I have 8 shelves in my bedroom devoted to books of all sorts. On on shelf I have old textbooks that I keep around in the vain hope of rereading sometime in the future. Two more are devoted to my discipline of philosophy. The rest is fiction and non-fiction, but one shelf is devoted to comic books. I have Kirkman, Gaiman, Moore, Miller, and several others taking up a good portion of my collection. And I read them as I would any other book.
My initial love came from reading V for Vendetta, which is an Alan Moore novel. I fell in love immediately. For a long time I had an opinion of comic books as being pulpy and not really worth my time or capable of grandiose ideas. Moore changed all that. In V for Vendetta, Moore not only weaves a compelling tale of struggle against tyrannical and orwellian government, he does it with an antihero whose motives are not exactly the purest. The complexity of the characterization and the depth of the political discussion is worthy of any other novel that I’ve ever read and in many ways surpasses what most novels are able to do in thousands of words.
Next I read Watchmen and again found a compelling story of antiheroes and of course the wonderful question of who would really dress up in costumes to fight crime. There I found the same complexity of character and detailed plot line that made me fall for comic books in the first place. After that came Sin City by Frank Miller, followed by his Batman series and of course Ronin (which is one of the most fascinating novels that I’ve had the luxury of ever reading). I branched out. I read Maus, I read Sandman, and I read more. For a stretch of time all I did was read comic books.
They are books too, and in many ways books can learn from them.
I consider them books partly because I don’t know the definition of a book. The fact that comic books are illustrated as well as having words is not a reason to dismiss them. Plenty of books have illustrations, comic books simply take the formula to a new degree and have illustrations carry the narrative instead of being derived from the narrative. I’ve searched for a definition of a book that excludes them, but to do so in the end becomes an exercise in parochialism. Comic books are books, they simply use illustration as a tool rather than a luxury.
And as authors we can learn from them. What takes me thousands of words to convey, they do in hundreds. What takes me hundreds of pages to do in written word, they condense to less than a novella. The words are simple, sentences do not wind, words are not lofty, it is simple. But to dismiss it as simple is to miss the brevity of the format. Each word is carefully chosen to reflect relevant dialog and small blips to drive a narrative. It is simplicity in that it is parsimonious rather than simple in a derogatory sense. As authors it should be taken as being closer to Hemingway and taken as being as important in the same breath.
It also relays an entirely different way of telling a story. It shows rather than tells. This is of course the mantra of any writer trying to make their book better. But it’s true. With pictures we see what is happening without description of what is happening. Perfectly chosen pictures illustrated in resounding artistic detail paints the narrative in our mind by showing us what is happening and driving what is occurring through them. As authors we can learn from this. We can learn a radically different way of writing that is centered on description that is not description of mental states, but simply description of what is happening at any given time.
Comic books are books too. And in many ways, as authors, we can learn from them and grow from them.