Psst. Don't tell anyone. I'm nuts about comic books
My colleague Jim Redden wrote a column recently about his fascination with pro wrestling. And he challenged some of us in the newsroom to share our own hidden fascinations. Why not? For me, it's this: I started reading comic books when I was about 12, and I'm still an avid collector today.
And not so much the artsy, literary and avant-garde comics. I'm a superhero guy, all the way.
There was something about those stories that reached me then, and still does today.
Beyond working as a journalist, I'm also a novelist, with nine mystery/thriller novels published, and two more in the queue. And when I go to the mystery or thriller conferences (pre-pandemic, mind you), it's interesting to find out how many professional storytellers got their start as Marvel or DC Comics fans.
The answer is: A lot of us.
When I'm crafting an action sequence in one of my novels, my "source" materials include other mystery writers whose works I love, my background as an amateur actor at the college and community theater level, and comic books.
Other writers taught me how to pick and parse my words with care. Stage acting taught me how to choreograph and block an action scene. And comics taught me how to tell a tale deftly, tightly and colorfully.
A recent manuscript of mine included a scene in which a body "ragdolled" over the top of a moving car, and a bullet that "bumblebeed" past the shoulder of a swimmer, quickly sloughing off momentum as it hit the water. Would those two words mass muster with the grammar police? Nope. But can you picture the scene? I'd like to think so.
My dad was crazy for action-oriented stories like "Beau Geste" and "The Count of Monte Cristo." He passed that love on to me. I took it the next step down the literary evolutionary ladder to comics — a medium my dad loathed and dismissed as low-brow and crude.
And he was right. Much of it is dreck. Theodore Sturgeon, the American science fiction writer, once famously quipped that 90% of everything is crud. Music, literature, architecture: Sturgeon likely got that percentage about right.
But when comics are good — I mean, really good — oh man.
There are specific comics I've read a dozen times or more. I'll think, OK, that's how they crafted that bit. I see how it works. Awesome.
Did comics give me a leg up when it came to journalism? Absolutely. Comics are told by writers, artists, inkers and letterers. When I go on assignment with a photojournalist, such as the Tribune's unbelievably talented Jaime Valdez or Jonathan House, I'm keenly aware of the word-driven parts of a story and the image-driven parts. If I want to do a story about eye witnesses to an event, I'll point them out to Jaime or Jon and say, "Shoot her, her and him." If I want to do a story about people enjoying a colorful public art exhibition, I'll get behind the photogs and say, "Tell me who to interview." The images can drive the words, and vice versa, and thank you Marvel and DC for the master class in that bit of legerdemain.
I grew up with the Vietnam war and Watergate. Was the unexpurgated heroics of Captain America or the sheer joy of Spider-Man a boon to a 12-year-old uncertain about the world around him? You bet it was.
Today, I still learn from really good comics masters. I'm still honing my skills. But honestly, my team and I spent the last year covering a pandemic, a recession, gut-wrenching revelations of systemic racism, suburban wildfires and more. And on Friday, I took part in a press conference on the likelihood of Ebola coming to Oregon.
Through all that, there are nights when I just want to shut off my tablet, my phone and my TV, and to enjoy seeing the Batman outthink the Joker.
It may not be great literature. But it gets the job done.
Dana Haynes serves as managing editor of the Portland Tribune and is a member of the Pamplin Media Group editorial board.
Yeah, I'm a fan, wanna make something of it?
A combative and somewhat-ongoing series of columns about the Tribune staff's weird taste in pop culture. Jim Redden, Is pro wrestling real or fake? Yes
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