"Comics saved my life."
When someone says this, you likely think they’re exaggerating. However, I’m living proof that isn't always the case.
For me, it was Grant Morrison's "All Star Superman" -- a book I absolutely despised upon first reading, only to take solace in it when nothing else could provide comfort. I read it every New Year's Day to charge myself up for the 365 days ahead because it reminds me of what we, as a people, can be. In a time when we should be celebrating creators, praising the unity and open-armed warmth of our community, and basking in the glow and beauty of comics, it hurts me to see misogynists driving creatives off Twitter with messages of hatred, simply because we’re different or think differently. Not only in comics, but in general. Why does it pain me when things like these happen, especially in our medium? Well, because comics saved my life.
In 2011, I began suffering from depression. My mental health was in a pretty bad state, primarily stemming from a toxic relationship I was hellbent on staying in at the time. It finally ended in March 2013, but the weight of the years had piled up; I was broken. Before that, I was a geek. I grew up in the Caribbean on a diet of comics, sci-fi, manga, anime ... the whole nine. From books to television to movies, I was all in. But when I reached that tipping point, my love of art couldn't help me. Only two close friends knew what I was going through; not even my family realized.
Thankfully, I've shaken the stigma of being ashamed of my mental health. Back then, therapy sessions ensued, as did antidepressants, and I was scared as hell. I didn't feel as if I was moving toward the proverbial light (granted, as with any panicked mental-health patient, I wanted results immediately). But then, in October 2013, I stumbled across a few of Morrison's books on my desk. It was Halloween and, not being in the mood to dress up, I dived into one of my earliest loves -- one I'd spent too much time away from. The more depressed I became, the less I read, the less music I listened to, and so on. Rediscovering that comic collection, though, was fate patting me on the back. I still can't explain why, but "All Star Superman" called out to me.
Before that night, I found the comic, and its animated adaptation, way too pretentious because of how much it subverted the Superman source material. I remember bashing it every chance I could, only for a buddy of mine online to keep pointing out why it's the "greatest comic ever made." So I took him up on the challenge without realizing I was actually doing it. I read the book that night, and gave it a second go immediately. As I turned the final page, yet again, the feeling that overcame me was, and still is, surreal. It felt like surfacing to take a deep breath in an ocean whose currents had been pulling me down. It felt like screaming atop a mountain, watching the stars at night hugging the city. It felt like, as cliched as it sounds, waking up for the first time and walking outside from a dark room, squinting at the sun. I guess, irony would have it, it felt like a rebirth. As I put the book down, I cried. And cried. And cried. And exorcised most of my demons. To the point where after that night, I didn't need therapy or antidepressants again.
Risky, you say? Too rash? Well, I did medicate, and it was on Morrison's pages. It was on every panel and stroke of color that Frank Quitely and the entire DC roster behind the book put in. This book reminded me of how important life was, and how much we shouldn't take it for granted. I saw a god reduced to a mortal, yet still inspired to do good. Aspiring to make us better in his final days. I saw a son losing his parents. I saw parents losing a child. I saw a man intimidated by and fumbling around the love of his life. I saw an icon display an uncharacteristic jealousy when the object of his affection was approached by outsiders. I saw a genius realize that no matter how selfish we can be, something greater, something inexplicable will always prevail. I saw faith. I saw romance.
I saw magic.
A hero, carving out his last will and testament, but still immovable in the resolve of his heart, proving to someone just how much he loved her. Infinitely, as he did mankind. Morrison's story transcended every conventional notion of a comic book, novel or any piece of art I've ever experienced. Each word was remarkable, emotive and powerful, and resonates with me unlike any other every January. It drove me back to the realm I shied away from. Tons of books, tons of creators. It eventually guided me to Kieron Gillen's "Generation Hope" #9, which tackled a young mutant, outed online, who committed suicide. And I remembered sharing both books with as many people as I could to let them know that it gets better. I felt like a salesman, going door to door, online... shouting to everyone why these books are important. Why this medium is important. And I also found myself yelling at creators about why they have a duty to use their powers to effect change. After all, with great power, comes great responsibility.
I did meet resistance. A lot. Many laughed. Many brushed off the books as nothing but heroes in capes and tights. They'd have preferred a medical pamphlet, a Deepak Chopra book or a Joel Osteen video clip. And that's fine. Whatever heals you, by all means have at thee. But it's the concept of why that still drives my passion to this very day. With it, I'll help promote graphic novels and comics such as "Love is Love," "Black" and "Living Level 3: Iraq."
"Why should we read this? Why will it help us if we're going through a rough patch?"
Well, because, that October night, I fell back in love again. With a book that dusted me off, when it should have been the other way around. That book tucked me back on my shelf and reminded me that I'm still a spark that this world needs.
In that book, I saw a hero flawed. A villain flawed. A universe flawed. And as I recalled the old books that made me who I am, the current ones that keep building my character and the ones I cannot wait to sink my teeth into in the future, I can tell you, when I say that "Comics saved my life," it's not just a book, but the medium. One in which I see you. I see me. I see humanity. Working together to fix things like Superman… in the Fortress of Solitude, at the Daily Planet, in the arms of Lois, or buried deep in the heart of the sun.
And just like in "All Star Superman," I see other magicians painting these most vivid and relatable pictures of us all, in places they're least likely to be found.
I see belief. Hope. Love. In comics, I see the promise of a better tomorrow, with all of us, fans and creators, taking better care of each other.
So thank you to the medium, for reminding me that all I need to start a new chapter in life, are the words, "Page one. Panel one."
And thank you to Grant Morrison, Frank Quietly and DC Comics. "It's never as bad as it seems. You're much stronger than you think you are." Truer words, never spoken.