Comic Relief: An art form with emotional depth, not just cape crusaders

Comic ReliefNot all comics involve capes, aliens, or explosions. I enjoy reading about those things, but I can understand why some people can’t accept that subject matter as an art form. But it seems the medium is viewed as only that. That’s the most frustrating perception about comics. Not all comics have depth, but many do. Have you ever finished a book with a heavy heart, weighed down by the burdens of the characters as if they were your own? We all have our favourite movies that bring us both laughter and cathartic sadness. Believe me, there are comics that can have the same kind of impact.

The reason behind Marvel’s success from the 1960s until now was their decision to flesh out its characters as three dimensional people with failings and problems. Superman’s always had Lois Lane, a good job as a reporter, along with being idolized and invincible.

Spider-man was a weak nerd before he was bit by a radioactive spider. His first love died, the public distrusts him and paying the bills wasn’t always easy. The same can be said of all Marvel’s iconic characters. They’re human at their core.

But for those that still can’t empathize with masked do-gooders, there are still many graphic novels that are as powerful as any other art form. One of the most well-known examples is Maus. It tells the story of a Jewish family’s journey through the horrors of WWII, using types of animals to represent different ethnic groups.

The story’s depiction of the holocaust is as visceral as any other artistic representation available. The black-and-white panels leave an impression, through a shiver down the spine or a feeling in the pit of your stomach.

Another example is the graphic novel Ghost World, which was adapted into a critically acclaimed film in 2001. But the source material is the superior product in this case. It was released it the early ‘90s and is a product of the time.

It tells the tale of two teenage friends who now have to decide what comes after high school graduation. It captures the conflict between letting go and clinging to your past, and the uneasiness brought on by major life changes. It’s something all of us can relate to.

Perhaps my favourite graphic novel of this kind is the autobiographical Blankets by Craig Thompson. The best way to sum it up would be two words: beautiful and heartbreaking. Blankets chronicles Thompson’s life growing up in a Christian household to adulthood. Its themes include love, spirituality, sexuality and growing up. Reading it is such a unique experience that it inspired me to branch out from the usual kind of comics, and to seek out similar works.

I believe there’s at least one comic out there for everyone, even if it may not be easy to find. Hating comics is like saying you hate music, books, movies, or television. It’s not comic books that are the issue, it’s the genre. For those that give this art form a chance, and manage to find the graphic novels that match their tastes, it’s an experience you won’t regret.


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