Prior to Phoenix Comicon 2010, I was only vaguely aware of the existence of comics and graphic novels, & I certainly didn’t acknowledge any literary merit they might have. However, upon my return from the greatest Geekfest EVER, people regularly engaged me in the following irritating dialogue:
“You went to Comicon? I didn’t know you read comics.”
“Well, I don’t really,” I’d reply. “But Comicon is about so much than just comics.”
“But it’s called Comicon for a reason, right?”
“Well, yes. there are a lot of comic venders there, but you don’t have to like comics to go. There are plenty of other things to do. There are tabletop and console gaming rooms, & guest panels, & Geek Prom, & Rockband with celebrities, zombie parade, costuming classes, book signings, Karaoke, art auctions, Mad Hatter tea parties, D &D adventures, Film festivals, paranormal activity geeks, Nasa Science updates, people dressed like ninjas, trivia contests, writing classes, anime, and tons of stuff to buy. Really, there’s something for everyone.”
“So… you don’t read comics?”
That conversation replayed in my life at least 20 times in the weeks following my convention adventure, and the most disappointing thing to me as a single girl is that the ones eager to play out this conversation are generally men who lose interest upon hearing my honest answer to the final line.
So I did what any self-respecting geeky girl would do… I took up a new hobby.
I started out by googling the local comic shops in my area, then checked them out one by one. At the first store, I met Charlie, the middle-aged store owner who prefers reading prose, but stays up late every night keeping up with new releases in the comic world.
“Hi. You close in like fifteen minutes, right?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he looked down at his watch, obviously concerned that he’d have to stay late.
“I’ll make it quick,” I said, pulling out the only graphic novel I’d ever read, Samson: Judge of Israel. I had picked it up at Comicon along with a Jesus action figure with ‘gliding action’.
“This is the only comic thing I’ve read, & I like the artwork, & I guess I was just hoping you’d give me some recommendations for where to start.”
His eyes lit up a little.
“Do you read prose?” he asked.
“Yeah, I read a lot of fantasy & historical fiction.”
“Alright. Well, if you follow me over here, Vertigo has some inexpensive first issue reprints. They’re a dollar each, & we can probably find something you’ll like.”
He went over to a box filled with about 40 plastic-wrapped issues littered with advertisements on their covers.
“You might like this one,” he said. “It’s highly character-driven and it’s about this group of archeologists who uncover hidden historical secrets.”
He started a stack for me with Planetary on the bottom.
“And this one is about a Mayor of New York with super powers. Then, Y: The Last Man. It’s about this guy who ends up being the only man left on Earth after a biological disaster. Do you like superheroes… even a little?”
“Yeah, sure,” I said. “I watch Smallville, but that’s about it.”
“This is one of my favorites. It always surprises me how emotionally engaging it is. It’s about the downsides of being a superhero and how it affects family life and privacy. It’s brilliant. Oh! This one’s great. Patrick Stewart had his wife take of picture of him dressed up like this guy and they sent it to some filmmakers to let them know that he’d like to play this role on film…”
Our conversation lasted for almost exactly 15 minutes, and every time he recommended one thing, it reminded him of another character or story he loved, and he’d race across the room to find the next issue to add to my stack. I’m sure that his enthusiasm & thoroughness led to a later closing time that night than he’d hoped for, but he didn’t show even an ounce of annoyance. On the contrary, he seemed jazzed to help me, and when I went to the other two Tucson stores, it was the same thing: pure joy in sharing something precious. Granted – the young men who helped me at the other stores were the types who probably haven’t seen a girl in the past decade, but beneath the desperation for romance, there was still a genuine sense of excitement at the prospect of adding a new member to the comic fan club. It didn’t matter that I was the least-likely candidate for conversion. If anything, my a-typical female presence in the shops was all-the-more thrilling for them because it provided the rare opportunity for these guys to talk about their first loves, forged in the mysterious depths of the 12-yr-old little boy heart.
It may seem like I’m exaggerating the significance of stories about guys flying around in tights, but I’m not. Comics provide a moral compass and sense of hope to young men who are rejected by the world. And when they talk about the first time they ever read a comic or about a person who introduced them to new characters & storylines, they are really telling you about the moments & people who shaped their personalities, senses of right & wrong, & hope in the triumph of good in the world.
Case in point: I wrote the above description of the significance of comics on Saturday. It is now Tuesday, & I’ve run across this perfectly appropriate quote from Brad Meltzer in some of his commentary on Identity Crisis, the graphic novel he worked on about the hidden heartbreaks of super heroes.
“I love those stories. I grew up on those stories, and those stories changed my life. They taught me my values. They engaged me when no one else did.”
Just as the comic book geeks respected me in our interactions, I will respect them. Comic books have a powerful presence that shouldn’t be underestimated.
Let’s think about this, though. I met 3 comic fans in the course of a couple of days, & every one of them displayed the joy & fellowship of the comic book world. I can’t help but doubt that the same would be true if I were to meet 3 Christians at their home churches.
I don’t mean to be an evangelistic skeptic, but recent events have made me consider that Christians don’t really want other people to enjoy the Bible. Maybe it’s because misery loves company. I don’t know, but I get the feeling that most Christians read the Bible out of legalism or don’t really read it much at all. It’s rare to find a Christian who treasures the word of God the way that comic fans treasure their own fictitious accounts of the saviors of humanity.
This weekend, I played host to the Gospel Marathon. Some friends met in my house, & we read all four of the gospels straight through. We started at 7:05 pm on Friday & finished up at 5:15 am on Saturday. It was an amazing experience and I’m so glad that we did it. However, there were moments in there, when I hope we all felt convicted.
My friend Amanda is new to the church. That’s not entirely true, because her parents exposed her to Christianity & the Bible as a kid, but it didn’t take root. Her faith wasn’t her own. It was more of a family norm than a love of the gospel, so recently, Amanda has been reading the Bible for herself & learning that she loves it. She’s enthusiastic & she asks questions & thinks & learns & I love being around her.
During the Gospel Marathon, though, she had a tendency to stop us in the middle of a sentence to ask REALLy complicated questions. Then, those questions would lead to other questions, & it was just taking us forever to get through it all. I know that patience was wearing thin, because it was probably 2 or 3 in the morning when she asked this, but it is an amazing question – one that goes right for the heart of the gospel.
“Hold on, can I ask a question?”
“In this part, Jesus is telling them to drop everything & sacrifice to help sinners, but didn’t we just read something about not throwing your pearls to pigs. That doesn’t seem to fit,” she said.
“I don’t think that sinners & swine are necessarily the same thing,” I said.
A few other people tried to explain things while I found the location about the pearls before swine verse. Mike, our young pastor, took the reigns & started explaining things, then something weird happened.
Amanda started apologizing for asking questions.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean to get us off track,” she interrupted Mike. “Let’s just move on.”
“No,” I said. “I think it’s a great question & there’s not really a reason for us to be even doing this if we aren’t willing to talk about it.”
Amanda let Mike explain a little more, then tried to move us forward again.
“I know that you guys are getting annoyed. We can just talk about it later,” she said.
“We aren’t annoyed,” Mike said, trying to be what a leader should be in that moment (& doing a pretty decent job, I might add).
“I saw you guys roll your eyes and I know it’s late,” she said. “Let’s just move on. It’s fine…” and she started to cry.
I don’t know if there was eye-rolling or not, and at least one of the Christians accused seemed genuinely surprised & wounded by the accusation, but I definitely felt the atmosphere of “Let’s get this over with” prevailing in the room. And is that really the attitude we want to have towards the story of our savior?
I can’t help but imagine the conversation going differently if we had been a room full of comic fans or perhaps Bible fans… and that’s a sad, sad reality.