How to Read a Comic Book: The Carnival of Unknowing

Imagine you are thrust into a carnival. There are clowns and carnies, barkers and bakers, animals and amusements. You look around. You have no idea what is going on and it’s fantastic. It is the feeling of newness, of not knowing, that drives you onward. Your senses are reborn. Suddenly throwing a dart at a deflated balloon to win a KISS poster isn’t depressing, it’s an adventure. The mystery, the wonder, creates the experience. When you go home you don’t even hang up the cardboard frame, but you’ll remember the carnival.

So it is with comic books. I’ve been reading comics for a long time. At first I was confused by the characters, the events, the storylines. Characters would come and go with barely a mention of a name. That confusion was the hook. My youth meant that I was comfortable with discomfort. The taste made me hungry. The hunger made me hunt. I began to build a collection. Not for collecting sake, but to understand, to take it in, and to push my curiosity to its limits. Soon I knew a lot, but there was always a bit more. My desire for comic book omniscience pushed me to learn. I loved the learning.

Then the internet came and I could learn even more. Hunt down digital copies. Read article after article and interview after interview. Trying to suck every last ounce of information. The comics got expensive, but the information was freely available. Why read X-Men when I can follow all their exploits with commentary online. I bought fewer and fewer comics. I read fewer and fewer. I wanted to know without learning. I don’t know how many years I read the internet of comics without reading the comics themselves. Far too long. Then I lost interest. There was no carnival anymore, just a KISS poster in a cardboard frame.

I’m rediscovering my love. I don’t want to be the comic geek who knows every fact. I’ve been that person. I want to be the one with a stack a comics to read and smile. And I’ve found the secret: Don’t collect. I don’t just mean throw out your old comics, but that’s not a bad idea. Also, don’t complete a collection or compile a run. Buy an eighth issue of a series you didn’t read the first seven of. Pull something out of a back issue bin by a writer/artist/publisher you’ve never heard of. Buy and read indiscriminately, and read each issue as it’s own event. Will you be confused by characters, events and storylines? You’ve been there before. It’s the carnival. It’s meant to be this way. Stop asking the clown about his personal life. He’s not here to inform you, he’s here to entertain you and when you’ve accepted that, you can read any comic, any time with enjoyment.

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