Origins of the Comic Book: Potential for a New Generation

Comic books, t-shirts, and other trinkets availible at Malden's own New England Comics. All photos by Nicholas Bramante
By NICHOLAS BRAMANTE You enter a small, cool shop. The quiet hum of an air conditioner drums on, partially muffling the chatter of old 60’s television shows. The soft shuffling of feet and the sharp turning of pages interrupt the otherwise tranquil discord. Lining the walls are long metal racks, each holding countless thin books. Each cover holds a different story, the pages shouting with colorful flourishes of conflict and humanity. Standing before the boxes upon boxes of paper bound by staples and covered in plastic, a few dollars is all you need to take home your own small piece of history. Now the question is, where are you?
An array of comic books at Malden's New England Comic store.
If you answered “Starbucks” or “Barnes And Noble,” you would be wrong. What this description actually matches is a simple, modern-day comic book store; a sight witnessed by significantly fewer of today’s youth. Since the 1930’s, comic books have been an evolutionary and important aspect of American pop culture. Originally presented as short comic strips in daily newspapers, the stories would eventually gain enough steam to be able to be sold as reprints in their own issued books. As original and new content began streaming into the comic book scene, they told fantastical stories such as Jerry Seigel’s and Joe Shuster’s Superman, still a nationally recognizable icon today. According to Mike Richardson, president of Dark Horse Comics - one of the largest comic book publishing companies to date - the comic book “was the video tape of its day.” However, with the introduction and massive success of forms of entertainment such as movies or online videos, it seems the comic book’s appeal has been less desirable to today’s youth. A large factor in the decline of social opinion of comic books seems to be the recurring stigma that comic books are for children and that reading them is sign of immaturity. On the contrary, the opposite effect is what actually appears to be happening, as more and more hardcore fans are walking into comic book shops. This is a stigma that has been gripping the public tight since the “Golden Age” of comics. Stanley Martin Lieber, known most famously by his pen name Stan Lee and regarded as the “Father of Modern Comic Books,” dealt with this conflict of interests in his early days of writing. Wanting to produce content for more mature audiences, a young Stan Lee suggested his idea to publisher Martin Goodman. According to Lee, Goodman always told him “we have nobody but very young kids reading [comic] books, and a few illiterate adults.” Flash forward to present day, and it would seem at first that today’s youth is actually very much involved with comic books - their icons are plastered over everything from clothing to phone cases. The sad reality is that most of the people sporting these icons haven’t picked up a legitimate comic book once in their life. The same can be said for many teens and children who participate in the recent boom in comic book hero movies. When asked on their reasons for preference to Spider-Man, one anonymous source responded with “I just like Tobey Maguire.” While the sudden surge of comic book icons in American pop culture is encouraging, icons and movies still do not stack up by a longshot to all the ideas explored through comic books over time. It was apparent that certain stigmas surrounding the reading of comics have not dissipated with time, either. Several Malden High School students (who wish to remain anonymous) responded with “nerd,” “geeky,” “bookworm” and “imaginers” when asked what came to mind if someone was known to read comics. Whether true or not, the negative connotation behind the words tells everything needed to understand why some believe comics are a dying breed of entertainment.
More comic book selections.
The irony in the stigma behind comics is that throughout their publication, they have actually tackled very relevant and important issues both in American society and the world. One important example can be seen in the transition in comic books in the 1940’s. With the emergence of the Second World War and the Holocaust, comic book writers were taking their characters to where they had never gone before: war. According to Stan Lee, “[comic book writers] were fighting Hitler before our government was fighting Hitler!” It would be this same war that would inspire the creation behind another comic book giant: Captain America. Exploding onto the comic book scene, the cover of the first issue of Captain America (which sold out) said it all, as according to author of “History of Comics” Jim Steranko, who described the scene as Captain America “[throwing] a smashing right cross to the jaw of Adolf Hitler.” Tackling everything from war, to drugs, to corrupt politicians, comic books even today are a relevant source of quiet political and social views in today’s America. Just a few hundred feet away from Malden High is Malden’s very own comic shop: New England Comics. A shining beacon of hope for today’s helpless comic book readers, the shop holds true to what it actually advertises. Unlike the chain-store Newbury Comics (which sells almost everything except actual comics), the paper that lines the racks of New England Comics, both old and new, is full of pure comic book glory. Everything from the classics like the all-time best selling graphic novel “The Death of Superman”  to lesser-known independent comics like Brian Wood’s “The Massive”  can be found in the shop, supporting both hardcore fans and casual readers alike. While the shop is a prime example of a classic comic book shop, the level of notoriety it holds within Malden’s youth is unfortunately low. According to one of the employees who works in the shop, at most the shop gets “a few” young regular customers. In the end, the comic book industry today is a living but slowly starving creed in some parts of the United States. What was once the entertainment of choice for millions of children, adolescents and adults alike is now a semi-taboo practice among society. The richness of the storytelling and artwork that these books hold and the value of the characters as a whole has been lost in time due to harrowing stigmas and relentless obstacles. While conventions like Comic Con hold hope for the comic book industry in the form of a congregation of thousands of hardcore fans, it is really the smaller, more intimate everyday experiences that hold value in the reading of comic books. Looking past the veil that surrounds these stories, anyone can truly find a book worth reading, whether its content is mature or goofy, action-packed or introspective, hardcore or casual; comic books are still to this day one of the most important pieces of American culture, even if people do not always realize it. Younger generations now are always looking for the next trend to set, the next creed to join. So why not go the extra mile and bring back into style what was once the standard of youth in America? You might be surprised by what you find.

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