I came to read comic books rather late in the game of Life. The early 80s world that I was a kid in still had very demarcated gender classifications [you could either say that not much has changed, and yet everything is (finally!) starting to change.] But it was a weird dichotomy. Girls did also seem to have the choice to be tomboys back then, as a way to avoid pink-is-for-girls rubber-stamping.
And the world of comic books and D&D was still very much a boys’ club. Girls were definitely not allowed. Tack onto that that comic books back then weren’t seen as “smart” reading, and the lonely child that I was wanted so very badly to be smart, to be well-liked; to be something, at least.
When I watch Stranger Things, I feel nostalgia and the pangs of loss for a childhood I could have had if there wasn’t so much relentless stress put on kids to conform to external, gender-based classifications and standards of behavior.
So, my decision to expand my reading into the world of comic books was complicated by a huge array with emotions.
Quite a few years ago, I went on a comic-book-buying binge, adding to my very sparse collection that included copies of JTHM and Emily the Strange (to date myself completely!).
I wanted to know what I else I missed out on.
During this shutdown, I finally got the chance to catch up on reading from my piles of magazines and comic books that I had stacked around. (The magazine pile is never-ending, though!) And, I like to read comics. Well, kinda, anyway. I arrived at the realization that I like books better. I love the comic book art, but it’s so visually stimulating for creative-minded, visual-orientated readers like myself that I lose myself in the art and the text takes a backseat.
I’ll clarify that further by saying I like to read certain kinds of comic books. And it wasn’t the comic books I expected to like.
The Sandman comics (which I’d started to read one summer from a collection at a local library in my hometown) were probably a given. The Walking Dead? Maybe. I kinda want to see how the world had originally developed differently than the TV series. (Without giving away too much in case there’s others out there like me that still need to catch up on the series, I think a certain incident with Glenn made this graphic-horror film lover a little—well, you know, if you’ve seen that episode. I haven’t yet been able to pick up where I left off after that episode. Whew.)
If I ever get a stable day job that pays a livable wage, I want to expand my Emily the Strange collection. And fill in the few JTHM comic books that I’m missing. But my all time favourite from the diverse collection I bought? It wasn’t Spiderman, the X-Men, or even the X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
It was the Tomb Raider comic books. Holy cow, I’m hooked.
So, they’ll go on my shelf next to my (incomplete) Calvin and Hobbes collection and my (also incomplete) MUTTS collection and my Emily the Strange and JTHM.
The worst part of all this was that I while I was reading the Tomb Raider comics, something crawled out of the dark recesses of memory and childhood and whispered something to me.
“Those are girls’ comics.”
Seriously. That really did happen. Even after all these years, that little voice that had been internalized in my subconscious was still there, judging me, and upholding an unrealized and terribly sexist bias.
That’s how insidious and long-lasting this gender-based conditioning that we slather children with, not only in the home, but in the media, in classrooms/schools, and in society as well. And the courage and the strength of the individuals as they challenge and overcome such invasive and deeply-rooted conditioning? It’s what makes them true superheroes, outside of the ones on the pages of comic books.
And it brings up the deeply troubling and, perhaps, eternal question:
How much of ourselves is what we actually are?
(This is why I endlessly reinvent the standardized school system in my head. It’s the only thing that gets me through the day as a substitute teacher. I imagine an educational process comprised of two-week immersive pod learning that students can “try on” areas of potential interest—everything from writing to marine biology to interior design to being a private detective or an artist or a carpenter and anything else in-between that they want to explore as they figure out who they are in a safe, judgement-free zone.)