A Romantic Weekend of Comic Books

Jamie and I spent a good part of the weekend on the couch reading comics we picked up at the library Saturday. The Denver Library has two comic book sections. One is upstairs above the second floor skylight. The second is a young adult section, which forces me to break the rules by entering without an accompanying teenager. If you combine the two, you get a pretty decent collection, but you never really know where anything is going to be, or in what order. That and someone who is clearly ordering fresh stock on a pretty regular basis makes it a serendipitous visit most days. You could find Lone Wolf and Cub a shelf away from Baby Blues.

I usually go for writers I like, but since Jason still ships me comics from Floating World, I usually skim through to find things I otherwise wouldn’t buy. Random DC and Marvel, but also indie stuff that missed me, like a lot of Drawn and Quarterly books by Joe Matt, Seth, Chester Brown. Point being, a trip to the public library is a good reminder that comic books (or graphic novels or comix or whatever) are full of surprises even for someone who reads a lot of them.

Or, in Jamie’s case, for someone who reads very few. She has a knack at scanning the binds and finding little treasures that are exactly what she’s looking for. This is another singular benefit of comic books — you can and should judge a book by its cover. Or more accurately, the entirety of the publication, the layout, the cover, the word balloons, the fonts, the placement of words on the page, are all part of a complete composition when done right. You can glance at it for what pleases you, like you would a framed painting. But then you can settle into that painting the way you would a short story or novel. Or in the case of autobiographical novels, as many comics are, you can make a real connection with another person.

On Sunday, I settled in with Julie Doucet’s “My New York Diary,” a grungy memoir comic of Doucet’s years gaining popularity as an artist, while living in a low rent apartment full of cheap beer and drugs with her insecure unnamed boyfriend. She’s now something of an underground legend, but I had never read any of her comics. It reminded me a lot of Bagge’s Buddy comics, but with chilling, intimate moments like a miscarriage and some frightening scares with epilepsy. And a good share of awkward sexual scenarios that make any autobiographical comic whole.

Jamie found a younger artist who also does memoir comics, Lucy Knisley. Discovering someone totally new to you is always exciting, and Jamie has an impressive obsession with finding things she likes, and hunting down related work. With the Internet being all that it is, a library book or magazine article can turn into days of exploring blogs, webcomics, flickr feeds, novels. Knisley has many of the above to explore. I knew her primarily from a couple of amazing comics she did about Twilight. Her “French Milk” graphic novel is a travel journal from when she was young, living in France for a short time with her mother. It’s a little raw, but full of tender young moments of magnified adoration and anxiety.

“I really like finding comics that I like.”

“Yeah I like it when you find them too. It’s a common interest.”

“But I only like comics like this. You like all kinds of comics.”

True, but there’s something about a good comic that when you find something you like, has an immediate and powerful connection. There’s the art theory about it, about iconic images being easy to imprint with your own feelings, more than realistic images. About the reader making the action happen between frames in his or her mind, as a complicit narrator. And along the same lines, sharing comics with people is a joy that I’ve always felt is stronger than sharing a movie, or even a book.

I also spent the weekend reading Surrogates, a sci-fi comic that was recently turned into a movie. I also, semi-coincidentally watched the Surrogates movie with Bruce Willis Sunday night. I didn’t hate the movie, thought the comic was pretty good. But there was something missing in the movie. With all of the special effects and fancy real life images, it was totally missing the real life in the rough brush stroke figures.

Harvey Pekar famously said “comics are just words and pictures. And with words and pictures, you can do anything.” Even with a bajillion dollar budget and a cool concept, a Hollywood movie can so often fall short of what one or two people can do with paper and some pens, that two other people can find on the library shelf.

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