Falling in love with comics is a lot like falling in love with beer (I was going to say something like “without the social stigma”, but realized both can have a certain stigma attached to them). What I mean is that, like beer, when you first step into the comic pool you are tentative and very specific with what you read. There are thousands upon thousands of stories – you can’t just wade in half-cocked. Most people start with the big names out of necessity, availability, and name recognition. It is a lot easier to try something from the Big Two, like Batman or Superman (the equivalent of a generic but popular beer) than it is to start out with some wild independent book involving space, animal people, and a dark, terrifying plot (some crazy craft beer most likely brewed in Oregon. No offense Oregon.) I am not saying that there is something wrong with independent books, some of my favorite books are creator-owned Image books, but there is also more of a risk starting someone off in the deep end when they haven’t quite mastered how to swim.
Side note: this article is broken up into two sections – the first part is for comic new comers, and the second is for the grizzled comic veterans. I fall somewhere between the two groups.
I’ve noticed that over the last two years of reading comics my palate has matured. I look at it like an inverse pyramid, which is somewhat different than a lot of other hobbies. For instance, when I began playing Disc Golf years ago, I tried out a ridiculous number of different forms and discs but slowly began to narrow down how I threw and what I used (which was primarily an Innova Championship Wraith). With comics, though, most people seem to start relatively simple then begin to diversify as time goes on.
I started thinking about this when I recently decided to borrow Nathan Edmonson’s run on Punisher, from Stephen. When I first started reading comics I all but refused to read any stories involving anti-heroes (and yes, the legend is true… Stephen and I almost ended our 15+ year friendship over whether or not Batman was an anti-hero/superhero), and stuck almost primarily to the Big Two. I read a lot of Batman trade paperbacks, as well as a ridiculous amount of Superman and Thor. Now a majority of my pull list consists of independent Image titles, along with a majority of the Valiant lineup, while the Big Two has been relegated to the occasional read list since funds are limited (except for Star Wars… I am unable to refrain from buying every single Star Wars comic that comes out).
The anti-hero/villain-as-protagonist thing just isn’t in my nature. Whenever I play a game such as Mass Effect where you can be either good or evil, I can never play as a bad guy. Even if I start the game bad, I end up trying to turn my character’s story into one of redemption. Now though, I am able to get passed my own prejudices and enjoy stories that are outside of my comfort zone. For instance, one series Stephen lent me was Jason Aaron’s Men of Wrath. Which, if you haven’t read it, is one of the cruelest books out there. There is no redemptive aspect to that story at all… like AT. ALL. After reading that, as well as Valiant’s Bloodshot, Punisher stories were a walk in the park.
Desensitization isn’t the only reason that I decided to give Mr. Castle a try. As a reader I have simply decided to branch out and read books that I am less familiar with. The Punisher is a character I never related too (not that I relate to Batman in particular), but now that the comic lines of morality have been blurred I can kind of see where he’s coming from. If something tragically violent happened to my family it’d be hard to not hope for something like the Punisher to befall whoever did it. He is a man who lost everything and is willing to risk everything, including his humanity, to try to ensure that the kinds of people that hurt and kill get what’s coming. He is a vengeance based Karma.
Ultimately what I am trying to get at here is that my journey into comicdom started out slow and safe. Generally speaking, instead of reading anything and everything I started small and gradually built my visual palate until I began to enjoy books that I wouldn’t have if I read them too soon. A beginner to comics (if they are in anyway like me) might burn out if they start too fast or too dark. So friends (and I am specifically addressing the comic book veterans now), when bringing others into this beautiful world of panels and ink, remember to suggest books that you think they would enjoy, not just whatever you are into at the time. Your horizons might have been widened so far that your suggestion could lead them into an entertainment wasteland and stifle their enjoyment of comics from the get-go. Or, in slightly less dramatic wording, don’t recommend some dark, gritty indie comic if your friend’s interests aren’t compatible with that type of book. It’d be like giving someone a high-gravity, bitter beer on their 21st birthday. Sure, you may love they way it tastes, but they might need to start a bit lighter.