Let me start by saying that I have nothing against super hero comics. In fact, I still enjoy quite a few. I’m only writing this entry to highlight to readers that there are other genres to choose from. As Scott McCloud once said, people often confuse the genre for the medium. That is, they think that all of comics (the medium) is the super hero story (genre). And while there are a lot of great super hero stories out there right now (Unbeatable Squirrel Girl being my favorite), I’d like to show people that there’s a wide variety of story telling being offered. In fact, it’s more than ever these days. I think, though, that with the success of the comic book movies, there is more emphasis on these books. But I’d like to get people to see what else is out there.
I guess maybe it’s a bit personal. Like I said, I enjoy super heroes, but personally, it’s not the kind of story I want to tell. At least at this point. Anyone who has read my comics, either on this website, or in the physical form, knows I have a wide variety of stories to tell. Granted, as we speak, I’m working on finishing up a super hero story, but that’s more of a comedy than a tale of tights. I’ve really used comedy to highlight the bizarre. To tell stories that I think will entertain and leave people with a message (sometimes. Other times I just draw pocket bees). I don’t think I could do that with a super hero story. Now, some people can (Alan Moore!) but not me. So I rely on other genres.
I think the biggest thing that these genres give me is an ending. Super heroes have been around for a long time. They continue to be published, and there’s really no ending for many of them. And even the ones that die come back. Now, for me personally, one of the best things about fiction, for me, is an ending. Writers can craft something that ties everything together. I wish life worked that way, which is maybe part of the reason I got into writing. Now, with many books outside the super hero genre, these stories have a beginning, middle, and end. They are epics that stretch for just the right amount of time, then come to an end. Take Y the Last Man for example. 60 issues was the sweet spot for that story. That sounds like a lot, maybe, but it was always going to come to an end. It didn’t just run until it got cancelled. It told a great story. In fact Y was one of the first stories that really showed me what comics can do. I read the whole thing and saw the power of the medium, controlled not by the genre, but by a story to be told. In fact, you should go read Y right now.
OK, done? You read it all? Wasn’t it so good? These types of stories also often offer us much more real stakes. Part of the super hero genre is the impermanence of death. That’s just part of the territory. But personally, it often leaves me asking “what are the consequences, really?” That could just be me. I’ve read a lot of super hero books, so it might have partially numbed me to anything really happening. But when someone dies, they don’t stay dead (for the most part). And, as I’ve said, most characters have been around so long, I wonder what they could possibly do next. It all kind of becomes a game. But take a story like Y the Last Man or Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire. When something bad happens, the results will be permanently felt. When a character dies, they stay dead, often in truly heartbreaking fashion. There are often fantastical elements to these stories (Sweet Tooth is a deer boy), but they somehow feel more real. I think these other genres invest us in their characters a little easier because they are not super heroes, and neither are we. So it’s easier to see ourselves in Sweet Tooth, even though he’s part deer, because faced with danger, he’s scared. Super heroes, not so much. But that is part of their appeal, and I understand that.
But sometimes these stories aren’t fantastical. Sometimes they are really our stories. One of my favorite comics ever is American Splendor which is an autobiographical account of Harvey Pekar’s (RIP) life. You might say “I don’t want to read about someone’s life. I come to comics for adventure!” and yes, comics are good for that. But read Pekar’s work, and I bet you’ll change your tune. It might not seem like the medium lends itself to these down to earth stories, but it does. Very much so. Harvey had a way of looking at everyday life and turning it into a narrative. Even the most normal things turn out to be examinations of the human condition. That’s something that everyone can understand, if you are in fact human, and not a lizard person. Sure, you get this from time to time in the super hero books. But I think it’s a whole lot more genuine when it comes from a normal guy who spent his whole life in Cleveland. When Superman gets a flat tier, that’s easy stuff. When Harvey gets a flat tire, he’s got to deal with it like the rest of us. There are a lot of emotions to be found in auto bio comics. And, I don’t know about you, but I like hearing people’s stories. I think that is because I’m a writer. I think that real life is the basis for the best stories, or at least the issues we face in real life. And when you hear someone’s story, it’s so fascinating. Let’s face it, we tend to think that most other humans are just empty shells, but then they tell you about this or that, and they’re actually real live people, with backstories, hopes, and dreams. Sorry, that’s a bit of a tangent, I suppose. But American Splendor does that to me. Not only that, but it inspired my own auto bio comics, Bearded Comic Book Enthusiast (issue 2 coming soon!). Shameless plug aside, thanks, Harv.
He always asked the important questions. Anyway, listen, I think I’ve gushed enough. Just know that these type of stories are what influence me the most, and are worth a read. In fact, here are some suggestions: Chew (One of my favorites of all time), Transmetropolitan, Preacher, Lumberjanes, Hellboy, Judge Dredd, From Hell, and really I can keep going and going, but maybe I’ll publish that as a separate list so I can go into more detail.
Listen, like I said, the super hero genre is a good read. I’m only trying to encourage people to delve into other areas. Comedy, horror, auto bio, sci-fi, fantasy, realistic fiction. Though super hero stories have many of these elements, they are really only one genre. I only hope to get people to take a bigger look at what talented creators have to offer. Independent books might not be your thing, but I think if you try the right one, you’ll open a new door, to a world full of stories you never would have experienced before. And in the end, that’s what comics are all about.