One of the things I have found myself doing a lot more of during lockdown is reading comic books, or graphic novels – whatever you want to call them. If you think that’s not a suitable activity for boys over nine, let me nerdily explain that there is a world beyond The Beano and Marvel and it is definitely for grownups. I urge you to read something like Saga by Brian K Vaughan: an example of world-building and beautiful artwork, alongside fingernail-whitening cliffhangers that make for a remarkable read.
I normally do a lot of reading on the train, which I do feel a little self-conscious about. People look at me quizzically, as though I am reading comics because I haven’t made the step up to adult books yet; or perhaps I still live with my mother; or I’ve never had any human contact at all (I can thank The Big Bang Theory for this).
So I try to read them at home. But even then there is a danger of being embarrassed. If we decide to have a bed reading session, my wife pulls out a book, while I pull out my graphic novel and wait for an inevitable raised eyebrow, because she doesn’t realise how cool I’m being.
I do read books without pictures when I’m feeling conformist, but comic book reading is a very different experience. The best play with the medium. Alan Moore’s Watchmen is notable for many things, but in its Fearful Symmetry chapter every page in the first half has a symmetrical page in the second half; they meet in the middle of the chapter. As I read that back, it sounded exactly like something a comic book nerd would say, but regardless, it is impressive. I find them completely immersive. I remember getting a train a while ago for a meeting in London, only to become so drawn into a Spider-Man storyline that I looked up and realised I was an hour beyond my stop.
I have felt the discomfort slip into conversation. Somebody will see a book in my bag and ask what I am reading, and I explain that it’s set 200 years in the future and follows a number of animal/human hybrids trying to assimilate into society (Elephantmen). Then I watch the person react as though they’ve just discovered I once murdered someone. Similarly, when I discover that someone I’m talking to is also a comic book fan, what follows is excited and hushed conversation, as though we’ve just discovered we’ve both murdered someone.
More recently, I became obsessed with the Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie title The Wicked + The Divine, a story about modern-day deities. I was lucky enough to be invited to write a one-off story for their “funnies” issue – a special anthology edition that focused on humorous shorter strips. It gave me an insight into how much work goes into every page. Not only are you writing a story, but you are shaping the best way to present it, with the panels dictating the pace at which the reader takes on information. Delivering comedy in this medium is something that takes time to master, and I certainly didn’t feel I’d cracked it.
Lockdown has allowed me to dive back into my comic book obsession without fear of judgment, save from my wife – I am desperately trying to convince her that reading comics in bed is incredibly sexy. I’m hoping that I will now feel more comfortable reading them in public once we head back into normal life. I anticipate doing this with some of the other things I have got into during lockdown, which means that later this year you can expect to see me on a train at 9am, eating pizza in my pyjamas while reading 2000AD. I implore you to do the same.