In my experience with comics, however brief, comics were just that, comics. Though I recall growing up with the occasional Superman or Batman, I never really wondered about the inspiration behind them or took them for more than face value. I remember the first day of class thinking, “How the hell is there an entire class devoted to comic books?” That question was quickly answered the moment I opened up McCloud’s Understanding Comics and skimmed through the pages. My perception of comics being simplistic, illustrated, short stories was quickly changed to one of appreciation for the science and psychology involved in making them. I would have never guessed that placement of panels, coloring, and spacing was so deliberately controlled to create a tone or response from the reader.
Another aspect of the comic that fascinates me is the level of depth of the sub plots in many notable comics. For instance, before this class if someone had asked me what Tarzan was about, I would probably look at them skeptically and talk about a man getting abandoned in the jungle and being raised by apes. The subtle themes of inferiority of foreign culture and the white race’s superior genetics shocked me. The author’s use of these underlying messages is so successful because they appeal to a wider audience. Children could read Tarzan and see it as I did, a story. And at the same time a more mature audience capable of understanding the subtle plot is still interested.
As an avid history fan, learning about an alternate culture throughout the 20th century that I hadn’t had much knowledge of previously is exciting. My knowledge of the history of comics was fairly limited and extended to a basic understanding of popular superheroes. Reading about the effect of comics on events I learned about in a more traditional history class is interesting as, although comics are so popular, I wouldn’t have guessed they would have been influenced by things like wars and the Great Depression.
Another astounding aspect of comics, to me, is the varying political undertones. Throughout the 20th century comics touched on topics anywhere from the first and second war to the urbanization of America. The pre WWII era disputes between pro war supporters and isolationists were not left from comics. The fact that the cover of the first Captain America portrays a picture of the Captain punching Hitler in the face conveys the fact that comic authors weren’t trying to sell a simple action story. It’s already clear from the first three weeks of class that comics have played a much larger role in popular culture throughout the 20th century than I would have ever imagined.