In August, we bring a set of new full-time writers to the blog. Today, please welcome Sam Tuit (’21), who will be writing for us on the 29th of each month. Sam graduated from Calvin in 2021 with a degree in film and media. He lives in Grand Rapids and works as an event coordinator. In his free time, he loves trying new things, cooking for others, and having nuanced conversations about the stories our society is telling.
Growing up, I never gave comic books much thought. Comics were three-panel strips relegated to what my grandfather jokingly called the “educational” section of the Sunday paper. He was more right than he knew. Last year I gave comic books another chance, and I’ve learned things I never expected.
Lesson One: Comics are to be taken seriously
Hawkeye (2012) Matt Fraction and David Aja
Starting with Fraction’s Hawkeye is like introducing someone to paintings by showing them van Gogh’s Starry Night. Hawkeye is one of the most widely celebrated runs in modern comics and is a top-notch introduction to the format. In the massive universe of Marvel Comics, it’s a story on a small scale. Clint Barton works to make sure his neighbors aren’t pushed out of their apartments by rising rent. There are no Avengers, no cosmic magic, no world ending stakes—it’s approachable with no prior knowledge.
The art style and coloring are distinctive. It’s not-quite monochromatic and has just enough details that the characters are recognizable. The world feels lived in, and the art reflects the characters’ perception of the world. Speech bubbles read “<French>” or “<Russian?>” as antagonists speak in languages Clint doesn’t know. After he’s stabbed in the ears the bubbles are blank, and large sections of the page are dedicated to ASL diagrams or fragmented text as Clint reads lips. It’s a powerful choice that taught me comics should be considered not despite the medium, but because of it.
Lesson Two: Comics are buckwild
Ms. Marvel (2014) by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona
Soon after I started reading comics, I realized I had two options: accept the reality presented no matter how weird it got, or stop reading. Comics go to strange, wacky, fantastical places. The first villain Kamala Khan faces as Ms. Marvel is The Inventor: a half-cockatiel clone of Thomas Edison. Yes, it’s as weird as it sounds. If you don’t like it, you can set down the book.
The weirdness of comics can be used to approach topics which might hit too close to home otherwise. Sure, there’s a half-bird clone of Thomas Edison, but what does the half-bird clone of Thomas Edison symbolize?
Lesson Three: Comics are not for the impatient
Lesson Four: Comics tell stories efficiently
X-men Red (2022) Al Ewing and Stefano Caselli
In 2019, Marvel soft-rebooted the X-men, which was, for me, a good place to get into the series. After tearing through every published story featuring mutants, I’ve reached the point where each series only has about twenty new pages every month. In our internet-filled world of instant gratification, it’s hard to wait a week for more comics to come out, let alone a month for the next piece in a given series.
At the same time, each series only has about twenty new pages each month, and issues remain semi-self-contained. Page real-estate is at a premium. Monologues are split across multiple panels, often showing multiple simultaneous events. One drawing using two pages is a big deal. Every panel and speech bubble counts, and forcing the storytelling to be tight in a way books, tv, and movies don’t have to be. This is easier to notice reading on an issue by issue basis, and it’s cool to see how scenes start and end mid-conversation, conveying only the essentials of the story.
Lesson Five: Comics are Art
The Wicked + The Divine, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
This is the first comic series that made me cry. From the very first issue, it’s clear WicDiv has things to say about stardom. Twelve teenage pop stars receive the powers of gods but will be dead within two years. Laura, the protagonist, is introduced as a fan. “I want everything you have,” she says to Amaterasu, a member of the pantheon visually based on Florence Welch. The pantheon’s designs are well thought out and pulled from a wide range of genres. Woden, inspired by Daft Punk, is a remix artist, and the issue from his perspective re-uses and recontextualizes art used previously. Minerva is only twelve, and her parents are always present: she is a child star who is taken advantage of. The journey Laura and the rest of the pantheon go on from fan to god to the end is brilliant. These teenagers have cosmic power and burn bright, but the clock is ticking for each of them as they perform, flirt, and fight. It’s heartbreaking.
When I first walked into my local comic book shop, I was astounded by the volume of issues. Shelves reaching eight feet high covered every wall, more stuffed between, each packed with literature. With a little more experience, it’s not surprising. Comics can flex to tell any story. There’s something for everyone. So pick one up. You might even learn something.