Across The Universe 1 – Comic Books And Community Resonance

On the middle Wednesday of every month, regular Biff Bam Pop! contributor JP Fallavollita will share his musings on comic books, comic book art, comic book collecting and the overall comic book universe. That gives him a lot to talk about but don’t hold it against him if he speaks with a DC Comics slant. That’s just how he rolls (with the capes and the masks).

Comic books are a community.

When I was ten years old, my friends and I used to share our comic books with each other. I’d buy the latest 75 cent issue of Batman or Star Trek off of the newsstand at the local smoke shop and run home to read it by the front bay window on a warm summer day. Afterwards, I’d lend it out to a friend, or, sometimes, trade it for the latest Daredevil or Incredible Hulk. The “gang” would talk incessantly about the stories and the artwork – although never the writers or artists. No, the Denny O’Neil’s, Frank Miller’s, Gene Colon’s and Gil Kane’s of the comic book world weren’t important to us at that age. Not as important as the characters. Not as important as the big questions, such as “why is the Hulk gray in this issue?” or the excitable statements like “Dr. Phosphorus is back and so is Nocturna!” or the attempts to understand the philosophical dilemma of why “the whole story takes place in a mirror universe.”

We’d argue, of course about who was stronger: Green Lantern or Daredevil while wearing his yellow tights. Someone would state that “yellow is just a stupid colour and that it really shouldn’t be a weakness of a hero” and someone else would remind us that neither character feared anything while another would chime in and mention that DC and Marvel characters didn’t ever mix.

But they did in our hands and they did in our minds.

At that age we’d take our love of comics a step further and start to create our own. Those of us that had decent penmanship would write short, fantastical stories of good versus evil with made up, masked superheroes battling dastardly villains. Those that could draw would put pencil to paper and breathe a visual life into those ideas through panels on legal-sized paper. Like our comics, we’d share our characters and ideas with one another, as well as publishing house names. My friend John and I were the owner/operators of J&J Comics, an after school organization where we’d convene in the basement offices of each others houses and get to work at creating. Everyone at grade five recess knew about J&J Comics and everyone knew who the Masked Man was. Even if they never bought one of his comics, they’d see posters of him advertising his next issue (which never came out) or his next movie (which was never released).

Still, we were talking about comics, creating characters and a universe, sharing those ideas with other friends which would lead back to talking about comics again.

High school was the same, as was university. It was during these days that together with friends like Denny, I first started attending comic book conventions, getting dropped off at Kipling subway station in the west end of Toronto, by Mom or Dad, so I could head downtown and meet my favourite writers and artists like Jim Lee, Ty Templeton, Matt Wagner and Bill Sienkiewicz. These creators, suddenly, mattered to me and it was a treat talking to them and other convention attendees, shoppers and sellers alike, about our mutual love for the medium.

But that sense of togetherness, of communal spirit, has never been as strong for me as when my friends and I visited the Toronto Comics Arts Festival this past weekend.

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There were four of us in all: Andy B, Editor-In-Chief of this website (and resident Marvel Comics-lover), Denny (still the regular convention-goer after all these years, looking for pop culture items for his two young ones as much as for himself) and David (a Garth Ennis fan – which means the “mature” label runs across nearly all the comics he reads). David brought his little girl, the next-generation offspring example of this comic book clan. The fact that the kids of my friends are involved in comic books brings a smile to my face, just as it does to the faces of their parents, knowing that there are individuals to pass our artistic passions on to.

We went out for Saturday morning breakfast first, of course, and then made our way to the Metro Toronto Reference Library, regular hosts of TCAF.

The library was lined with tables full of independent writers and artists, some known, some unknown, showcasing their comics, their graphic novels, their books, their ‘zines, their prints, posters, postcards, t-shirts (and socks!) all based on their creations. Every one of them, I’m sure, share similar comic book grade school stories as the ones I experienced growing up.

All of the individuals here, from TCAF guest to TCAF attendee to TCAF volunteer, was talking about comics and the medium of comics: the writing, the art, the collecting, the business and everything in-between. I visited the tables of old acquaintances, chit-chatted with them and then moved off to meet new ones. I purchased the works of people I’ve been meaning to sample and also of the ones I’d never heard of before and the energy was amazing. There was a palpable buzz on the second floor in an enormous room full of web comic creators, some of whom had a following as big as any of their industry-published brethren. This alone tells me something about the electronic comic book medium – another discussion to be had within my circle of friends.

I’ve been to many comic industry conventions but it’s here at TCAF that I really got a sense of artistic community, of communal sharing between creator and audience.

I’m sitting here, late at night, typing words that will become the first article in a monthly column for Biff Bam Pop! called, appropriately enough, Across The Universe and it’s those first few that I wrote that have a real resonance with me.

Comic books are a community.

Well, that and the Green-Lantern-Daredevil-in-yellow-tights-battle conversation from the school yard ages ago.

That kind of resonance lives on, decade after decade. Discussion after discussion.

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