Inspiring Older Readers
It’s an amazing, creepy world
I’ve never been a fan of American superhero comics. The world of Marvel pretty much passed me by and I always found the adventures of Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Spiderman and the rest of the crew mildly irritating – not least because the logical inconsistencies in stories or their personae always seemed to me to be so obvious that I couldn’t get over them. Who really wouldn’t have known Clark Kent was Superman or Bruce Wayne Batman? Only the wilfully stupid could be fooled for so long by such a tissue of artifice. I’m guessing that there will be plenty of aficionados out there who will be eager to tell me that I’ve missed the whole point or got my facts wrong but, you know what, I don’t care. To me it’s still just so much unbelievable tosh. Hollywood’s recent obsession with the superhero is proof enough that there is another generation of comic book readers who never outgrew their nerdy adolescence and have grown old and rich enough to indulge their juvenile imaginations and inflict more of this nonsense on us all.
Having said that, however, it’s not true to say that I shunned all American comic books. I certainly did have a fascination for another genre; the supernatural, creepy- worlds thrillers that had their television incarnation in series like The Outer Limits. I never had very much disposable income in my childhood and early youth so I was dependent on scrounging copies of Amazing Tales or Creepy Worlds from school friends or maybe picking up second hand copies for a few pence at the second hand shop but when I got hold of a copy I would spend hours reading the stories time after time. Of course many of the stories were often absurd – they were meant to be, that was the point – but at their best they were great fiction. It wasn’t until I was considerably older that I realised these comic books often took contributions from some of the very best science fiction authors of the day and so I was actually in pretty good hands.
The stories frequently focussed on people being transported to other times or other dimensions, developing strange powers to foretell the future, being given wishes that go wrong, being transformed into other bodies or even inanimate objects. The stretch of their imagination was limitless ( and sometimes plain crazy) but they made the average superhero plot look like what it was, a pastime for the knuckleheads. And then there was the artwork….
What a joy the artwork was and especially the always iconic front cover. Beautifully drawn and in vibrant colours, the front cover would be the comic’s calling card. Here was the image that pulled you in, promising a world of improbable excitement with just a tinge of horror. You didn’t have to read too many of these publications before you rumbled that the thrill of the front cover was simply artistic licence – quite often what was shown on the front bore little or absolutely no relationship to any of the stories inside the comic. But somehow that didn’t really matter, you were hooked and off you went on a white-knuckle ride through the improbable events hidden in the dark side of American life.
Of course America itself was a mystery to a working class British boy like me – who could possibly know what was going on in the Mid-West, San Francisco’s Chinatown or the nightclubs of New York? Maybe anything was possible?
I soon outgrew the comics though and although I retain a mild fascination and a rather nostalgic memory ( how accurate it is I’m not sure) of the classified advert sections at the back of the comics – x-ray specs anyone? – I moved on to more substantial and more fulfilling reading. I do wonder, however, why Hollywood doesn’t have a fascination for these supernatural thrillers in the way it does for the superhero – I would have thought there’s plenty of great stuff there to revisit.