I always get quite the reaction when I tell people I haven’t seen The Princess Bride or The Matrix. I unfortunately lived a very sheltered childhood, which ultimately led me to blossom into a middle-finger waving punk rocker once I hit the twelve year mark. Blossom might be an exaggeration, because I felt miserably disenfranchised with everyone and everything more than ever.
My angst and slight misanthrope evolved as I got older, from radically politicizing myself with crusty looking patches and Doc Martins to looking more normal yet still retaining those tumultuous feelings. Punk is dead, everything is superfluous, and I never felt like anyone besides the people screaming on late 70’s records could share my ideologies of wanting a better world, wanting acceptance, change, tolerance, and so forth. I felt stuck in a rut, I was slowly becoming the worst kind of nihilist.
It wasn’t until I was in college that I discovered comics, something I previously passed off as some sort of uber-aggro circle jerk which was responsible for things like the Spiderman movies and Superman tattoos. It was after having a meltdown about my fractious life and the world around me that someone lent me Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman, like it was a bible of sorts.
What I found wasn’t some sort of Harry Potter good vs. evil battle of archetypes, it was a complicated web of people who weren’t always that great, and endings that weren’t always happy. My brain cake-walked between the realms of logic and fantasy, I realized that these books were written with care and true sincerity. These weren’t the chiseled spandex panty-droppers which I had associated comics with all my life.
After my great reaction to The Sandman, that particular friend lent me Alan Moore’s Promethea, which features a female protagonist. My inner feminist squealed with delight, since many comics are enormously sexist–I mean have you seen some of these female characters? These ladies make Barbie look like Honey Boo Boo’s mom. Promethea spoke to me though, and not just because it featured a woman, but also because it contained a wealth of knowledge about mythology, storytelling, and themes like Qabalah and the future of technology.
So I came to realize that comics are part of this weird underground, where radical ideas, drugs, sex, and sincere realism are fertile within the minds of their creators. Even some of the more widely accepted blockbuster titles are riddled with complex character development, uncomfortable subjects, and progressive thought. Comic writers are the new rockstars passing themselves off as your everyday nerdy guy behind a laptop. Even just the first few books I read taught me so much more about the human condition than I could have ever anticipated. Intelligently written pieces of truth wrapped up in a blanket of fiction–don’t knock it till you try it.