Comic Books: A New World

I can tell you this: I enjoy reading comic books. And also: this is a very recent development. How did this happen? What started my fascination with American comic heroes?

I remember well how I got into Japanese comics, a.k.a. manga. They were my starting point into fandom.

I was 9 years old and my mother bought me the first volume of Sailor Moon on our way home from school. She never knew what consequences that little act of kindness would have (we had little money, so giving me something without it being my birthday or Christmas was a big deal). In the days and years to come, she would come to regret giving me that little book. She still jokes about it whenever I talk about one of my many fandoms. That one volume started a manga craze, and with it, my addiction to all sorts of media entertainment. Additionally to reading almost every manga that was being published, I watched a lot of anime and some American animation on TV and later online.

Sailor Moon example page
Sailor Moon appears! (Bishôjo Senshi Sailor Moon by Takeuchi Naoko, Vol. 1; source: mangareader.net)

For years to come, my obsession with manga, anime and all things Japanese would only intensify. I started learning Japanese when I was 14, got into a Japanese class when I was 16. The first time I went to Japan, I was 17. When I say that I was obsessed, I mean it. Japan soon became my dreamland, and with the soul intention of travelling there again and for a longer stay, I started studying Japan Studies. After learning more about Japan, its history and society, and spending one semester in Kyôto, I became disillusioned. I started seeing it for what it was, a country like any other. Still, it held a special place in my heart and I think it always will.

From otaku to fangirl: how did that happen?

It started with Buffy. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was the first American TV show that I became a fan of. Before that, I watched other shows, of course. But Joss Whedon was able to capture and hold me. His characters, the worlds and stories he created for them, were a revelation. Before Buffy, I only ever identified myself with young girls in the novels I’d read or the characters from various manga I’d devoured. Buffy was different. Buffy was strong and powerful. She was not the most clever girl on Earth but she had heart. She gave her life for her friends and family. That is a character with which a young girl can and wants to identify with. Trust me.

Buffy Summers and friends
Buffy Summers, her Watcher Giles, and friends Willow, Xander and Cordelia (source: buffy.wikia.com)

With Joss Whedon, I entered another fandom, another new world: that of TV shows and young adult popular culture. I soon became engulfed by it. To keep it short, Buffy started what Sailor Moon had started before. Growing up meant forming new interests. While I kept on reading manga and watching anime, my time was not filled by only that anymore. I got interested in London (it soon became my new “Japan”), music, art and travelling in general.

When I moved to complete my studies at a different university, I reconnected with Buffy and made a new friend along the way. It’s funny how these things can happen. And suddenly, I found myself back in my childhood, though in a different part of it.

Batman was the first superhero I took to my heart. I watched the old movies when I was very young. I respected Batman as a character and was in awe of him and what he accomplished (he still remains my favourite). What fascinated me the most was that he was human (though perversely rich, clever and strong), and that he fought evil with his own strength (and his toys, admittedly).

Superman was the second superhero I cared for, and I liked him since I was old enough to fall in love with Christopher Reeve. My interest in Superman was never as intense as with Batman though. I liked the actor, so I liked the character. I guess I was that kind of girl.

Batman and Superman
Batman and Superman (Art by Francis Manapul; source: comicvine.com)

Now, I am a little older and my interests, while still including pretty people, go beyond that.

Admittedly, I still rely on aesthetic beauty in addition to a good story. So when I moved from manga to comic books, it was hard finding something that I enjoyed. Whenever I pictured comics, I saw old-fashioned and colourful images of weirdly shaped male figures and their exaggerated expressions before my inner eye. You know what I mean.

Example of Death in the Family
Starlin’s A Death in the Family is considered one of the Batman classics (source: photobucket.com/user/Georgethecat)

However, I wanted to give it a try. I knew I liked film adaptation of comic books. V for Vendetta, Watchmen, Sin City and then later the Dark Knight trilogy, and of course, Joss Whedon’s The Avengers… I also knew that I liked graphic art as a medium of literature. I bought the Watchmen comic soon after watching the movie but it lay in my bookshelf for a long time without being read. Same happened to a Superman comic that I had bought on one of my trips to London.

I only started reading comic books in earnest a few months ago. For my birthday, my friend D. got me the first volume of Earth 2 from DC Comics. He had told me about the gay Green Lantern who had stirred up some anger among Green Lantern fans. Knowing that I was interested in LGBTQ topics and that I wanted to get into comics, he presented me with an opportunity to do so.

Alan Scott AKA Green Latern kisses his boyfriend
Alan Scott AKA Green Lantern kisses his boyfriend in Vol. 1 of Earth 2 (source: nerdreactor.com)

It was very confusing at first. All these new characters! So many names to remember. I had no idea what was going on. The art was so-so. In short: it took time getting used to reading it. I must admit that I haven’t even finished the first volume yet. While I found the Green Lantern’s storyline interesting, the book as such was too crowded with uninteresting characters. I lost interest in it. What I did find appealing was the comic book format as such. It had potential. So instead of trying to understand who was who in a parallel universe to the one known to me, I dug up someone I knew quite well. Batman.

Using google to find out what the must-reads were, I started my journey into this wonderful new world of comic books. And here I am. And here I stay. That is, until the time comes to explore yet another new world.

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