Growing up, I lived the conventional life of an outsider. The most basic recipe for a run-of-the-mill, middle-class white-passing girl without the drama and paychecks of primetime TV applied. While my personal struggles - the types that loop many of us deeper in to less privileged territories - were prevalent throughout my teenage years, my greatest struggle in life has been, and still often can be, my own self-confidence. Discovering comics didn't change that, but reading them during my most formative years certainly did. The impactful, life-changing ways that comic book stories have influenced me is something that I cannot thank every creator and publisher enough for.
Most of my stories here are focused on how much I love Star Wars, and while I'm sure we'll have a themed week for that galaxy far, far away some time in the future (that's a direct hint, bosses o' mine), the idea of a week that celebrates comic books on Moviepilot struck a very precise cord with me. While the bold heroes of my favorite space opera braved their way against tyrannic powers, it wasn't until the scrappy superheroes of comic books made their grand entrance to my world that I understood, truly, what being a confident leader was.
While Bruce Timm's Mad Love was the first single issue comic that I ever picked up, it wasn't until Dark Empire that I embraced comic books as a serious passion - and it would be Batgirl that hooked me forever, weeks later.
My first comics were bought as sporadic gifts for keeping my grades up and helping around the house as a kid. When we had the money to spare, Dad would take me to a local comic shop, now known as Heroes & Villains. Back in the early 90's and all the way until today, the store was the number one place to get comics and rare collectible items in our area.
My dad was good friends with the store's owner (who works there to this day) Glenn, and every once in a while, Glenn would slip me a pack of trading cards to go along with whichever comic I was gifted that week. Glenn, like most comic shop owners, also hosted card tournaments and collector's events. At a very young age, these were my introductions to the world of comics - as Dad discussed certain items and rare editions of comics, I poked and prodded the attendees about their favorite superheroes, or showed them my favorite panels from whatever comic I was reading.
I blazed through the Batman comics that I was allowed to read, with him, Batgirl and Spider-Girl dominating my weekly suggestions. These heroes were cool, stylish, smart, and capable - even though they had faced some of the ugliest things my young eyes had ever witnessed. Batman didn't just rescue innocents - he made a serious effort to figure out and find help for his villains at that time. As hard as Batman's exterior was, the complicated compassion that he had for others remained strong, and he was just so cool.
For the first time in my early formative years, after more relocations than I could count on my hands, I felt like I had finally found a place to call home. I was talking to people without hesitation, learning about new comics, and gradually shifting my interests from sci-fi to superheroes. I had discovered the magic of a friendly, neighborhood comic shop.
The Chemical Reaction
As my teenage years hit, so did an abrupt mass of changes: we moved, again, and I was subject to a brand-new school where I learned quickly that my peers had much different requirements when it came to acceptance than comic book-loving adults. Bullying was consistent, and by bully standards, I was a pretty easy target: a half-hearted, bespectacled tomboy who wanted to belong, didn't dress well, had messy hair and held interests in fields that were much too outgoing for someone who hesitated to speak as much as I did.
I wasn't pretty, I had terrible acne, and I was adapting to the 90's goth aesthetic almost a decade too late for that to be acceptable. A shaky, messy home life and the trials of puberty sent me back to the books, where I had most recently taken an interest in two classic heroes that I'd never really considered before: Spider-Man and [Wonder Woman](movie:45787).
Spidey's ambitious daughter Mayday Parker had already taken over my childhood reading, and after years of putting off Peter's story, I finally sat down and tackled it just in time for the first Spider-Man film. Peter shared many qualities with his daughter that I enjoyed: imperfection, a heroic heart, sarcastic one-liners and a lot of the same problems as I had.
And Wonder Woman was the embodiment of justice. At her core, Diana fights for peace and common respect among all living beings. Wonder Woman does her best to listen and empathize with her enemies (something that made me fall head over heels for Batman in The Animated Series) unless that strategy fails - then she kicks ass. Wonder Woman was my role model in comics where Spider-Man and Spider-Girl were my eyes in to that world.
It was the initial combination of these three characters that helped me find courage and confidence: Wonder Woman's never-ending quest to empower others and save the day; Mayday's struggle to find common ground with her peers while being a radioactive spidery superheroine; Peter's problems with morality and judgment, as well as the way he dealt with tragedy.
Precious and impactful moments in these comics (and many, many more) helped me start raising my hand in class, volunteering for demonstrations, and even auditioning for my high school's weekly lunchtime improv comedy show. Sure, I quit a week later - but it happened, and that was progress, which meant the world to me. I wouldn't have been able to do that without that one tiny thought that so many comic fans have to ask themselves in similar moments: What would my superhero do?
At several points during your young adult life, you will experience what many of your older peers call a "quarter-life crisis." Though it sounds like a single week from hell, it's actually a series of sporadic experiences that will leave you emotionally crippled. For me, a change of style and taste was how I decided to cope with it.
Gone were the over-the-top, conventional and hardcore heroes of my teenage years. I no longer limited myself to the superheroes I was raised on, but rather branched out to see what was good on the up-and-coming indie scene, and what other publishing houses like Dark Horse, which published the Star Wars comics I loved so dearly.
I was not disappointed.
Right off the bat, I picked up titles like Tank Girl, Conan, and the continuation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, among several others. These new heroes were different, palpable and more than anything, weird. In comparison to the spandex and bright colors that I was used to, that had become the norm for me, these not-so-new heroes wore... whatever they wanted to, really. Though as various and incredible as the superheroes that came before them, discovering these new, different, limitless characters helped immensely when I finally decided to take on my personal anxieties and do bigger, greater things with myself.
The very idea of writing a story, being on camera, or taking initiative to create something was as daunting as staring down a tank in the desert; as terrifying as standing up to a titanic monster like Thanos; as mind-rattling as the Joker's wild manipulation. It was like a series of perilous, yet very final battles.
But I did it. I did all of that and more over the course of the next few years: I went through 'costume changes' of experimental fashion and hair, stood up to former friends that had turned in to controlling jerks, moved across the country to pursue a pipe dream, and went through the rolling losses of death that hit all of my grandparents like a wave at once. For every problem, no matter how great, I knew that I could get through it, because all of my heroes have gotten through bigger problems.
Overcoming the fear of rejection is hard, and while I didn't have many real-life friends, I did have my heroes. Those heroes - through their bravery, their compassion, and their personal needs to make the world a better place - taught me that there's no point in being afraid of standing up and letting my voice be heard.
When I am about to set foot on the big stage of life, for any reason, my heroes and the stories that have impacted me are almost always on my mind. What would Captain America, Buffy, Red Sonja, Batman, Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, or Batgirl do in my situation? They've helped me overcome the countless times I was told that I can't, the people that have told me that I was too ugly or too stupid to do something great. I am still, and forever will be, a work in progress, but I hope with all of my heart that comic books will be around for every second of that.
So to you, comics, and every single person that plays a part in getting comics to print, I can only really say: thank you, thank you, thank you so much. This form of art will always be the one that I turn to for everything, and while it may be embarrassing to admit that some of my greatest mentors are animated characters on a page, the impactful complexity of their stories has changed my life forever.
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