Comic books and I have been lifelong friends. One of my favorite things to do as a kid was visit the comic book shop. My mom would pack me and my brothers and sister into the car and trek from the suburbs to the city. The drive was about thirty minutes but in kid-time it took forever.
Comic shops have a distinct smell–paper and ink and dust and lord knows what else–and Clint’s was no exception. It was jam-packed with what seemed like countless rows of comics and graphic novels, their vivid covers practically screaming take me home!
I remember reading Archie first. The gang’s adventures were fun and idyllic. The Archie-Betty-Veronica trinity was a perfect introduction to fictional love triangles and teen dating dynamics (although I’m still waiting on someone to bring Moose up on charges).
As a kid, I was shocked to learn the comic strip debuted in 1939 and my parents read it growing up too. That these characters have endured so long is somewhat miraculous. In recent years, Archie comics have explored interracial relationships, horror, marriage, homosexuality, and made more of an effort to reflect diversity, at least on the page.
Songs in the Key of X
As I got older, I gravitated to superhero stories. My brother’s comics were the gateway: Superman, Batman (GOAT: Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns”), Silver Surfer, Moon Knight, and Spider-Man saw heavy rotation. But it was the X-Men, a group of powerful, young mutants despised for nothing more than breathing, that captured my heart and imagination. Their comics (and those of related properties like New Mutants and X-Factor) were multi-layered and captivating, occasionally allegorical, but most often putting it right out there: discrimination and fear of the unknown has devastating and catastrophic consequences. Christopher Claremont and Brent Eric Anderson’s “God Loves, Man Kills” is a revolutionary graphic novel game-changer, truly pushing the boundaries of that format.
X-Men comics also highlighted a diverse cohort of women, including my fave of all faves, Ororo Munroe, aka Storm. It was so meaningful for me to see a black woman in comics as respected and admired but also a fully-formed individual. Storm wasn’t window dressing or a magical negress helping men find their destiny. In fact, she was one of the strongest mutants in the Marvel Universe. Storm consistently challenged the status quo and for a time led the X-Men without her powers.
The world of comics and graphic novels is much more immense than when I was a kid but no less fascinating. No longer just confined to major companies, indies and entrepreneurial individuals are claiming space and reshaping the genre, giving readers a dizzying array of options and more opportunity than ever before to see themselves reflected in the pages and to imagine themselves as content creators. Visual storytelling truly has no limits.