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Committed: In Praise of Newbies

by  in Comic News Comment
Committed: In Praise of Newbies

Without even meaning to, I’ve noticed a pattern lately of enjoying my friend’s “late” adoption of comic books, science fiction, and other so-called geeky things I thought were just mine. It’s surprisingly rewarding to vicariously experience the things I love through people who are new to them. New readers’ excitement about the books I have forgotten how to be surprised by, has become a wonderful way to stop taking them for granted. There are so many amazing things to enjoy that I can get jaded and forget how incredible they seemed when they were new to me. That’s why I love newcomers and even though I understand the instinct that makes some feel wary of them, it only takes letting them in a very tiny bit to feel how much their enthusiasm brings to the genre we love.

It’s been 17 years since Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a new show I loved. All my friends mocked me for watching a show for kids, or a show about a young girl beating up guys in makeup (no one else was doing it then so on the surface, at least, it sounded a bit perverse for an adult to watch), but I had so much fun that I didn’t care. By the time it finished it got so ubiquitous that even I became sick of hearing about it. Over the years I’ve liked it and watched the odd episode with friends but I had forgotten how thrilled I felt when it was new. Then my friends Jon started watching it for the first time and he decided it was remarkable enough that he needed to record the entire experience. Over the last few months I have been reading his notes and every entry reminds me of my initial excitement all over again, his observations echo my own and make me laugh at all the odd things he’s watching outside of the context of the era they were made in. I am so grateful to him for sharing his thoughts and reminding me what it feels like to be thrilled and delighted by something entirely new and absolutely hilarious.

When I was a teenager, desperately waiting for each issue of Elektra: Assassin, phoning the comic book shop each month to see if the next issue was in, I was obsessed. Over the years I’ve retained my love of the series and the various ways in which it worked for me, but I’ve learned to love it in a very different way than I did back then. Without even meaning to, I’ve learned a lot more about how it was made, the intention behind it, and the ways in which it worked for my personally at a very pivotal age. I don’t have the same blind love for it, my appreciation is explicable now and although I like understanding myself more, that makes it a little bit less magical. Then a couple of years ago my friend David Brothers picked up a new reprint of the compilation and he became a convert, telling everyone about it, dissecting it, recommending it, looking at the books Miller and Sienkiewicz produced before and after it. His enthusiasm was so new and unadulterated that it surprised me, he read something 25 years after the fact, treated it as if it were fresh and that joy was infectious.

Growing up I couldn’t read or tell the time when everyone else could, but a year or two after everyone else in school could, I finally learned to read. Once I could, I read everything I could get my hands on, but because I learned to late I can still remember exactly how it felt when I couldn’t. Instead of trying to read the confusing letters, I gravitated towards pictures; a more logical form of communication to me at the time. Everywhere I went I would rummage through books and magazines for the cartoons which would tell me a story. I didn’t differentiate between what was high or low art, it was fascinating to me that so much could be conveyed by each brush stroke and line. Once the world of words opened up to me and I could read the the captions which accompanied those cartoons it was just incredible. Now I will never recapture that feeling of unquestioning excitement to finally be able to read the stories and comic books I’d been poring over for so long, but I can enjoy other people’s newfound joy in it.

Last week my friend Todd asked for recommendations of female science fiction writers and I gave him a couple. Then as I saw the other recommendations flood in, I realized that I’d never got around to trying out Ursula Le Guin. I asked for a recommendation of the best book to start with, so now I’m going to get to be the newbie and try out something which everyone else discovered years ago. It’s ridiculous but I’m excited to be on this side of the fence, experiencing something widely acknowledged to be great for the first time.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the ways I don’t fit in with my comic book colleagues and that instigated talk about what constitutes a real comic book reader, which is a slightly different question. It’s easy to feel like an outsider when we are so passionate about a genre that people have derided. That can make us cagey about trusting newcomers, but it is their fresh excitement at the discovery which renews our own. Think of it like The Vampire Lestat, where an older vampire turns a young human every few centuries so that he can re-connect with what is happening in the world. Just because I’ve had access to comic books since I was a baby, doesn’t mean that everyone did and that’s a good thing. It means that now I get to watch other my friends get excited for the first time, and get excited with them all over again.

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