or “How I became interested in Comics & Graphic Novels”–Part 1
If you remember from last week’s post many people assume that graphic novels are just really long comic books; so the thinking follows, everyone who reads graphic novels must also be into superhero comic books, such as The X-Men or Superman…This, my friends, is simply not true—in fact, many of the people at the Arvon course were not ‘superhero comic fans.’ A few had grown up reading comic books, but there were many, like myself, who got into comics via a more roundabout path.
Now I don’t mean to say that I was never into superheros; in fact, some of my fondest memories are of playing action figures with my brother and sister on the floor of his room–for a while there was some contention over who got to be “Storm” (I ended up getting “Rogue”)–and of course, I grew up with both the Adam West Batman as well as the slightly less campy Batman the Animated Series. Still, I was never a huge comic book hero fan per say, prolly due to their un-relatable portrayal of female characters (though that’s a separate post). Suffice it to say, when my brother went to the local comic book store, I usually looked at the latest Archie Digests with my sister. I did, however, always love the newspaper comics or “funny pages” as my grandfather called them. I remember crawling into his lap while he read them to me at the breakfast table–adding his own commentary on which were his favourite and which were “too grown up” for me at the time (Beetle Bailey, “yes”, Apt. 3G, “not til you’re older”).
Sundays were also especially contentious in my family, as my siblings and I would argue, on our way to church, no less, about who got what page of the comics first. I think if I hadn’t had those fond memories of reading the comics with my grandfather or fighting over them with my brother and sister, I wouldn’t have continued to read my favourite comic strips as long as I did. Even in college, I’d search through the discarded papers in the common area looking for the comics section. And of course, I also LOVED Calvin & Hobbes (yes, all caps were necessary )–I spent hours reading and rereading the Calvin & Hobbes anthologies, eagerly awaiting the ‘denoument’ of Calvin’s latest scheme–would he ever get his transmorgifier to work? would this trip down the hill in the wagon be his last? One of the important things that Calvin & Hobbes taught me (though I didn’t realize it at the time), that comics didn’t always have to rely on slapstick gags to be successful and sometimes didn’t need to even be “funny” at all (Ex: when Calvin loses Hobbes or when their house if broken into) Like millions of readers, adult and children, I was gutted when Bill Watterson announced he was ending Calvin & Hobbes, though as I got older, I learned to respect and moreover appreciate his decision to keep artistic control over his creation.
So, as you can see, I’d been a fan of comics from the early days, but it wasn’t until I was about 12 that I unwittingly discovered the graphic novel on a family vacation one summer. Twice a year my family would pile into our mini-van and drive 14 hours to a small town in Florida–miami party-ers, we were not. We’d spend a week biking, cooking and sunning (or in my case, crisping) on the sand. When not on the beach, one of my favourite places to hang out was a small bookstore called Sundog Books. Owned by a very sweet couple, they allowed my siblings and I to sit in the back of the bookstore and spend hours reading and reading, til our mom usually had to come find us (though, come to think about it, sometimes I think she was hoping we’d stay there forever). It was that bookstore that I discovered the many adventures of Tintin–the first one I read was Cigars of the Pharaoh and it is still my most favourite one of all his exploits. Over that first summer I prolly read about half of the store’s collection, and over subsequent vacations, read almost all of his adventures, until my family stopped vacationing in that small town. Thus I dipped my toe into the waters of the graphic novel genre, though it would be many years before I returned to reading them…but that is for Part 2.
(Side note: I am a francophile so in a way it is extremely fitting that my first foray into graphic novels was through the famous Belgian detective and his cute pup “Milou”).