I Don’t Read Comics, I FEEL Them


A few weeks ago, the latest (fifth) Walking Dead hardcover trade arrived (finally!–I ordered it in November and the release date kept getting pushed back) and, well, I didn't actually end up reading it until late last week. I really wanted to, but I kept remembering the experience I had reading the first four trades, which I read back to back over a period of a few days. 
All in all that was a good experience–the story touches a nerve and if you haven't read it, go get the compendium that Josh wrote about), for the most part, until I fell asleep.  For whatever reason, after reading 40-50 pages of Walking Dead, I am basically haunted by the damn story.  Literally–I start to fall asleep and I start seeing images from the book and basically watch my brain create its own alternative Walking Dead story. It's not a cartoon–I am literally reading the new panels as I drift to sleep and it justs hectic. The combination of characters, plot, writing and art just seeps into my subconsciousness and I wake up, day after day, with images of zombies seared into my brain.  The last time this kind of thing happened, by the way, was when I was reading another black and white book, From Hell, which, if you haven't read it before, please do–but read it during the day in a brightly lit room.  I had gritty black and white Victorian nightmares the entire time I was reading the book. Seriously, that book is so freakin' crazy (and fantastic, totally fantastic, but yeeesh) that it will change you, just a bit. (Also, I hear that you shouldn't take vitamins before you go to bed since Vitamin B gives you nightmares if you don't wait a few hours. I think this is true.)
So Walking Dead Vol. 5 just sat there, on my shelf, still wrapped in plastic, for awhile. I'd glance at it every so often and realized that I was literally dreading the book, which made me realize that I actually do that kind of thing for most of the books I read–I have this defining feeling that I associate with the title, that almost never seems to change from that initial sense.
I ended up getting through volume 5 in two nights–I find myself racing through Walking Dead, like I just want be done with it as soon as possible, probably because I just feel that something terrible is going to happen on the next page. Or the one after that. It's like a very large band-aid–I just want to rip that sucker off super fast and get it over with.  I must stress that now that I have read all five volumes, I cannot wait to reread it at a more leisurely pace.  (Though, yes: dread.)
Now, I have been doing a little experiment with some of the other titles I like and found that I associate specific feelings and words to them and was curious if you had the same response.  Here are a few:
The return of Barry Allen is my own personal Blue Lantnern: I am just filled with hope when I read The Flash.  I think, honestly, it's the art that fills me with hope–Manapul's work just seems to get better and better, and, yes, it does give me some hope that even when you are really good at something, you can apparently get better.  Having Barry back just makes me feel good, too–he's one of my all time favorite characters and when he died, it really saddened me.  It's like having a long lost uncle come back, and it's almost like you didn't really realize how much you missed him until he came back.
Similarly, Ultimate Spider-Man fills me with joy and happiness,  Like, I love this book. I love it. It's got action, it's got romance, it's got drama and recently, it's been laugh-out-loud funny.  I really love reading this book, I just look forward to it month after month.  It makes me feel good, which, as you have read, is something I value. The "feeling good" thing.
On the other side of the spectrum, when I look at the two unread issues of DMZ that are on my nightstand, I feel this strange feeling of loss.   Not so much because of the story, which, honestly, has just been a major bummer after major bummer–which is fine, I get it, no problem–but more because I used to really like this book.  It was often the book I was most excited to read when it showed up in my stack. But now..I just feel like it's lost me as a reader, it's failed to keep me interested.  I will still continue to read it, but it's definitely been a disappointment for me so far this year. I assume that the story is winding down, so maybe I am feeling that as well.
Superman and Action Comics, of course, used to have one word and now they have a totally different word.  At first, I felt this kind of optimism about the books. Like, for awhile, these books were really quite good.  The Braniac storyline?  Legion storyline?  Okay, that's the Geoff Johns effect, but still, the art represented well, too, with Carlos Pacheco and Gary Frank obviously leaping to mind.  Yes, I realize that it might not be fair to combine these two books, but, honestly, for awhile you couldn't read one without the other.  Sadly, "optimism" turned to "irritation" and I dropped our for a bit, returning with War of the Supermen which I actually welcomed with open arms–if only to end that story. Though, man, I gotta tell you, what is up with the art?  I know people like it but for me, personally, DC needs to really put the best artists on that book and I don't think they do.  Yuck. Let's see what happens over the next few months.
Scalped's word is easy–gritty.  Griiit-tay.  This book continues to knock it out of the park, both with the writing and the art, and is really something special.  It's not always easy to read, but man, do those stories stick with you.  (The one shot story about the old married couple? Whew.)
There are lots of other books that bring up key words for me, but I don't feel as much conviction behind, say, Green Lantern and Adventure Comics.  Batman books…those words are changing because I feel like we are approaching some intense transitions.  Lots of the books that I would normal leap to are totally done (The New Avengers comes to mind), and other books, well, sadly, those books just make me kind of shrug.  Which is okay–I don't need to feel intensely about all of the books I read.
Take a look at some of your favorite books. What word comes to mind?  

Mike Romo is an actor and writer in LA.  He can be kind of touchy-feely because of the yoga classes. You can email him about his crow pose here or follow him on twitter.


  1. The Walking Dead often hits me hard, too.  As someone who lived in Kentucky, now lives in Georgia, and is rather familiar the Atlanta area, I can even visualize the areas discussed in the book.  Very engrossing.

    I hope the AMC series is on a similar level. 

  2. This may be a slight tangent, Mike, but the very title of this article is important to me. When we have debates around here about Big Ideas, etc., my standard answer is always that the Big, Crazy Ideas are great and fun and exciting, but I read or watch stories to FEEL something. And that emotional response, whether dread or joy or regret is, for me, best evoked with a strong narrative (which all of your examples have). You’ve got to put the characters through their paces and give them a chance to get hit with that drama. That pulls us in, forces us to empathize with these characters, and that brings out all those emotions. So when people say, "yes, but the master stroke is the way this can be read backwards and cross-referenced with the Necronomicon and Beatles’ White Album," I think… well, okay, but don’t skimp on the story or I just won’t care. I read to feel joy or exasperation or triumph or melancholy, and the good writers put us in the characters’ shoes and then put them through the various circumstances that bring about these feelings.

  3. If the story isn’t hitting on an emotional level, then it isn’t working to its fullest potential.

    I can enjoy an action comic and go that was cool. The action was entertaining, but if I don’t feel any hope, dread, sadness, shock it won’t stick with me as a story/series I value.

    Volume 5 of the Walking Dead has one of the most significant moments of the whole series. When Rick devolves and becomes a biter to save his son, that shit blew my mind intellectually and emotionally.

    Yeah, and people need to read From Hell, which is easily in my top five comic stories of all time.

  4. Sorry, I’m back.

    This is why I love Jonah Hex. So many of the stories hit on an emotional level. You are following a character that you like/admire even though he is tragically flawed and at times intolerantly "evil." So when he does something seemingly good you feel great (justice) and when he does something horrible you feel terrible (unjust).

  5. Hellblazer stories are good when after reading, I feel that a shower will never get me clean again….ever

  6. Another great book that does that: Daytripper.

  7. Daytripper brings a different emotion to every issue too. It has hit home with me with each story.