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Geek Girl Navigating the World – The Comics Will Never Let You Leave
When I was a little kid, there was no greater joy in my life than going into town with my mother and going to either the grocery store or the local drugstore. Both places had a big, wooden stand that held magazines and cheap paperback books, but, best of all, there was a stack of comic books in each one. I would almost always forgo a pop and candy bar or a chocolate soda to get a comic book instead. I used to buy Archie and Disney comic books like you wouldn’t believe.
As I started to get older, Archie and Disney started to lose their appeal. There were still some funny parts in them, and Disney was reprinting a lot of the classic Carl Barks illustrated stories as easily affordable double issues, but I was looking for story telling that was a little bit deeper. I wanted more. I got old enough to start mowing lawns for a little bit of spending money, and, right about that time, a guy my dad knew opened up a comic book store. He primarily specialized in superhero books, but he very kindly offered to order a few things if I was interested in them. That was my first encounter with “Previews” and the extraordinary range of topics comics could cover.
I have loved science fiction and fantasy for as long as I can remember. I wanted the stories about dragons and dinosaurs and aliens, and the more imaginative they were, the more excited I was to read them. When I was in grade school, one of the reading skills books we used had the Ray Bradbury story “The Foghorn” in it. I still remember how beautifully illustrated it was. The artist had used pencil and mostly used extreme closeups, allowing the reader to visualize the plesiosaur themselves. The story is still one of my favorites today.
While I was mowing lawns, Topps started printing Ray Bradbury Comics. The very first issue was dedicated to a topic very dear to my heart, dinosaurs. The guy who owned the comic book store ordered a copy of the comic for me, and I took it home as soon as I could pay for it. When I opened it up, I discovered a comic adaptation of “The Foghorn” that was so true to the original story I was completely enthralled with it. That issue also had “A Sound of Thunder,” which I had never read before. It had both time travel and dinosaurs, and it was the first time I encountered the concept of miniscule changes in earlier events having far reaching effects in the future.
Those comics would inspire a lifelong love of Bradbury’s work and a fairly sizable shelf of books in my library, because I would find through that sadly short-lived comic series that Bradbury wrote great horror stories, like “Dark Carnival” as well as mysteries and odd fantasy stories. I think that I was fortunate to discover Brabury through comics, because had I not, I would have labored under the impression that the only thing I had ever liked that Bradbury had written was “The Foghorn.” I had great English teachers all through my school years, but it seemed that having to read Farenheit 451 with a group of classmates who didn’t enjoy reading and were largely indifferent towards finding something important in books that teachers were making us read thoroughly sucked away any of the joy I might have found in reading it. With little opportunity to really think about the book that I was reading, and persecution from my peers looming over any questions that I might want to ask, I just couldn’t enjoy the book in junior high. When I revisited it later on, during college, I enjoyed it very much, though I still remain very partial to Bradbury’s short fiction.
As I grew to be a teenager, the guy who ran the comic shop had to close his store, and the drugstore closed, as well. The selection of comics at the grocery store dwindled to a bare trickle, and I was less and less excited about the comic offers available to me. I still had a subscription to Disney Adventures magazine, which at the time consisted largely of comic adaptations of their more popular TV shows, like Marsupilami and Bonkers, but to my surprise, they started to serialize Jeff Smith’s Bone.
Bone had all the best elements required of a great fantasy story: there were odd creatures, a quest, a villain who eventually gets redeemed, and a family with a mysterious past. There was no way for me to get individual issues, but my local bookstore did let me order in the graphic novels. I did my best to keep track of when the new volumes were going to be released, and Bone was the only comic series that I was reading. I didn’t mind, because I was pretty sure that I had outgrown comics.
I went to college and moved away from home. I found a fantastic used book store in the city where I moved. I never lost my love of fantasy and science fiction, but I wasn’t paying much, if any, attention to what was going on in the world of comics, and I didn’t think that I was missing anything.
Then I found a crew of geeks like me, and one of them had a few issues of a comic called Poison Elves by Drew Hayes. It definitely wasn’t a comic series meant for kids. In fact, it deserves a good, solid R rating (or M if you’d prefer the video game rating system). The characters have ears like bunnies on crack, at least one of them is amoral at best and another main character is kind of an idiot most of the time, even though he does have good intentions. They join a thieves guild and end up having to save the world all while having to deal with demented pixies, ogres, werewolves and other nasty creatuers along the way. After a nearly six-year absence, I was abruptly pulled right back into the world of comics.
I was directed to a new comic book store, run by a woman, who knew exactly how to help me get my geeky fix and was very good at pointing me towards new comics that I might like. Maybe she was a little too good at pointing out new series for me, because I got back to reading several series. It was relatively easy to catch up on Dave Sims’ Cerebus because of the so-called “phone book” graphic novels (named because that’s the general size of them–pretty much the size, shape, and weight of a non-metropolitan phone book).
A friend sent me a random assortmet of her favorite comics, where I discovered Danger Girl, Fathom, and a few others. The comic store I frequented was more than happy to make sure that I got regular doses of Michael Turner’s comics and at least a peek at just about anything else that I might have had a chance of really liking.
Now, unfortunately, my favorite local comic store has closed. I felt it as a devastating blow. As I’ve continued to read comics, the owner of the shop has become a friend whom I can talk about various movies and TV shows with at great length. But I can’t go and browse at great length anymore, paging through the occasional graphic novel that has piqued my curiosity. I won’t get suggestions any more from someone who really knows my unique taste, because, let’s face it, computers can really only do so much, and sometimes they really miss the mark when they’re compiling data to offer a list of things you might like.
I still have the internet, which is a useful tool, and I can still order most of the comics that I really want to read directly from the publishers. It isn’t the same as going to a comic shop, or the drugstore, or the grocery store. I don’t know that this will end my comic reading days for good, because I really don’t see that happening. There’s far too much interesting stuff going on in comics for me to stop paying attention. I will have to put a little more effort into finding things that I want to read, though.