Not that long ago, I watched a documentary called “It Might Get Loud.” The documentary brought together guitarists from three different generations- Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page, U2’s The Edge and The White Stripes’ Jack White. It was a blast. It was fun to listen to music from three of my favorite bands. It was fun to hear them talk about their influences- to see Jimmy Page play air guitar while listening to one of his favorite boyhood songs or Jack White clap along with an old-time song that inspired him. It was fun to see the contrasts between the Edge’s control, Jimmy Page’s introspection and Jack White’s
The documentary also crystallized a lot of what I had been thinking about my own discoveries. We all have our own aesthetic journeys. There’s the time when we first become aware of certain art forms, such as comics or music. There are times when we’re open to those arts, when we willingly discover new facets within them and joyfully explore. And, for many of us, there are times when we become closed off.
They don’t match up perfectly, but my personal journeys in music and in comics are very similar. Like most fans, I discovered comic books, and particularly superhero comics, in middle school (the mid ‘80s, if you’d like to know). I discovered music, and particularly rock ‘n roll, a couple of years later (the late ‘80s, for those keeping track). I remember reading and re-reading an issue of New Teen Titans so often that it became tattered. I remember going to a record store for the first time and buying Sting’s The Soul Cages. Those initial comic book titles and rock bands are my touchstones. They help define music and comics for me.
My period of music discovery lasted into high school and college (the early to mid ‘90s, if you’re curious). My college music and my childhood music are different, but they’re both influential and beloved in their own way. Like a lot of comic book fans, I took a break from the medium when I was in high school and thought I was too old for them. But I came back to comics while I was in college (the early to mid ‘90s, for those who care). This new era of comic book discovery lasted into graduate school (the late ‘90s, if you’re following along). Whether it's Matthew Sweet, Spin Doctors, Starman or Static, these artists and characters came to mean as much to me as the the ones I grew up with.
About that time, I became closed off to new music. It was enough to keep up with the artists from my childhood while I was in grad school. Many of them were still coming out with new music after all. I found myself closing my ears to new music the same way that I shut my eyes to new comics while I was in high school. I came up with snap judgments to dismiss new artists- that album uses too much distortion, that video is kitschy, that artist is a pale imitation of someone I grew up with. I simply didn’t have the mental room for something new.
I didn’t like having that attitude. Maybe it works for some people. They’re satisfied with liking music up to a certain date and no further. But I didn’t want my musical tastes to be frozen in amber. I didn’t enjoy the sense of being closed off to new wonders. So, in the early ‘00s, I opened myself up to new music again. I discovered that I really liked the White Stripes, despite my initial aversion. I found myself embracing a new set of bands and discovered artists that I had missed while I was in grad school. It was a personal musical renaissance. It was wonderful to have new music in my life again.
I thought about that while watching “It Might Get Loud.” I had as much fun watching someone that I discovered after I had turned 30 as I did watching guitarists whom I had grown up listening to. I was so glad that I hadn’t allowed myself to become closed off to new music and to new discoveries.
I have the same attitude about comics. I didn’t wander away from comics again as I’d already done that once. But I did notice that comics seemed to be moving away from me. I didn’t like the new styles and the new superstars. I didn’t like the titles at the top of the charts. I found myself in a similar mental space. I could have allowed myself to become closed off to new comics. But that’s not something I wanted for myself. I wasn’t going to give up on new comics. After all, the sense of something new, the joy of discovery, has always been part of what I loved about comics.
That doesn’t mean I like everything that’s new- in comics or in music. There are writers I don’t follow, artists I don’t care for and titles I avoid. But I have an intentional attitude of openness. And that attitude has served me well. I regularly discover new favorites. I occasionally appreciate something I initially skipped. I enjoy reading about characters I didn’t bother with when I was a child. I get excited about jumping onto the bandwagon of an acclaimed new title like iZombie. I’m having as much fun in comics as I’ve ever had.
Today’s comic books are some of my favorites. They aren’t favorites in the same way that my childhood or college comics are favorites. But they’re favorites nonetheless. I’m glad of that… even as I’m glad that I can love childhood, college and contemporary music.
I didn’t want the narrative flow of the article to get bogged down in lists of names which is why I didn't provide a lot of specific examples. However, I was amused when fellow Legionnaire George recently made the connection between Image Comics and Nirvana. For him, it was a sign that both art forms had gone awry. I see the connection, but for me it’s a positive one. They were new artists bringing something different to the scene and they belonged to me and my friends, instead of our parents or our older siblings.