Does Medium Influence Experience?
Readers of comic books will often argue their preferred format. Some prefer going to the comic shop and picking out titles by hand while others like tapping the titles they want while sitting on their couches. Some readers enjoy the visceral feel of paper pages while other readers like being able to zoom with two fingers. Some like having a physical bookshelf of titles in their homes while others prefer a virtual shelf of titles they can always have with them on their tablets. All of these are valid arguments for either paper comics or digital downloads but they mostly center around personal convenience or some sort of sentimentality. The larger question I want to ask is: does the format influence the experience? Does the medium, paper vs. digital, influence individual reader’s experience with the book? Will one format have a greater and/or longer lasting impact on the reader than the other format? If so, why? I’m interested in hearing what you have to say.
I am the law!
or Why You Should Read Supergods
There is a difference between reading comics and being a reader of comic books. Reading comic books is a form of escapism (this argument can be made for most all fiction). There is nothing wrong with a bit of escapism now and again but it is passive form of entertainment at best. Critical readers of comic books (or any type of literature for that matter) are analytical in their process. To be a critical reader of comic books requires that one actively analyze the text, culture, ourselves, and how all three interact. Grant Morrison’s Supergods is required reading for anybody who wants to become a critical reader of comic books.
Morrison’s Supergods is a well balanced mix of comic book history, critical analysis of comic book heroes, and personal memoir. All three elements can help develop the skills necessary to critically analyze comic books. Morrison provides a history of comics starting with the Golden Age and wraps up around about 2010. This history of comic books is a helpful resource for anybody who wants to know how comic books fit into our culture and what roles they have played in society for the past eighty-odd years. Morrison also provides the reader with some interesting analyses of comic book characters (heroes and villains alike). These analyses show the reader how comic book characters are often representations of society and/or ourselves. This is evident where Morrison states, “We can analyze them out of existence, kill them, ban them, mock them, and still they return, patiently reminding us of who we are and what we wish we could be.” Finally, Supergods is part memoir. Morrison shares with the reader his personal history with comic books and the impact they’ve had on his life as both reader and creator. This memoir gives the reader insight into the writers and artists who breathe life into the comic books and how their lives influence their work.
Reading a comic book is a great way to spend some time, but it is short sighted to think that comic books are nothing more than passive escapism. Comic books, like any other type of literature, can offer insights about society and ourselves. In order to recognize these insights it is important to become a critical reader, and Supergods is a great resource for such an endeavor.
Supergods (2011) by Grant Morrison
“‘Comic book’ has come to mean a specific genre, not a story form, in people’s minds. So someone will call ‘Die Hard’ a ‘comic book movie,’ when it has nothing to do with comic books. I’d rather have comics be the vehicle by which stories are told.”
A Second Reading and a New Interpretation
As I grow older I find myself trying to thin out my possessions. I haven’t decided if this is some sort of late midlife existential crisis or maybe I’m just getting tired of storing, moving, cleaning, and tripping over all the shit I’ve accumulated during the last four decades. I’d like to sound hip and say it’s the former but it’s probably more the latter. A couple months back I was sorting some comic books into keep and donate stacks when I came across Bob Harras’ six book series Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. I remember enjoying it when I read it over thirty years ago, but my memory of the plot was a bit vague. So with beer in hand and some 1980s music for ambiance I sat down to reread the series to see if it would make the keep stack.
I was a geeky kid in high school who read comics (this was before being a geek or reading comics was considered cool) when the series debuted in 1988. I was an avid reader of a few Marvel superhero titles at the time. I was also developing an interest in spy and mystery novels (the inexpensive, paperback ones that you could buy at your local KMart). It was Jim Steranko’s cover artwork that first caught my attention back in the summer of ’88. It wasn’t the kind of comic book cover I was used to. This was a cover for a novel, the kind of novel I that wanted to read. That cover suggested adventure, espionage, and pages of thrills. Thirty years later the cover still impresses me. That cover makes you pause before you turn the page and start reading. After an appropriate pause I did turn the page, and I was glad I did.
It’s interesting what thirty years will do to, or for, your memory. Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. is still the action story I remembered enjoying as a teenager, but Harras did so much more than write an action story. He gives us Nick Fury, a man who faces an existential crisis (one much more complex than my possible first paragraph crisis). Nick Fury is forced to question the meaning and purpose of his work and accomplishments as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and come to grips with the answers. In 1988, the protagonist’s dilemma was something I couldn’t fully appreciate. Thirty years later I discovered a story of personal crises and political intrigues. This story was true in 1988, but it was a truth that I didn’t have the life experience to fully understand. The story still rings true in 2019 and with over thirty years of life experience (and as many years of comic book reading) it is a truth that is readily accessible and exceptionally well written.
Harras’ well-developed story, along with the talented artwork of Paul Neary and Kim DeMulder, is well worth reading. One of the features of good art is that it can be read or viewed at different times in one’s life and provide varying interpretations each time. Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. accomplishes this. At the time of publication it provided a geeky high school kid who was beginning to discover a world of literature a well written action story. The series also provided this middle aged reader with a contemporary commentary on modern man and the political world he lives in.
Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. (1988) by Bob Harras with artwork by Paul Neary and Kim DeMulder.