Despite my seething desire to one day walk those hallowed halls of Comic-Con, I have to confess that I’ve never actually read a comic book. At least, not one that I can remember, not one that made any kind of impact on me. Sure, growing up, I’d read the “funnies”–comic strips like FoxTrot, or Garfield–but nothing concerning radioactive spiders or international leagues of justice. That particular action-hero material was what appeared on television, in the form of shows like Batman: The Animated Series, or X-Men: Evolution.
It just never occurred to my younger self to pick up a comic book, when a moving, animated, and voiced version was just a remote control button away. Until now.
Jeremiah and I recently “got into comics”–and by that I mean we’ve been spending an inordinate amount of money on glossy paper filled with more pictures than words. I couldn’t tell you exactly what started this rash of comic book binging. For Jeremiah, I think it was the rising hype of the superhero movie. Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man are the most recent releases, with the DCU making a return in 2016. I won’t deny that I was immune to this hype train, nor do I want to. These are hugely entertaining movies. But there was something else that caused me to hand over that first $20 bucks for a graphic novel.
I felt unworthy.
How could I hope to be randomly selected from a waiting room filled with a million other people who woke up at 6:00 AM in the vain desire to get a ticket to Comic-Con??? (I know, don’t even get me started on the dream-crushing convolution that is the SDCC ticket-purchasing process. Anyway.) It was right there. In the name! Comic-Con. A convention for comics. And I, 23-year-old Philip Pham, a so-called pop-culture-phile have never once read a comic. Shame.
True, the big comic conventions nowadays don’t actually focus on comics anymore (or so I’ve been told). Fine. I’m not going to drudge up that scary conversation. But like I said, I felt that I didn’t deserve to go to Comic-Con in my sad, fallen state, having never read a comic.
Now, I’m not trying to criticize those who’ve been to Comic-Con, but have never read a comic (I know you exist, yes, you). Nor am I claiming that by reading a comic I’ve joined the esoteric ranks of the comic fan elite. It’s just that–my lack of experience with comics didn’t sit right with me, given the amount of time I spend watching TV/movies and playing video games–many of which have been directly inspired by their comic book roots.
And so, the urge to read a comic steadily took control of my every waking moment, like a recurring stomach ache, eviscerating my insides–that is, until I chug empty an 8 oz. bottle of Pepto Bismol, its Kirby-colored contents telling my bedridden body to shut the fuck up.
I set out on a mission to remedy my sans comic-book life.
But where to begin? My all-time favorite: Spider-Man? Or Superman? No, wait: it’s gotta be Batman. A quick Google search got me a huge list of Batman comic recommendations: too many, and a little too much jargon for a filthy casual like me to understand. So I chose the one with the catchiest title: Batman: The Long Halloween. It also helped that its author was a certain Mr. Jeph Loeb, who I recognized as the VP of Marvel Television. (Or some badass position like that.)
Anyway, I found it, bought it, and gobbled it up like a bowl of ramen noodles. So good: the murder mystery was taut, the art (by the legendary Tim Sale) was intoxicating. I saw how profoundly Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy was inspired by this particular comic. It was like having a storyboard already mapped out for you. A movie-in-waiting. I could appreciate how legions of fans could fall in love with a medium like this.
But me? I wasn’t there yet. Not quite.
It wasn’t until I picked up Saga written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples, that it “clicked.” How can I describe Saga? It’s a blood-and-sex filled satire of war, a Shakespearean love story, a Star Wars/Game of Thrones mash-up, an autobiography. It’s a damn good comic. Wait. No. It’s a damn good story.
Saga is narrated by a woman named Hazel, who tells the story of her parents, Marko and Alana, two soldiers who fall in love despite their being on opposite sides of two eternally warring planets. Marko and Alana are marked as deserters and fugitives, their “unholy union” deemed a perversion of the universe. Their pursuers include bounty hunters (of course), jilted lovers, robot royalty, and tabloid journalists.
The universe is immersive, and its characters, although deeply flawed, are realistic and relatable. Each and every one of them. Let me tell you now how rare that is for me to like every character in a story. It’s rare. There. You’ve been told. And the art? Well, I’ll let that speak for itself:
Although The Long Halloween was my first comic book, Saga is the comic book I know I’ll never forget, the comic book that somewhere in another universe is pioneering HBO’s animation studio, and the comic book that started it all (for me).