how comics saved my life

When people ask why I started ComicsVerse, my response is always simple. I started ComicsVerse to help people because comics saved my life.

Comics made me who I am today; more than any other form of media, more than film or TV, more than traditional literature, more than fine art. Comics contributed to developing more of my personality, outlook, and perspective than anything else (except for my parents). I can honestly declare comic books saved my life. If it weren’t for them, I would not be here today.

Comics saved my life. That sounds horribly cheesy, I know, so let me backtrack:

The middle-class Westchester County, New York community where I grew up (coincidentally, one town over from where the X-Men’s X-Mansion resides) was 95% Caucasian and just under 3% Hispanic or Latino. Second generation Italian immigrants surrounded me (my great grandparents immigrated at the turn of the century). Still, I felt strange and awkward for a lot of reasons. Being Puerto Rican was certainly somewhere on that list. Also on that list were my taste for theatre, art, and reading. People would bully me for all these things. In addition, I was overweight. I had copious amounts of dandruff (which was totally just 90’s hair spray!) and a complete lack of physical prowess (I couldn’t catch a baseball if my life depended on it).

HEAR: AMERICAN BORN CHINESE? Even if you aren’t, listen to our AMERICAN BORN CHINESE Podcast which is all about self-acceptance.

Everyone’s Got a Story. This was Mine.

I remember when the bullying started. I was in the fourth grade. One of my best friends turned to me at lunch and started laughing because of the way I looked and acted. The stigma of being strange and uncannily different from my peers continued through high school. There, people pelted gum right out of their mouths at me. Other students spit at me through straws in front of teachers who either turned a blind eye or directly participated in my torment by laughing at me while it happened (all this in just first period Biology class). A girl I’d never spoken to before told me that if I died or killed myself, she would laugh.

The Dark Before the Dawn

There were, in fact, many days I thought of ending my life.  I thought of myself as some sort of monster for being overweight. My parents are truly my best friends now and could not have loved me more to this day or growing up, but we weren’t always a great match when I was younger. My father, a shrewd, fair, and powerful NYPD detective, and my pragmatic and practical mother, an accountant, didn’t have coping techniques (through absolutely no fault of their own) for dealing with a social pariah interested in acting and art; not sports, like my father, who played minor league baseball and was an All-American basketball player, something that, in addition to being pushed and punched in the halls of school between classes, caused me a great deal of shame.

So I hid the bullying I was going through at school from my parents. I grew up depressed, anxious and honestly, not wanting to live very long. To me, a step outside of the bedroom in my parents’ house was an opportunity to be ridiculed, physically abused or torn down for the betterment of others’ self-esteem. The only way to ensure my safety was never to leave. Unfortunately, that’s what I did for too long. The reality is that I wanted to end my life.

Then I discovered comics, and comics saved my life.

Comics Saved My Life: cover of UNCANNY X-MEN issue #137 written by Chris Claremont
One of the first X-Men comics I ever read.

When I Picked Up My First X-Men Issue, I Never Expected ever to say Comics Saved My Life

The first experience I had where comics saved my life occurred after I picked up UNCANNY X-MEN, X-FACTOR, and NEW MUTANTS. Though I was often confused by X-Men’s sophistication, I fell quickly entranced by Marvel’s idea that mutants were people who had powers and used them for the betterment of the world. Sadly, there haven’t been any socially awkward obese Puerto Rican/Italian mutants for me to connect with. Still, I felt enamored.

I didn’t understand at the time, but now I realize what I was doing: I was learning. Specifically, French that Chris Claremont’s X-Men said. My mind was opened up to new cultures and people that I had only a brief overview of in school. I was learning that a person could be different and hated, yet maybe they had something special. At a time when I didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere when I didn’t feel like I had a family or community, I had X-Men, and they were my family.

It wasn’t just an escape from anxiety and terror at school. It was a way to focus on being a better person, despite what people said how they treated me. Communities existed that became families like the X-Men. They accepted each other. Their faults and physical and racial differences made no difference. They learned to love one another. Reading X-Men taught me how to treat a romantic partner the right way. I learned that I wanted to be a better human being reading X-Men. That was where I learned to accept myself. That was where I learned how comics saved my life.

LISTEN: Want to know why I love X-Men so much? Because we can apply the values in X-Men to real life like we did in our podcast– “X-Men: The Dream.”

Principles of What I Learned from X-Men Adopted by ComicsVerse

At ComicsVerse, we consider our role with the comic book community to be gatekeepers of comic book mythology. We want to help people like me who went through challenging and turbulent times. We want people to feel like they have a place to commune with the kinds of comic books that saved me. In my case, as I know in many others, the crux of that offer, the promise, ever feels intertwined with what can be as profound as life itself.

UNDERSTANDING COMICS by Scott McCloud and The Great Awakening of How Comics Saved My Life

I never forgot how comics saved my life and what they meant to me. In 2012, after my first semester at Columbia University, I enrolled in a course titled “Comic Books and Graphic Novels as Literature.” There, I first read Scott McCloud’s definitive graphic novel on comic book theory — UNDERSTANDING COMICS. Comics opened up to me, a second time in my life, in an entirely new and fascinating way.

I became aware of the visual language of comics. I began to understand facets of its nature, piece by piece, for the first time. The class treated me to learning about all new and different types of comics. These comics came from around the world as well as America. I saw comics as what they were, a medium of expression with superhero comics and memoir (something the comics medium does best) as genres of that medium. After how comics saved my life, I was able to see how they saved others.

Comics Saved My Life: cover of UNDERSTANDING COMICS by Scott McCloud
Read UNDERSTANDING COMICS by Scott McCloud. It will change the way you look at comics.

In that same class, I met then graduate student and current Marvel Comics Assistant Editor, Kathleen Wisneski. We instantly bonded over our mutual love of comics. Comics saved my life, and they saved hers too. Together, we created the ComicsVerse podcast, and I created ComicsVerse.com. Little did we know, ComicsVerse would grow into a community of thousands across various social media platforms. I never expected our podcast to have an international following. Our podcast aims to do two things. We want to have fun and talk about comics in the way we want to talk about them — with an understanding that comics impact people.  That means analytical and in-depth discussion that takes comics seriously as a high art form.

Things Started Taking Off

A year or so later, Travis Czap joined the team. He ensures all written content on ComicsVerse adheres to our policies of fun and in-depth inspection. Recently, several interns have risen to top positions in the company: Jamie Rice (content editor), and Kay Honda (Production Coordinator).  Together, as comic book enthusiasts and creators ourselves with deep ties to the comics medium, we make up the executive core of ComicsVerse to this day.

Comics Saved My Life and Catalyzed the Rise of ComicsVerse

Through exhibiting in New York City at the Special Edition: NYC Comic Convention (where we covered the event more than any other news source twice in a row) and conducting interviews with creators from Marvel, DC, Image and indie comics for the last several years while attending New York Comic Con, Boston Comic Con and Wizard World: Philadelphia, ComicsVerse developed into a community of comic book fans, collectors, artists, writers, educators and theorists that ever aims to achieve the goal of greater comic book acceptance. We want to increase awareness about the depth of the medium to levels seen in Japan or France. In France, one out of every fourth book sold is a graphic novel or comic book.

READ: “No More Mutants” Why the X-Men Should Stop Creating New Characters and Focus on Old Characters

ComicsVerse has achieved a place in the comic book industry as an influencer. We consider it our duty to guard and protect the medium for readers. We take it, and its creators, seriously as the talented artists and writers they are. Our analyses and reviews never insult or demean a comic, story arc or creator. If we disagree with something, we back it up with constructive criticism. We remember to have love for the talented people who put themselves out there (and many times in not great working conditions) to create comic book works of art.

The ComicsVerse Philosophy is Based on How Comics Saved My Life

While we revel in geek and nerd culture, that’s not what we’re doing at ComicsVerse. Our focus is on how comics are made, the language of comics that tells us about a work, the artistic processes and inspirations behind the creator(s), and simply what comics are about — opening people up to new cultures, ideas, and ways of thinking that could have major impacts on how they live their lives and perceive the world.

We thoroughly enjoy being in a position to help creators raise awareness and draw attention to their work. Whether it’s helping an up and coming creator by featuring their Kickstarter campaign in a blog entry, or podcasting about a graphic novel you may not have heard of that has a deep emotional core that bears examination, or if we’re making a video about a popular Marvel or DC comic book that would be great for those new to comics to read, we love helping people. After all, that’s why I created ComicsVerse, to begin with, and that’s why I was lucky enough to discover the amazing team of people I currently work with who share the same ethics, goals, and connection with comics as I do.

How Comics Saved My Life

How Comics Saved My Life and the Lives of Others Around Me

Recently, an intern approached me after conducting an interview and sat me down. They began to describe how they were feeling. Working a job surrounded by narcissistic, selfish people and feeling lost after graduating university with degrees in art, film, and writing, they were no longer creating art of any kind. This person told me that they had surrendered themselves to the world, giving up on their dreams as they endured a devastating depression and crippling anxiety they had trouble escaping.  Their story instantly reminded me of, not only myself but the mutant experience in X-Men comics I grew up reading as the person continued to describe how they didn’t fit in anywhere.

Before I went to console them, they told me that ComicsVerse had, in a way, “saved [their] life.” How, by exposing them to writing about comics and a community of people who feel the same way about them as they do, they slowly began to write again and make art, allowing for the self-expression so necessary for an artistic and emotional mind to survive in a world full of public personas and find joy and peace. They told me they finally felt part of a community that understood them, a community that felt like a family, a family exactly like the one I read about in X-Men comics.  Upon hearing the end of the sentence, I was holding back tears.

How Comics Saved My Life: Full Circle

The next day, I texted my father as I always do. This time, I said I had something to tell him. I told him what our intern told me. I remembered the depression and unhappiness I lived with before starting ComicsVerse myself. My father said he felt moved. Then he said something an awkward, dorky, untalented and completely non-athletic son of a sports figure and confident, tough NYPD detective always dreamed of hearing:  “I couldn’t be more proud of you if you were the best football player in the world.” Again, I found myself holding back tears. I gained an escape from my life and a route to a better and more educated way of thinking.

The life changing moment with my father almost equally joined together with another realized experience. I learned to help others against all odds, against humanity’s own nature of self-preservation and penchant for self-absorption, being a part of helping another human being lift themselves from the depths of despair and self-loathing we all understand too well as people is the most divine experience we can have on this earth.

No matter what religion or lack of religion or culture or race or sexuality or gender or part of the world you live in, helping people is the pinnacle of the human experience. Not because of how gratifying or validating it is, but because the act of helping someone, as cheesy as it may sound, is truly and honestly it’s own reward. In my case, it’s all because of how comics saved my life.

Very truly yours,
Justin Gilbert Alba, ComicsVerse CEO

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4 Comments

  1. Kerianne M.

    November 24, 2016 at 2:58 pm

    I actually met the guy who wrote this at New York CC this year and he was so incredibly nice! He gave me a hug and took a selfie with me and spent five minutes talking to me asking me questions about myself. Not something you get from a lot of these podcast hosts and websites like this. Truly inspiring article from a truly inspiring person. Keep up the good work Comicsverse!

    Reply

  2. Ryan Hatfield

    October 19, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    Comics were my life for a long time. My dad got me into comics at a young age and was always bringing my younger brother and I stories of Spider-Man & the X-Men, along with Image titles too. For a long time, when I was a kid, I shared so many experiences with my favorite heroes. I was always kind of a loaner and comics gave me a place where being alone didn’t seem so bad. I absolutely feel the same way about the X-Men and always idolized Cyclops because he was exactly what I wanted to be: A take charge guy. Although, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve seen that he really wasn’t such a take charge guy and was often doubting himself, which makes me identify with him that much more! I’ve even been involved in revolutionary groups, which made me like his last arc so much more, although extreme as he was, but I’m digressing… Really what I wanted to say is that I love your site, the podcasts, the reviews, really everything. It’s so insightful to get the intellectual side of superheroes and I love the treatment. Although I have never written for anything before, your site is inspiring me to want to write for you, but I don’t really know how to go about it seeing as I’ve never had a job or internship writing. Most of my time is spent writing lyrics for my many bands, as well as reviews of bands, working on comic scrips (I have a few, but no artist(s), but never for a legitimate blog like the one you have here. Comics are such a source of my love for life and I would love to share that. Maybe this wasn’t the best way to reach out, but here goes. Keep on doing what you’re doing and maybe someday I can be part of it.
    Cheers,
    Justin & all you awesome Comicsverse contributors, editors, etc

    Reply

  3. Gena

    August 7, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    I feel just the same about comics, I was always alone as well and reading one of the funny types or even X-Men (which was also my first action type comic) always made me feel better, and I learned so much. I also took to drawing some of my own, and shared with those around me, who then understood I had more to offer than silence (quiet child, I was). I had even desired at one point to be a cartoonist! Thanks for sharing this, it’s wonderful, Justin!

    Reply

    • Justin Gilbert Alba

      August 7, 2015 at 4:26 pm

      Thank YOU for sharing, Gena! Comics have truly saved so many of us, and it’s so beautiful that you’re choosing to share a little bit about your experience with us here. Drawing is also very therapeutic and cathartic. I bet you’re an awesome cartoonist. 😉 Here’s a shoutout to the quiet children of the world!

      Reply

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