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I Was an Non-Teenage Comics Reader!

Over in the comments thread of Jeff Chatlos’s post about why so many people don’t read comics, Jeff asks Rose:

Rose: I’m VERY interested to hear what got you interested in comics in your 20s, and what your perceptions are as a latecomer. I look forward to reading what you have to say, either here or at your blog.

I am not, in fact, Rose, but I also started reading comics when I was 20 years old (about two years ago), and I’ve had some thoughts lately about how this affects my perception of all things comics. Actually, it’s partly Rose’s fault I started. I think the first comic I read as an adult was Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again, specifically the Wonder Woman-Superman sex scene. Rose and a friend of ours showed this to me, I have no idea why. (That was also when I first learned that superhero comics aren’t just for kids anymore. I was barely aware Superman comics were being published, let alone ones in which he and Wonder Woman destroyed mountains wth their mighty orgasms.) The second comic I read was Transmetropolitan. I’m not sure why, but I think because it was just about the first comic I heard of that wasn’t a superhero comic and I was intrigued by the idea. At first I avoided superhero comics because I figured they were probably pretty dumb, but then Rose made me read Young Justice and next thing you know here I am with a copy of Crisis on Infinite Earths on my bookshelf.

Now, first of all, the fact that I began reading comics as an adult means I don’t have the baggage of exposure to Rob Liefeld at an impressionable age. I suspect a great deal of the “Superheroes are for kids, quit reading that crap!” criticism I see is driven by the deep-seated embarrassment of people who read X-Force when they were kids. On the other hand, it also means I never developed a childlike emotional attachment to any characters. This seems to be a fairly common criticism of adult ‘fanboys,’ that they’re emotionally stunted losers who continue to read superhero comics because they’re obsessed with Superman. In fact, I avoided superhero comics (motivated by exactly the sorts of stereotypes I mention now) until Rose showed me some good ones. At the same time, she gave me lots of non-superhero comics (e.g. Kabuki) and small-press and minicomics. So I started reading as an adult with fairly sophisticated critical faculties, I expected superhero comics to be bad by default, I had someone to expose me to a wide variety of comics and help me avoid the really bad stuff, I haven’t had a chance to get burnt out (which seems to happen rather frequently among longtime comics readers). I do think all this gives me an ‘advantage’ over people who’ve read comics since they were children, in that I just haven’t had the opportunities to build up bad baggage with superhero comics. Now, if I had read X-Force as an impressionable young lad, would I now scorn superhero comics as childish trash? I have no idea, obviously, but I do think my late arrival to comics played a large role in non-scorn of superhero comics.


  1. David Fiore says:

    It’s a very interesting question.

    As a person who did all of his superhero reading (until mid 2002, when I was 28 and decided to use the Gwen Stacy clone saga to help me to write a romantic-comedy in novel form) between the ages of 13 & 17, fall somewhere in-between the burnt-out former fanboy and the new model superhero readers here at Peiratikos…

    But it wasn’t Rob Liefeld that killed my habit, it was the combination of a massive theft of all the expensive backstory from my longboxes and an increasing drive on my part to acquire every Warner Bros, RKO, and MGM film that appeared on the video market around 1990-93… I think one of the things that has helped me to preserve my enthusiasm for the form is that, from the very beginning, the people writing the letters were a huge part of the show for me. I never wrote a letter myself, or aspired to get into the business, or even get an autograph (I only attended one convention, and it did seem pretty awful, although I got some great Steranko SHIELDs)–I just wanted to dive into all of that narrative/exegesis gone wild! The characters were always the occasions for thoughtful fun–not objects to be venerated in their own right–and I think that if you polled the unembittered adult superhero fans out there, you’d find that most of them approach the texts the same way… That’s certainly the impression that you and Rose convey in your respective musings on the subject…


    — 28 May 2004 at 2:45 am (Permalink)

  2. Steven says:

    I think you’re right about that, Dave. And unsurprisingly, I see a fair amount of “objects of veneration” thinking from embittered comics readers, most often aimed at Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. “Thoughtful fun” is my kind of fun, though!

    — 28 May 2004 at 4:19 am (Permalink)

  3. Shane says:

    I think the main problem with the lack of new people reading comics is the price still. Well that and other things tied into the business of comics. The main problem is comics lack of evolution as a business. Comics are still bought, read, advertised, and created in the same fashion ever since the creation of the Direct Market. We haven’t taken advantage of the web and other technology the way other mediums have including, magazines, books, music, movies, and even tv shows. There is a ton of potential in comics. The problem is no one is looking for ways that they can evolve. No one is looking for new business opportunities. No one is looking to change. Damn that Jeff! I feel another big post that needs to be done this weekend! Grrrr!

    — 28 May 2004 at 4:44 am (Permalink)

  4. Ken Lowery says:

    “I was barely aware Superman comics were being published, let alone ones in which he and Wonder Woman destroyed mountains wth their mighty orgasms.” I believe we have a quote of the year.

    — 28 May 2004 at 7:11 am (Permalink)

  5. Ken Lowery says:

    Also.. part of what got me out of comics when I was a kid (and you and I, we appear to be about the same age) was Liefeld. But I’m back with a vengeance, baby — reading all kinds of stuff, from Street Angel to Batman to Planetary to Jack Staff to frickin’ Birds of Prey to whatever Garth Ennis is putting out next. So I dunno. I think people who let guys like Liefeld decide for them that ALL superherores EVERYWHERE are either TOTAL CRAP or ALL THAT’S GOOD are just.. intellectually lazy. Screw ‘em. Good stuff can always be found, it just might take some digging.

    — 28 May 2004 at 7:16 am (Permalink)

  6. Rose says:

    I hasten to add that I am in no way responsible for Crisis on Infinite Earths and haven’t even read it yet, but we do influence each other, and I think that’s a good thing. Having a built-in piratical interpretive community has meant that initially I was the one making a lot of the suggestions, but by now Steven is informed and able to recommend books to me.

    My biases about superhero comics were that the writing would be juvenile and the art would be bad. And in a lot of cases I was right, but I was able to find examples that weren’t to encourage me to continue. My abstract preference is still toward non-superhero creator-owned titles, but partly because of Steven’s interests I still read more superheroes in practice.

    — 28 May 2004 at 11:18 am (Permalink)

  7. Steven says:

    Yeah yeah, Crisis is all my fault!

    — 28 May 2004 at 1:35 pm (Permalink)

  8. Rose says:

    um, yup!

    — 28 May 2004 at 1:48 pm (Permalink)

  9. Steven says:

    Shane, Rose told me she’s going to write more about this digital-comics idea in the near future, so I may wait till then to comment further.

    Ken, that’s a good point about intellectual laziness. And I came into superhero comics predisoposed to expect some digging for the good stuff.

    — 28 May 2004 at 5:46 pm (Permalink)

  10. Johanna says:

    As I just posted at Cognitive Dissonance, “It’s true that someone who comes later (relatively) to a medium and has good guides has a lot more good material to choose from. If you’re not living through a maturing period, then you never see the crap, because you stick with the well-recommended stuff.”

    — 28 May 2004 at 7:10 pm (Permalink)

  11. John says:

    Beyond Spiegelman in college, and the newspaper comics growing up, I entered comics too as an adult. I started writing a novel which had characters who read comics, so I felt I needed to do research. A ‘friend’ lent me 10 long boxes of just Marvels and I became hooked. I’ve had to return those 10 boxes, but another friend ‘trimmed’ his collection recently by giving 11 boxes to me in exchange for a website to be designed later. I have a lot more ‘research’ to do. And the great thing is — I got the crap along with the good stuff too. (Meanwhile, I already have several titles on hold at my local comic book shop. Some because I know they’re what my characters would read, and some because I want to read them.)

    — 28 May 2004 at 9:09 pm (Permalink)

  12. Dave Intermittent says:

    You guys are twenty two? That’s not at all fair to be that young and to write as well as you to do.

    The kids are alright…

    — 29 May 2004 at 2:13 am (Permalink)

  13. Shane says:

    Excellent, I look forward to seeing Rose’s post on the subject. I know there are a lot of problems with it, but I think there are a lot of good things about it too. Can’t wait.

    — 29 May 2004 at 3:44 pm (Permalink)

  14. Rose says:

    Dave, only Steven is 22. I’m a haggard 24 by now, myself.

    Shane, I have plenty of reservations but do think there will be alternative modes of distribution at some point.

    — 29 May 2004 at 10:43 pm (Permalink)

  15. Tim says:

    I’m in my 30’s and have just about fallen in love with grapic novels and stuff written by Alan Moore. I’m reading (actually re-reading it for my fourth time) the limited series written by Moore called, “Watchmen.” Absolutely awesome. A perfect example of a comic that’s written for grown-ups.

    By the way, Rob (Liefeld) actually hangs out at the same Starbucks that I go to (by shear coincidence, his wife is my best friend’s sister’s best friend). Anyway, he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Very cool dude!


    — 31 May 2004 at 12:27 am (Permalink)

  16. Fabio Moon says:

    I’ve been reading comics for a long time (but I’m not old yet, mind you), and I’ve had all the geek-fan stages you can expect, and what kept me going as a storyteller was my desire to tell stories is comic book form to everyone, even if they never read a comic book in their lives. And those were the ones who would pay more attention to the story you were telling, ’cause they didn’t grow up looking at pretty pictures (or not so pretty ones) and everything looked pretty to them. Only the story mattered.

    Only the story matters in the long run. If you want to keep the audience, or gather new audiences, or reach those outside the comic book medium, you’ll need a good story: the art can help, but it’s the story that keeps bringing people back for more.

    — 31 May 2004 at 5:10 pm (Permalink)