Editor’s Note: With Valentine’s Day coming up on Saturday, we’ve declared this the week of Robot Love and resurrected I ♥ Comics. In one of our favorite features, various comics creators, bloggers, retailers and fans discuss the things they love about the medium.
Today's special guest contributor is Faith Erin Hicks, creator of two fun graphic novels published by SLG, The War at Ellsmere and Zombies Calling. She also has a webcomic called Ice on her website, whch she just so happened to update yesterday.
by Faith Erin Hicks
I’m fairly new to comics. This was not my choice. As a kid I was deeply in love with comics, and taught myself to read on Asterix and Tintin, both of which were readily available at my local library. When I was really little I had a comic book Bible, where a very white looking Jesus preached the word to some equally white looking followers. I memorized that Bible, and it wasn’t because I found the stories particularly enamouring: I just liked reading comics.
However, other than Tintin, Asterix and white Jesus Bible comics, little else was available to me. I grew up in a tiny suburban town, and the only comic shop was a dank, terrifying place that I was scared to death of. When I was a teenager I would walk by the store entrance five times before summoning the courage to go in (my occasional purchase: X-Men comics). I didn’t have any friends who read comics, so there was no one around to say “try this,” and hand me a copy of Jeff Smith’s Bone. Which was really what I wanted to read, not Joe Mad X-Men.
Eventually I moved out of that town for university, into a city, and found Bone. It was right at the end of the first amazing black and white run that I discovered a tattered copy of Volume 3 (The Eyes of the Storm) at a local bookstore. I bought it and devoured it, thrilling at the world and artwork of Jeff Smith, although I really had no idea what was going on. Let it be known that Volume 3 is a very bad place to start reading Bone. But it didn’t matter. I’d found an amazing comic that seemed to be just what I was looking for, an entry way into the bizarre universe of comics themselves. There WERE things beyond superheroes, and I wanted to know what those things were. I bought the remaining Bone volumes, read them in order, and collapsed in delight that there were such things as this comic in the world.
I moved again after school ended, to the far east of Halifax, Nova Scotia, and found a wonderful comic book store called Strange Adventures. Simply having a great, friendly local comic store to go to regularly opened up even more comic worlds for me, and I swallowed whole the comics of Andi Watson, Jim Rugg and Ted Naifeh.
But I have never been a regular comic reader. I have never followed a series, never anticipated the release of a certain book. Most of the books I bought and read were single stories, or had been published for a few years. Most were chosen as a result of browsing.
That changed last year.
I stumbled on Naoki Urasawa’s Monster while making an aggressive attempt to read manga. I wasn’t deliberately avoiding the art form while the bubble grew (then collapsed, and now wobbles around while people speculate), I just hadn’t yet found the one story that would sell me on it, much like Bone showed me that North American comics could be different from what I thought they originally were.
I complained about my lack of manga-experience to an employee at Strange Adventures, saying I didn’t know where to start reading. What would be good for someone like me, who worshipped at the altar of Bone? The difference in storytelling between Japanese and North American/European comics was intimidating. Where should I start reading the backwards comics?
“Try Monster,” the employee said. “It’s my favourite.”
“What’s it about?”
“A doctor who saves the life of a kid, and then the kid grows up to be a serial killer.”
High concept is a wonderful thing. I don’t think I’d ever been so intrigued by a story idea since hearing “live dinosaurs run amuck in a theme park.” Jurassic Park still holds a special place in my (now much older than) 12-year old heart.
Since I didn’t have the money to buy the (then) 14 volumes, I checked them out from the library (libraries are wonderful things if you’re poor). And read them. And then clutched the books dramatically to my bosom and wailed “where have you BEEN all my life??” The books were dark and adult, but not ‘edgy for the sake of edgy.’ The characters were likable and hateable and lovable and the main male lead was smoking hot. And tragic and misguided and haunted and stalked by an Inspector Javert-like figure. And the artwork was amazing! It wasn’t that it was unlike anything I’d ever seen or some kind of new evolution in the world of drawing, but it was so perfectly realized, so intricate and carefully drawn. It flayed alive all those previous puzzlements I’d had about manga artwork (where are the backgrounds? Why are the people drawn that way? I’m confused!).
Fourteen volumes had been released when I started reading Monster, so four more were yet to be published. And over the coming year, I bought each volume as it came out.
With Monster I experienced something I had never before experienced with comics: anticipation. The excitement of counting the days off until the next volume of Monster was out, and then racing down to Strange Adventures to pick up my copy. I was thrilled. I’d always anticipated movies, looked forwards to birthdays and Christmas, been excited for upcoming U2 albums, but anticipation had never before been a part of my comic buying. With the exception of Bone, which I started reading right as it was ending, I’d never before been made to wait for a comic. It felt like I was finally part of some collective comic experience, bouncing into my local comic store to pick up MY order. And then racing home to read the book and bite all my fingernails off due to sheer reader excitement.
I won’t recap the series for you. I think you should read it, rather than have someone online spout their opinions, but I will say this: I’d never before been so caught up in a narrative. I’d never before seen an author juggle so many storylines like a magician spinning plates, draw so many amazing backgrounds, compose so many deeply emotional meetings between flawed but occasionally admirable characters. It was like someone out there in the universe of comics reached forth and created a story specifically for me, which is the greatest experience a reader can ask for.
The final volume of Monster came out in December, and while others had differing opinions on the conclusion of the series, I liked it just fine. It was the first time I think I’ve ever read a comic and at one point started screaming “SHOOT HIM SHOOT HIM SHOOT HIM IN THE HEAD!!!” at static pictures on a page.
The translated volumes of Naoki Urasawa’s next two books, 20th Century Boys and Pluto, come out on Feb. 17. I’ve already ordered them at my local comic store, and am biting my nails off in anticipation for their release. I hope I’ll have some fingernails left by the time I get to read them.