Comics/Graphic Novels

On Being a Comics Reader vs. Being a Comics Fan

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Lumerjanes by Noelle Stevenson

I did not read comics as a kid. The first graphic novel I can remember reading is Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, sometime in my early 20s. As for comics-comics, I know exactly when I started reading them. In January of 2017, a few months after I started writing for Book Riot, I picked up Lumberjanes because of one of that year’s Read Harder prompts (read an all-ages comic). After that I read Saga, followed by The Backstagers, two of my favorite comics to this day. I’m ashamed to say that, for most of my life as a reader, I hadn’t given comics a second thought. And then, suddenly, I was hooked.

I devoured comics in 2017, greedily making up for lost time. I read Goldie Vance and Y: The Last Man and Princeless. I read middle grade comics (Phoebe and Her Unicorn), sci-fi comics (Alex & Ada), silly comics (Space Battle Lunchtime), and slice-of-life comics (Check, Please!). I couldn’t get enough. A whole new world had opened up to me, and I was ready to dive in. I didn’t have any fond memories of browsing comic book stores in middle school. I’d never really liked superhero stories. But I was newly in love, and ready to immerse myself comics. I was ready to become a fan.

Let me back up by saying that I’ve never been much of a fan. I have loved many books, TV shows, and movies with massive fandoms. But I’ve never been a part of them. I waited in line for hours to get tickets to the new Stars Wars movies as a teenager. I saw a midnight showing of the The Fellowship of the Ring on opening day. That’s about the extent of it. I’m just not someone who is drawn to fandoms.

But discovering comics for the first time in my 30s lead me to rethink a lot of things. I’d been missing out on this incredible form of art for my entire life. Had I been missing out on fandom, too? To be clear, I’ve never had anything against fandoms or being a fan. I’d just never participated. But then I spent a year reading comics like it was my job, and I found myself wanting to be a part of something. I wanted to talk about comics. I wanted to know about the history of comics. I wanted to be knowledgeable about this new thing that was bringing me so much joy. I wanted to be able to speak about it with authority. I wanted to connect with other people who appreciated comics, to geek out and get excited with them.

Cover of Ms. Marvel by G. Willow WIlson

So I started reading more of all the great comics content Book Riot puts out. I downloaded a bunch of classic comics, like V for Vendetta and Spider-Man. I knew that being a comics fan meant reading superhero comics, but since I wasn’t quite ready to dive into the classics, I started with some contemporary remixes: Ms. Marvel and Black Panther.

And that’s as far as I got. I liked Ms. Marvel and Black Panther fine, but I felt no desire to continue with either series. As much as I wish I could, I cannot bring myself to care about Superman, or the Avengers, or Thor, or Captain America, or Wonder Woman. I can’t keep all the series and sequences and various iterations of all these characters straight. I have no opinions about Marvel or DC. I can’t even work up any excitement over queer superheroes. And isn’t that what being a fan is all about? Engaging with the work, interrogating it and reinterpreting it, getting unreasonably excited about it, loving it enough to critique it? And isn’t the point of fandom getting to do all of that with other people who care about it just as much as you do?

I am all for reading outside of my comfort zone. Becoming an adventurous reader has brought me to some of my most beloved books. But I also know it’s okay not to like some things. It’s okay to try something and realize it’s not for you. I love comics, but I don’t like superhero stories. I love all of the brilliant and surprising possibilities that exist in graphic storytelling, but I just don’t care about the internal chronology of the Marvel universe. I love discovering a new comic, and I’ll happily read three or four collected volumes in one afternoon. But I can’t stand reading single issues.

I’ve come to accept my own personal relationship with comics, and I’ve given up trying to force myself to be a different kind of reader. It’s strange, sometimes, to love something that has so many thriving fandoms without being a part of any of them. Comics culture is a real thing with a long history. It includes cons and cosplays, online debates and academic classes, its own particular language. Can I call myself a comics lover if I don’t know who the Flash is? Can I recommend all my favorite series to new comics readers, even though none of them are mainstream comics? I’ve never been to a con, and I have no interest in changing that, but a) I think your costumers are super cool and b) I could talk about Saga for literal hours. So where do I fit into this weird and wonderful world?

The answer is: I don’t know. It’s been four and a half years since I started reading comics, and, while my love for the form has only grown, I have not become a fan. I think I’ll always feel a little sad knowing there’s this whole comics community out there that I’m not a part of. I have so much respect for comics fans everywhere, whether you’ve been reading comic books since you were a kid, or, like me, you discovered them as an adult. I may not care about all the things you care about, but I think I do understand where you’re coming from, because comics have had an immeasurable impact on my life, too.

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