15 Sep 2014
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Should Adults Read Comic Books?

Local expert Prof. Edward Shannon, of Ramapo College, chimed in on the issue this week at theMahwah Library

Should Adults Read Comic Books?

According to one local expert, what used to be seen as juvenile is now finding it's place in the hands and on the e-readers or adults.

The comic book, and its modern version – the graphic novel, have become part of the American psyche. This week, the Mahwah Library hosted Edward Shannon, a professor of literature for Ramapo College. With a crowd of about 40 people, Shannon discussed how comic books have gone from being “just for kids” to a form of communication that reflects the ideas of Freud and Kafka.

He said that, comic books have “long been used as a synonym for ‘childish,’ ‘unsophisticated’ or ‘lowest common denominator’.” Shannon said that “the adults would not want to be caught reading a comic book in public…are the same people who made [movies like] ‘Iron Man’ and ‘The Dark Knigh’t huge box office success.”

He sited how the book “Maus” by Art Spiegelman retold the story of the Holocaust in comic book form with animals representing the different countries of the world. He said “Maus,” like other graphic novels, have found a home on The New York Times bestseller list.

“In the 1940s, do you know how the number one ereaders of comic books were?” he asked. “It was soldiers serving in World War II.”  He said the comic books reminded them of their home towns. 

The world of comic books actually began with the comic strips that became more and more prevalent in the late 1800s. By the early 1900s, thanks to the likes of creators like Windsor McKay and the pulp writers, comic books became a more definitive medium when newspaper strips were being produced.

When Superman hit the stands, he inspired other heroes and comic book companies, such as Bob Kane’s story ‘Batman.’

 “Let’s face it,” he said. “Batman is basically Dracula as a good guy. He tapped into that vampire mythos.” 

Today, comic books have taken on the roles being the medium that inspires movies.

“In 1978, it was a novel idea to use Superman, a B-movie style hero, to inspire a full-fledged serious feature film,” said Shannon.

Darren Davis, publisher of Bluewater Comic Books in Washington, said he was happy to hear about the discussion at the Mahwah Library.

“Anytime people can have a serious discussion about comic books and show them for what they, it is beneficial to everyone,” he said.

Davis said that as a kid growing up, he had a hard time reading, and he found comic books to be his link to the world of literature.

“My parents wanted me to read anything and I found comic books the best thing to hold on to,” he said. He has taken this idea, and is trying to spread it to parents and educators today.

“Instead of going to the San Diego Comic Con this year, we went to the American Library Association convention, because we want teachers and librarians to see that comic books are a viable form to catch the interests of younger students looking to read.” 

Davis said that this is why he published biographical comic books on the likes of politicians and celebrities with Bluewater Comics’ “Fame,” “Female Force” and “Political Power” series, which have proven successful.

Echoing these remarks, Denise Laude, who handles publicity for the Mahwah Library, said she wanted to reach out to the community and have programs that appeals to the different segments of the community. She said comic books made sense. 

However, Shannon said, the comic book is a reflection on America.

“If you want to see what the unvarnished truth of what the nation was like at a particular time, pick up a comic book,” he said. “It will reflect the country accurately.”

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