There are often discussions among both creators and fans regarding how to get more people interested in a certain genre or medium. People debate about how to reinvent classic characters and create new ones to gain a larger audience, how to make film and television adaptations that will both appeal to both long-time fans and be understandable to potential ones, how to best represent the genre or medium to outsiders in advertisements and interviews. As is probably apparent from my more recent essays and reviews, I’ve become a fan of comics recently.1 So, as a new fan, I thought I should share my experience — what inspired my interest in comics, factors that made it difficult to become a fan initially, and how my interest eventually turned into love.
Like many people, I grew up watching superhero movies and television shows. One of the earliest superhero movies I remember watching is the 1997 film Batman & Robin,2 which I now realize (upon looking it up online in preparation for writing this essay) was incredibly badly-received.3 Thankfully, it didn’t tarnish my view of the genre (in fact, I remember enjoying certain parts of it), and I’ve seen several other Batman films since then. On television, I remember watching and enjoying Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,4 though I don’t recall if I ever watched all of the episodes. I have fond memories of Static Shock,5 a show which mixed the fun adventures of a teenage superhero with commentary on serious topics — a combination which I clearly love to this day, as can be seen in my reviews of Ms. Marvel (by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona, Ian Herring, et al)6 and Young Avengers (by Allan Heinberg, Jim Cheung, Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, et al).7 My favorite superheroes, though, were the X-Men.8 Though I missed out on most of X-Men: The Animated Series during the 1990s,9 I watched X-Men: Evolution religiously during its entire run from 2000-2003.10 It was around this time that the first couple of X-Men films were released as well.11 Between the movies and the show, my love of the X-Men grew. I watched Saturday-morning cartoons well into high school and am still writing fan fiction based on a cartoon show. These stories mean a great deal to me. They inspire me. The characters tried to do the right thing and fight the good fight. They faced their fears. They were brave, when I wasn’t. The X-Men12 tried to accept themselves as mutants and be superheroes who used their powers for good, and like them, I wanted to accept myself and try to do good in the world. I looked up to them. I wanted to be like them.
I knew, of course, that these characters I loved had originated in the world of comics. Always one to be interested in the originals, I decided I wanted to read comics. After all, it was the perfect opportunity to read more stories about characters I loved, even after I’d seen all the television episodes and movies. I started reading some issues of X-Men comics from my local library. I remember being frustrated that they didn’t have a larger collection. I don’t remember the stories I read, but I think I read some issues of X-Men: First Class at some point13 (based, probably, on the reasoning that First Class sounded like it might be the beginning of the story, because I generally like to read stories in order). The stories were somewhat enjoyable, but I didn’t love them the way I had loved the cartoon show. It was also difficult to read a complete series or know which book to read next. At some point, I also bought a paperback with the first four issues of the short-lived X-Men: Evolution comics series14 — a series which I recently finished reading and reviewed in July).15
I realized that the library and bookstore only had a limited supply of this thing called comics, and that apparently there were these mysterious places called comics shops that would have more of them. Never having been to a comics shop before, my first visit to one was rather confusing. I think I walked away with X-Men trading cards. I remember that I acquired a bag that contained four comics, the first four single issues that I ever owned (and for a long time, the only ones). Two issues of about Superman; one issue about the X-Men; and one issue that strangely had covers on both sides: one with Wolverine and one with Ghost Rider. I had no Earthly idea where any of these issues fit in with the continuities of the stories of which they were a part. I was confused as to why these random issues (that didn’t seem to be the beginning of a story, or even part of the same story) had been grouped together. The X-Men issue was the most confusing, because it had a text-less cover that, unlike the others, didn’t even have a number on it. Since then, with a little searching online, I’ve realized that these comics (which I still have) are the following: Adventures of Superman Vol. 1 #520 “Christmas Thieves” (February, 1995);16 Action Comics Vol. 1 #800 “A Hero’s Journey” (April, 2003);17 X-Men Vol. 2 #1 “Rubicon” (October, 1991);18 and Marvel Comics Presents Vol. 1 #139, which contains the four stories “Rumble in the Jungle (Part 3): Masque”, “Earthbound (Part 2), “Fellow Travelers… (Part 3): Fangs of Fury”, and “Feat First” (October, 1993).19 That trip to the comics shop was a rather a uninspiring experience. I didn’t read comics for many years after that. There were a couple of moments when I became temporarily intrigued. I heard of books like V for Vendetta (by Alan Moore, David Lloyd, et al)20 and Watchmen (by Alan Moore, David Gibbons, John Higgins, et al),21 which are considered classics that helped reinvent the genre, but they’ve honestly been sitting on my shelf unfinished for a long time.
Why didn’t my first attempt at reading comics not turn into an obsession at the time? What factors were involved? The primary one, I think, was confusion. I wanted to read about the X-Men, and the trouble with being a fan of a canon as complicated as the X-Men storyline is that new readers won’t know where to start. I didn’t have any friends or family members who could give me their old issues or suggest certain story arcs that would feature plots or characters that I liked from the television show and movies. Another factor, a societal one, is that comics weren’t considered to be of equal merit to other types of works, such as prose, poetry, film, theater, or music. I’d read bad prose fiction, but that didn’t stop me from reading prose fiction. I knew that there were great stories out there in that medium, because that’s something we learn about in school and something that I had plenty of opportunity to read. My mother often took me to the library, for which I am eternally grateful, and it was clear to me from a young age that there were good prose books to read. By comparison, my exposure to comics had been limited; they were something that had to be sought out deliberately, and I didn’t have the chance to keep reading lots of comics until I found ones that I liked.
My most recent reintroduction to comics actually didn’t come in the form of superheroes. I started reading Michelle Czajkowski’s Ava’s Demon, an independently-published webcomic22 (the first six chapters of which were released as an ink-and-paper book, which I reviewed in April of this year).23 During this time, I also became interested in non-fiction works, such as autobiographies, in comics. Then, while watching book review videos, I noticed that some reviewers who generally liked books similar to the ones I liked were raving about Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples’s Saga,24 a space opera/fantasy comics series.25 I owe my reintroduction to the superhero genre to the Young Avengers.26 I’d been watching superhero films over the years, but the Young Avengers were the first superhero team whose comics I fell in love with.27 Saga and Young Avengers were the reasons I sought out the comics section of the bookstore and started looking around at the trade paperbacks that were available there. I walked into a comics shop for what was perhaps the second time in more than ten years because of Saga and Ms. Marvel. The former, because I had enjoyed the first eighteen issues so much that I didn’t want to wait until the next trade paperback was released to continue reading the story. The latter, because I wanted to support diversity in superhero stores and was excited about the chance that maybe (just maybe) this story would have a female character of my racial background and family’s religious background that I could be a fan of. From there, it was a matter of choosing which comics to follow. The X-Men were an obvious choice (though I had to decide which of the many X-books to follow). Captain Marvel was another, as the title character in Vol. 7 (by Kelly Sue DeConnick, Dexter Soy, Emma Rios, et al)28 and Vol. 8 (by Kelly Sue DeConnick, David Lopez, Lee Loughridge, et al)29 is Carol Danvers, the character who was the original Ms. Marvel.30 I searched for both new and old series to read. I started to look forward to my visits to the comics shop as much as I look forward to visiting the library or bookstore. I started to eagerly await the next issue of my favorite comics series the way I eagerly await the next novel in my favorite book series.
Which factors contributed to my second attempt at reading comics turning into a love of the medium? In the technology category, the internet was certainly a huge factor. Getting into the X-Men is much easier with resources like the Marvel Database wiki,31 where there are lists of all the issues in a series. Gaining an understanding of volumes, story arcs, and creator runs helped me find places to start reading. Comics as a genre seems more welcoming when a new fan can find comics news and reviews online instead of having to get a subscription to a magazine or other publication they might not even know about. Articles about fan-favorite story arcs provide reading suggestions; I didn’t have to start with the very first issues from decades ago, but could still start at a point in the story that was the beginning of a volume or arc and was therefore understandable. Discussions of comics, such as the wonderful Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men podcast,32 provide something many new fans may not have if their family and friends don’t read comics: People who are willing to sit down with you and explain the long and varied and confused-continuity history of their favorite story, with lots of laughs and fun times along the way.
The changing culture, in which attitudes towards comics as serious literature is changing in favor of the medium, certainly also played a role in all of this. The most important factor was finding good stories, with good writing and good artwork; discussion by those who take comics seriously helped me find these stories. Reviewers who discussed comics in addition to the prose fiction they usually reviewed made me think that there could be comics out there with a stories, characters, and themes as well-developed as those in my favorite prose fiction works. One of the important factors was seeing discussions about diversity and representation in various genres and mediums, including comics. I want to state for the record: Fans who support diversity and social justice helped make me a fan of comics. Far from ruining or denigrating comics, they gave me high expectations of the medium. They made this life-long lover of prose fiction realize that comics as a medium could tell stories that were just as great, just as inspirational, just as worthy of analysis and discussion. When I see that fans take their hobby seriously enough to think about it, to criticize it thoughtfully, then I know I’ve found a place where people expect good stories and seek them out.33 Critical discussion make me more interested, not less. On a related note, book recommendations from people with an interest in diversity, representation, and social justice made it more likely that I would find books that included well-developed characters from various demographics. Because of recommendations and reviews from people participating in comics criticism, my second attempt at getting into comics featured stories that set the bar high and impressed me; finding stories that I immediately loved as much as my favorite prose fiction turned my curiosity and interest into an obsession.
Based on my experience, I absolutely believe that it’s possible to gain new fans for a medium that has often been stereotyped as only appealing to a niche demographic. This is why I think it’s important to be welcoming to new fans, to get rid of the feeling that anyone who’s considering getting into a new hobby will be challenged to prove their fan status. It’s important for there to be room in fandom for new fans to join, and for old fans to remember that not everyone around them has been reading these stories for decades. Many of the stories I love best are ones that started long before I was born, and I’d like the stories that I love to live on for fans of future generations. The only way that’s going to happen is if new fans join the fandom.
So, join the Comics Corps today. Hope you enjoy the experience.
The title of this essay is inspired by the Carol Corps (the fans of Carol Danvers, the current Captain Marvel and former Ms. Marvel)34 and by the title of Brett White’s article Join the Carol Corps! at In Your Face Jam.35
(Essay edited to add some reference footnotes that I accidentally left out previously.)
1 My essays about comics can be found at http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/comics/.
2 “Batman & Robin (film)”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batman_&_Robin_(film).
3 “Batman & Robin (1997)”. Rotten Tomatoes page. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1077027-batman_and_robin/.
4 “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lois_&_Clark:_The_New_Adventures_of_Superman.
5 “Static Shock”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Static_Shock.
6 My essays about Ms. Marvel can be found at http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/ms-marvel/.
7 My essays about the Young Avengers can be found at http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/young-avengers/.
8 “X-Men”. Marvel Database wiki page. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/X-Men.
9 “X-Men: The Animated Series”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/X-Men:_The_Animated_Series.
10 “X-Men: Evolution”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/X-Men:_Evolution.
11 “X-Men (film series)”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X-Men_(film_series).
12 My essays about the X-Men can be found at http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/x-men/.
13 “X-Men First Class Vol 1”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/X-Men_First_Class_Vol_1.
14 “X-Men: Evolution Vol 1”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/X-Men_Evolution_Vol_1.
15 Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: ‘X-Men: Evolution’ # 1-4 (By Devin Grayosn, Udon Studios, et al)”. Posted on 10 July 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/book-review-x-men-evolution-1-to-4-by-grayson-udon-et-al/.
16 “Adventures of Superman Vol 1 520”. DC wiki entry. Retrieved on 10 November 2014 from http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Adventures_of_Superman_Vol_1_520.
17 “Action Comics Vol 1 800”. DC Comics Database entry. Retrieved on 10 November 2014 from http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Action_Comics_Vol_1_800.
18 “X-Men Vol 2 1”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 10 November 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/X-Men_Vol_2_1.
19 “Marvel Comics Presents Vol 1 139”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 10 November 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Marvel_Comics_Presents_Vol_1_139.
20 “V for Vendetta”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V_for_Vendetta.
21 “Watchmen”. Wikipedia entry Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watchmen.
22 Michelle Czajkowski’s Ava’s Demon webcomic can be found at http://www.avasdemon.com.
23 Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Michelle Czajkowski’s ‘Ava’s Demon’ (Book One)”. Postedon 25 April 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/book-review-michelle-czajkowskis-avas-demon-book-one/.
24 My essays about Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’s Saga can be found at http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/saga/.
25 “Saga (comic book)”. Wikipedia entry. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saga_(comic_book).
26 “Young Avengers (Earth-616)”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Young_Avengers_(Earth-616).
27 Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: ‘Young Avengers’ Volume 2 (By Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, et al)”. Posted on 30 May 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/book-review-young-avengers-volume-2-by-kieron-gillen-jamie-mckelvie-et-al/.
28 “Captain Marvel Vol 7”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 16 November 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Captain_Marvel_Vol_7.
29 “Captain Marvel Vol 8”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 16 November 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Captain_Marvel_Vol_8.
30 “Carol Danvers (Earth-616)”. Marvel Database wiki entry. Retrieved on 16 November 2014 from http://marvel.wikia.com/Carol_Danvers_(Earth-616).
31 The Marvel Database wiki can be found at http://marvel.wikia.com.
32 Rachel and Miles X-Plain the X-Men can be found at http://www.rachelandmiles.com/xmen/.
33 Sharmin, Ani J. “Fandom and Media Criticism”. Posted on 28 September 2014 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2014/09/28/on-fandom-and-media-criticism/.
34 Edidin, Rachel. “The Minor-League Superhero Who Changed the Face of Fandom”. Postedon 19 April 2014 at Wired. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://www.wired.com/2014/04/captain-marvel-carol-corps/.
35 White, Brett. “Join the Carol Corps!” Posted on 12 June 2013 at In Your Face Jam at Comic Book Resources. Retrieved on 11 November 2014 from http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=46032.