I toyed with the notion of calling this one “Unbagging Jon,” but ultimately – and obviously – decided against it.

But that’s kind of what this is; I’ve been thinking about writing a post that’s not about any specific comic, but about comics in general, and about me and comics in particular. It’s something to complement the other Reference posts that discuss some of my history with comics, but in this one I want to answer the question of why.

It should be immediately obvious to anyone even glancing at this site that I have a deep and abiding love of comics. There really isn’t anything that I love more than comics (no, that doesn’t include people, as people aren’t things). I started a (failing) business because I love comics, and because I think everyone should love comics, a business predicated on the notion that comics are for everyone.

But why?

Why comics?

What made me love them so much in the first place?

Limited Options

I didn’t grow up in the middle of nowhere. I grew up in a place that’s even more remote – and obscure – than that. Seriously, the part of Michigan I’m from – the Upper Peninsula – is frequently left off of maps.

The population is small and sparsely distributed. There were about 100 people in the “town” where I grew up, and while we were located right next to a state highway, we were about 30 miles from the nearest center of what you could call civilization, a couple of small towns with about 10,000 people between them, many of them students at Michigan Tech.

Hope you like trees!
…you don’t? Well…tough.

What options there were for activities where I lived were mostly limited to outdoor activities, and given the climate, only outdoor winter activities for most of the year.

Within walking/biking distance there were no movie theaters, no library, no mall, no arcade. Just…outdoors.

There were at least bars and a golf course for adults, but for kids there was a multi-purpose recreation building (an ice rink for much of the year), and…outdoors.

Nothing against outdoors. Great place except for the mosquitos. But not ideal if you’re not really inclined to be the outdoorsy type.

But at least there’s TV, right? Well, kind of. We were too remote to get cable (there’s still no cable there, and the dying population is even smaller now), so we had to rely on an antenna, which could only reliably pull in a CBS affiliate and a PBS station.

My earliest years were before the home video revolution, so viewing options were limited.

My mom didn’t drive, and my dad was always busy with either his full-time job or his dozens of side jobs, and I had four other siblings, so there was neither time nor money for us to make the trek to the movies very often.

But you know what was cheap and even readily available at the tiny local mom-and-pop store? Comics.

Camping, Road Trips, and Peace and Quiet

As mentioned, I was one of five kids. Specifically, the youngest of five, by a number of years; my sister, who had previously been the youngest, was five when I was born.

One result of that is that from the moment I entered the world I was surrounded by comics. Not because my older siblings were that into them, but simply because, as noted, they were cheap and readily available, so my mom would buy comics for them to keep them quiet whenever we went camping, or went on some kind of road trip, or just generally when she wanted some peace and quiet while we were all home.

By the time I got old enough to start seriously looking at them, my siblings had moved on and lost interest in them, but they were still around – shabby and falling apart – and they very quickly captured my imagination and attention.

After all, what else was I going to do with my time?

So I inherited all of the comics that had accumulated over the years, and began getting more, as my mom, who was a reader, liked having someone else in the family who was a reader (even if it was mostly comics and MAD), so she encouraged and enabled my comic habit.

Buying comics for Jon became part of any shopping trip to a place that sold comics. I didn’t get paid an allowance; I got comics instead. Which is just as well, since I would have spent my allowance on comics.

Filling Every Moment

I think a part of what made comics so appealing to me was that I had an interest in drawing, which was inspired by the artistic abilities of my two oldest siblings, particularly my oldest brother, whom I kind of idolized.

(As an aside, my brother was a contemporary of the late, great Norm Breyfogle, though I wouldn’t know that until decades later.)

So when I wasn’t filling every moment with drawing I was filling it – and my desk at school – with comics, and those soon became the two things I was known for, drawing and comics.

Isolation

Beyond the geographical isolation, I was fairly isolated in life simply because of the difference in age between myself and my siblings – to whom I was mostly a nuisance, and who were all mostly out of the house while I was still relatively young – and because of how small the population was.

There were only two other kids who were my exact age, and maybe a dozen a couple years older or a couple years younger. I think the most kids there ever were in my school, which went from kindergarten through 8th grade, was 27.


How my school was seven years ago. As noted, it had a lot more students – but still not a lot in general – when I was there.

So I ended up spending a lot of time alone, and reading comics was a good solitary activity.

Also, when your population is that small, it can be…challenging to be different in any way. And I was, to put it plainly, a weird kid.

We’ll just say that didn’t go over well with my peers, and note that the result was me becoming even more isolated and solitary, and more in need of the kind of escapism that comics could provide.

Let me tell you, the angst of comics like The New Teen Titans, The Legion of Super-Heroes, X-Men, and The New Mutants – and especially the theme of being an outcast in those last two – really spoke to me at that time, but so did the vision of being a stronger, better person that Superman presented, as did the grim determination of Batman.

Comics…kept me going, and they made me feel less alone.

Sorry if that sounds a bit melodramatic, but what do you expect? I grew up reading comics written by Marv Wolfman and Chris Claremont!

My Window to the World

Apart from occasional trips to small cities, my world was very small, and it was made smaller by the taunts and hostility of my peers.

The pages of my comics were windows to larger worlds, to better worlds, worlds that I knew were imaginary, but I could still feel that the stories contained real truths.

Over the years, comics kind of became my language. Everything about how I saw and understood the world was shaped by my fluency in the language of comics, filtered through that understanding of what is and and what ought to be.

Comics helped me understand the black and white of life, as well as the gray, and, of course, the colors.

Obviously, my parents and my experiences in the real world shaped my view of life as well, but there is no discounting the role comics played in making me who I am, such as I am.

Even as I’ve moved beyond the confines of that tiny world, I still look through the pages of comics to see larger worlds, and worlds within worlds.

Secret Knowledge

One of the cool things about reading comics in solitude, particularly as I picked up digests that reprinted old stories, was that it was like I had access to a kind of secret knowledge.

Sure, everyone at school was learning about fractions or whatever, but how many of them knew the secret origin of the Parasite?

Did anyone else know anything about the Legion by-laws, or what an Avengers identicard looked like? Why, I bet they couldn’t even tell me what S.H.I.E.L.D. stands for! (…I actually can’t do that anymore, as it no longer stands for what it did back then.)

It’s always kind of cool to know stuff that most people don’t – though it’s never cool to lord it over them or become a gatekeeper – and there was just so much stuff to know about comics, in terms of the stories and the storytellers, and even the medium itself.

Sure, that knowledge wouldn’t stay secret, as I would share it with anyone who would listen – more often with people who wouldn’t – but it just felt cool to know it.

So…Why?

Comics are, of course, more than just a genre. Comics aren’t just superheroes and epic battles. They’re small, intimate, personal stories, they’re true crime, they’re romance, they’re horror, they’re westerns, they’re whatever anyone chooses to make them.

Comics are a uniquely collaborative storytelling medium, requiring a degree and type of interactivity that prose and movies/TV don’t. In their way, they provide you with both more and less information than other media, meeting you more than halfway in presenting the action, but leaving it up to you to fill in the rest, existing in a state of being both static and dynamic, and letting you decide to what extent.

To me, it’s a kind of magic.

So, why comics?

Because they were simply there, and later they were there for me, because they’ve shown me worlds and taught me things, and because they’re magic.

And because they’re for everyone. (And especially for me.)


Born and raised in the sparsely populated Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Jon Maki developed an enduring love for comics at an early age.


2 thoughts on “Why Comics?

  1. Nicely said. I grew up in a much more urban area, but that meant that everywhere I had to go cost money, often more than my parents can afford so, yeah, getting Jim comics was a part of most outings.

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