Life-long comics-lovers may not know this, but it’s pretty hard to get into comics – and not because of the comics themselves. No, it’s because you stand there like over-informed, Stalin-era, suspicious gatekeepers, minutely inspecting all who dare approach you. Are you aware of the Infinite Earths/Multiverse construct in DC and how it differs from Marvel’s Multiverse (Megaverse, Omniverse)? Can you knowledgeably discuss the changes between Batman’s 35 different costumes? Have you gone through an intense six-month cleansing and mind-expanding period where you listened exclusively to all the music Grant Morrison mentioned in his book Supergods and took just enough mushrooms to finally understand the Brotherhood of Dada? No? Then come back when you’re really ready, buddy.
I didn’t read comics when I was younger. The closest I got was an obligatory scan of Sunday-morning funnies and a four-hour unblinking marathon of Saturday-morning cartoons that put me into contact with some Marvel and DC-affiliated characters. I had no idea that Marvel was facing bankruptcy in the ’90s or that anything other than superheroes could be comics. I didn’t even really know that comics could be for girls or what the appeal was. No one I knew was into comics, not even my parents, and they certainly weren’t as widely read and publicized as they are now. Which is why I had to get my escapism from some rather shady sources – namely, manga.
Oh, I got into the hard stuff — Sailor Moon, Dragonball/Z/GT, Slayers, Ruroni Kenshin, Gundam Wing, and Cowboy Beebop. I got into shonen hard with a not-so-secret love of sports manga, racking up dozens of Prince of Tennis and Whistle. As my sister expanded her interests, I came into contact with shoujo, josei, and yaoi. That got me into genderbending, and suddenly it became a habit and I was practically mainlining 200 chapters of Bleach a week. I won’t reveal my sources, but let’s just say they weren’t 100% on the up-and-up (Hey, this was the age of Napster. Everybody was doing it.).
It wasn’t until my first year of college (ah, those wild, crazy days of experimentation) that I got into comics when a friend of mine, Danny, started passing along a few that he thought I’d like – V for Vendetta and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Naturally, that led to 300 and Sin City, which dovetailed nicely with a rising phenomenon – comic book-based movies (Coincidentally-enough, every single one of those titles would get a movie during my college years. Danny, did you plan this? You sly minx.).
Unfortunately, they just didn’t stick. I was still too deep into the manga and busy saving the world and getting hooked on Supernatural and Doctor Who, all of which I could access free through my Ukrainian contacts (a tale for another day, perhaps). It wasn’t until Marvel began spitting out superhero movies as fast as a college health professional hands out condoms that I tried again – on the down low, of course. The surest way to be called a fake geek girl is by saying you got into comics because of the movies.
So I made a plan. I knew I couldn’t actually read the original comics, the ones from the ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, etc. Those are pretty rare, pretty expensive, and there are thousands. Also, I hate both the art and the writing. Yeah, yeah, I know Stan Lee is a treasure and Jack Kirby is a god and comics were breaking ground and carving out a niche for themselves as a new, legitimate form of entertainment and literature, but I just can’t stand them. I hate the thick, uniform lines. I hate all the wordy exposition. I hate the crowded frames and the four-color coloring. I’m also not a super big fan of all the misogyny, jingoism, xenophobia, and blatant racism. Sorry, guys.
But there was no way I was going to fool the people at the comic book store if I didn’t know anything about the Golden Age and Silver Age comics. Fortunately, there are some pretty great sources for bluffing your way through: namely, Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Les Daniels’ Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics, and the aforementioned Grant Morrison’s Supergods. You read those and you can pretty much pass, especially if you’re listing towards the Marvel side. DC I have no clue about other than that Jim Lee is brilliant/intimating and Black Canary is the shit.
What with all the movies and my new-found, instantly-uploaded information, I was ridiculously excited to actually get into comics and would max out my library card hauling home as many as possible. I was pretty indiscriminate and not well versed on what had come out in the last twenty years (or in what order), so I just kept pulling everything that caught my eye. I wanted everything. That’s how I ended up reading all of Firefly’s comics, a couple Buffy, Nyx, Wolverine: Origins, Logicomix, all the Brian K. Vaughn we had (pre-Saga), young adult, disjointed Thor trades (including J. Michael Straczynski’s reboot and Journey into Mystery), Scout McCloud, Runaways, Wanted, Watchmen, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, that terrible Frank Miller terrorist comic, and way more than I can remember.
Some I loved, like Y: The Last Man, Ex Machina, and Runaways (Vaughn being my favorite living writer). Some I thought I would love (like the Straczynski/Coipel Thor trilogy. Exciting start that kind of just imploded on itself.). Others I outright hated (Journey into Mystery. Do not get me started on Journey into Mystery.). Regardless, it was exciting, thrilling, even a little nerve-wracking to dive headfirst into this new, diverse, boundless world, to understand the origins of comics and see them as a continuation, to try to figure out where they were heading, and to be a part of the tradition. I was finally able to kick manga to the curb (Or at least make my addiction manageable. I will never abandon Bakuman or Ai Yazawa.).
In the roughly three years since I fell in love with comics, I’ve learned a lot about what comics can do and what I like. While I will pick up the occasional superhero comic (Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye is brilliant, G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel is fun and refreshing, and Al Ewing’s Loki: Agent of Asgard is so ridiculous that I’m willing to forgive Journey into Mystery.), I’m more into what a friend calls “serious” comics – memoirs, histories, and current events. I’m blown away by how accessible yet thoughtful Lucy Knisley’s work is. I’m absolutely humbled by Representative John Lewis’ March trilogy. I’m inspired by Marjane Satrapi’s work (not just Persepolis). I’m amazed at Craig Thompson’s line work and layouts. And were you aware that there’s a graphic novel about the 9/11 Report and one about the US Constitution? Because I wasn’t! (But you can bet your ass I’m going to read them.)
So after three years of slinking into comics shops and worrying that a gatekeeper would suddenly appear in my path shouting, “You… shall… not… pass!” and feeling overwhelming guilt at not having a pull list, I feel confident in announcing that I’m legit. No, I don’t know everything there is to know about comics. No, I haven’t (and won’t) read Golden and Silver Age comics. No, I don’t give two shits about reading the New 52. But I do know, finally, know what I like – and that there was a storyline where Iron Man marries Captain America wearing his suit and a bridal veil. I can’t wait to see what else I’ll learn.