Batwoman #17 Cover (dccomics.com)
Did you see the cover art to this week’s issue of Batwoman, #17?
It is so. Badass.
The more I look at it, the more I realize this is exactly what I want out of comics prominently featuring women; #17 is like the the anti-Catwoman #0. Instead of awkward tits and ass, it’s sheer power and authority (no idea what I’m talking about? Just take a quick swing by this summary in The Mary Sue).
But I don’t want to write about the status of females in comics (at least, not today). Today I want to write about how I became a comic book reader, and how, after purchasing this issue of Batwoman, I know I’m hooked.
While I read a lot growing up, I never read comics. I started reading webcomics when I was in high school, but I consider them a different breed of comic for reasons I’ll talk about some other time. I never had any contact with physical comics at all until a couple of years ago when I dated a guy who was really into the X-Men. I read a few of his issues of Uncanny X-Men and wasn’t particularly impressed at first (it can be tough getting into a long-running series when you don’t know anything about any of the characters), but eventually started getting interested in the story.
But then he and I stopped dating so my interest began to wane. The couple of X-Men issues I read didn’t pull me in enough to keep me around, and what’s more is that the stories were just too darn short. I’d had similar problems when I bought the occasional physical book from some of my favorite webcartoonists: the stories were just too short for me to want to consistently spend money on them. As someone who grew up reading novels, I had a hard time understanding how people could get satisfaction from a story that only spanned a few dozen pages. The story’s over already? But…I’ve only been reading for 5 minutes!
Locke & Key, Book 1 (gr.cl)
So I shelved my interest in comics until around a year later when I came across Locke & Key.
I’m a pretty big Stephen King fan and I really liked Heart-Shaped Box, a novel by his son, pen-name of Joe Hill. When I discovered that Hill was also writing for an on-going comic called Locke & Key, I knew I’d have to check it out.
Because I knew of Joe Hill as an author of novels before comics, I was willing to give his story telling a chance; rather than just chalk his writing up to being “only for comics”, I trusted that the story he was trying to tell would be beyond superficial; its final goal would be more than just to beat the next bad guy.
Locke & Key hooked me pretty hard and did it in a way that went beyond the story: for the first time I started really noticing how the artwork was so finely done. I found myself slowing down my reading style and taking time to inspect each panel, notice the details, and see how the artist had decided to block out the story. The attention to detail and ways the artist moved the “camera” were a craft unto themselves!
After I became addicted to Locke & Key San Diego ComicCon 2012 rolled around, clearly a perfect time and place to feed my new-found interest. While there I bought the first 3 issues of Adventure Time written by my the fabulously talented Ryan North, and was recommended Fatale and Revival. I drank in the comics, and was pleased.
Since then I’ve made comics a small-time “when-I-remember” sort of hobby; I vaguely keep up with Adventure Time, am catching up to the current story line for Locke & Key and on occasion pick up something new if I heard good things about it (Saga, for example).
But yesterday while at my local comic book store, I saw the new issue of Batwoman. I’d never read any of the prior issues, but remembered it based on the spoiler I’d read earlier in the week. Since Batwoman was alphabetically right next to Adventure Time, I was reminded of the article and curiously picked up the issue. I was floored by the beautiful and strong cover art, and immediately bought it. I took it home, sat down, and read.
After reading a comic with “silly” art like Adventure Time or something lovely but very strictly outlined like Locke & Key, reading Batwoman was an entirely different beast. It was my introduction to a comic that really broke away from individual panels and embraced the 2-page spread as a canvas to pull you into the story. And despite the fact that I had no idea what was going on (this was issue 17, after all), I was engrossed in the art.
2-Page Spread from Batwoman #3 (dorkforty.wordpress.com)
All this to say, after almost a year of casually poking my way through comics, I feel like I finally get it…even if, when I say it out loud, it’s incredibly obvious: comics are a completely different form of storytelling that requires both the story and the art together. They’re not illustrated books, they’re stories told with words and images, each an equally vital part to said telling. Comics aren’t “just for kids”, and they’re not for people who are too lazy to read “real” books. They’re for people who love storytelling, and to me a well-told story is what I want out of almost anything I do for entertainment (see basically any of my preferences for gaming).
I now consider myself a comic book reader and am looking forward to finding and reading the first 16 issues of Batwoman that I’ve missed. The story is intriguing, the characters strong and interesting, the artwork beautiful. If you’ve been kicking around the idea of looking into comics, or even if you’ve been staunchly against it, check out your local comic book store and get some recommendations; spend $3 on an issue of something that looks interesting. And then sit down, read, and look. Take your time. Enjoy the whole experience.