Growing up I was lucky, unlike most British children I had a lot of access to a broad variety of comic books. My mum and dad (practically still kid themselves at the time) left all kinds around the house; There were the comic books specifically for me, like Dandy and The Beano (which my dad would read too), then there were American superhero comic books my parents bought because of their interest in Pop Art (which I would read too), there were Peanuts paperbacks (which my mum brought over from America and I read them insatiably), and later there were all sorts of weird, so-called “head comix” (which I wasn’t supposed to read, but I still did… Robert Crumb might draw some crazy stuff, but he draws it well). Like Obelix from the French Asterix books (which I discovered in my parents’ friends’ houses when we drove all over Europe), I fell into a proverbial cauldron as a baby and so I grew up with comic books as part of me.
Most people aren’t so fortunate and have to work harder to discover the potent medium of intertwined art and prose which comic books offer. Some people read a few children’s comic book on their way to learning to read as adults, but never realize that this is just one end of the vast spectrum of stories to be found in the medium. Other people never even get to have a childhood of comic book reading, and don’t know what is out there.
Over the years i’ve given a ridiculous number of friends comic books as gifts. Of course I wanted to share the medium with them, but my reasons weren’t entirely selfless. Reading so many different kinds of comic books, I often found it easy to imagine which books would (potentially) be a good fit for the people I cared about. As much as a desire to share my enjoyment, it was also an attempt to convert them to this medium which I find so powerful. Over time it became a way to subtly promote the other side of comic books, to show people what amazing things are possible giving them obscure or unfamiliar books. It’s been a while since I began consciously doing this and I was never sure if it had any impact on my friend’s lives. In fact until recently, no one mentioned it and it wasn’t a question I thought to ask myself , I simply hoped I was giving people something they would enjoy.
Last week I was out with a friend when she pointed at a some men hanging out on a corner and exclaimed; “Look at those guys, they look like boys straight out of Love & Rockets! Have you noticed, that kind of haircut is back in fashion again all over the place?” Here was my fashionable friend, comparing the real world to a comic book I introduced her to decades ago! I had no idea she still remembered it, and at the time I wasn’t even sure if she really liked the book. But here we were, thousands of miles and years away from that time when we sat on her bedroom floor reading Love & Rockets together, and it had stuck in her head in this fantastically iconic way.
This weekend an ex mailed to say “Re-reading Promethea. So good!” which was so nice to hear, (particularly from someone who never read comic books before we met!) While I did remembered recommending a few of what I consider essential-reading in mature comic books when we first met, but I had no memory of Promethea and certainly didn’t expect reading comic books to continue after we broke up. In retrospect I can see that Promethea is a good fit (the stories of self-creation, and the willingness of the protagonist to learn and grow is very inspiring to many people, both emotionally and creatively), and I’m so glad that comic books stuck in this instance.
Talking with other friends this weekend, we discussed the comic books I’d given them over the years and which one’s they liked enough to give to other friends. It became increasingly clear that these books weren’t just successful presents, but were also giving people a window into the complex kinds of communication possible in this medium. It was wonderful to find out that not only were my gifts appreciated, but they stood up to the test of time and positively impacted my friend’s lives enough to want to share them with their friends as well! It is important that we keep sharing the things we’re passionate about so that we can enrich each other’s lives with fascinating comic books, and propagate the medium while we’re at it too! If we’re really lucky, we gain a new perspective on the books we love from people we care about.