When asked to participate in an exhibition about narrative art, I looked immediately to what I write most about these days. I'm a journalist who covers a topic that is near and dear to my heart: comic books. In essence, I report on mainstream narrative art. After all, comics and graphic novels are, at their core, just pages of words and images that tell a sequential narrative. It sounds boring when you describe it that way, though, doesn't it?
The All-Star Squadron was an example of "retroactive continuity" or "retcon", as it rewrote the already-established history of DC superheroes that had been published during the 1940s.
When I was younger and falling madly in love with comic book after comic book, I had no idea I was flipping through pages of sequential narrative. I was reading cool stories about heroes and villains - fodder for my imagination. I wasn't reading art, I was reading a comic book. It took me years to admit what I now know as my own personal truth - comic books were my gateway drug into the world of art. This admission always makes me think of the first time I purchased a comic book - my sequential narrative drug of choice.
All-Star Squadron created by Roy Thomas, Rich Buckler and Jerry Ordway
As a 9 year-old kid, I walked into a 7-11 in the Outer Banks of North Carolina with my dad and picked up a copy of All-Star Squadron issue #2 from DC Comics. I don’t know why, but the cover fascinated me. There they were – Hawkman and Plastic-Man and a slew of their teammates, feverishly trying to dismantle a WWII-era jet in mid-flight. I had to have that book. I needed answers. Why was that specific plane so dangerous? Did they succeed in tearing it apart? Did they all survive? Aside from Hawkman and Plastic-Man (who I recognized from Saturday morning TV cartoons) who were these other costumed heroes who were part of this so-called “All-Star Squadron?” Oh, I needed answers alright. I needed that book.
Jeff Lemire’s “Essex County” (published by Top Shelf)
For sixty cents, it was mine. I had my answers. But I also had so much more. I had the start of a lifelong comics addiction. I also had an admission ticket to a much larger world. Those sixty pennies opened a whole new mysterious universe to me. They introduced me to heroes, villains, writers, and artists. They led me to adventure tales, to science fiction, to horror, to stories of war. They led me to the dictionary to look up unfamiliar words. They led me to understand the process of writing, scripting, penciling, inking, and coloring. As I grew up, they led to endless hours of drawing and daydreaming. They led me to comic book stores every Saturday morning. They led me to conventions. They led me to art contests. They led me to art school, where I learned that comics are just a form of sequential art. They led me to art galleries, where I discovered that all art tells a story. Ultimately, in a roundabout way, they led me to where I am today. For sixty cents, I bought something that was so powerful, I can still feel its effect today.
Jeff Lemire’s comics
Through the years, to some degree or another, I’ve kept in touch with the books that I fell in love with as a kid. So often, as people age, they reminisce about how much greater things were when they were younger. In many facets of my own life that thought rings true. For comics, however, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure, I get nostalgic for the books that I loved as a kid. I always will. But that nostalgia doesn’t blind me to the fact that amazing work is being done these days in the world of comics - work that absolutely boggles my mind.
David Mazzuccheli Asterios Polyp (published by Pantheon) earned best Graphic Album by the Eisner Awards at Comic-Con San Diego, 2010
Stories are being told today within this medium that wouldn’t or couldn’t have been produced three decades ago. Today’s creators have learned from their predecessors. There have been incredible advancements in production technology. There are writers finding exciting new ways to present sequential narrative to readers. There are artists, using pencils, pens, and computers, who are challenging the status quo. There’s more variety. There are more options for readers.
“Wednesday Comics” is a weekly anthology comic book launched by DC Comics on July 8, 2009
I look at Jeff Lemire’s Essex County and marvel at such a poignant and quietly powerful tale. I look at the multi-generational appeal of Bone by Jeff Smith. I look at the enduring and expanding influence of Spider-Man, Batman, Superman, and the X-Men. I look at the oversized retro beauty of Wednesday Comics. I look at Mouse Guard. I look at North 40. I look at all of these books with the same wonder and intrigue that I had when I was a 9 year-old buying that copy of All-Star Squadron in 7-11.
Aaron Williams created “North 40” and “Mouse Guard” by David Petersen
Sixty cents was the cost for me to purchase a book that led me into the world of comics. Although the admission price has gone up considerably since those days, I’m glad to see the world of comics is still here, still growing, and still being discussed as a viable expression of art. I'm glad that comic books continue to be so addictive and continue to attract thousands of fans to conventions each year. Mostly, though, I'm glad comics are still inviting kids of all ages to lose themselves in the stories that are so magically conveyed through those sequential panels.
Mark Todd and Matt Furie featured in “Survey Select”
John Geddes created this article for the celebration of “Survey Select” exhibition on display July 15—Sept 5, 2010 featuring writers, artists, musicians, interior designers, technologists, designers and many other multi-disciplinary art practitioners. John is an inspired writer for USAToday who actively writes about comics and cultural events. John featured Scribble.08 earlier in the year and traveled in from Atlanta to check out “Survey Select” during Comic-Con.