I didn't grow up with comics (they grew up with me!)
Over the past year, since I released The Maroon to the public, I was often asked by family and some close friends "Why did you do this type of comic??". They are, of course, referring to my book's abundance of graphic violence, sensitive language and adult situations (SEX, OK? I said it!!!). When I reason that I wanted to make a book for my age group, those of us whom were raised on R-rated movies and enjoy HBO/Showtime/AMC programming, I get the follow up question:
"Aren't comics for kids? Shouldn't they be your audience??"
To be honest, I struggled, originally, on how hard I should go with this book in it's early development. I knew it had to be visceral, just based on the dealings of the time period. But then I knew that these same people, friends, family, even co-workers, would or could have difficulty separating me from my art.
"Is this how Derek thinks??"
But then I recall my own experience with comics growing up. I started experiencing comics at an early age and with two older brothers in the house, it was inevitable. This goes as far back as the late 70's/early 80's, when our grandparents would take us down to their local Cumberland Farms convenience store in Providence, Rhode Island and either pick books off the comic turn-style rack for us, or ask us what we wanted to pick. Over the course of the first half of the 80's my selection was varied, which included Batman #339 , Daredevil #171...or was #170?? , Smurfs #1, Dragonslayer adaption #1, Star Wars #73, Rom the Space Night #23, Conan the Barbarian #145, Starriors #1, Groo the Wanderer #1...you get an idea.
Around the end of that sporadic period, I started following titles instead of playing random selection. Some of these were Iron Man, Atari Force, West Coast Avengers, Robotech Defenders and a few more toy-tie-ins.
Around that same time, I recall during a trip from Connecticut to Rhode Island, that my family stopped at a liquor store where I wanted to purchase something to read for the ride. I came across a magazine-sized comic called Epic, specifically issue #14 that featured a character named Elric. The clerk thought nothing of my purchasing a mature comic and off I went. When I opened that magazine, I was officially introduced to a different type of comic. Fast forward circa 86'-87', I also discovered, through my eldest brother, that comics were not all child fare and toy commercials (not that Daredevil was either). Occasionally he would come home for the weekends from art college, and he would bring comics with him. Except they were books I didn't recognize, not at least, in terms of tone. No, these books had all the things The Maroon has, and in some cases far more hardcore. I suddenly became aware that magazines like Epic and Heavy Metal had been doing this for sometime, and that there was an underground comic scene.
These combined with comics from foreign countries began to get exposure. Comics featuring the female protagonist Druuna, were basically gratuitous hardcore porn,
but the renderings were masterful at the same time. Creator Paolo Eleuteri Serpieri knows his anatomy, I'll give him that, but few things made me feel shame and awe like that book!
Honestly, I can't recall where I first saw this character, but it left a lasting impression on me in terms of how far the medium can go with subject matter. No doubt in my mind, I believed this was untapped (unlike Druuna, HA! get it?) possibilities.
When he showed me this comic, Warlock 5, I was immediately impressed with the painted cover. I hadn't seen any comic reach this level of quality of art in any mainstream comics, so it was stunning to see it in an underground title. I was a little disappointed to find the interior to be in black and white at first, but it was still far more engaging than what I was used to. Along with this, my brother began to tell me about how Alan Moore's Swamp Thing was blowing his mind, and that there was this amazing series called Watchmen coming out. Over the course of a year, we would discuss these event comics like The Dark knight Returns and Batman: Year One that were smashing my Adam West idea of the character away.
Once the word was out that a Batman movie was being made, I was drunk on the kool-aid and purchased "The Killing Joke". Things were different now. Comics were different.
As I began to discover comic shops, I also discovered the vast world of underground (now called "Indie") comics. Titles like Love and Rockets, The Bradleys and the like used urban backdrops and social scenes and stigmas as their weapons of choice. Again with L&R, I discovered yet another series that didn't shy away from using adult situations and language, but it wasn't for the sake of gratuity, unlike Druuna.
Fast forward to today, 2018. Comics still exist, though in different context than they had when I was a child/pre-teen. Today, we don't go to liquor stores, five & dimes or even 7-11 to buy them off of a turn-style rack. Now we go to comic shops, or online vendors, and even download them digitally. Also, Marvel and DC, while probably always something people were aware of, are far more prominent thanks to their success in Hollywood. Comic Conventions are suddenly exclusive affairs, not some dingy hotel ballroom where you can rummage through long boxes to find a favorite back issue or a badly subbed VHS of anime. Things are sophisticated, and it feels...sort of mature. Yes, reading comics was a thing you didn't tell everyone at school, unless you wanted potential ridicule or to eat your lunch alone back then. Tell someone today, and their curiosity is peaked, leading into a conversation they may or may not regret.
"Aren't comics for kids? Shouldn't they be your audience??"
1. Comics, in particular the mainstream, will always have titles that will appeal to a younger audience. However, I've notice that kid's equivalent of comics in this day and age are their adventures on Playstation or XBOX One. If they want to engage in superhero adventures, Disney, Fox (for now) and Warner Bros have them covered on both big and small screens.
2. Visit any comic store today. Look at it's customers. They look like me, 30-50 year olds, hell even older sometimes. Attend a comic convention, and see these same men and women who will bring their kids, in hopes that they too will appreciate these special books. These are the people who love the medium, because we were weened on it. We appreciate sequential art. We like the worlds opened to us by writers and artists who may be untapped, especially in the indie realm. Comics grew up with us.
We never grew up either.