I learned to read because I loved comic books. As a kid, we had no books in our house, and books are still looked upon with suspicion whenever they cross my family’s threshold. My mom avoids reading because “”books give her strange thoughts.” I understand this, nor do I condemn it, but it has never been my chosen path. I was never a strong reader, but I had that deep imagination which comes from living in the middle of nowhere with nothing but your mind to make meaning. When I first came across the idea of comic books, I was mesmerized. Unlike the candy that I had usually used my allowance for [$1 a week], I could buy up to six used comic books to read from the dodgy book shop on St. Peters Road. If I did not like the story, then I could trade them back in for half of their price. For a little guy, it was brilliant.
I read anything I could get my hands on. From Sgt. Rock to Jonah Hex to Batman, Aquaman, and the Justice League. While I read The Avengers and Alpha Flight, I was never really enthusiastic about the Marvel Universe. It is like that quote in Pulp Fiction about either liking Elvis or the Beatles – I was a DC Universe man. I must have read hundreds upon hundred of 35 cent comics, before switching to action novels such as Ian Fleming’s James Bond series and the Mack Bolan series by Don Pendleton. Ironically, when the comic collecting craze of the late 1980s came I had sold all of my comics and was reading guitar magazines. My friends all waited in line to buy a first edition of the The Killing Joke and The Dark Knight, but I was more interested in motorcycles, guitar and girls [all of which I knew nothing about and would not for quite some time].
I did not return to reading comic books for two decades. I was busy reading the pulp fiction of Anne Rice for my M.A. thesis at McGill, and trying to read the great books that I had had no exposure to as a youth. While studying at McGill I picked up a copy of Red Rain, a Batman versus vampires graphic novel. I read it a few times, but that was it. Then came Sandman…I had totally missed Neil Gaiman as a young adult, but fell in love with the series. I carefully bought the entire bound, collected set over a few years, because at $30 a book I had to be frugal. Sandman was full of classical allusions and dark imagery. It was literature. I could sit and read one graphic novel in a night, and it became my go to read when I wanted to read for enjoyment.
Alan Moore changed the game for me, just as he did for the rest of the world. When Dr. Conley bought me a copy of The Watchmen in St. Catherines, I was hooked, especially after watching the film; then it was Swamp Thing and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in Moncton, New Brunswick. Finally, V for Vendetta and The Killing Joke made their way into my library. This Fall I spent time reading the Blackest Night/Brightest Day series and Identity Crisis after attending an NCTE teaching workshop on the graphic novel. This Spring my Grade 6 class will study Scott Chantler’s Two Generals, a two-tone graphic novel about the war from a Canadian perspective.
The last two nights have been spent reading Crisis on Infinite Earths, Hush and the superb Justice series. I feel like I have bumped into all of my childhood friends, but that now I understand where they are coming from and who they really were all along.
What does any of this have to do with photography? I am in love with the painting of Alex Ross in Justice, and want to explore how I might transfer his lighting ideas into portrait photography. The colours and the shadows are heroic and epic. While searching for specific titles yesterday at the Silver Snail, I was given the greatest compliment that one can receive from a girl behind a cash register at either a comic or vinyl store, as she speaks to herself: “Brilliant choice, another classic, love this and THAT…wow, great taste.” Little things make my day brighter, and being considered by an aficionado to have taste is always the greatest compliment.
I head to Thunder Bay tomorrow morning with the Linhof 4×5 and 18 pieces of sheet film. Got my car rental. Got my camera. Got my wallet. Got a sore lower back from Moksha Flow yoga last night. Sounds like 8 days of fun ahead…full steam.