This is an essay I wrote for my Pop Culture Class at Middle Georgia State University. It was written on May 3, 2016. It's probably a bit outdated but it's one of many writing projects I am very proud of.
Comic books have been around for decades. When comic books first came out, they only cost about ten cents a book. As the years went by, the price of comic books increased to where they ranged from five to even ten dollars today. However, suppose someone has a comic book in mint or pristine condition from the early decades that the issue came out. It could be worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars (especially if it is a certified edition with the author’s autograph, editor, or artist).
Comic books can be viewed as something for kids because they contain pictures; however, as time passed, there have been comic books and graphic novels made for mature audiences like teenagers and adults.
Comic books are usually a way to gain the interest of adolescents because of some of the content they contain. For instance, Spiderman is a superhero and a high school student. Peter Parker lives a double life as a teenager and a superhero. Spiderman’s storylines can make readers relate to him because adolescence can be a challenging phase in life. Reading about a teenage superhero can be uplifting and make those readers feel like they can relate to him.
For the mature audience, there are comic books where the main protagonist is an adult, like Daredevil. Daredevil, a.k.a Matt Murdock, is a prosecutor by day and a superhero at night. What makes Daredevil interesting is the fact that he is a blind man. He lost his sight when he was a child. Toxic waste got into his eyes and made him permanently blind, but his other senses heightened at a superhuman level. Being blind is considered a disability. Marvel Comics displays a blind man fighting crime daily in the courtroom and at night as a vigilante, which can inspire anyone to achieve their goals no matter their shortcoming.
No matter the age of a comic book reader/collector, what the individual has in common with many others like themselves is that they can become fans of the editors and authors. It’s a proven fact based on what James Bucky Carter says in his article, “Graphic Novels, Web Comics, and Creator Blogs: Examining Product and Process.” Carter states in his article, “In mainstream comic books, it is not uncommon to find a letters column at the end of a given issue where fans can interact with editors and author” (Carter, 191). Not only can they do so by writing letters or making posts on social media, but comic book fans can also interact with editors and authors through comic book conventions and even book signings.
Comic books have become popular among readers. They also have conventions like the annual Comic-Con held every August in San Deigo, California, and many others around the country. Comic books are part of popular culture, and so are the conventions held to promote them, and we have movies and video games based on comic books, such as Batman, Superman, The Avengers, Spiderman, etc. Comic books have earned the status quo of being part of popular culture.
In this day and time, when there are comic book conventions, fans will go far out to be participants in these events. They do so by dressing up as their favorite superhero or villain (unless it’s a character in a video game and not a comic book), and they will also stay for a panel they find most interesting and go to the Q&A of that panel.
According to the article “Comic Book Fandom and Cultural Capital” by Jeffrey A. Brown, “Comic fandom, and the practice of comic book collecting in particular, is evidence of the complex and structured way in which avid participants of popular culture construct a meaningful sense of self” (Brown, 13). Brown’s statement is valid because being a comic book collector and part of comic book fandom is a culture they adapt to. Having that status also gives the collector and reader a sense of self within the comic book and conventional community based on how they value their collections and how much they know about certain comics.
Comic books have become a part of the culture in various ways in which “the comic book convention, or ‘con,’ is the major focal point of modern fan culture” (Brown, 17). Comic books are a form of both the culture industry and participatory culture. We have fans of these comic books come to conventions and even form clubs and groups within their environment among each other. Creating clubs and groups with people in the community who share a common interest in comics with each other is a way to see them as a form of popular culture. Comic books are part of popular culture because they are more than just a hobby but an interest that can help individuals relate to the characters in the comics.
“Modern comics deal with highly complex issues in mature and innovative ways” (Brown, 18), making way for people who share interests in comic books about issues that can reflect on them and their community. For an example of common knowledge, when the creator of DC Comics created the character Barbara Gordon a.k.a Batgirl/Oracle, she was known as the first female superhero. Barbara Gordon became Batgirl, and she represented female power in the mid-twentieth century.
In the comics, Barbara Gordon had to earn her place as a protege to Batman because she was a female who was looked down upon because of her gender; yet, Barbara’s dedication and skills led her to be a valued member of Batman’s team. Barbara Gordon also became a role model for girls and women alike.
Barbara Gordon is also known as Oracle because that is who she became after being shot by the Joker to make her father, Commissioner James Gordon, mad with rage by proving that one bad day can drive an average man completely insane. Being shot makes Barbara Gordon paralyzed from the waist down. Still, she uses her skills with computers and technology to help other superheroes like herself from her base of operations, the Gotham City clock tower. Barbara has a vantage point in the Gotham City clock tower to help her allies when they are anywhere from around the world, thus making her the Oracle. Another fact of her character is that she stays in shape with her upper body strength while being in a wheelchair lets her prove to everyone around her that she is neither helpless nor defenseless.
Barbara Gordon’s storyline in the DC Comics is a prime example that she is an individual who faces complex issues. Still, despite her struggle, she is a character known to most fans as someone to look up to for strength and dedication, making way for fans to see her as a role model to look up to.
Another fixation to consider in the culture of comic books and comic book conventions is the type of audience the creators want to reach. “Young adult literature of the late 20th and early 21st century is exploring hybrid forms with growing regularity by embracing textual conventions from sequential art, video games, film, and more” (Carter, 190). When comic books became a trend, the target audience was adolescents; however, the growing popularity of comic books has rapidly increased among adolescents and adults alike. Comic books have become a franchise that has gone from not just the comics alone but also in various forms of art, video games, major motion pictures, and even action figures.
Even today, young adult literature has reached a status quo in which the creators (of comic books in particular) can have “virtual spaces such as blogs and interfaces such as e-mail may also make it easier for students of YAL to interact more personally with authors than ever before” (Carter, 194). When thinking of young adult literature students, the thought that comes to mind is adolescents/teenagers/pre-teens that become fans of a particular story in a text. The text that the audience reads can be a comic book, but it can also be a graphic novel (which is a form of a comic book) or a teen fiction series that gains the interest of individuals in this age group. Some teen fiction novels are series’ that have become forms of graphic novels and/or comic books—for example, The House of Night series by P.C. and Kristen Cast has five comic book stories that take place between the first and second books of the twelve book series. Even the Twilight series has a graphic novel based on the book’s storylines. The fact alone is these teen fiction stories are making mainstream by getting them to be like comic books/graphic novels because it would draw more readers, and the more readers the franchise has, the more money they make within this trend that has become a part of our culture.
Regarding statistics, “surveys have indicated that 90 percent of comic fans are male, and their age can be broken down into three broad categories. The traditional pre-adolescent group ages 6 to 11, the growing audience of adolescents between ages 11 and 17, and the over-17 adult market (Frost). Since the adult fans have been brought out of the closet by the comic book specialty stores, they have become a major marketing focus on the publishers” (Brown, 16-17). Brown’s research on the statistics of comic book readers would make one agree with the outcome of the data because when looking at or reading a comic book, it is usually a male participating in reading or collecting comic books. It would also make one wonder why women don’t view comic books like males do because, for many reasons, comic books do involve fixations that would grab a female’s attention.
As mentioned previously, Barbara Gordon/Batgirl/Oracle was a role model for women in the middle of the twentieth century because she’s a female superhero. There are many female comic book superheroes, such as the Black Canary, Captain Marvel, the Invisible Woman, Black Widow, and Wonder Woman. With that being said, why is the percentage of comic book readers more towards males than females? Comic book heroines are independent and strong. They’re honored when female participants are doing cosplay at a comic book convention. If they are going that, are they being avoided by statistics or not being viewed as comic book readers?
Brown also mentioned that “despite the swelling ranks of adults within the comic fan community, most people still perceive the medium as childish. They believe comics consist of immature, simple stories and ‘cartoony art.’ This condescending view is, in fact, far from the truth” (18). As a comic book reader, comic books do not focus on simple stories that are immature and cartoony. Comic books have very complex plots, which involve issues that the characters deal with as if they were normal, even though some of these characters try to live everyday lives and some embrace living a double life.
In some ways, reading comic books is like watching a television series. Like watching a TV show, one would have a favorite character and wonder what will happen next with that character. There have also been TV shows based on superheroes, such as Arrow and The Flash. TV shows like these are popular because they have a few seasons. When you go on the network website on which the shows air and the Internet Movie Database, the viewers will see postings from fans about the episodes of that particular show. They probably would discuss whether or not they agree with how the television producers are making the characters, if they are making the characters similar to the comics, or are they changing the character to be different from their comic book persona. As a comic book reader who views comic books as a form of culture, it must be taken into account that “the industry is now in the process of shifting from a ‘sweat shop’ mentality to a legal and moral recognition of the author/artist as the creative force behind a comic” (Brown,25). Brown’s statement stands true because, over the years, comic books had grown from being just a ten-cent magazine to being worth hundreds or thousands of dollars from when the first issue came out. The comic book industry has also branched out to where they have movies, video games, and even conventions to celebrate comic books, hence making it a form of popular culture.
Knowing the history of comic books because being a reader and collector does give insight into how comic books are depicted in society. Reading comic books and going to comic book conventions does break through the mainstream due to a growing trend that is making a mark in popular culture and has done so for many decades and will continue to do so for many years to come.
Brown, Jeffrey A. “Comic Book Fandom and Cultural Capital.” Journal of Popular Culture 30.4 (1997): 13-32. Psychology and Behavioral Sciences Collection. Web. 4 May 2016
Carter, James Bucky. “Graphic Novels, Web Comics, and Creator Blogs: Examining Product and Process.” Theory into Practice 50.3 (2011): 190-197. Education Full Text (H.W. Wilson) Web. 4 May 2016.