Bob Hall is a professional artist who has worked for Marvel Comics and DC Comics and drawn some of the most famous comic heroes of all time, including Batman, Spiderman, Thor, Captain America, and the Avengers.
“National Comic Book Day!”
I knew that day would come. I’ve known it for the forty years I have worked in the trenches of the comic book industry, the job was fun and I didn’t punch a clock (although I tended to work fifteen or sixteen hours a day,) but much more important, I was part of an emerging new art form and one that, despite brilliant work being done elsewhere around the world, was fundamentally a burgeoning American creation. Creators such as Will Eisner and Stan Lee became convinced of the staying power of this relatively new art form as early as the late 1940s and 1950s when many other comics creators were fleeing what seemed at the time a dying business. They certainly had a bit more vision than a couple of public television producers who, as late as the turn of the last century poo-pooed my suggestion that a Ken Burns type documentary was wanted before all the original inventors of modern comics had died out.
Too late and too bad. Will Eisner, Bob Kane, Siegel and Schuster, Bill Finger, Joe Simon, the inimitable but still much copied, Jack Kirby and many others created a poverty-stricken industry in the late 1930s that has now become a billion-dollar business but more important a literary/visual form that has seeped into the consciousness even of those few who have never cracked open a comic book. Sadly, it’s taken the billions of dollars brought in by Hollywood’s realization that movies—especially those faithful to the most beloved characters in the comic book pantheon could be a financial goldmine—to finally bestow a mantle of legitimacy on the comics medium. And even in in today’s market, with prize winning graphic novels of all styles and all subjects crowding the shelves of Barnes and Noble, as well as the public library and your local comic book store, I suspect that some consultant somewhere said, “Why Comic Book Day? We ought to call it Super Hero Movie Day!” This would be someone like the radio and newspaper interviewers who, when I say I write and draw comics, still ask cleverly, “You really write comics? You mean things like ‘pow and bam?’” And then they chuckle.
Despite the above, I’m proud to have worked in the comics biz since 1975. Comics weren’t my ambition in the 1960s but I did know I wanted to tell stories, perhaps in books or more likely in the theater, but then late in that decade, my old friend, Bill, re-introduced me to comics. While I had learned to read on Uncle Scrooge, I stopped buying comics once I entered my teens as most kids did back then. But in 1969 Bill handed me a stack of comics, and the Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko revolution had taken hold at Marvel with DC following close on. Genius creators such as Joe Kubert, Neal Adams, Gil Kane, John Buscema, Barry Winsor Smith, Dennis O’Neill, Roy Thomas, Bernie Wrightson, and others were revolutionizing the thematic content of comics as well as the language—and I don’t mean just the words—with which those themes were presented. They were making comics into a medium for adults as well as kids, and I was dying to be a part of it.
For years after the advent of comics the language of sequential art was misunderstood—or perhaps I should say overlooked—and the inherent literacy of comics dismissed as contradiction in terms. Detractors failed to see that visual imagery interacting with language was to become the wave of the future, not just in comics but as practice that would touch almost every aspect of our communication, in no way supplanting traditional literature but inspiring readers to achieve both visual and linguistic literacy. And so, yes, comics are educational as well as entertaining and they do it through the telling of stories, the educational part becoming more potent when seen as the by-product of a media whose primary purpose is to engage the reader.
My latest project is—in fact—what would be called an educational comic. Richard Graham would call it that and Richard, a professor in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln library system, is an expert on educational comics. He wrote a wonderful book on the subject called, “Government Issue.” My comic, Carnival of Contagion, tells the story of the measles virus, an epic tale indeed. I wrote and drew it, with scientific help from Judy Diamond and John West. It was underwritten by the University of Nebraska, Morrill Hall Museum, the SEPA program (Science Education Partnership Award), and the Nebraska Center for Virology. It features a group of measles-susceptible high school kids whose dreams are visited by Boris The Barker who seduces them into exploring the “Carnival of Contagion.” In the process, they learn about the history, practice, and sometimes deadly complications of this most contagious of diseases. I think it’s one of the oddest educational comics ever done. And that’s good. That’s what a comic should be.
The book, with thirty-four pages of comics plus an essay by New York Times science writer, Carl Zimmer, will be out in mid-October and there will be an official reception and book signing on November 7, open to the public from 5:00—7:00 p.m. on the second floor of Love Library at UNL. An enlarged to poster size print of each page of the comic will be on display through the month of December, along with materials illustrating how the book was created.
Come see it. It’s a great exhibit. And on National Comic Book Day, visit your local comic book store. Buy a comic. Or just read a comic. Or come see our exhibit. You’ll find a lot more going on than “Bang!” and “Pow!”