Comics Newsletter

How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Read Comics in Public

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Katie McGuire

Staff Writer

Katie McGuire loves nothing more than to talk about superheroes and spies with anyone who will even half-listen. She is currently an editorial assistant at Pegasus Books. She has a BFA in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College, and the dozens of half-finished manuscripts that come with it. She currently lives in New York (the state, not the city), following four years in Boston and a brief sojourn to a castle in the Netherlands. She sometimes remembers to post about her self-fashioned reading challenges at her blog, I Have Things to Say, and she's much better at updating everyone on her current likes and dislikes on Twitter @katiemickgee.

A few months ago, on my way home from work, I finished reading the trade I’d packed for the train ride with a good chunk of the commute still left. I’d been reading something fairly benign, probably some standard capes-and-tights-fare, and I hadn’t given any thought to what the people around me thought of the grown woman reading comics on the train.

Luckily, I’d downloaded a bunch of comics to catch up on a couple days earlier, and I eagerly dove into an issue of Sex Criminals that had been sitting on my phone for a couple weeks, because nothing cures the commute blues like some dirty humor. It was a relatively tame issue, compared to other scenarios that have popped up in this comic, but there was a scene early on in which breakfast foods transformed into phalluses.

That was then I had to wonder: What does the guy sitting behind me think about this sexy, sexy morning meal?

In reality, I doubt that the people sitting behind or next to me care very much about what I’m reading on any given day. Yet I’d wager that everyone has had that moment when they’ve tried to hide the cover of their book from their fellow cafe-dwellers or reached a passage that they really, really hope the person next to them isn’t reading over their shoulder on their commute.

It’s a little different when reading comics in public, where all the blood and gore of a fight, and all the bits and bobs of a sex scene, are on full display. The people around you may enjoy reading over your shoulder, but even those who don’t will find it a little hard to ignore an image. Your eye is going to be drawn to the art, whether it’s done in bright colors or stark black and white, and the obvious text bubbles or caption boxes on a comics page–especially when it’s as bright (and bonkers) as an issue of Sex Criminals.

But in my humble opinion, most of us–myself included–waste an incredible amount of time worrying what other people might think about things like our choices in reading materials. You need to have a thick skin (and a great angry resting face) to ride the subway or stand on a bus in the first place, and it needs to be even thicker if you’re going to do what you love out in the wide world.

The face of comics is changing (if slowly) and the makeup of the comics-reading audience isn’t what most would have thought it looked like even twenty years ago. Some comics and graphic novels are now required reading, even for those who don’t normally read them, and those that may not yet be hailed by the general reading public will find the readers with whom they’ll resonate most. But there will always be those who don’t understand why someone might want to read a comic, or might want to quite literally judge the book by its cover.

But the number one thing I’ve learned about doing anything in public on my own time–reading books or comics, writing in a notebook or on my laptop, even scrolling through emails–is that repetition makes it easier. The first time you proudly open a comic on the train might be terrifying, but I encourage you to just start reading. And after the first five minutes, look up. You’ll witness a sea of bowed heads–businesspeople bent over iPhones and newspapers, the tourist parents with their overly-loud children, that kid eating an egg sandwich. No one will be looking at you. No one will be judging you.

And if you happen to catch the eye of a fellow commuter, give them a nice smile and then turn back to your book. You deserve to read what you want to read, or to do what you want to do (as long as you aren’t disrupting anyone’s day or harming anyone, of course). You are a person of the world and you are allowed to bring your passions out into that world.

Read your comic, embrace the art, and maybe you’ll help someone find their new favorite pastime.