Obsession: Life in Comics – Part 2

Continued from last week

Detective ComicsSometime in my early teens, I found a local comic store, one I could get to without telling my parents. They already gave me an incredibly hard time for locking myself in my room and reading comics all the time (quite reasonably in retrospect), and I didn’t want to risk more “conversations” by telling them how much I needed to go to a comic store. At the time they didn’t give me a lot of pocket money, but I’d worked out that by eating a candy bar for lunch most days, I could save most of my lunch money. My friends (who loved drawing and science fiction as much as me) thought I was crazy to read comics (well, both crazy and stupid). So I didn’t want to tell anyone what I was doing. That store became my lifeline, suddenly I could talk to other people who read comics, and yes they were all weird boys, but at least they got it, understood what I was talking about. Even better, I had access to all kinds of books. Alan Davis was drawing Batman in Detective Comics while he had a torrid affair with a Catwoman gone kind of good (until a sadistic Joker messed with her head and made her all bad again, torturing poor Batman again — it was pretty dismal). The New Mutants were coming out, (with increasingly intense, expressive art by Bill Seinkiewicz). Slowly the owners encouraged me to branch out when V for Vendetta happened, Watchmen, and (even more badass than I ever could have hoped for), The Dark Knight Returns came out, and the incredibly painted Elektra: Assassin.

ElektraComics were changing, the stories (and what it was possible to express) were growing right along with my own appetites and desires. I’d never imagined that comics could be this good, could speak to me on so many levels. Most of all, these people were drawing some insanely hot-looking, scary women. Women with great bodies, and incredible strength who weren’t so crazy or stupid that they killed themselves. They looked amazing, and this wasn’t a liability for them, it was a bonus. While men were drooling on them they kicked ass. This might sound really pedestrian and hackneyed as a concept now, but at the time there was nothing else like this.

By 17, my identity as the weird art-chick who wore a Batman t-shirt was firmly entrenched. This was London, and American comics were marginal. Pretty much everyone thought I was insane, but they tolerated my obsession. I’d still buy comics and read them, but I couldn’t tell people. It was my own private joy. For various reasons I was not a happy person (like most people in their late teens), and comics took me out of my head in a way that started to feel essential. It was around then that I discovered Love & Rockets: a stark, black and white story about young women who dyed their hair, drank too much, listened to angry music, and were just like me and my friends. I showed it to one of my new punkier friends (Tara), and for once, a friend didn’t turn her nose up. Tara immediately saw how like us the characters were, and loved the method of storytelling. Finally sharing a comic with a female friend was a great little moment, and we became fast friends.

Love and RocketsLike a lot of people, for most of my late teens and twenties I was trying very hard to prove that I was a grown-up. One of the side-effects of this misguided move was trying not to like comics. For a couple of years I moved to Holland, and then Germany. Each time I remember seeking out an American comic store, only to secretly visit it and buy the handful of decadent, over-priced import books to devour. My friends and partners couldn’t understand what they meant to me, how they’d provided a lifeline. Their affectionate derision only set me further apart from them, and so I kept it to myself.

Moving back to London in my twenties was mostly just an exercise in keeping my head above water. I don’t remember picking up a comic for the entire two years I was there. But I had a little brother (Sam) who was turning into a young man, and I quickly realized that we had nothing in common. He didn’t read comics, he liked soccer, and collectable cards (?). I didn’t get it.

It wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco 12 years ago that I suddenly realized that here, in America, it would be perfectly acceptable to read comics. Gradually I met more and more people who also read comics, who owned obscure books, and even visited comic stores. And while for them it was a very casual thing, and they didn’t know much about the books, the fact that they shared my enjoyment of the medium was massive.

Lone Wolf and CubAfter a couple of years in San Francisco, my dad approached me. “Sonia”, he seriously intoned, “I don’t know what to do, your brother doesn’t read. He looks up to you, send him a book, recommend something to get him excited about reading. He’s got to read”. We’re a bookish family, and I could feel his concern. I thought carefully about this 14 year old boy, and what I’d like to impart to him as someone on the edge of manhood. So I sent him the first two reprints of Lone Wolf & Cub. I remembered reading them when I was in my late teens, and respecting Lone Wolf’s identity and solidity as a man who lived true to his own code. If I were a man, this is the kind of moral compass I’d hope to have. So I sent them off and waited to see what would happen.

Sam inhaled them, and wanted more. It can’t have been long after reading it that he discovered the massive treasure trove of my comic collection from the 80’s stashed in our parents house. I remember him calling me and marveling at the power of The Dark Knight Returns, or asking me “What happened to Maggie and Izzy in Love & Rockets? Who are they now?” Consistently, he was blown away by the same comics that had totally enthralled me at a similar age. And now it’s gotten to a point where he recommends titles to me. This week Sam is coming to San Diego for Comic-Con with me. I couldn’t be happier.

Somehow I’ve never really been in a relationship with anyone that liked comics as much as me (but I’ve had a lot of kind and patient explanations of how limited and childish comics are – thanks guys *ahem*), so it’s remained a relatively private joy… until recently that is, when a friend gave me a pass to WonderCon, and I ended up at an Isotope after-party, where I met some people who changed my view of things. Because no matter how much comics are influencing movies these days, most people are happy to never read the originals, and find out how much more intense and challenging the experience could be. Now I know a lot of really incredible people to talk about comics with, and they’re just as obsessed as me (even more so)! I feel pretty lucky, and it’s a huge relief to finally come out of the closet about my secret obsession.

 


Sonia Harris is a limey designer living in California, spending about ten percent of her time translating her English into American. She’s extremely nervous about the magnitude of Comic-Con and hopes it won’t eat her alive. She can be reached at sonia@ifanboy.com

Comments

  1. Awww, makes me wish I could go to San Diego.  Me talk good comics too!

    Nice stuff Sonia.

  2. Thanks for sharing your origin, Sonia.  It’s always interesting to me to hear about people who got into comics on their own, since for me it’s been a fairly social phenomenon from the start.  I got into comics with active encouragement from several friends (female friends, for the most part, incidentally).  I spent a lot of time just reading the books my friends recommended,and borrowing theirs, and even since I’ve branched out on my own, having people to discuss what I’m reading with has always been part of the experience.  It must be an interesting shift to go from having comics as your private world for years, and then suddenly talking about them all the time. 

    It’s also interesting to hear that there isn’t as much of a comics culture in the UK, considering how many writers come from there!

  3. I tell ya what. For me, its been real tough finding friends to talk comics with. Thats what this site has been doing for me, but it still isnt the same.

    I went to actually meet R, J, and C when they put together an iFanboy get together in NYC at a bar after NYCC.

    I was in my GLORY talking comics with everyone there. It was truly a night I wont forget. Thats what I imagine Isotope is like every day. *sigh* 

  4. Like Unoob, it’s why I come to this site.  I don’t think comic readers are in short supply, it’s more that the friends I grew up reading comics with are far away and don’t go regularly.  When you’re interested in something, it’s always nice to have someone to talk to about it.

    I’ve been trying to turn my family onto comics, getting things that I thought my sister, mom, and dad would like, but so far, nothing has really stuck.  It’s not a big deal because I don’t envision any of them becoming as obsessed as I am.  

  5. i kind of know how you feel. Iam the only one in my big fam who reads comics. 

  6. I got my wife to actually read Hush AND The WHOLE Captain America Omnibus and she loved them. She hasnt read anything else though. 🙁

    It was fun while it lasted. 

  7. My wife has just picked up Powers again after a couple of arc’s away (due to school) and she loves Fables and Jack of, Walking Dead, and Echo, so I’m pretty happy.

    The hard part for me is not throwing too much at her you know?  She just doesn’t consume comics the way I do.  Still I should get her on Millar’s FF I think, she’s always loved those Four characters and was a fan of Millars before…hmmm

  8. I’ve only been reading comics seriously for about 2 years now, and definitely wish I had more people with which to talk about them in person. Like others, it’s the main reason I frequent this site as well as Around Comics. Hearing how much fun the iFanboys and Around Comics crew have talking comics is great, but it makes me kind of envious, as well! Maybe we all need to start forming local book groups devoted to comics!

  9. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    For anyone interested in comic discussion beyond the forums and comments sections, I highly recommend getting into Skype.  We have a great community, and a pretty large one at that.  Make some connections on the forums or Twitter and organize some evening Skype chats.  It’s a great service and a perfect venue for hosting discussion groups.  

    If anyone wants to organize something, toss me an email and we can promote it.   

  10. I’m interested in that.

  11. This article reminds me so much of how my older sister got me into reading. It wasn’t comics, unfortunately, but from a very early age she’d ‘assign’ me books I should read, even hold little book clubs with the two of us to talk about them. Sad, I know, but it was awesome. She still does it today, despite her living abroad with her husband. Five years ago, she sent me a copy of ‘The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly’ with a single post-it attached; "Read this now!"

    I doubt I’ll get her into comics, but she’s the one responsible for getting me to love reading. Thanks for this article, Sonia, as despite it being an obviously personal story it brought up a lot of really cool memories for me 🙂

  12. This is a great conclusion to your story, Sonia.  As the other commenters have pointed out, I think we can all relate to the need to find a community of people to talk about comics with.  That’s why we’re at this site, after all.  And in many ways, that’s a good thing.  People who like movies or television don’t tend to have to cluster, because they can talk about them with anyone.  But at the same time, they don’t get to experience the magic of finding a group of like-minded individuals who understand your feelings about your hobby better than you ever could have imagined.

  13. Wonderfully written.  And now that your origin story is done (although, expect it to be reworked in a few years to fit into the new continuity)… I am looking forward to the new, exciting adventures and observations next week.  And you really need to appear in a couple of Ron’s minis.