robert's father was a martial artist, so he tended to prefer titles like Master of Kung Fu and Heroes for Hire, but Nova (and to a lesser degree, Thor) rattled my cage in just the right way. I was a middle class kid from Nassau County, Long Island, New York and so was Nova. Plus, Nova could fly, was super strong, and didn't always make the right decisions. I got it right away.. or at least I like to think I did. I read and reread that Man Called Nova #25 (ironically, the title's last issue of its initial 1970's run) thousands of times over the years and the character remains my favorite character to this day.
And that's where my love of comics begins: Finding Your Spokesmodel. Everyone has their favorite, especially now with the plethora of comic book inspired entertainment available, heroes of all shapes and sizes have entered our world. From the larger than life Superman, Batman, Spider-Man, Green Lantern, Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America to the lesser known Marv, Hellboy, John Constantine, Leonidas, Shadow, and Rick Grimes, comic book heroes have invaded the film and television medias to such a degree that it's almost impossible to know which characters come from a comic and which ones don't- and not all of them are 4-colored, spandex clad crime busters. Just going from films and TV alone, not even considering when you add in the wealth of characters offered by the many, many comic publishers today, it's easy to find a character to relate to. Don't get me wrong, fantastic bigger than life iconic characters were created long before the recent TV and film fascination with them, and as much as I liked reading the adventures of Clark Kent and Peter Parker, I couldn't really see the world through their eyes. The Alien turned Kansas farmboy with the powers of a god or super-genius from Queens with the spider powers were great characters, but never struck a chord I could see myself in. As an average kid born in Massapequa, New York, I could relate best to the average kid from Hempstead, New York (a couple towns over), Richard Rider, that had all the abilities I liked best from Superman: Flight, Invulnerability, and Super-Strength. The best part was, even as Nova, he was a regular guy, struggling to learn how to deal with his sudden influx of power and trying to do the best he could. This guy could be my neighbor.. or better yet, me! So yeah, I was hooked.
As I swaggered through my teens and twenties and my comic pull list at my local comic store became a full on habit, I followed the tales of not only my favorite Long Islander, Nova (then appearing in his second book as well as the New Warriors), but I filled my longboxes with names like Captain America, Green Lantern, Nightwing, Spawn, WildC.A.T.S., Preacher, Transmetropolitan, and Gen13. I was also coming to terms with something I had long believed but didn't know how to articulate: The Modern Mythology of Comics.
Comics hold a power, a language, that predates the medium. It's the tales of heroes. Humanity has always needed its heroes. From Homer's tales of Perseus and Odysseus to stories of Robin Hood, people of all castes and creeds have found inspiration and wonder in stories of great heroes. And much like a thirteenth century youth would look to Robin Hood as a contemporary hero compared to the legendary Hercules, or a Victorian reader might not see their favorite detective Holmes in the same light as Robin of the Hood, modern audiences might not lump Iron Man and Wonder Woman, She-Hulk and Batman in with their contemporaries: Hercules, Perseus, Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur.
One day, I will tell my children all the greatest stories: of Perseus and the Gorgon, of Arthur and Mordred, of Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, of how Hercules killed the Hydra, of when a distant planet exploded sending her last son to earth to protect it, of Odysseus braving the fires of Hel to return to his beloved wife, and of when Captain America stopped a missile aimed for New York only to fall into the frigid arctic waters and sleep in the ice for decades. Comics gave me that.
In modern times, there has been a major push, a Mainstreaming of Modern Comics if you will. This has been a very good thing. Of course there are the obligatory films: X-men, Spider-man, Dark Knight, Captain America, Iron Man, 300, Sin City, the Shadow, Thor, Green Lantern, Constantine, Hellboy, Losers, etc. etc. There has been TV series too: the Walking Dead, Middle Man, the upcoming Powers, etc. These all bring a lot of attention to the comic book genre which is huge. Even when these movies are not so good, they bring bodies to the theaters in droves. But still there are those that are hesitant.
Getting In, however, is surprisingly easy and usually there is only three things keeping an interested party from becoming a reader. The most common question I get from my non-comic reading friends when the interest is sparked is "What should I read first?" This is always an easy answer: What do you want to read? Usually when that spark is fanned into the flame of actually buying a book, the potential reader has seen a movie or a TV show or read a friend's book of a character or team or story they like. GREAT! Get more of that character/team/story! Whatever is on the shelf! Don't worry about those long boxes filled with something called back issues, despite fears of convoluted story lines and continuity, you are currently looking at the single greatest reference for comics: The Internet. If you get a book and have a question, we live in absolutely the best time technologically because everything in the comic world can be answered online. Even I have to look stuff up when I start a new book, and I'll tell you what, it's all there! Brilliant!
The second hurdle is usually length. Comics are usually bi-weekly or monthly. Not everyone can commit to a title on such a schedule, nor are they interested in poring through dozens to hundreds of back issues for stories. Again, we live in a great time. For the last couple decades, most major comic companies have been collecting several issues of a title into collected story lines usually referred to as "Trade Paperbacks." The beauty of this is that trades have a longer shelf life and so they can often be found in your local book store or just your local comic store so they are even more readily available.
Finally, there is the matter of genre. The superhero genre that I have such an affinity for isn't for everyone, and that's okay. Great stories don't have to include spandex to be great stories, and comic publishers know this. Comics are like novels with a visual reference. They come in every genre, the superhero kind is simply the most popular. But look at titles like the amazing popular Walking Dead, a very successful and well written horror comic that has spawned a popular TV show on AMC. Or Road to Perdition, a period crime story that became a rich and wonderful movie with Tom Hanks. Whatever your niche is, it's in there, and that is part of the wonder.