As always, my birthday falls damn close to (and sometimes, on) Thanksgiving. This means that although I’m a foreigner I’m still pretty excited about the holiday. It’s nice to get a couple of days off so near to my birthday, and I’m happy to share my day with such an abstract, non-secular celebration. I know that no one is giving thanks for my birth, but I sure am, and it helps to have everyone else in a similar mood.
This year, with my involvement in iFanboy, I wanted to take this opportunity to express my gratitude for the comic books in my life. These aren’t my desert island comic books, they aren’t even my favorite, or my first. These are some of the comic books which, for various reasons, affected my life in the most diverse ways.
Hellblazer (the entire run)
As my brother pointed out to me; After 21 years of reading it, this comic book represents the longest running relationship in my life (outside of family), and that’s certainly worthy of some thanks. I’ve been following the misadventures of John Constantine since he first appeared in Swamp Thing. He was the first British comic book character that I read who appealed to me. He wasn’t posh, he wasn’t wealthy, and he wasn’t groomed. Maybe that’s kind of sad, and I sure as hell wouldn’t pick John Constantine as a long term relationship material, in fact, I think he might be the last man in fiction that I’d choose. But when I first started reading it, I liked it, and most of the time, through all the permutations and changes, I still do. It just works, and it’s one of the few comics I genuinely anticipate each month.
Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron
When I first moved to San Francisco, and didn’t know yet how long I’d be here, I stayed in a friend’s house while she was away in for a week. Actually, she wasn’t really a friend, more a friend of a friend of a friend, but for some reason she trusted me. She offered me her house to stay in, let me use her Mac to work on, and later, set me up with a job for 3 months. Damn, now that I write this all down, I really wish I was still in touch with her, because she was pretty amazing. Seriously, I cannot tell you how much of an education I got just from staying in this woman’s house. She had the walls plastered with blueprints and discarded signage, she had strange art and an old rack from a magazine store, filled with independent comic books. One afternoon, as the sun streamed in through the windows, I lay on her cartoon sheets and read Daniel Clowes most atmospheric novella of a comic book from cover to cover. It was creepy, surreal, disturbing, and aesthetically beautiful, and it felt like a gift on a par with my auspicious arrival in San Francisco. (And Amy; If you’re out there - thank you.)
Our Cancer Year
Maybe it’s because I don’t watch David Letterman, but apart from the odd issue of American Splendor, before the movie came out, I’d never really heard much about Harvey Pekar, and I certainly hadn’t seen the man outside of his comics. The human being and his work were distinctly separate. Sure, his comic books are autobiographical, but I’m related to plenty of grumpy New Yorkers, so I filled in the blanks about his character, imagining him to be familiar and familial, and he reminded me of my parent’s friend Jerry, (who read comic books and science fiction, and talked to me like an adult, even when I was 13, so that I didn’t feel like a dumb kid when we visited him.)
Because of all of this, when I read Our Cancer Year, it felt like I was reading about someone I knew. And because quite a few people I do know have had cancer, it helped me to read about what it felt like. His everyday, tedious life chores, and how they tangled up in his ability to deal with what seemed (from the outside) undealable, was really intense. Simply knowing that someone else had dealt with this, and how they did (and didn’t at times too) was a great support for me. I’m grateful to Harvey for the comic, but I’m even more grateful for his candor and openness through such an intense process.
Justice League International
Yeah, that’s right, I said it. Way back in the day, when management and office politics was so distant as to seem like a kind of fantasy to me, this comic gave me all kinds of insights into the world of coworkers. It was The Office, back when Ricky Gervais was still in school, with the (excellent) addition of superheroes. Sure, these super powered beings weren’t working in offices, and they weren’t fiddling around with computers, and (even more shockingly) they didn’t have emails, instant messages, or mobile phones to make their communications even more complex (by the way, why is it that our increased ability to communicate hasn’t made our lives simpler?)…
Anyway, going back to my original point, despite all of these obvious differences to the working world, at it’s foundation, this was a book about teamwork. It’s like a social experiment, taking a disparate group of individuals, and watching them work together with humor and dedication. No one wrote the kind of snappy comedic dialogue like Giffen and DeMatteis, and no one drew those emotive facial expressions like Macguire. It was the first comic that ever really dealt with the clashing personalities of characters like Batman and Booster Gold, or Wonder Woman and Booster Gold, or Superman and Booster Gold… Okay, I’m beginning to see a pattern here, but joking aside, while I love the battles and adventures of this super hero comic, the part that I’m crazy about is the very basic, very real, human interaction.
I’ve talked about this comic book many times, and while I can’t say enough good stuff about the fabulous alchemy created by this perfect synthesis of art and literature, it’s for personal reasons I’m so grateful that this book exists. It’s hard being a teenager. Hardly anyone I know wasn’t totally miserable at some point in their teen years, it’s a tough transition from child to adult, and there are so many moments when I felt trapped, powerless, and confused. Elektra’s struggle against the Beast and his minions was exactly the kind of melodramatic metaphor that an overblown art student needed. Reading Elektra: Assassin gave me an abstract story to act as an outlet for feelings that I didn’t even know I was having. It wasn’t until years later that I understood why I loved it so much, and that it wasn’t just about it being a beautifully crafted book, but about what it gave me, when I most needed it.
Swamp Thing #56 - My Blue Heaven
Remember when Swamp Thing ran away to an entirely blue planet because he was so dissillusioned by humanity. He took the plant life there and tried to grow a new life, a new civilization… Reading this was strange, to say the least, but the fact that it was the first issue of Swamp Thing I’d ever seen compounded the impact. A friend of my parent’s gave me this comic, sort of an avuncular character, he was the only adult I knew he read comic books. He gave me a huge pile of random, assorted books that he was done with, but this one is the only one I remember. Swamp Thing opened my eyes to a whole new universe of comic books that could examine the nature of humanity, intimacy, and life. It wasn’t action packed (not that particular issue), and no one was fighting crime. There was only one character in that comic book, and he wasn’t even sure he was alive in the traditional sense of the word. It wasn’t anything that I’d experienced before, and seeing such cosmic, abstract concepts depicted in a comic book deeply affected me.
For all of my conscious life, comic books have been a constant. When I was a frustrated little girl, they made me feel powerful. When I was a bored teenager, they made me feel engaged. When I’ve been sick, or alone, or in pain, comic books have given me another world to escape to. Through fantasy and ideas, they have helped me to find out who I am, outside of the job I have, and the people I know, and things that I own. Reading comic books has shown me other worlds, and for all of that, I’m very thankful.
I realize that I could keep going with this list for hours. And it’s not just the comic books, but the comic book culture. With my involvement in iFanboy, I gained entry into a world where my appreciation of comic books isn’t considered weird, stupid, or pointless. It’s a great thing to find like-minded people to share our passions with, and I hope you’re all out there having a great day today.
Originally published here.