Comic Books: Like a Well in a Desert

THS editor, Leslie Mattern, got lost in the desert for awhile before going from knowing nothing about comic books to knowing a little more than the average Sean.

Comic Books: Like a Well in a Desert

Posted by Leslie Paredes | July 31, 2017 | Comic Book Collecting, Featured
Building Stories Comic Books

Standing in the center point of nothingness, a monochrome landscape blending seamlessly into a flat horizon in all directions, with no reference point other than myself—lost.

Until recently, the world of comic books and collecting felt like that to me. In that overwhelmingly lonely and intimidating place, I never felt quite at ease.

Nevertheless, being a part of that world interested me, knowing the path to the oasis, being able to tell one grain of sand from another. Why? Because I’m an avid reader. Because I love art. Because I crave old things with soul and a memory beyond my own. I also have a preference for the obscure, the underground, the counter culture—all places I know well. So, now you can see, it made sense to want to “know” comic books.

I started my path to enlightenment with the classic books, thumbing through the stories, seeking to find myself represented somewhere in the culture.

Yet, there was something absurd and discordant about a “deep” story with illustrations, especially ones with low fidelity to real life—superheros, mutants, other worlds, aliens, future humans, all more inhuman than familiar.

Yet, there was something absurd and discordant about a “deep” story with illustrations, especially ones with low fidelity to real life—superheros, mutants, other worlds, aliens, future humans, all more inhuman than familiar.

And there are so many classics!! My God, so many. I could never possibly catch-up or understand. With over 50,000 characters in the Marvel Universe alone (recently learned through, you know, Googling), there’s probably one or two or (by the odds) 500 who really speak to me. But how will I find them? How?

Can you see me there, standing alone in the center of the desert? Yes, that’s a tumbleweed bouncing by.

I tried again with the indie, modern stuff. Maybe something edgy and dark. Maybe something with people who are just people. Maybe graphic novels instead of the episodic series.

It certainly wasn’t my first foray, but “Building Stories” by Chris Ware is a waypoint in my journey. Pristine, dense, deeply emotive, complex.

It certainly wasn’t my first foray, but “Building Stories” by Chris Ware is a waypoint in my journey. Pristine, dense, deeply emotive, complex. I remember looking through the box—yes, the world is packed up in a box like real-life Monopoly, where, instead of properties, you buy groceries and cancer-treatment—and feeling like I was unpacking a treasure chest. Big books, small books, pamphlets, a newspaper, a tiny thing, a bigger thing. Stories of people told in a dozen ways, and I was excited. Finally! A recognizable place! Finally! A beacon in the desert!

But, my gosh, was it sad.

It hurt to read “Building Stories” because vibrantly woven throughout the stories is the feeling of loss—loss of love, loss of creativity, loss of youth, loss of self.

It hurt to read “Building Stories” because vibrantly woven throughout the stories is the feeling of loss—loss of love, loss of creativity, loss of youth, loss of self. All things I felt and lived through at some point in my life. That and the subtle and intricate ways the stories connected had me brooding for days. It was all too real and beautiful. And when I say beautiful, I mean beautiful; the art is exact and simple and perfect.

In the end, I packed “Building Stories” away under real Monopoly because even though the landscape was no longer flat, I didn’t want to try further down that way. I clarified what I wanted from comic book world: fun.

Enter, Mr. Sean O’Brien.

In the midst of my edging around the culture of comics, I met my husband, easily the most knowledgeable person I know when it comes to music, movies, and…can you guess it…comic books. He actually bought “Building Stories” for me because he saw me coveting it on the Factbook.

Early on in our courtship, he shared with me a few details of his massive collection, but it wasn’t until we were nearing the birth of our first child together, that I truly understood his love and commitment to the comic book. And to be entirely too corny, his love and commitment for his new family.

Together, we cataloged his full collection of over 2,500 comic books with the aim of selling duplicates and key issues as a way of adding to the baby kitty.

Together, we cataloged his full collection of over 2,500 comic books with the aim of selling duplicates and key issues as a way of adding to the baby kitty. And in that activity, Sean became the well in the desert, the sweet refreshment that brought the world we were in into focus and made it a knowable place for me, the guide that made it fun. He taught me the history. He explained the major characters, their story arcs. We picked our favorite covers. We talked about art and illustration and graphic design.

I derive joy from the joy of others, sadness from their woes. In this case, feeling Sean’s excitement as he shared his passion with me was all I needed. I renewed, in earnest, the search for my own little space in comic book culture.

Hulk 181 is the first comic book I ever “collected.” But I collected it more as a tribute to Sean than a grail to me.

Hulk 181 is the first comic book I ever “collected.” But I collected it more as a tribute to Sean than a grail to me. I have found my grail, my book, my story. It’s astoundingly good. And it’s a Sci-Fi/Western—the desert.

There's also poetry

Leslie Mattern is the editor of That’s Hot Soup because of her passion for writing and her stint as a journalist. She still writes poems and short stories on her blog, LesWalls.com.

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