Saturday, August 25, 2012

Part 1: The Reason You Don't Read Comic Books

The following article is Part 1 of a 2 part series. I wrote Part 1 a year ago as a result of me wanting to reach out to fans of the comic book movies who don't read comic books. I observed that even though comic book movies were extremely popular, fans were reluctant to actually venture into the actual source material of these beloved movies. Part 2 of this series is how incredibly a year later, comic books are actually reaching a new renaissance as more fans of the movies are taking the leap into the comic book world, and why. The reason for this 2 part series is for us as comic book fans to contemplate, evaluate, and recognize the remarkable change in view that has happened to our beloved medium.  Enjoy Part 1, and Happy Reading! 

Now, I know what you're thinking when you read the title of this post. You're wondering why in the world would I try to attempt to enlighten you as to the reason why you don't read comic books. This will lead you to smirk, cock your eyebrow with exaggerated flair and say, "Darin, I know why I don't read comic books. Comic books are for anti-social weirdo's who are either greasy-faced depressed teenagers, or old fat adults who can't get a date with a real person and who still live with their parents." You're right, it's true. There are comic book readers out there who fit those descriptions. And really, hardly any of us would be caught dead with that type of crowd. So with that thought in mind, of course you don't read comic books.

Yet, to classify all comic book readers under those descriptions would be like saying all sports fans are a bunch of jersey wearing drunks who start fights and punch old grandpas at sporting events, or all musicians are a bunch of skinny melo-dramatic high school drop outs who can't go 60 seconds without getting high. Now, many of us will read those descriptions and say, "Yea Darin, only a select minority actually act that ridiculous at sporting events. I love sports and I never act like that. That's not even in my nature!" Or we might declare, "Well yeah, you might say that about musicians if you want to grossly stereotype! I know plenty of musicians who are educated and would never do drugs." Both reactions would be correct. Actions of a misguided few and general labeled stereotypes should never dictate how we view others. So then why all the tough love for comic book readers and the comic book medium? Heres why: a six decade old observational study.

Dr. Fredric Wertham was a psychiatrist who would interview violent child delinquents in the early 1950's. He started to notice a pattern: a majority of them read comic books. As a result, he started to hypothesize that the comic books held a strong tie to child delinquency; since murder mystery and horror comics were very popular at the time. He even claimed that the highly popular Batman and his famous child side kick Robin were gay, and that reading Batman and Robin could cause children to subconsciously have homosexual fantasies. He wrote a book titled "Seduction of the Innocent," which further delved into this hypothesis. Obviously this lead to many scared parents, which caused a very concerned government to take hard action and become heavily involved. As a result heavy censorship and mistrust in the comic book industry ensued, and put a dark stain on a once beloved medium for a very long time. Most even argue that what happened as a result of Dr. Wertham still affects the industry today (count me in that camp). Comic book readers drastically dwindled as no one wanted to be viewed as a future bloodthirsty rapist and menace to society. And if you did still read comic books, it was at your own social peril. The ironic thing is that just ten years earlier during WWII (called the "Golden Age" of comics), comic book readership was highly popular. People couldn't get enough of reading about the mighty Superman, the heroic Captain America, or the dynamic team of Batman and Robin pummeling Hitler and the leaders of Japan to a pulp. It was even standard for the military to send comic books to the American soldiers to help boost moral, which was referenced in the movie Captain America: The First Avenger.

Now hardly any one today thinks that comic book readers are going to become extremely violent killers. Still, highly unpopular social stigmas are attached to comic book readers. Even with the development of extremely popular and well loved comic book movies that showcase superheroes on the silver screen, the social stigma that only anti-social and backwards people read about these super heroes in comic book form still strongly resonates in the minds of our society today. When you think about it, the notion that the change from enjoying seeing a super hero in a movie to enjoying seeing them in an illustration changes the stereotype of the viewer from normal to weirdo is rather unfortunate. This idea is especially tough for me to wrap my mind around since many times comic book movies get their ideas from specific comic book stories themselves. This formula of taking key elements from the comic books and incorporating them into the movie has actually lead to critical acclaim and box office success. Some examples include The Dark Knight, Iron Man, and the most recent Thor. The biggest movie flops were the comic book movies that strayed away from their source material, such as X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Spider-Man 3, and the cringe worthy Batman and Robin.

I'm not trying to persuade everyone that they have to read comic books. I know for many of you they are just not your thing; and that's okay. What I am trying to do is help people understand that when we picture comic book readers as what I described earlier, it is just as ridiculous as thinking that all sports fans are out of control drunks or all musicians are uneducated druggies. Nor do I think that people shouldn't try the world of comic books because they are afraid how other people will view them. Just like there are sports fans and musicians who fit my previous descriptions, they are definitely not the majority, and it is the same with comic book readers. During my time of reading comic books I have met normal looking businessmen, dads, and sports fans who all read comic books. Hardly anyone has fit what I previously described as the "comic book reader" stereotype.

Are comic books a little silly? Of course they are, but so is enthusiastically screaming at the TV for your favorite player to make the game winning shot, or singing along in your car all by yourself to your favorite song. Silly things like these are what make life great. And so do comic books. 

The information I gained about Dr. Fredric Wertham and the consequences of his study was from the documentary "Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked" found on The History Channel.

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