April 27, 2010

Getting Schooled in Comics, Part Three

That, ladies and gentlemen, is how I spent part of last night.

Many of you may be aware that amongst my other activities, such as this blog, writing for Comic Related, running Facebook pages, and being the sweet as heck guy that I am, I also work on comic related events as part of the Chicago Nerd Social Club, and last night was a successful Comics in Academia session with Len Strazewski.

For many of you, the name may not seem familiar - after all, what does a professor of journalism have to do with comics? Which is, well, the point of the lecture series - to discuss how comics are perceived in the academic field. It also helps that Len wrote characters like The Flash (whom no one on the Internet has ever heard of) and the Justice Society of America (who are a bunch of characters from the 1940s that wouldn't work today).

[Let me have my obligatory moment of fannishness - I absolutely loved Len's Justice Society work - the first miniseries, which focused on the 1950s, as well as his ten issue mega-series, which was cruelly canceled before it had a chance to build an audience. This was one of those volunteer tasks that I absolutely had a blast working on. From a successful reunion to meeting a favorite character? I think I've somehow entered a parallel world, and expect Cybus Industries to come out with an upgrade]

But last night's event was extremely cool...and thought provoking. It was a small audience (granted, my idea to have Todd McFarlane and Mark Millar discuss Lives of the Twelve Caesars would have gotten the kids in...but I forgot to suggest it in time), but in a way, it was a great audience to have a lively discussion - what makes a graphic novel different from a comic? What is it about comics that gives them a heft beyond just mere entertainment?

But what was really informative was how Len talked about some of his fellow writers, both familiar (Steve Gerber and Steve Englehart) and not-so-familiar (like Mike W. Barr, whose Maze Agency I sorely miss). His discussion of Mike Parobeck's illness - and passing - and how it influenced his enthusiasm about comics. (And you can never have too much Mike Parobeck. Never). But all in all, two things that Len discussed really hit home for me.

The first was one of the themes that he stated he enjoyed writing about - that experience matters. That our lives and experiences actually mean something, and that we learn and grow as human beings. It seems cliche, but as I slowly cross over into dreaded middle age, I sometimes worry that I will end up dying old - not old with a young heart, much like Jack Knight wishes to do.

But more importantly...comics are often seeking the next big thing. Anyone, seemingly, can write comics, but it comes with a high risk - the risk of losing the craft of writing comics. It's easy in this time of mega-crossovers, reboots, and "event comics" that what really matters in the end - why we love comics in the first place - is not just the familiarity of old characters, but the thrill that comes with an extremely well written story.

And that, ultimately, is what we really need to remain schooled in comics.

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