Comics Really Aren’t All About Superheroes – A Ramble

2016 Artwork Comics Are About More Than Superheroes

Well, although I was still in the mood for writing about comics, I thought that I’d take a short break from writing about making webcomics and talk about reading print comics for a while instead.

This was mainly prompted by the fact that I accidentally found a few interesting videos about print comics on Youtube – although these videos were about things like comic collecting and the history of comics, they often contained the reassuring disclaimer that “comics aren’t all about superheroes” . However, when I looked at the lists of other videos on these channels, they would often be filled with superhero-related stuff.

Although, I don’t read print comics anywhere near as much as I did back in 2008-2010 (when I went through a massive comics phase), I’ve read very few superhero comics. However, the ones I have read usually have to have some other factor that makes me interested.

For example, I read Alan Moore’s “Watchmen” because, well, Alan Moore. I read Garth Ennis’ “The Authority: The Magnificent Kevin” mostly because of the ‘shock value’ humour in it. I’ve also read a few “Judge Dredd” and “Strontium Dog” comics because they’re cynical dystopian sci-fi comics that don’t technically fit into the superhero genre.

But, when I went through my comics phase, I read lots of astonishingly good comics. These were comics that were more than equal to film or prose fiction (in terms of emotional impact, distinctiveness, writing quality etc..) and there was barely a silly spandex suit in sight.

I read amazing 1980s/90s comics like Warren Ellis’ “Transmetropolitan” series, Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” series (although this series briefly includes some superhero stuff, it isn’t a major part of the overall story) and many of Alan Martin & Jamie Hewlett’s “Tank Girl” comics.

I read manga comics (well, mostly “Death Note” and a couple of others too). I read newspaper-style comics, like Lise Mhyre’s excellent “Nemi”. I read ludicrously gory horror comics, like Raven Gregory’s “Return To Wonderland”. I read biographical comics like Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis” and Catel & Bocquet’s “Kiki De Montparnasse” etc…

Comics are still one of my favourite storytelling mediums. I mean, I wouldn’t be making webcomics every now and then if I wasn’t interested in comics.

And, yet, whenever there’s something about “comics” or “comics culture”, it’s almost always about superheroes. It’s all about the stylised world of American-style comic book stores and the elaborate fan culture that has built up around superhero comics. And, this is great! There’s nothing wrong with celebrating comics. Comics are awesome. But, if you aren’t really a superhero fan, then it all just looks a bit… well… weird.

This might just be me, but I’ve always found the superhero genre to be, well, kind of silly. Not silly in a “so bad that it’s good” way, but more in a “why are they wearing those stupid outfits?” and “If I had super-powers, I probably wouldn’t become a vigilante” kind of way. And then there’s the mythology – it always seemed to me that unless you’ve read a superhero series religiously since it first appeared in the early-mid 20th century, then you should prepare for nothing but confusion.

Yes, superhero comics became popular due to American comics censorship in the mid-1950s (which pretty much killed off the far more interesting crime and horror comics that used to be much more popular on both sides of the pond), so many people’s first exposure to comics has probably been the superhero genre – given that it had a near-monopoly on the comics market for a few decades.

And, yes, I can even appreciate the fact that superheroes having secret identities is an absolutely spot-on LGBT metaphor, even if it was originally totally unintentional – given the extreme conservatism of the Comics Code during the development of the genre (I mean, LGBT characters were banned from even appearing in “code approved” comics until 1989!).

But, I think that focusing on superheroes has done the reputation of comics more harm than good. It’d be like if people talked about movies, but only ever talked about the latest offerings from Michael Bay. It’d be like if people talked about music, but only every talked about the latest generic pop music. It’d be like if people talked about gaming, but only ever focused on mega-budget “triple A”… wait, they do that already!

Superhero comics are a well-known type of comic, with a long history and a large fanbase, but they aren’t the be all and end all of comics. By mostly focusing on superheroes when talking about “comics” or “comics culture”, the media often does comics a great disservice. Whilst comics can be at least the equal of traditional prose fiction, this sensible argument isn’t helped when the only examples most non-comic readers know about are contrived stories about magical people who wear silly costumes.

Not only that, the superhero genre isn’t exactly the most original thing in the world. There’s nothing wrong with this if you’re a fan of superheroes. But seeing yet more comics about the theme of “people have superpowers, and use them to fight villainy” is just boring.

Whereas, with non-superhero comics, there’s a lot more variety and originality.

There are comics about Hunter S. Thompson-style journalists living in a futuristic cyberpunk world (eg: Warren Ellis’ “Transmetropolitan”). There are comics about life, death and dreams (eg: Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman”). There are comics that are more punk than some actual punk music is (eg: Alan Martin & Jamie Hewlett’s “Tank Girl” comics). There are comics about goths (eg: Lise Mhyre’s “Nemi” ) etc…

There are comics about pretty much any subject that can appear in prose fiction and there are comics about more subjects than can ever appear in film (since comics are usually made by 1-3 people, rather than by major movie studios). And, yet, with all of these great stories out there – the ones that always get associated with the word “comics” are the same few reheated stories about magical people in silly outfits.

It’s hilarious, really.


Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂


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