Comics…. A misunderstood medium

I believe comics have been given a bad rap. Many people consider them “nerdy” or “dorky,” but I believe this is a great overgeneralization. There are the adventure comic books, the action, the serious, and the sci-fi. I have never been particularly interested in the “nerdy” comic books; in other words, the superhero comic books. If I wanted action, I had the television to watch all the cartoon characters in the world get beat up. No, my interaction with comics has always been for pure humor. As a child I was absolutely in love with the comic book series, Calvin and Hobbes, by cartoonist Bill Watterson. Watterson’s stories are about an imaginative and adventurous young boy, Calvin, and his inanimate stuffed animal, a tiger named Hobbes. The series is set in an ambiguous, middleclass, suburban neighborhood, much like my own. Calvin and Hobbes examines Calvin’s relationships with his parents, classmates, teacher, and his own imagination.

I remember I would often come home from school and get lost in the pages of this comic book for hours, rereading the same issues over and over again. So what was my fascination with Calvin and Hobbes?

Calvin & Hobbes Cover

Although much of the humor was quite unique and funny, I think I fell in love with this series because of how relatable it was to my life. I was a young boy. I had a stuffed animal for a friend (not my best friend though, I wasn’t quite that weird). And I wasn’t particularly fond of school. These facts created an instantaneous bond with the cartoon character Calvin. Or was it more than just a bond? Did I actually put myself in Calvin’s shoes in these situations? The American cartoonist, and theorist on comics, Scott McCloud would say yes. McCloud claims that is just what makes comics so magical. In his book, Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, McCloud states, “when you look at a photo or realistic drawing of a face you see it as the face of another. But when you enter the world of the cartoon you see yourself.” It is this ability to relate to the protagonist, and possibly even seeing myself as Calvin, that caused my fascination with these books.

As for the most recent comic book I have read, Y: The Last Man (written by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra), I was quite surprised with how much I enjoyed it. As I said above, my interest with comics in the past has been solely based on humor. This book is more of an action-based book, that tells a long, continuous story. Although there are breaks and sections to the story, the sections depend on the previous ones to make sense; whereas, a series like Calvin and Hobbes has many unrelated stories or sequences of events. Given these two facts, I thought that I would not enjoy the book very much. However, I found myself becoming engrossed in the plot almost immediately. In Y: The Last Man, everything with a Y chromosome is killed at one time, with the exception of the protagonist, Yorick, and his pet Capuchin monkey. From this point on, I wanted to know what killed all the men, and why Yorick and his pet monkey survived. I also enjoyed some of the themes brought up in the book. They address hard issues such as death, homosexuality, and people criminalized by society. Y: The Last Man makes you think of things in ways you had not thought of before. For example, in dealing with the city of convicts, I thought it was very interesting these “felons” were almost portrayed as heros. The authors portrayed these women as good people at heart, some of which did not even belong in jail in the first place. The women stood up for Yorick even after he had an outburst and said hurtful things to them. They risked all of their lives to protect him and shelter him from the Amazons. These subtle things really make the reader think about what the author’s message might be. All in all, I really enjoyed Y: The Last Man.

The comic book that I hope to read one day in the future is titled A.D.: New Orleans After The Deluge, by Josh Neufeld. Besides the many awards it has won, including New York Times bestseller, the topic seems extremely interesting. It peeks into the lives of a few real-life New Orleans residents and what their experiences were like during and after Hurricane Katrina. The stars of this comic are just regular people with regular jobs living a regular life. They come from very different backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses, careers, and are of all ages. Neufeld most likely does this to suggest that everyone was affected by the storm regardless of the individual situation. One of the characters is out of town when the storm hits, and realizes that he may not have a home to go to when he returns. This even gives an outside perspective, but a very emotional outside perspective.

The author actually begins the book with their lives before Katrina. This gives the reader some perspective on just how normal their lives were before they found out about the impending monstrous storm. The main decision Neufeld addresses before the storm is whether to stay or to go. Perhaps factors such as level of attachment to the city, immobile businesses, and the pure fact that many had nowhere else to go affected these decisions. Things get more complicated once the storm actually arrives. Neufeld continues exploring things by considering factors of affect once the storm arrives. For example, where they were located during the storm, the supplies available in the place they were located, and what they were doing while the storm hit. Some will be better situated then others. And finally, what follows in the days after the storm? These are all important questions that Neufeld addresses in his comic book for adults, A.D.: New Orleans.

A beach view of the city of New Orleans

I think that this book would be the most interesting to me because it is a true story, about a real event, in a real city in the United States. I have always had a strong liking for New Orleans. I love the sports teams of New Orleans. I love the rappers from New Orleans. I love the universities in New Orleans. I have had the privilege of visiting New Orleans on a short weekend over the summer this past year. I had a great few nights there with one of my buddies and a friend of his who goes to college there. New Orleans was beautiful, and has managed to retain a lot of its unique culture despite the humongous diversity it has faced. This has given me a peek into New Orleans – post Katrina. I think an interesting book like this could hold my attention, serve as a fun read, and give me a glimpse into the city of New Orleans before Katrina.

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