My early comics-reading experience was pretty narrow. With limited shopping time and a not-so-welcoming shop, Kid Me grabbed her X-Books, paid, and left. I was 15 before my comics world gradually began to open, mainly through my discovery of Oni Press. Following creators and comics sites online accelerated the process exponentially—my pull list ballooned right around the time I started using Tumblr and Twitter.
But following more comics media meant I was no longer consuming in a bubble. It was only a few years ago that I become aware of their being two “camps” in comics—there are indie books and there are hero books. It was this divide that had never occurred to me, but seemed to be a pretty firm line in the sand for a lot of people. On one side, people for whom “real comics” were anything where Batman or Wolverine could eventually make an appearance. Exceptions could be made, mostly for Alan Moore books and high-action 80s indies, but comics were for superheroes. On the other side were people who wanted to validate comics as Real Art For Grownups…but only with the fairly strict exclusion of hero books. I specifically remember reading an article that how horribly reductive it allegedly was to call certain non-fiction works “comic books”—these were “graphic memoirs”. A non-zero percentage of the people I’ve encountered who take this approach have very specific, very limited ideas of what superhero comics look like. Usually it’s an assumption that the worst of the ’90s never stopped.
I’ll acknowledge that I grew up pretty firmly in the “comics mean capes” camp. As I said before, for a long time I didn’t really know other comics existed. Once I found out, though, a whole new world of comics opened up. I favor excited and inclusive nerding. So people eye rolling at all ages books or broadly dismissing hero books as less worthwhile was a disappointing reality check.
Here’s the thing though: these camps aren’t real. Because you know what Persepolis is? It’s a beautiful, personal, well-written, comic book. That’s not a bad thing. It’s not somehow a lesser work for it. Sequential art is a medium, and there are tons of different ways to tell great stories in that medium. Clean, straight-forward art or intricately detailed painted backgrounds? Both valid options that let you communicate different things to your audience. There are comics that keep everything tightly contained within panel borders and comics that tumble around freeform and leave the reader feeling constantly unsteady. But they’re all comic books. Just like a 1000 page meditation on the meaning of life and a 200 page detective story are both books. People who try to argue otherwise—on either side—are just limiting the medium
Increasingly, I’m finding that you can crack through the combative surface and find a more freely intermingling world of comics fans and creators. For every person who turns up their nose at hero books or rolls their eyes at memoir comics, there are eight awesome people who will loan you Fun Home, Batman, and Archie. There are also eight equally awesome people who are really only interested in reading comics about Green Lantern, but are totally cool with your love of four-panel gag comics. Everyone doesn’t have to read everything, but the comics community is at it’s best when it’s open to different things. Limiting what sort of comics are viewed as valid only serves to make you miss out on things you’d potentially like. Remember, to eschew hero books is to miss out on The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.
Also, “graphic memoir” sounds vaguely naughty in a way that weirds me out, so I don’t want that to be a thing.
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