Jul 252008

When I was a child and spending all my allowance on comic books and candy there weren’t any comic books for adults. And if there had been any there certainly weren’t any in the town I grew up in.

I thought about this yesterday when a student of mine told me about the reading night they are having at elementary school. All the students come to the school in the evening, loaded with sleeping bags, food, and books. They spend the night and have breakfast together. We didn’t have reading night either when I was a child but then nobody would have wanted me to read even more than I did. (I regularly set my alarm for 5.30 in the morning and read until I had to get up at 7.00. Until a neighbor told my mother that my light was on every morning. After that I read by natural light. Guess why I’m wearing these glasses nowadays…) It was more like, “Put down your book, go out and play. The sun is shining!” I still hear that a lot, I wonder why.

That student of mine talked about the books he planned on taking, namely a few Donald Duck books. I find that that and Mickey Mouse are the books everybody thinks of as comic books. If somebody is really sophisticated he might even have heard about Asterix. Wile for me there is a) DC super hero comics, the comics of my youth (in addition to Donald Duck and Asterix of course, and the Peanuts that my father brought from Canada from which I learned English), and b) graphic novels with all kinds of authors and stories.

When my student told me about his choice of reading material I marveled at a teacher who counts comic books as reading because I will never forget my teacher in 9th grade who told us to bring in comics, and then, when I unearthed my 2 kilo (that’s almost 5 lbs.) stack of – of course – all different comic books, fully prepared to give a full, detailed report and each and any of them, their pros and cons, and different levels of complexity or lack thereof, he wiped it all away with a “This is all trivial and not for people who read real books.” I’ll probably never forgive him, or maybe I should because he’s the one missing out. And, only for the record, I was the one who had done all the required reading for all classes before it was required by just browsing through the very small town library and reading everything that struck my fancy. From Sophocles and Aristophanes to Philipp K. Dick.

So, yesterday I took my student over to the bookcase where my comics and graphic novels live and showed him what I have. (That bookcase was the one that had another student exclaiming, “Have you read all these books????” which left me quite confused because she was looking at the comics and magazines and self-help books while the real books live in another room in three bookcases of their own. And of course there still are boxed up books in the attic. And if I owned every book that I ever read we’d either need a really big house or we’d suffocate in here under an avalanche of books.) My student (the one who was looking at my comics) was fascinated. And then, after showing him Flash, and Green Lantern, and a bit of Batman, and such I found myself saying, “That is a really good Batman comic but it’s not for children.” “Oh, you should be at least a teenager to read this.” over and over. (I better say here that I don’t own any x-rated graphic whatevers, they just aren’t suitable for an 8-year-old.)

He tried to convince me to lend him some but I won’t. And now I’m wondering how the tale of these comics will sound to his parents and peers, and how it must feel to be introduced to the possibility of graphic novels by your piano teacher.