Time Out Chicago introduces our new caped comics correspondent.
Comics are the best drugs.
Really. Not joking here. The best comics take you on mind-blowing journeys with insanely gorgeous visuals. They can delight or frighten, make you laugh or bring you to tears. But when the trip’s over, comics don’t leave you dragging the next day. And best of all: Even after you’ve paid for them and enjoyed them once, you can consume them again and again. Can’t do that with drugs! And sometimes, comics get even better the second time around.
We dedicated comics lovers have enjoyed a higher profile in the early 21st century. Finally, our geek power ascends to its rightful place in American culture, no longer relegated to the bottom rungs of artistic hierarchy. Sure, some snooty jerk might arch an eyebrow in your direction if you’re seen reading the latest Batman and Robin on the Red Line, but you’ll more likely inspire smiles of admiration and curiosity, not derision.
Happily, that casual fan can find lots of comics in book form at any local store or library. Meanwhile, we diehards still go to church on Wednesdays, new comics day. That’s why DC used the title Wednesday Comics for its ambitious, exciting weekly project last summer (now in book form), even though the format evoked a century-old Sunday ritual: the broadsheet comics sections in newspapers, where giants of the art form like Winsor McCay spun full-page fantasies like Little Nemo in Slumberland. (Anyone who thinks Nemo was just for kids either never studied art or they didn’t do enough drugs in college.)
The days of people viewing comics as evidence of arrested development are gone. Some film critics might yet dismiss the plots of hokey action flicks with a disdainful comparison to comic books, but ironically, the medium of cinema has done much of the work to elevate comics. (At least, when the films are directed by Christopher Nolan, Sam Raimi or Bryan Singer.)
Even still, it’s a double-edged sword: Hollywood tends to reinforce the silly notion that all comics are about capes, tights and superpowers, and some producers haven’t realized that the art form is far more than a mere storyboard.
Will Eisner’s The Spirit in the 1940s and Alan Moore’s Watchmen in the ’80s both broke new ground in the art form, yet their film adaptations didn’t begin to capture what made them special. Because of the way they place visuals on a page, comics can accomplish things that movies never can. That’s true across genres, from the existential drama of Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan, to the cautionary sci-fi of Grant Morrison’s We3, to the layered literary memoir of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home.
Sure, superhero tales dominate the American market, but comics are a medium, not a genre. Nobody equates all TV with soap operas. (Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with soaps. Hell, with their sprawling casts and decades-long continuities, daytime dramas and superhero comics have a lot in common.) But as we tackle comics here in the pages of Time Out Chicago every month, we’ll welcome all genres.
Full disclosure: As with any avid comics fan in America, monthly superhero titles were my gateway drug. (The first one was even free: Somebody gave me a copy of Justice League of America.) It’s true that mainstream American comics publishers, like mainstream American producers of anything, turn out a lot of pap.
But when they do their job well, those comics are awesome precisely because they spin the most outrageous yarns. In the hands of a keen artist and writer, the more insane the concepts, the better. So we get power rings, sentient robots and secret satellite headquarters. Better yet, we get multi-colored power rings, Bizarro doppelgangers and parallel worlds. Best of all? Superintelligent talking gorillas.
My bookshelves hold a lot more than mutants, martial artists and maniacal villains. There’s also graphic novels of various genres by the likes of Grant Morrison, Jill Thompson, Bryan Talbot and Brian K. Vaughan. And there are free-wheeling hybrids, like Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Scott Pilgrim, a manga-sized series (soon to be—you guessed it—a major motion picture) about a twentysomething slacker musician with hipster friends, girlfriend troubles and hilarious ninja-style fight sequences.
Some storytelling flourishes can only be accomplished with the written word; in other areas, visuals excel. In combining and juxtaposing the two forms, comics create something unique, giving the reader/viewer the best of both worlds. I’m here to tell you: It’s the best high.