I know I’m in the minority here, but I love class projects. They let me play as much as they make me work. In elementary school, I used the feathers from my dream catcher to give a live demonstration of the effects of oil spills. For my summer reading assignment before sixth grade, I painted a wooden cabin to be the schoolhouse from Louis Sachar’s Holes. Then there was that time in high school when I rewrote Romeo and Juliet from the perspective of Juliet’s cousin, complete with pages dyed using tea bags and burned edges. Just last semester, for a project on Pope Joan, I baked gingerbread popes complete with hats and male genitalia except for one which had a labia. I then frosted the cookies and had my classmates lick the frosting off to find out who had Joan. Clearly, school projects bring out the best in me.

However, for all my gusto over doing projects, I seldom remember what I was supposed to learn from doing these projects after a month or two has passed. I can’t remember what those projects taught me — but I sure as Hell remember what my favorite comics taught me. Archie Comics’ Betty and Veronica taught me that friendship is stronger than a shared boyfriend. TEEN TITANS Starfire taught me that the loss of a homeworld, familial betrayal, and the inhumanities of slavery does not have to defeat you; one can still find and give joy to others. Aaron McGruder’s THE BOONDOCKS taught me that a clueless but well-meaning suburban girl living with her black dad and white mom (a girl like me) can exist in comics. These are but a few examples of what comics taught me, and I am not alone!

Below, five writers — Kelsey McConnell, Mara Danoff, Zach, Ashley Wertz, and Jeremiah Johnston — share what their favorite comics taught them. Each writer found something that moved and stayed with them long after they turned the last page. Through their moving anecdotes, each of these five writers taught me something. Comics really do have the power to make us better people and move us in unexpected but rewarding ways. So please enjoy our class project.

What BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER SEASON ELEVEN Comics Taught Me

The BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER television series came out in 1997 when I was a mere four years old. I was practically raised on the franchise. The comic series takes place after the television show, where Buffy and the gang are no longer in school. However, they prove that they’ve still got a lot to teach us. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER SEASON ELEVEN, currently in progress, has particularly made a mark on me.

Gray Morality

comics taught
Image courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

One of the things about this series that really hits home with me is the understanding that the world isn’t black and white. Not everything fits in convenient boxes of right or wrong. In fact, most situations have at least a little bit of gray morality. In BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER SEASON ELEVEN, Buffy comes face to face with the fact that not all humans are good and not all supernatural beings are bad. All species — and the individuals within them — are a mixture of both.

READ: Catch up with this review of BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER SEASON ELEVEN vol. 1!

Oppose Oppression

comics taught
Image courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER SEASON ELEVEN also brings to light the importance of standing up to oppression. In the comic, the government hoards Spike, Willow, and thousands of other supernatural beings into camps with very few resources. Buffy chooses to join the supernaturals in camp even though she has the privilege of exemption as a slayer. Eventually, she gives up her slayer powers for the chance to break free from the camp to try and rescue the others. This puts her in direct danger with the outside world, but the people she loves — along with strangers who deserve better — need her to have the courage to stand up to the government. In our current socio-political climate, this lesson is more important than ever. Fighting for what you believe in isn’t always easy, but it’s vital.

Freedom of Identity

comics taught
Image courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

Lastly, I believe that BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER SEASON ELEVEN drives home the importance of identity. When Buffy and Willow sacrifice their magic for freedom, the two of them have identity crises. They feel unimportant and useless without their magic. While eventually, they discover their magic isn’t all of who they are, it’s a part of them they aren’t willing to concede. No one should ever have to compromise a part of their identity, feel ashamed, or feel afraid of who they are. Diversity (magical or not) should be both celebrated and defended.

Final Thoughts

It’d be great if the importance of identity was something everyone could grasp in high school. Unfortunately, like Buffy and the gang, it’s a hard lesson that comes later in life for most people. Hell, for some it takes a lifetime to learn. That’s what makes this comic so important. That’s what makes all comics important! Comics are art, and art helps readers cope with the hard truths of life — like gray morality, the struggle against oppression, and the importance of identity. Art is education.

READ: For another great BUFFY comic, check out our review of BUFFY: THE HIGH SCHOOL YEARS — PARENTAL PARASITE TPB!

What CALVIN & HOBBES Comics Taught Me

When you’re young, there seems to be this huge pressure to grow up. I think it’s because parents always stop you from having ice cream for every kind of meal. Adults also force you to go to bed at eight instead of nine so you can’t watch that cartoon you just had to see. Regardless, sometimes being a kid sucks. But one comic taught me how to slow down and appreciate myself in the moment, and that was Bill Watterson’s CALVIN & HOBBES.

Comics Taught
Image courtesy of Bill Watterson.

Living In the Moment

I never read the series during its original run. Yet I distinctly recall every Sunday we’d get the color edition of the newspaper comics section and sure enough, a CALVIN & HOBBES cartoon would sit among the GARFIELDS and PEARLS BEFORE SWINES of the world. I remember how much they’d make me smile, especially after I had a bad day. Calvin wasn’t a good kid. He was loud, mischievous, and too smart for his own good. And, in a way, he reminded me of me. I, too, loved making entire worlds out of my toys to the point where imagination and reality would meld together. These precious moments I was so ready to throw off were what made me who I am today.

This series allowed me to glimpse at the magic of graphic novels. While CALVIN & HOBBES stories get collected in paperback issues, I’ll always remember getting those stories Sunday evening once my family got home. They showed me how important creativity is, and that while childhood might appear like the worst possible situation, sometimes you must take out your favorite stuffed animal and gaze up at the stars. Today, I admire the series for the satire and wit it provides adults. Yet, as a child, I’ll never forget how the strip encouraged me to be me.

READ: The creators of SPENCER AND LOCKE also clearly love CALVIN AND HOBBES — but their appreciation takes a much darker form than the Waterson comics! See our review here!

What HELLBOY Comics Taught Me

Comics Taught
Hellboy by Mike Mignola, Color by Dave Stewart

Mike Mignola’s Hellboy — the cigar-chomping, demon killing, pistol-wielding child of Satan — taught me to doodle when I was in third grade.

Back then, X-MEN was my obsession. Concerned teachers could often find me with three pencils tucked under my knuckles like Wolverine’s claws or trying to make my eyes roll back in my head so they would look white like Storm’s. Comics were my life.

Drawing the “Right Way”

Everyone’s favorite mutant team sparked in me a love of classic superhero comics and drawing. My parents purchased me a copy of HOW TO DRAW THE MARVEL WAY. This book was my safety manual. Because of it, I drew all day non-stop. If I deviated from the instructions, my third-grade brain thought my drawings would explode. I always drew the same way. No doodling, no freehand — just rigid proportions.

READ: Want some more analysis on your favorite son of Satan? Here are the Top 5 influences on early HELLBOY comics!

My figures looked like classic comic book heroes, and that’s how I liked it. They needed to be tall, good-looking, lean, perfect super-people. The shoulders must be three heads broad, the posture is perfectly straight, and the waist tapers in exactly at their midsection. I even distinctly remember messing up the book’s instructions and angrily ripping unfinished drawings. Right now, the book (which I still have) looks as if a pack of wolves gnawed on it — that is how many times I threw it in frustration.

 

Comics Taught
Page from HOW TO DRAW THE MARVEL WAY by Stan Lee and John Buscema. Image courtesy of Touchstone.

“Hell-raising” Art: The Devil Cometh

Everything changed in 2004, when Guillermo Del Toro’s HELLBOY movie was released. I loved the film and hoarded as many HELLBOY comics as I could get. But when I opened the comics, to my shock, HELLBOY didn’t look like Marvel and DC Comics! Without using very much detail, HELLBOY creator Mike Mignola’s art has a distinct sense of mood and place. His composition and proportioning is all gestural and based on feeling, not rigid guidelines.

Hellboy Sketch by Mike Mignola.

 

I was stunned. This comic did not follow the rules I held as dogma. Despite myself, I became obsessed with the art in the books. Every time I saw HELLBOY, I bought it even if I did not know the story. When I tried to backtrack to learn how to draw like Mignola, I found it almost impossible using what I had learned. A normal hero is around 6 1/2 heads tall and three heads wide. Hellboy has a hand bigger than his head and looks like a big amorphous pile of mashed potatoes. There were no “rules.” It was anarchy. Still, I drew.

READ: On how another comics creator who moved us, read ComicsVerse writer/artist Bob Franco’s piece on SARAH’S SCRIBBLES!

Comics Taught
Panel from HELLBOY vol. 1: SEED OF DESTRUCTION. Image courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

Hellboy’s Right Hand of Doodling

After HELLBOY, comic book art could be goofy, weird, and unbalanced. There could be no backgrounds, no textures, and mostly shadows. When I drew, not everything needed to be perfect and heroic. Like Hellboy’s own “Right Hand of Doom,” my hand could be powerful and dangerous all on its own. My heroes and even my art could be ugly. I began to stress less about following the rules and began doodling all the time. To the dismay of every teacher I have ever had, I doodled during class. I experimented, I practiced, and let my hand go free. And because of HELLBOY, I have not stopped doodling since.

What THE TRUE LIVES OF THE FABULOUS KILLJOYS Comics Taught Me

A lot of middle schoolers went through their “My Chemical Romance” phase, and I was no exception. So when I found out that lead singer Gerard Way was making comics, I needed to consume everything as quickly as possible. Gerard has an awesome portfolio. But my favorite comic is THE TRUE LIVES OF THE FABULOUS KILLJOYS, which he based off of the band’s album DANGER DAYS: THE TRUE LIVES OF THE FABULOUS KILLJOYS.

Comics Taught
Image courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

The comic is a high-octane, post-apocalyptic adventure that starts where the album’s story left off. What drew me in was that the comic intersects with music. I’ve seen comics that correspond with shows and movies, but not many that interact the same way with music. And since Way was the original creator, his writing shows a deep familiarity with the world of the album. I also enjoyed his choice to make the protagonist a young girl. And because the main character is a young girl (a fairly androgynous girl at that), I knew this comic was something my younger self would have loved to read as well. I think it’s crucial to have interesting young girl characters in all media, but especially comics.

READ: Check out more of Gerard Way’s comic work in THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY!

What I Learned

Overall, THE TRUE LIVES OF THE FABULOUS KILLJOYS taught me that you can merge many aspects of your creative life. And, as an artist myself, I think these intersections are amazing. Gerard took a concept he’d developed for music videos and concerts and added his love of comics to the mix. Way could have easily let somebody else write his story, but I’m glad he (along with the amazing artist Becky Cloonan) took control. I think it’s too easy for creatives to back themselves into a single corner when it comes to medium. So I’m glad comics like THE TRUE LIVES OF THE FABULOUS KILLJOYS can inspire me to step out of that bubble and interact with more than just illustrations. And I think a lot of artists could benefit from the idea that inspiration doesn’t have a cut-off.

What SONIC THE HEDGEHOG Comics Taught Me

Growing up, Sonic the Hedgehog was my favorite superhero. Maybe it’s odd to think of Sonic that way, but growing up I had a very good idea of who Sonic was. The Sonic I knew came from the Saturday morning cartoon, SONIC THE HEDGEHOG (or SONIC SATAM), and continued later in the pages of the SONIC THE HEDGEHOG comic series.

Comics Taught
Image courtesy of Archie Comics.

Those stories of Sonic were simple. Evil, in the form of Dr. Robotnik, had won on Planet Mobius. Once captured, Robotnik oversaw the systematic roboticization of the planet, a process that turns flesh to metal and erases free will. While Robotnik captured their parents and capital city, Sonic and a group of children escaped. While just barely teenagers, Sonic and the others formed the Freedom Fighters. Their mission was to disrupt Robotnik’s operations however they could and find and rescue any other Mobians who had escaped the ever-rising tide of Robotnik’s hegemony. 

In 2002, I had been reading the issues in earnest, finally getting a subscription the year before. When I came across SONIC THE HEDGEHOG #117 and saw that my favorite artist, Art Mawhinney, was drawing, I couldn’t contain my excitement. Yet the story that followed was unlike anything I had read before.

WATCH: Here is our interview with Tracy Yardley a SONIC THE HEDGEHOG artist, at C2E2!

The Art of SONIC #117 Contained My Version of Sonic the Hero

In “The Tortoise and the Hedgehog,” Sonic is on a mission to rescue Tommy the Turtle, long believed to be dead. Growing up, Sonic had teased Tommy but, in the tradition of Aesop, was humbled when the two raced. Sonic had attached much significance to that moment and took the chance to rescue the wayward friend.

Comics Taught
Image courtesy of Archie Comics.

The issue had a very different mood. Most of the Freedom Fighters’ missions had external goals. But I got a sense that this story was more for Sonic’s own redemption. Mawhinney put this emotion in the intensity of Sonic’s eyes, his warmth when he saw Tommy alive, and his grit at the complication that faces both of their escape. This would be Sonic’s way of paying Tommy back.

But Sonic doesn’t get that chance. At the very last moment, Sonic’s mission goes up in flames.

He loses.

Comics Taught
Image courtesy Archie Comics.

SONIC #117 Changed My Definition of Heroism

I remember closing the comic and feeling moved. What I just read was the first example of seeing my hero fail. And rather than being upset, I really liked it. That comic introduced me to the idea of how you can show heroism without victory. It stands out as a quiet moment that shows the true mettle of a hero — and it’s not Sonic alone in this case. It’s Tommy.

READ: For another example of non-traditional heroism, check out our analysis of Sandman from KINGDOM COME!

Feeling moved that Sonic even came out to find him, Tommy chooses to sacrifice himself to let Sonic escape. It’s a simple act that moves Sonic to consider the cost of the war he’s fought for most of his life. Rather than letting the sacrifice defeat him, he chooses to keep going. If this is from the example set by Tommy or simply because it’s Sonic, it doesn’t matter: we see the effect loss has on the hedgehog, and that’s enough to let us make our own conclusion. It’s easy to be heroic when things go your way; it takes a great deal of gumption to go on when they don’t.

In November, when that issue came out, my family and my community — the United States Navy — were still on-edge after 9/11. We held our breath and sighed, collectively, when that first anniversary passed without an attack. But there were other things going on. My friend’s parents — most of them were Marines — started to deploy to the Middle East. It was an uncertain time, and assurances of even a year ago meant nothing. Nevertheless, in that issue, I saw that Sonic would keep going — and, simply put, I could, too. Maybe we all could.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *