Why Comics, Part 2: The Study of American Culture

Back at the end of May, I attempted to explain when and why I got into comics, and for the most part, that entry (click here) gave a good, solid, down and dirty explanation of the when. It even touches on the why, Buffy the Vampire Slayer. What it fails to do, however, and what I hope to do here, is explain more about what keeps me spending $30-$50 a week on comics (a budget that is extreme, to say the least).

If you want to learn about American culture, pick up a comic book. There is no part in our history since the inception of comics that hasn’t been touched on in some form or fashion by a comic book. Wanna learn about American Sentiments during World War II? Pick up a comic book of that era. Wanna learn about juvenile delinquency of the late 40’s early 50’s and beyond? Pick up a comic book, you guessed it, from that era. Wanna learn about gender and domesticity as it relates to American culture? Same answer. Everything this country has gone through has been dealt with in a comic book–and often more honestly than in any newspaper, news magazine, or news television program.

For many, comics are just something that kids read. Well, they use to, but that has changed drastically over the last 20-25 years. Comics are rarely, if ever, found now in the local grocery store or drug store (the place we use to buy them as kids). Now, you have to go to a specialty comic book store, order them online, or download them digitally. Things that most kids aren’t in a position to do easily, if at all. Not to mention the price tag now, $2.99 to $3.99 (and $4.99 for annual editions). No, comics are no longer just for kids, and in many instances, they aren’t for kids at all. And because of this, they deal even more directly with cultural issues.

So when someone asks me why I’m so into comics, I usually just say because they are AWESOME (which is totally true). If, however, you are looking for a little more in-depth explanation, then let me just tell you that I’ve learned more about the sentiments of the US during the Vietnam war from comics (both reading them and reading about them) then I ever learned in any history class. For me, it’s a study of the culture I’ve grown up in: everything from race, war, women, sex, drugs, delinquency, religion . . . you name it, and I’ve read it in a comic book.

To learn more about the world of comics (my world) in general and superheroes specifially, check out this great documentary, Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked, done by the History Channel.

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