I stumbled across my first comic book when I was eight years old. It was Iron Man. I don’t remember much about it, except that it had this guy, Tony Stark, who had this big armored suit (the first generation red-and-gold model) that could fly and shoot energy beams from its palms to put the smack down on bad guys.
I loved it. Tony got in all kinds of scrapes, but always got the bad guy and the girl.
Unfortunately, I was eight, and we moved, and comics became hard to find. I found a Daredevil, a few other comics here and there, but that was it. By twelve I was reading science fiction anthologies and novels and comic books had become a memory.
Much later, when I was twenty a gaming friend helped rekindle my love for super heroes. He was an avid reader and loaned me and my soon-to-be-wife LeAnn some issues of his favorite comics. There was Iron Man, still in business, and part of group called the Avengers. Then there were the super powered mutants. The storylines reached out and pulled us in. We were hooked.
A few months later LeAnn and I married. Shortly after that, we discovered a little comic book shop called Pegasus Books just a few blocks away from our tiny apartment in Beaverton. The owner was a friendly guy named Mike Richardson who clearly loved comics and sharing that love with customers. Mike turned us on to all sorts of comic books, helping us find back issues of The Defenders and getting us up to speed on Judge Dread and the latest issues of The New Mutants and Camelot 3000. It was a great time.
When I thought I should be reading more issues of Asimov’s and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, because I was trying to break in as science fiction writer, I found myself drawn to the likes of the X-Men, The New Teen Titans and ElfQuest(along with reading every novelization I could find of classic Doctor Who television serials).
It turned out that there were two reader me’s. There was the smart, aspiring writer-reader who desperately wanted to write a story like one of the Cyberpunk writers he admired, or one of the “Humanist” SF writers he envied, but didn’t know how to begin, and who felt he “should” be reading this story, or that novel, and not wasting time on frivolous “fun” stuff. Then there was the drawn to compelling stories-reader, who wanted nothing more than to be hypnotized by an entertaining, enthralling, and emotional story.
The irony, of course, is that any sort of story can be entertaining, enthralling, emotional, and yes, even a little enlightening. It all depends on the reader and the story. But in my mind, important and significant were separate from entertaining, enthralling and emotional. Which meant that I ended up being drawn often to things, like comic books and space opera, that didn’t always have being important and significant at their core. Or so I thought. Now I know better.
I kept up reading comics through finishing my history degree.
Mike turned over running his store to his brother when he founded Dark Horse Comics and went on to be a very successful creator and producer.
LeAnn and I kept on reading and collecting comics into my first few years of working at the library, but, finally there were just so many different comics to collect, the prices had gone up, and there were so many other ways to spend our time that we decided, after cutting back, to stop collecting all together.
At this time I made my first real stab at being a novelist, reading over a hundred novels in less than two years. I wanted to re-immerse myself in novels after finishing my history degree, but even all that reading was colored by what I thought I should be reading. Oh, the perils of reading with an agenda, as opposed to reading for the sheer joy of it, the passion of it, the pleasure in the stories you find.
Fast forward to last year’s first Rose City Comic Con and reconnecting with comic books and the love of story in graphic form for the sheer joy of it.
The lesson—read what you are attracted to, what you are interested in, what you find compelling. Sure, stretch your boundaries, but let yourself be yourself as a reader. Super heroes and graphic novels can be compelling and important, witness The Watchman for one example. But there’s nothing wrong at all with plowing through one dynamite novel after another. And, like Mike Richardson revealed back in the day at his comic book store, dynamite stories come in all sorts of forms.