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Joel Grineau
by: Joel V. Grineau
In Defense Of The Funny Books

Why is it, that as an adult, I have to defend my comic book collecting habits to many of my friends and relatives? And more importantly, why does this outward defense often point to an internalized discourse of justification on this same issue?

I mean, I'm typical enough. I started 'seriously' collecting comic books in elementary school (middle school to you Yanks). Since that fateful decision of May 1981, I've spent high school, university and since, defending my hobby to others. Of course, only my real friends know that I collect, and most don't really understand it. Heck, even my parents have taken potshots at me over the years on this 'compulsion'.

Even today, just on the shy side of 30, I still collect and I still have to defend it. Of course, in some circles, collecting comics is seen as artsy, retro, and therefore, kind of hip. But, that's a minority. I mean, I'm an adult, so if I want to do this, who does it hurt? Of course, with the rising cost of comic books, I've had to cutback on what I collect, as I also like to pay rent, pay for school, eat, and whatnot. But, it's a hobby.

No one hides that they collect stamps. Interestingly, many stamp collectors also 'caught the bug' when they were kids. Of course, the simple answer, is that comic books are looked down upon as children's literature. These 'funny books' are seen as simplistic, puerile, and reductionist. Their pre-pubescent morality tales are placed in the ghetto of literature. Okay, in some ways, yes, they're simple. So?

If I want depth without entertainment I'll read Machiavelli, Melville, or Montecuccoli (I refuse to read that hack Shakespeare). But if I want to relax and read something for enjoyment that also makes me think, then I'll read science fiction, fantasy, or comic books. I find this tripartite linkage interesting.

Some great science fiction writer or other, I forget who, said something along the lines of: 'Americans read science fiction and fantasy more readily than others, because, as an imported people, they must create and recreate myths, in order to replace the ones that they lost touch with, when they crossed the ocean.' Of course, this quotation has WASP's or DWEM's in mind, but nonetheless, I find some merit to it.

To me, in some ways, comics are a part of an 'American' mythology. I mean, Captain America, as a national symbol, is as potent as St. George. Heroes with sidekicks, are really just following the idea that the hero needs helpers along the way of his quest. Fantastical powers can seem magical. Doomsday was Superman's Ragnarok. Comic book heroes are larger than life, they fight and defeat the gods. To be in at the 'ground floor' of these myths, as they are being created, to me, is very exciting. [Myths and the Mythic cycle will soon be revisited by this column].

Do comic books have the same artistic/literary merit in them that Ernest Hemingway, Margaret Atwood, or Salmon Rushdie do? Well, if people like me think that they should be held up to the same criterion, then, yes, we better be able to find something in them.

The old maxim that 90% of anything is crap is an acceptable enough axiom to me; thus leaving me 10% of comicdom to highlight. Here's one, "Maus" won an American National Book Award for Biography in the late 80's. How about that?

In the end, it is an intertwining of these three things: myth, literary merit and justification, that will form the visible and invisible underpinnings of my upcoming columns on comic book collecting. Until then true believers (out of my head Stan Lee), the defense rests.

Joel Grineau is a former Writer/Contributing Editor for "Chaos" Magazine. "Iron Man" 146 (purchased in the spring of 1981) was his first comic book, and time has not worn down his enjoyment of them. Joel holds a BA from the University of Guelph and an MA from the University of Saskatchewan. He is currently an officer with the Canadian Forces.

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Text © Joel V. Grineau, 1997,1998.
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