Repairing the comic book stigma

Think about when you meet someone new and mention that you read comic books. Do you get the “oh, you’re one of them” looks? Personally, I get the look from a person that tells me they just diminished my IQ in their minds by about 30 points. To these people, comic books are those ten cent books where the heroes are from some distant planet and can never do wrong. And to them, the readers of comic books are either 10-year-old boys or grown men who work at the local Quik-E-Mart and spend half their salaries monthly just to keep up with their childhood pastime.

I walked into my first full-time job teaching English this year with a goal. In some way, I was going to teach a comic book in one of my classes. I had no idea which one, or how I was going to do it, but at least I had a goal. I didn’t shy away from my comic book love with my students—I even took a couple of duplicate issues I had and put them up on my “personality board” and shouted it from the rooftops that I read comics on a regular basis. But ultimately, my first attempts to connect with my students in such a way went sour and they didn’t take what I was trying to teach them (an excerpt from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics that is in our textbook) seriously. And really, it’s too bad because most of my students seem to gravitate toward anything that has pictures. I had a cool activity lined up for them in conjunction with the reading from the book, but we ended up not doing it because of the way they acted those first couple days.

It was my former student teaching advisor who made the comment about people diminishing your IQ once they find out you read comic books. And when she said that, it was the first time I was able to put a finger on that look that I get. And of course, the people who give you those looks like you have no life and totally and completely obsess over every little bit of the comic universe are the ones who have never picked up a comic book in their lives. See, the truth is that I used to be one of those people. I was all over the TV shows and movies, but I couldn’t see myself getting involved in comic books. And we all know how that turned out.

And now I’m trying my hardest show people that comic book fans are just as smart and astute as those who read the latest mystery novels. After all, aren’t most comic books mystery novels with pictures? My students are currently working on a mythology poster project. In the past, they could only choose from actual Greek/Roman/Norse/African/Egyptian mythological characters or legends like the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot. But I stepped it up for them. Now, they can also choose from “popular culture characters that have been in existence for at least 30 years who have an established mythology.” They caught on immediately and started choosing characters like Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man. And now, I’m excited to see what kind of information they come up with since they have to find two book sources in addition to Internet sources.

I think what I’m most concerned with is that people understand that comic writers and artists have to be some of the hardest workers in the entertainment industry. I have a great deal of respect for the work they do and the timely manner they do it in. And honestly, some of the stories I get from comic books are most interesting and intriguing than what I find in a traditional novel.

By Mandy Stegall