I’m getting ready to start work on the third issue of my auto bio comic Bearded Comic Book Enthusiast and thought that, as such, this week would be a good time to reflect on the genre. This is a vastly different genre than the mainstream super hero comics because, as you might have noticed, most people are not really super heroes. It’s just about…real life.
Here’s the thing, I find pretty much all genres of comics to be interesting. And high on that list is autobiographical. Not everyone finds excitement in ordinary life, but this bearded boy does. I find the little things to be fascinating. The events in our lives are unique due to our perspectives. This is why I enjoy listening to people tell me stories from their lives. I think often times they believe I’m fabricating interest (OK, sometimes I am, but no one’s perfect) but I genuinely find real life to be interesting. What is your take on the time your car broke down in the middle of the winter? How about the eccentric old man you met on the subway? There’s a tapestry of tales (trademark) that make up your life, and that is something I want to hear. Your experiences are different than mine, and that’s what makes the world interesting. I think Harvey Pekar said it better, so I’ll just take his thing: “Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff.”
And that reason, and Harvey in general, is why I launched my own auto bio zine (which is nice, because it can be shorter.) The best thing about Bearded Comic Book Enthusiast (BCBE from now one, for my own sake) is that it gives me a way to reflect on the things that have happened to me, and to make sense of them. In the beginning, these stories I told were strictly related to my interest in comics. This is good and all, but I eventually found that I needed to branch out if I wanted to keep making these books. So now I sit and reflect on my life and think about what stories would be good to share. They are small things sometimes, like running out of gas, or big things, like how I knew I wanted to make comics, or…strange things, like the time I hit a cat with my care. Dreadful stuff, check it out sometime. But the key for me is to find a way to make these experiences interesting for readers. Do you want to hear about how I hit a cat? Probably not. But you might want to hear about what happened after. It was most unusual. And the big thing for me is to reflect on what I’ve learned, or how I’ve come to view these incidents.
As I’ve said before, comics are the way I make sense of the world. So I think it’s only logical that I put my own experiences in this form. If I can’t find meaning in them in my head, maybe if I make a story out of it, something will come. That usually works. I have a unique way of looking at everything that’s happened to me, anyway. I’ve long thought of my life as a story, and this is the way for me to say “this happened, and it had to happen because it lead to this.” It’s actually pretty cathartic. Or at the very least I have a new story.
You know what, now that I think about it, it all makes sense. Think about the big auto bio comics. American Splendor, Maus, Persepolis, Fun Home, and many more are hugely influential to the last couple of generations of comic creators. These are books that showed us that not only can it be done, it can be done well. They demonstrated that we can pack these stories, and comics, with emotion. We can use this unique medium to display our lives. Other people can read it, relate, laugh, cry, or be inspired. Sometimes I just read the normalcy of people like Harvey Pekar’s life (well, the general normalcy) and, even though he was a bit of a miser, I find it reassuring that I can just be some guy from Ohio. And that’s exactly what I am.
Like I said, I enjoy reading pretty much all genres of comics. But these stories about other people’s lives come with more investment. I know what it’s like for a car to break down, or to be broke. I can’t relate to someone stopping the Earth from crashing into the sun. Sure, it’s a cool thing to look at, but it can’t resonate with me the way that an honest, emotional account of someone’s life can. And I don’t say this to declare the supremacy of the genre. I’m really not trying to do that. I’m only waxing poetic about the beauty of looking into someone else’s life.
I think I’ve gone on long enough here, you get the point. I’m off now to start crafting another addition to my own story. So I’ll leave you with a question: what would your story be?