We’ve all got those friends who think that comic books are just people running around in their underwear fighting each other. Who think that comic books are for kids, and are great to waste a few minutes on but don’t actually have anything important to say.
We also all know they’re wrong.
Comics are far far more than just superheroes an spandex. Comic books can teach you some of the most important lesson’s you’ll ever learn – at any stage in your life. There are studies that claim that reading comics, graphic novels or even Sunday newspaper strips can increase reading comprehension at an early age. Carol L Tilley, from the University of Illinois has said “If reading is to lead to any meaningful knowledge or comprehension, readers must approach a text with an understanding of the relevant social, linguistic and cultural conventions.And if you really consider how the pictures and words work together in consonance to tell a story, you can make the case that comics are just as complex as any other kind of literature.” Another study has shown that people retain information better from graphic novels than they do from traditional text books. I have also read an account where where a dyslexic man explain how comics actually taught him to read (which you can read here). Apparently those who read comics tend to have a larger vocabulary than those who don’t read comics at an earlier age – translation: we’re smarter than those who don’t read comics (I apologize that I’m unable to find the link).
Evidence of comics abilities to help people with reading comprehension can easily be found with a quick Google search, but what of the messages within those comics? Most reading recommendations for younger people (rightly) focus on child-friendly comics. While I don’t advocate children reading Watchmen, those who tell us that comics are nothing more than superheroes and spandex will point to those child-friendly books and say “see,told you so.”
Well of course we want kids to see the superheroes.
Superheroes can, and frequently do, inspire us to become better
people, although very few of us actually put on a mask
and go out and fight crime, there are some that do. While most of us also enjoy reading superhero comics because they’re they’re entertaining, they also have something pretty powerful to say. Right from the very beginning, Captain America has always been a superhero wrapped in patriotic symbolism. When his very first appearance was punching Hitler in the face on the front cover to 1941’s Captain America Comics #1, Timely Comics (later Marvel) were coming out swinging in their support for the war effort – remember this was more than nine months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Couple that with the image of him bleeding to death outside a courthouse where he was being charged for defending the right for us to keep our information private. Something that, for all of us, is a huge concern in today’s world.
For non-superhero fare, take a look at Art Spiegelman’s Maus; a starkly brutal tale of his father’s life before and during the Holocaust. As a biographical tale of one man’s experience as a Polish Jew in the Auschwitz concentration camp, the story is told by way of Art interviewing his father for the book he is writing (the one you are reading), and by using anthromorphic animals to represent the different races (Jews are depicted as mice, Germans as cats, and non-Jewish Poles as pigs) he both distances the reader just enough from the story to enable them to read the book without becoming too shocked, but at the same time enables the reader to readily identify with the characters. Maus is a book that everybody should read at least once; for non comics fans to see just how wonderful a story telling method it is, and for everyone to appreciate the ways in which Spiegelman deconstructs the medium of comics and explores themes of racism, genocide, familial guilt, and hope.
Maus is a Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel that has more to say than most books could ever hope to say. Considered one of the Big Three graphic novels released circa 1986–1987, (the other two are Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns), that are said to have brought the term “graphic novel” and the idea of comics for adults into public awareness. Maus has been credited with changing the perception of what comics could be during a time when, in the English-speaking world, they strongly associated with superheroes and were considered to be for children, and honestly hasn’t changed as much as we’d like to think.
Comic books are much more than just superheroes and spandex, and anybody who tells you that comic books don’t have anything important to say simply doesn’t read them.