Saturday, April 19, 2008


Comic book conventions are cavernous pits of geek-filled adventure overloaded with all manner of artists, writers, exhibitors and costumed fans. Most importantly, though, a con is teeming with excited, rabid readers. At their core, comic fans are people who have a profound love affair with literature.

The stacks of comics carried in arms, boxes and backpacks are a testament to the dedication the readers have to their favorite characters, titles, and to reading itself. Comic literature is no cheap hobby so there must be some kind of payoff for the genre to continue. Comic readers have known for a long time what the general public is just now realizing: Comic literature is a real form of literature worth of scholarly study. The blending of text and images allows for a special experience that is profound and lifelong.

I stopped and took a picture of two boys sitting in the hallway outside the convention floor, pilfering through their plunder. Unable to wait until they got home, these boys sat on the floor for the better part of an hour devouring their comics and playing with comic-related toys. They were experiencing the story.

The same is true for the adult fans in costumes, whose love of story transfers into hand crafted threads and the constant posing for pictures. One fan came in full Iron Man glory. He stood an impressive 7 feet tall and the crowd split as he walked down the rows.

The thirty-some members of the Star Wars costuming organization, 501st Legion70th Explorers Garrison, was on hand for the event. The members came from all over the state to participate in the comicon. According to member Gary Schaeperkoetter, who also shared his photos with us, any money the group receives is donated to charity.

Fans stood in long lines, sometimes for hours, just to have their comics and pictures signed by their favorite writers and illustrators. All of it – the long lines, the costumes, the discussions, the hours spent reading and studying characters – is done in the name of literature. To have this kind of passion for reading in our classrooms would give comfort to teachers and parents. Yet there is still resistance as old stereotypes creep in.

Interestingly enough, I find a deep passion for reading when I introduce comics to my fifth graders. I have one girl who wrote her first piece of fan mail after reading volumes 1 and 2 of MAIL ORDER NINJA by Josh Elder. She just about passed out when she found out that I know him. Everyday I line my guided reading table with comics and the kids stand in lines to pick up titles. Many have a hard time doing their morning work (before school really begins) for the urge to read is too strong. When they finish assignments, the kids pick up comics and read. It is amazing. It has been so significant that my cooperating teacher has requested that I design a lesson plan centered around comics.

Time and again I run into people who stop to tell me their hidden stories of comics. These people relate to me that reading comics was the catalyst that got them interested in reading. They hid them behind textbooks and under mattresses. They read them at recess and after school. Some parents would buy them while others scorned them. Yet the children continued to read well into adulthood. Many of these folks end up being the ones who dress up as their favorite comic book or movie character.

It is a strange beast, comic literature, holding power over its readers. The con experience reinforces that love of reading.

(Thanks to Gary Schaeperkoetter who gave us permission to use his con photos.)

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