Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Why I Read Comics

My copy of "Daredevil" on DVD came in the mail from Amazon.com today. It took about 3 weeks after being shipped for it to arrive and for a while I thought that it had run into some problems. I was worried that the local customs would not let it through knowing that the movie was banned from being screened in cinemas when it was first released. Thankfully, not only did it arrive safely but it was also not inspected by customs. I have to say that this doesn't happen that often as I've had most of my packages from Amazon.com screened before they are released to the post office for delivery. So ... I was lucky this time. Amazon.com also actually has a very good replacement policy for non-delivery in the event that my package was confiscated so I still have that to fall back to. I haven't had the chance to sit down and view the whole DVD yet but I may do that this weekend if I don't have anything better to do. Who knows, it might inspire me to write a review of the DVD.

"Daredevil" is just one of the recent movie releases that was written based on the original stories presented in popular comic books. As a comic book fan and collector, I am very pleased to see some of my favorite characters getting their spotlight on the big screen. For the longest time, comic books have been seen as trivial entertainment meant for children. Many people look down on the comic book as an art form and discount them from being sources of intellectual discourse. There was even a time, when comics was seen as promoting juvenile delinquency (read the US Congress Senate Committee on the Judiciary. Juvenile Deliquency Interim Report - 1954 for more info) and homosexuality (read more about it in an article on Alternet.org) which led to the industry itself practicing self-censorship in order to remain in business. All of this of course happened way before I started reading comics. By the time I was introduced to my first comic book, the comic book landscape was beginning to change.

My very first comic book was a second-hand issue of "The Incredible Hulk" which my uncle had bought for me from a junk store when I was 5 years old. At the time I didn't understand most of the words and had to get my parents to explain to me what it all meant. Since that issue, I was immediately hooked to the stories and four-colored panels. My parents would used to buy me a bunch of old used comics from the junk shop and I would devour each of them for cover to cover. Being the oldest in the family, I never really got to keep any of my toys as I had to pass them down the line but the comics were the only real thing that I had for myself because no one else in my family was interested in them. After awhile, my parents stopped buying comics for me partly to make me focus on my school books as well as they felt that I was getting too old for comic books. Of course that meant that I had to get them on my own by buying them from my daily allowance. 20 years later, I am still buying and reading comics.

What some people don't understand about comics is that if you read them long enough you would notice that they are not actually produced for children. Storylines in comic books today are actually catered to the aging audience who first read them in the 70's and who are still reading them today. Those in the know, realize that the industry actually grew and developed with our sensibilities as readers as we grew older. Issues that are now presented in comics are issues that actually mean more to those in their 30's than the kids today. It actually got so apparent that comic books were losing their young readers that some major players in the comic book industry had to revamp their best loved characters to be more accessible to newer reader and yet not alienate existing readers who knew the characters continuity by heart.

For a medium that most think as trivial, comic books are also invaluable tools that documented the social barometer of a particular period. Through the years, comics have always tried to be "hip" to the trends and mores of the American society at the time. Of course not all of it was reflective of the Malaysian condition at the time but still it is a quaint way of understanding our past history. If one were to study the comics from the 70's up to the present day, one would find definite milestones in comics that reflect the popular attitudes of the day. Milestones such as the death of Gwen Stacy in Spiderman as the lost of American innocence during the 70's and the dark anti-heroes of the 80's as a reflection of the disillusion with the establishment clearly marked periods in our shared history. As a reader, I find that comics have now moved from being a medium of entertainment to a treatise of social commentary.

Of course all this only adds to my enjoyment of curling up with the latest batch of comics that I buy month after month. I have yet to see the day when I would finally stop reading and collecting comics although comic books are fast becoming an expensive hobby to keep. I may even continue collecting until I can't anymore and until that day comes, keep your "serious" literature and let me enjoy my word-ballooned, four-colored panels of monthly adventures.

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