I know everyone thinks that comic books are for children, that they’re a lower form of art. That if it doesn’t have eighty thousand words of prose or isn’t measured in pentameters or God forbid, doesn’t have a thumping back beat or a soft indie voice pretending they have as much heart as Elliott Smith, that it’s not worthwhile. The Margaret Atwood crowd. The Salman Rushdie and Gabriel Garcia Marquez crowd. The Haruki Murakami crowd. People for whom Foster The People is the farthest into alternative they’d ever go. People who like their indy rock more like soft jazz that real emotion.
And the thing is… I like all of those things. Rushdie blew me away when I first read him. I have tremendous respect for Margaret Atwood, even though she once protested in my mother’s hometown and ended up costing a lot of her friends and family their jobs, which in a small northern community can be a death knell. I guess that part wasn’t important to her.
But I also believe that what’s happening in comics, independent comics in particular, is equivalent to any great art out there. Comic writers and artists can take risks most authors can’t, that most movies or television can’t afford, in a format that allows for expansion and ongoing stories. Can some go on too long? Sure.
Can some become stale? Can the more mainstream ones be so risk-averse as to be bland and childish? Absolutely. Can the same not be said of James Patterson or Dean Koontz or Tom Clancy or any other author churning out generic mystery, spy or horror novels? Can the same not be said of every pop star going, every rapper and country singer pumping out the same garbage over and over again?
Sadly, most people don’t know just how many of their favourite movies and television shows began as comics, and I’m not talking Marvel or the DCU.
And there’s so many themes to be explored. Comics were the first major medium to call out Nazis in fiction, both before, during and after WW2. Marvel’s entire X-Men ethos is built on a metaphor for discrimination, as heroes fighting against it. Captain America, for all his being tied to the flag, is one of the most subversive characters going when it comes to anti-authoritarian subjects.
And indies like Luther Strode can have lasting impact. Luther’s mantra of “Do better” stuck with me, for years after I first read it.
Do better. It’s the only commandment really. Wherever we are, whatever situation, we can do what we’ve always done, or we can do better.
This current age, with its rampant left/right divide, itself a false narrative that seeks to play to the “us and them” disconnect that dictators require to consolidate and maintain power, is desperate for a new credo.
Do better is the credo I am choosing to live by. It may not always work, but it gives me a focus. Every step is a step forward, or so I keep telling myself.
We can choose to do better, with each step. With each situation, each conversation, each thought and action. We can be better than we are currently.
I learned that from a comic. It’s easy to dismiss things because you don’t understand or have a preconceived notion about them.
But ultimately, if we want this world to work, to be safe and peaceful and prosperous for all of us, we have to do better.
Individually. Each one of us.
Doing better. Being better.
One small bit at a time.
Even if it’s just giving the benefit of the doubt to a bunch of scribbled pictures with word balloons over top.