Saturday, 4 August 2012

Batman, pike man

I had a great walk and talk with my son today

We went over to Forbidden Planet in Cambridge to buy some more bags and boxes to archive my old comic collection.  I was pathetically pleased to see how impressed the guy behind the counter was when I told him some of the comics we were dealing with.

We left the shop just as the heavens opened and we walked on in a heavy shower until Midsummer Common where we sheltered under a tree.  During our walk, my son had been waxing lyrical about the Tim Sale/Joseph Loeb Batman books.  But the interesting thing was the way he was expressing his admiration for these comics.

He clearly loves Tim Sale's artwork, but that was not the thing he mentioned first.  He actually talked about how great the characters were.  He talked about them in the same terms another person would use for a novel they had admired.

This is something that non-comic book people - including, sadly, a lot of people involved in publishing for teens - don't get about comics.  They don't get how involving they are.  They see them as trivial and disposable.  They see them as less than literature because of the pictures, when they are really something else entirely.  They are not illustrated stories, they are a totally different way of delivering a narrative.  They are more akin to movies than the are to novels.

A good comic book will find a balance between story and image whereby the reader will almost fall headlong into the work and be surrounded by it on all sides.  It is hard to describe the sensation to someone who is resistant to the form.

But that does not mean that the components of a good story don't still have to be there.  And I was fascinated to hear my son talk about 'character' in this way.  It was both surprising and refreshing.  The characters in comic books - super hero comic books - can seem too grotesque or contrived to be emotionally engaging, but they are no more so than the characters of myth and folk tale.  They are often in far more complex than those who never read comics would ever imagine.

Having waited out the shower, my son and I walked on, heading over onto Jesus Green where we started talking about the river and how wild it had been this year.  We speculated on how this would have affected the wildlife and this made us think of the pike - a fish that is very common in the waters hereabouts and which is a favourite of ours.  Suddenly my son was reciting Ted Hughes' The Pike:

Pike, three inches long, perfect
Pike in all parts, green tigering the gold
Killers from the egg: malevolent aged grin
They dance on the surface among the flies...

From Loeb and Sale's Batman to Ted Hughes' pike, all in a few hundred paces.

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