The Comics Empower Project has almost almost 100 personal stories!
This time, Saj tells his story:
Comics were undoubtedly a formative influence on my psychology, on my thinking, my tastes and my interests.
Looking back, I can see that reading comics when I was younger had everything to do with what kind of subjects I became interested in as an adult, what kind of TV programming I respond to and also how I view the world.
For one thing, I think my comic reading as a child created a partiality towards mythology.
Readings things like the Silver Surfer or Avengers in the early nineties, which were rich with mythology, primed me for becoming interested in our real-world mythologies, whether it was the Romans, Greeks, Egyptian or older.
I am also a writer, and I’m fully aware that the comics I read when I was a kid have been a major influence on how I write; and moreover on how I conceive and imagine scenes and stories.
But more than all of that, I think the biggest influence that comics had was a social or personality influence.
I’ve read about African-American kids who drew great encouragement from seeing the Black Panther or the X-Men’s Storm, for example, and I’ve spoken to gay teenagers who saw in the X-Men a world that spoke to them about society and prejudice and issues of belonging. Even recently, the launch of the Muslim teenager Kamala Khan as the new Ms. Marvel has been celebrated by a number of young women, particularly from a minority community that has felt ostracised and demonised in society in the last fifeen years or so.
To some of them, this character is a big deal. And comics can do that.
They’re not just entertainment, but are influencers of young minds, comforters or inspirers of troubled souls, and are often a socially, culturally, even politically, relevant medium.
For me, when I was in my formative reading years, I drew comfort from the fact that a lot of what I was reading was populated by archetypal ‘outsiders’ and loners.
Being an outsider myself, and very much a loner as a teenager, reading comics also allowed me to identify with some of those characters in a particularly meaningful way.
It’s interesting looking back now and noting how many comic-book characters fit this outsider/loner motif; from Bruce Wayne and Matt Murdoch to the Silver Surfer, Nightcrawler, Wolverine or any number of X-Men, along with, at various points, characters like Bruce Banner.
By reading comics, I found characters that were outsiders like me, who didn’t fit in, who were maladjusted and ill-at-ease with their lives and surroundings.
And yet they were heroes. They were noble, had awesome powers and extraordinary adventures.
And almost every one of them learnt to make friends, form meaningful relationships, be part of a team or a larger whole, and come out of their shells.
Characters, as troubled or alienated as they might’ve been, were also able to find their place in the world, find a sense of belonging or purpose, yet still remain true to themselves and their inner nature. You could be a rogue or eccentric, even a loner, and still be part of something bigger.
As an adult, I find it remarkable to look back and properly realise just how many characters in comic books fit that outsider role at various times. There’s a lot of alienation and dysfunction in comics, both with the villains and with the heroes; but with the heroes in particular.
A lot of loneliness. And a lot of tortured psyches.
And it was always those kinds of characters I most connected with. Those characters made it seem alright to be ‘damaged’ or slightly off-kilter. Not only was it alright, but you could still be a hero too!
As I’ve grown up, I’ve always drifted towards counter-culture and non-mainstream things in every area of life.
And I’ve come to understand that comics are, and always have been, a massively important and powerful counter-cultural medium.
Particularly if we come to comics at a relatively young age, they can exert a lot of influence on our still-developing personalities and psychologies, our sense of self and our relationship to the world, etc.
For me personally, the X-Men world had the most influence on me in that regard; but there are plenty of other titles and mythologies just as potent.
I am also an avid writer. Though I haven’t published my work yet (or finished it), I am fully aware when I look at my writing that it is more influenced by the comics I read growing up than by any other form of literature, including all the literary classics. It’s those comics I still picture instincitvely in my mind’s eye when I’m pausing for inspiration.
And, in keeping with the theme of this, I am also fully aware when I’m writing my own novels that I am writing about classic loners, outsiders and tortured souls… just like the loners, outsiders and tortured souls I used to love reading in all those great comics.
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