Comic books have been an important part of my life since I was a very young boy. You see, even though I grew up in the idyllic rural setting of Jeffersonville, Indiana my days were rarely spent lazing upon the bank of a creek watching dragonflies darting hither and fro amongst the cattails as I dreamed of faraway castles and the future dragons I'd one day slay. Unfortunately for me my father was not a very nice man and more often than not my days were spent hiding in the woods wondering if this might be the day he'd gone too far and the pain coursing through my body would prove to be the last experience I carried with me as I left this place. Comic books were more than entertainment to me, they were a lifeline to a better place and a much better way of living.
Many were the afternoons I'd find the quietest, safest place possible in the woods behind our house and there I'd sit for hours with my back resting against the cool comfort of a moss-covered log with a handful of rolled up comic books as characters like Spider-Man and Captain America carried me away to a place where the pain wasn't so close and young kids were protected by grownups instead of abused by them. Comic books taught me the lessons I wasn't learning from my father. Things like, with great power comes great responsibility and freedom isn't always from pain and suffering. Comic books taught me about perseverance and nobility in the face of hardship.
Perhaps that's why I'm so fond of comic books today like Mike Mignola's Hellboy. You see, I know that somewhere in the world at this very minute is a little boy, or perhaps even a little girl who sits hurt and alone in the quietest, safest place they can possibly find with a rolled up comic book looking desperately for something more than just a moment or two of sensational entertainment. When they open a Hellboy comic book they learn that no matter how rough your origin, what you look like on the outside or how difficult your daily struggles may be, there is a nobility and a purpose to their life. They see a light at the end of what oftentimes appears to them an endless dark tunnel. They see hope. I know because I've been there...
What they don't need is a reminder of how hard the world can be or how flawed heroes oftentimes turn out to be. That's already a lesson we understand far too well. It is a lesson hammered out upon our backs every single day of our childhood. We don't need to be reminded of the Hell we're already in, we need a lifeline out of it. How many lifelines has Hellboy thrown instead of F-Bombs? How great has been Hellboy's struggle for the best in humanity versus the very worst in it? Themes and ideals like those are missing from so many mainstream comic books today. No wonder kids aren't reading comics right now. If they want to know how cruel the world can be they need only look around themselves and the homes they're standing in. They don't need a rolled up comic book pounding the message into them that life is hopeless, people are bad and there's no chance of escaping life unscathed or unmarred. Who needs a comic book to teach them something they already know?
There is still a need for comic books in the world today. They can still be powerful force for good and a wonderful influence upon developing young minds. Yes, I understand that comic creators are under no obligation to serve as role models. Yes, I understand that they are under no obligation to protect or educate our children. What I think comic creators need to understand is that children understand disinterest, neglect and abandonment whenever and wherever they see it. Even in comic book form. How can you expect them to care about your product when you care nothing for their feelings, their interests or their sense of security and well being?
Deny the reality of it, dislike it as much as you choose to, but it takes a community to raise children and you the creators of comic books are indeed a part of the community. Whatever you chose to do or not to do with your responsibilities says something about your character as a person. Every time you choose profanity, the objectification of women or sexual titillation to incite and inflame the most base of human emotions it is not the reality of the world you expose, it is the reality of your own inner character or the lack of it that you reveal to the world. I think the sales numbers right now speak volumes for what the community thinks of your character, your values and your potential influence upon our children. Something needs to change and it isn't our attitudes, morals and belief systems, it's yours.
Don't get me wrong, I love comic books. As I stated earlier in this piece, they gave me hope as a child and they presented me with ideals and standards of behavior that still guide me in my life as an adult. Maybe I'm reading so many Dark Horse books these days because they still talk to the child inside of me as if I matter to them. I like to think they're talking to my own son in the same manner. I wish more companies would follow their example, it shows real character.