Fitting Comics Into a Stressful Life

This post originally appeared on Panels, which is now Book Riot Comics

The past few months have been particularly hectic for me. My last two grad-school classes were the toughest yet, and my job became even more demanding. My days were planned meticulously: I read my assignments while commuting to and from work and at night; I wrote and revised papers on weekends (when I wasn’t pulling overtime).

Any reading time I could find was devoted to homework and work-work. My reading life shriveled, and I could feel it almost physically; my life felt smaller, less creative, less inspired.

In difficult times, I’ve always sought solace in books. No matter what happens in my life, I can either find an analog to get me through or a window to help me escape.

But when I’m busy, taking the time to read an unscheduled book can throw off my schedule for the entire week.

A few times, I did it anyway, sneaking in a book club selection here or a novel there. For every “fun” book I read, I felt guilty that I wasn’t getting work done; it almost wasn’t worth it, knowing that I’d have to work even harder to catch up.

And total honesty? After a long week of reading and writing for work and school, the last thing I wanted was more printed words on paper. It hurts my book-nerd soul, but there you go.

So I turned to comics.

Unlike the science books on my grad-school reading list, they didn’t feel like work. They were fun. They were an indulgence, a treat. Plus, I could read an entire trade paperback in one evening, and still have time to get work done. Win/win!

Every time I opened an issue or a trade, I was instantly pulled in. There’s something about reading comics that reminds me of watching TV. It’s not that comics are easier to read, exactly. But the images help get my imagination in gear. They start the process of enjoying a story, and my mind fills in the rest.

Ms Marvel Volume 3The storylines echoed, too. Ms. Marvel struggled with balancing her new identity and powers and a life as a normal teen—just as I tried to find fun in between work and school. If Alana and Marko could make their relationship work, my husband and I could weather a few long months without date nights! And the hardcore lady types of Lumberjanes reminded me of less stressful times.

These stories also reminded me that what I was going through wasn’t that unique—or even that difficult. Working late sucks… but at least there aren’t any villains doing their best to kill me!

Comics have long been an escapist medium. Although comics about everyday life exist, there are far more books about other worlds and lives. They depict characters who survive stress on a grand scale—both reminding me that I can get through the hectic pace of my non-superhero life, and taking me to another place until I felt calm and energetic again.

Saga HardcoverReading comics also gets my own creative juices flowing. After finishing a volume of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Saga, I felt more prepared to dive back into work. I wanted to bring some of the creativity and world-building to my own writing, even if it was just a paper on a boring book. (I stopped short at using “embiggen” as a word, though. One day!)

There is an old Zen saying: “You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day. Unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” Every time I started feeling guilty for putting aside work or homework in favor of comics, I reminded myself that the comics were an investment of sorts. By reading them, I’d be more effective later. Comics made me feel fresher after a long day; they gave me a new perspective on what “stress” really is; and they inspired me to be more creative in my everyday life. What’s not to love?

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