I posted not too long ago about the short-list of books that most influenced/affected my life and my way of thinking in ways that I couldn’t have imagined
Well recently a simple initiative by author and artist Jim Zub over on Twitter called #fourcomics really made the slow gears in my brain grind in directions they hadn’t in a while and REALLY dig into my past and try and think of four comics – just four – that were the biggest influence on me.
Now a lot of people may put in obvious things like Watchmen, Sandman, Maus, V for Vendetta and numerous others that are (rightfully) considered the creme-de-la-creme of the literary side of the comic world. Initially these were all in my short-list, but then I did what I do too often and just kept right on thinking… I had such solid names jotted down and then all four names on my list got crossed out and got replaced by the following comics:
- Tintin and The Blue Lotus
First up on my list is none other than the intrepid young reporter Tintin on one of his many adventures. Growing up I was a big fan of comics, but the truth is that access-to and means-to-buy comics were a combination of factors that at the time, made it hard to be the kind of comic-lover a child like me in 1980’s India hoped for – fortunately for me I was blessed with parents that were always open to letting me explore and were proponents of reading, so they would buy me comics like Asterix and Tintin when they could. Thus I grew up imbibing a lot of Franco-Belgian comics besides the usual American and Brit staples of Archie comics, Superheroes and War-comics, etc, etc.
This particular comic was in fact one of my earliest acquisitions as a comic lover and I think my love for it (indicated by the dozens and dozens…and dozens… of times I read it) was the start of a life-long fondness for the graphic story-telling medium. Considering the time it was created in, it was remarkable because it showed me a comic with a dense and vast story for the first time as Chinese history, the opium scene, Japanese tensions and influence with China, racism, stereotypes and secret societies were touched upon – and that is most but not all of what all it contained. Done in the usual Herge style with gentle humour, great art and tight story-telling makes this to date one of my favourite comics – regardless of how dated some things within it might seem to others.
All that was missing were Captain Haddock and Professor Calculus, but then again their absence did create a more focused story than it might have been otherwise!
- G.I. Joe A Real American Hero #21 (“Silent Interlude”)
I used to own a copy of this comic and to this day one of my biggest regrets is that I loaned it to a kid I knew and never saw it again.
Written by the legendary Larry Hama who crafted pretty much the entire series of over a hundred and fifty of these books for Marvel and ended up creating some of the most intriguing and definitely ahead of their time (and comic-medium) stories for what was meant to be just an add-on to a toy-line, this book is a prime example of what Hama and Marvel accomplished.
Simply put, this is a comic that has no dialogue.
None. Nada. Zip. Zero.
It starts off with Snake-Eyes (arguably either the coolest or most over-rated Joe ever) silently infiltrating a Cobra fortress in an attempt to rescue his comrade and beloved Scarlett. Meanwhile, in keeping with the less sexist tone of much of the series, Scarlett herself is busy extricating herself from the inside out quite capable – something that seems like nothing special until one considers how such things influence our minds as children and eventually as adults.
Each page was filled with tension and I would be on the edge of my seat each time I read this comic, devouring the artwork on each page as he made his way through, silently taking out guards and even facing down and defeating Storm-Shadow and his ninja’s before making an explosive exit with his target acquired.
I had read none of the other comics and came to possess this in the late 80’s as a little tyke, purely by chance and knew the Joe’s only through the less intense/hard-edged cartoon series. Within these pages though I found a level of intelligent, well thought out and engaging story-telling that would never have been expected and the lack of dialogue and using visuals is a concept that has burned itself into my mind to this day with thus far two of my own published comics being in a similar vein (sans dialogue) and must I admit that until making this list I never truly realised where that interest in purely visual story-telling had been born.
- Superman Annual #11 (1985) (“For the Man Who Has Everything”)
This was another example of sheer luck and one of those things that almost (almost!) makes you think it was more than just sheer coincidence that I happened upon this comic.
I was a young kid (3rd or 4th grader) at my small school book fair in India where most people bought local books and we had precious few comics at all, more colouring books and Enid Blytons and Hardy Boys and classics and such. But somewhere in the middle of all that, I found a copy of this comic, an over-sized soft-cover and I had just enough cash which I’d been given by my parents for the fair, to be able to afford it. So without batting an eye, I handed over my money and entranced by the promise the cover visuals made, held on to my prize and went home at the end of the day.
“For the Man Who Has Everything” is considered by some – justifiably – to be one of the best told and in a way one of the most heart-wrenching Superman stories ever told as he is given the chance to live his greatest desire and then has it literally torn away from him. It is a profoundly intense story and as you can imagine even more so for a kid, considering the implications, the emotion and the weight of it. Of course there is some bad-guy smashing and all, but that clearly takes a back seat.
Years later, when I got back into comics around college was when I was sorting my old books (thankfully I’ve always been careful about them!) and found that this comic remained with me and in excellent condition still and then I opened it to re-read it and enjoyed it just as much, if not more – even then not aware (as I would be soon after as I got more into finding good comics) that this was one of the seminal works done by Alan Moore for DC comics’ main characters, alongside The Killing Joke and a handful of others and was drawn by Moore’s partner from Watchmen, artist Dave Gibbons. Till today this book remains one of the things in my book collection of which I am most fond.
- Paying For it (By Chester Brown)
The comic on this list that I was most if-fy about including was this one – not because of the controversial subject matter, but because it had to compete with several others that had similarly exposed me to how powerfully the medium could tackle issues of real life, could address real socio-cultural concerns and thanks to the visual nature of comics, literally at times put things under a spotlight.
Chester Brown’s narrative here takes from his real life and talks about the nature of prostitution and sex-work and goes shockingly (for most folks I’d imagine if they read it) deep into the debates on both sides of the issue. There are points where I agree with Chester completely, some where I’m a bit on the fence and even a few where I don’t agree with him – but it’s the broad spectrum and calmly and intelligently laid out reasoning and conversation (not argument, conversation!) about a topic like this that really sets the book apart from most.
And of note: Brown focusses on more than just the sex and sex-work part of life, he spends a fair amount of time on monogamy, the evolution of our current “standards” for what is a good relationship and about our socio-cultural expectations – bringing to the table ideas and information that is not just interesting but in some cases information that people really need to hear or think about much more.
We as a society are globally startlingly prudish about sex and debates about body-types are raging nowadays more than ever. Sexism, Feminism, Prudishness – these are all-too-common phrases for most of us and the concept of sex as a convenience or in exchange for money as a service, these are all things that people would not only shy away from but actively sprint in the opposite direction.Which is why it was so refreshing to read this book and I hope to see more like it on more matters that people need to talk about – and even hopefully that someday I might be able to write one of my own.
Not a likely list I’d wager,maybe not one that everyone would expect, just goes to show that you never know what can be important and what can make a difference.
Thanks to Jim Zub for coming up with this idea, I’ve not only enjoyed diving into my own memory, but it’s been interesting to see so many other people across social media platforms do the same and throw up some VERY interesting comics.
If you’ve never read his stuff, Mr. Zub is the creator of Skullkickers (one of my favourite comics of all time!) which is still ongoing from Image and also under their umbrella he is penning Wayward. He’s also written a bunch of other comics for Marvel and DC and is also to be thanked as the man currently bringing to the comic page Samurai Jack, one of the most awesome and entertaining animated series of all time that was left painfully un-ended in it’s original form.
What comics sparked your interest and imagination? If like me you’re a comic fan of any kind, even once-upon-a-time, I’d love to hear about them.