I was not, in fact, a comic book kid. They just weren’t something on my radar as a child reader. I had a subscription to a Barbie book club. I frequented the library and eventually as I got older, Borders Bookstore. But comics were just never introduced to me. There was never any negative attitude about them, like saying they weren’t real reading or anything like that. No, comic books just never appeared in my household and I never looked for them, frankly, because I didn’t know they existed to look for.
Then, a few years ago in my early twenties, the guitarist from my favorite band announced he was releasing a comic book series. Naturally, being obsessed with Good Charlotte, I absolutely had to pick up Billy Martin’s Vitriol series. This was my first dive into the comic book world. I had no clue what to expect. As far as I knew, comic books were basically big kid picture books. But oh, dear reader, they are so much more than that. Yes of course, the artwork plays a vital role in the consumption of this media, but to say, “They’re just picture books,” a) demeans the value of picture books and how they impact children’s reading and b) underestimates the true craft that goes into combining appropriate images with a storyline.
See, until I delved into the Vitriol series, I hadn’t realized that comic books had to work double time, with the artist making a conscious choice in structure and style that adhered to the voice and tone of the story being told through dialogue, onomatopoeia and narrative boxes (I don’t know the official industry term for the formatting, that’s just what I call them). In a novel, where the author would describe the movement, emotion, and noises of the protagonist as he bled out from a bullet wound, the comic book artist must use color, shading, and lines to portray the hero as he cringed in pain and indicated wracking coughs with the subtlest of dashes near the drawing’s mouth. Complex, right?
Now, I admit that before Martin’s work was announced, I’d been toying with the idea of picking up comic books because I was so invested in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Where was I supposed to start, though, with superheroes who had a 50+ year history? Starting with a publication that didn’t come from one of the big two in the industry turned out to be the perfect introduction to comic books. I found myself going back and rereading books to catch every inch of color and artwork that I may have missed while reading the words on the page, as my eyes had been so vigorously trained to do for so many years.
After that, I felt brave enough to try my hand at Marvel with the Axis series. Let me tell you, reading that storyline was a bonkers experience. It was confusing and chaotic, but still, I felt better prepared for it having accustomed myself to the format with the previous comic books. I may have been 22 when I picked up my first series, but now I truly feel like a comic book kid.