Comics/Graphic Novels

Our Reading Lives: How Comics Saved My College Experience

For many people, college was the best, most awesome experience; even if high school was difficult, college was the place where you could come into your own, find like-minded people, and expand your horizons.

But for me, that wasn’t really the case. Or, it wouldn’t have been without comics.

I went from a small, private high school to a small, private college outside a big city (Northwestern FTW! Or not really. Because I kind of didn’t love it.) Once there, I felt lost. I didn’t really connect with any of the people I met and while I had a group to hang out with, I didn’t feel as though I had real friends. I was unhappy and felt isolated, mostly because I wasn’t interested in rushing for a sorority in a Greek-dominated school.

But then, in what felt like an instant, everything changed. I found a place, acceptance, and (platonic) love, and it’s because of comics.

One night towards the end of freshman year in college, we were playing Ultimate Frisbee (or rather, I was sitting on the grass with my friends watching one of their boyfriends and his friends play) when someone sat down next to me. It was a guy, and we got to talking. I don’t really remember how the conversation went, but he intrigued me. He had a passion for all things geek, and being a geek myself, I was fascinated by how seriously he took what most of us would consider mere entertainment.

Later, we grabbed dinner at the 24 hour Burger King (again, Northwestern FTW!). And I can honestly say that my life changed that night.

I’ve always loved science fiction in TV and movies; I’m a huge fan of both Star Trek and Star Wars. But I hadn’t really ever consumed sci fi in book form, and I certainly hadn’t ever approached the intimidating world of comics. It seemed utterly confusing and male dominated and just not a friendly place for me to work my way into.

But this guy was a HUGE comics fan. I mean HUGE. And so, over our dinner, he told me about comics.

We got there at a typical time to eat dinner for a college student, probably closer to 9 p.m. than 6 p.m. We took our fast food trays to a booth on the side of the restaurant (I’m being very generous with that term), where we’d be out of the way. I remember the lingering smell of grease in the air; the crispiness of the fries that slowly went limp after sitting out (yet still tasted like overly salted cardboard). The booth wasn’t very comfortable; I was constantly shifting in my seat as I paid rapt attention to our discussion.

No one approached us, or indeed even tried to sit near us, while we were talking. (I’m going to interpret this as a slow night at the Burger King and not that people were startled by the intensity, length, and subject matter of our discussion).

I learned about comic book basics that night. I learned about DC and Marvel; he taught me about story arcs and characters and reboots, sparing no detail about some of the most amazing comics he’d read. He narrated fascinating storylines, ones that I would have loved if they’d been in another medium, everything from the Justice League Tower of Babel arc, in which everyone (including me!) felt betrayed by Batman’s paranoia, to the Avengers forming in George W. Bush’s America.

I was so riveted by what he was saying and about how much he cared about comics. “What is it,” I asked myself, “about comics that inspires such devotion? I must find out.” He sparked an interest for me, opening a new avenue of exploration for my geekdom.

I was so intrigued, in fact, that we sat there for 8 hours. Yes, the first all nighter I pulled in college was for studying comics.

Comics became more than just pen, ink, and color on the page for me. Because of them, I found my best friend in college, a person whom I’m still close to. He introduced me to his friends, and through them, I found a place to fit in and be normal. I wasn’t a bona fide comics geek, but they didn’t care. I needed a home, a place to belong, and he gave me that. And he’s been there for me ever since that epic, now legendary, Burger King night. He’s introduced me to so many other great things (hello, Battlestar Galactica), but the progenitor of our friendship will always be comics.

Fast forward over a decade. I’ve read (and thoroughly enjoyed) quite a few graphic novels, memoirs, and comics since that fateful day in Burger King, books I never would have given a chance without my friend’s guidance. Recently, I went back to him and asked, “Hey, do you remember that one comic I was really interested in that day at Burger King?”

His first response: “We talked about A LOT of comics.”

His second? To tell me exactly what I couldn’t remember, to fill in those gaps in my memory that have gotten bigger over the years. He gave me those old recommendations that so fascinated me back then as well as some new comic recommendations, books and series to look up on the Comixology app that has been getting a little too much use lately. I’m finally ready to be a full-fledged member of the comics community, excited and proud to be a comics fan. (Do we get badges or membership cards??)

JLA Tower of Babel coverIn the end, comics saved my college experience. And that’s the reason I have an abiding love for them; not only are the storylines interesting and the graphics amazing, but the community is just awesome. There’s been a lot of press about how the comics community can be hostile to women, but in my experience, they embraced me when I really didn’t have much to offer in return. It’s part of what makes comics so great. If I hadn’t met this person, if I hadn’t been intrigued by his love of the medium, I can’t begin to imagine what college would have been like. I needed a person, and because of comics, I found him.

And yes, I finally went back and read that Justice League comic. And it was pretty awesome.