Why Comic Books Matter
Whenever there’s a public backlash against comic books, especially when it comes to issues such as Islamophobia, racism or sexism (something I’ve blogged a fair deal about myself), it appears that the default response to critics is to simply Lighten up. Don’t worry about it. Get over it. They’re just comics. It’s easy to say that, and give detractors a pat on the head and send them on their way. The fact is that’s a cop-out, maybe the biggest cop-out both the industry and its defenders have ever put forth. To say that comics are just comics undermines everything that makes them relevant and meaningful, and ultimately short-sells both the product and its consumers. And here’s why:
Comic books carry the mythology of their time.
They are an illustrated representation of the time-frame they were written in, reflecting the social climate, cultural archetypes, and artistic trends of the day. The best and worst of an era can be found in its comics, and reading an old comic is like looking backwards in time, even when it takes us places we don’t necessarily want to visit again. What do we want our comics to say about us in ten- or twenty-years’ time?
Comic books are unique in that they are one of the truest, purest ways you can put a story to paper.
Anybody can do it, whether you can draw or not. They’re not constrained by Hollywood special effects budgets or network demands. Children write and draw their own comics in pencil and crayon, making their own high-flying adventures. Whether or not they grow up to become well-known creators, that creative outlet is still present and important, and something anybody can enjoy.
Comics go beyond the page.
They are now a multi-billion dollar industry, complete with movies, television shows, merchandise and collectibles. They are so easily accessible now, to billions of people all over the world, from the t-shirt on your back to the vitamins in your bathroom cabinet. From the grocery store to the convention hall, the movie theater to Saturday morning cartoons, this is the most relevant comics have been in recent history.
Comic books are also unique in that they can be handed down from generation to generation.
Like a book, a record, a personal heirloom, most of us who read comic books today read them because somebody gave them to us as children. If not as children, then as teenagers or young adults, from friends who wanted to share them with us. Comic books are handed down from others over the span of our lives, and hold a lot of emotional value. There are comic books in my house today that came from my parents and uncles, and will likely be handed down to my brothers’ children whenever that day comes.
Comic books are just as viable and impacting on the culture at large as any film, book, television, show or video game.
The ideas being put out, especially in the case of negative connotations towards sex and race, are legitimized by its reinforcement in popular culture. This reflection of frankly bad representations only make them harder to break through and overcome in our everyday lives. For example. writers such as Kelly Sue DeConnick and Captain Marvel, Jeff Parker and Red She Hulk, and of course Gail Simone (which goes without saying) want to break down the taboo of female-led titles and bring more strong female characters to the forefront. That’s a step in the right direction, and but it’s going to take more support from within the industry to make major change happen.
Comic books inspire.
In the face of the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado last week, fourteen comic artists got together to draw and sell art to support the survivors and their families. While one man chose to use the pop culture influence of Batman to commit a heinous crime, artists inspired by the same character chose to do something amazing. This is also just one example of artists and creators using their talent and work to do good, and won’t be the last.
To say that comics are just comics is a complete joke. It undersells everything about comics that make them so important, and gives creators the free-reign to skirt accountability in the work that they produce. If you want to make something, you have to be open to criticism. If you’re not, saying what you made isn’t important doesn’t excuse you. All of that said, this is not to deny the progress that’s been made to produce more inclusive work. We have Miles Morales as Spiderman in Ultimates, original Green Lantern Alan Scott is gay, Batwoman is a successful title with a strong lesbian lead, Black Widow emerged from this summer’s The Avengers movie looking like the kick-ass hero she always has been, and, hell, Northstar’s wedding was one of the biggest events of the year for Marvel Comics. These titles, characters and portrayals are not perfect, but, again, they are steps in the right direction.
Because comics, whether you like it or not, do matter, and they will matter for generations to come.