I don’t have as long and storied a history with comics as some of my peers. I read them growing up, sure, but I never “read them,” if you know what I mean. I didn’t spend my allowance on them, didn’t follow any more than a scant few and sure as hell didn’t collect them wrapped in plastic. But they were there, and yes, I learned at least one valuable life lesson from them: The best things aren’t always what they seem.
While my brother was collecting various iterations of X-Men, Spider-mMan and The Avengers, carefully keeping tabs on the various alternate universes and amassing a veritable fortune in collectible, plastic-wrapped books, I was reading schlock comics like The ‘Nam and G.I. Joe then using them as coasters. I spoke with my brother recently about his book collection and if I recall correctly the biggest lesson he learned from his experiences is that it’s hard to make a buck collecting things that are sold as collectibles. Seems that in the late 80s everybody had the same idea about comic books and now there are an awful lot of those books sitting around in long boxes, wrapped in plastic and supported with cardboard inserts. It might be another 20 or 30 years before the majority of that investment matures and in the mean time, they’re awfully hard to enjoy as literature all wrapped in plastic like that.
What I learned from my own collection is a completely different, and, I’m sure, an inherently less valuable lesson. What I learned was that I don’t really enjoy comic books. Apart from a week-long Archie comics bender which I recounted for episode 74 of The Escapist, I just didn’t read comics with the same voracity of other kids. G.I. Joe was a favorite of mine because anything with “G.I. Joe” written on it was a favorite of mine. Seriously, they could have made G.I. Joe peanut butter and it would have been my favorite peanut butter. The only other comic I genuinely looked for in the racks was The ‘Nam, but it wasn’t a comic so much as it was a training-wheels version of a graphic novel, the precursor to the type of illustrated fiction I would rediscover near the turn of the century and that would blow my mind wide open to the possibilities of storytelling.
The Preacher, Sandman, The Watchmen … these would be the titles that would blur the lines for me between comic book and literature, showing me that everything I thought I knew about both was incredibly wrong. Upon discovering these works, my whole idea of the role of entertainment would begin to change. “If they make such enervating and monumental stories out of comic books” I thought, “then the sky’s the limit.” That same year I saw Fight Club and suddenly the rules of filmmaking as well seemed written in stone no longer. At that point, for me, all bets were off.
I’ve done a lot of things with my life since then, but thankfully all of them have been, in some way, a part of the entertainment industry. I honestly can’t imagine doing anything else. Throughout it all, what I’ve tried to do most fervently is blur the lines of whatever medium in which I’m working. TV show or internet website? Play or movie? Videogaming website or web video network? All or both? These are the questions I ask myself when I take on a new project, and which I try to never allow to be answered. Because if I learned only one thing from comics it’s that the magic really happens when you work so far out of the box that suddenly there is no box. That’s where you find art, and that’s where I’ve always tried to be.