I usually come at this column from a very specific place. One might even say my running theme can be summarized as: good science can still tell good stories. But last night I found myself in a weird place; when I should have been writing this column I was uninspired by reality. This is atypical of me as a person but then it hit me: I needed some escapism.
Don’t get me wrong, I think reality is beautiful, especially since it’s all we’ve got, but in a certain sense imagination is an aspect of reality as projected by our own neural circuitry. So it should be ok to enjoy escaping from time to time, right? Of course that’s right! Only a scientist would ever think to ask permission to step outside reality for a little bit. But this is where comics come in oh so handy.
It gets down to a few of the basal reasons for why I enjoy comics in the first place. I read all day. I’ve never thought to try and calculate the number or words or even pages that I consume daily, because it would probably just depress me. The reading is dense and technical, I have to look up words all the time (which I then usually feature on my tumblr blog) and while there are technically a few pictures in every paper, they’re called figures and take longer to comprehend than a paragraph of the writing. It’s mentally exhausting, so when I come home I don’t want to read something equally dense for fun (not that I ever really have time to read for fun, but you get my drift). What I want is something graphic and quick, neither of which are meant as slights.
Comics are easier to read than pure text. They plug in to our neural machinery more readily than a regular book in the same way a movie is easier to consume than a comic. These are not value judgments for any of the aforementioned media, just the facts of how we absorb information. You have to learn to read, and even once you’ve learned, reading is active and it takes a bit of energy. But assuming you can see, images are instant. You don’t need to learn how to see an image and understand something about it. It increases the visceral potential of comics because an image can shock you in a way words have a harder time doing. Movies win for ease of consumption, because unless it’s in foreign you don’t have to do anything active, you let the light and sound hit their appropriate receptors and just go with it.
So if I’m looking for a bit of easy escapism why don’t I just watch a movie? Well I prefer reading, I like that it’s active. And a movie takes a specific amount of time. It’s right there on the box. For whatever reason I’m resistant to having to try and fit that in my schedule, as opposed to a comic I can carry around the house reading in fits and starts as I please. But this is all the nuts and bolts of my own preferred escapism, what’s my actual point?
I may write about science here most every week, and science is a huge part of my life but it’s not the only part of my life. Like everyone reading this, I’m multifaceted and have varied interests. Some days nothing excites me more than getting home and read even more science, whereas other days, like yesterday, it is the last thing I want. However, in an attempt to do due deference to this column, I figured I’d read some light sci-fi and give some analysis. Which lead to the problem of my stack. In my stack week column, I lamented the rise of the digital stack which can be accessed anywhere, mobilizing guilt, but this circumvented the problem of my corporeal stack. Because of my use of comics as “lighter” reading, I tend to get through the easy and thin stuff pretty quick, and the denser, more literate tomes sit and accumulate. Every so often a situation like I have now occurs where I have nothing but hefty graphic novels or old golden age stuff (also a slog to get through) and nothing just screams “fun.”
Then I remembered I had a digital copy of Zita the Spacegirl, a new OGN by Ben Hatke published by :01, which could be just the thing. I started reading and realized quickly that I’d been duped. This wasn’t sci-fi at all! Which was really what I wanted, even if it meant you didn’t get a typical column here this week. Without diving into a full-fledged review, Zita the Spacegirl was exactly what I needed. If Star Wars is King Arthur than Zita the Spacegirl is The Wizard of Oz. Neither is sci-fi, they’re both fantasy, but they use the ethos of certain sci-fi tropes to set the stage for some epic fantasy story telling. Now I’m not done with Zita the Spacegirl (I fell asleep while reading, no slight on the book, more a slight on my schedule) but when I do, assuming Paul hasn’t scooped me, you’ll get my full thoughts.
Suffice it to say that in my own roundabout way I managed to escape from reality for a few minutes before falling asleep last night. It was sorely needed, and was provided in a way only comics could. Reality is a pretty cool place to live most of the time, and incorporating it in fiction is useful for many reasons, but sometimes even the most rational of us want to let go and enjoy absurdity. To that end I hope you enjoyed my own rant on that very subject and very much look forward to reading your responses in the comics.
Ryan Haupt has escaped from reality, if you see him in your imagination do not approach him as he is considered armed and extremely logical. The only cure to Ryan-infected imagination syndrome is listening to Science… sort of.