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By Richard Bruce BA, MA, and PhC in Economics
Former Instructor St. John's University, New York City

A Catholic's Guide to Understanding Comic Books

Catholics, more generally Christians, other conservative religious people, and even the general public can easily misunderstand comic books. Comic books play an an important role in our current popular culture, but it is a complex one, and very different from what it was sixty or seventy years ago.

Comic books, cost about three to four dollars for a twenty page pamphlet. You could easily read three in an hour, so that is nine to twelve dollars an hour. They are very expensive entertainment.

The most popular generally sell about a hundred thousand copies. Most sell a lot less than that. Over several years many of the web pages on this site may well have more readers than the typical comic book.

Limited Addition Art

Comic books are not exactly popular entertainment, rather they are somewhere between popular entertainment and limited edition art. People frequently buy them in the hope that they will go up in value. They are usually disappointed, after a few years they are worthless. Nevertheless, collectors commonly put them in plastic bags and store them away from the light, because light could damage them, without ever reading the comic. I had a roommate years ago who wore surgical gloves when he handled his comics. Because they do not want them to be damaged they do not share them with anyone, particularly kids, and as I just wrote they frequently they do not even read the comic themselves.

Collecting may well have become a bit less important in recent years, but statistics show that considerably more than 90% of the buyers are old enough to attend X rated movies.

Stunts and Investment Scams

The collectors are always looking for weird issues that will go up in value because they are different. For example, Northstar, who was a member of a Canadian superhero team had a "gay marriage ceremony" in one issue. Of course Marvel comics who put the comic out made a big deal of this. Christians became upset, they are corrupting the youth. But what we must understand as Christians is that comics are collectors items for adults, not entertainment for kids. The company is trying to create a speculative frenzy by doing a weird stunt, not corrupt the youth. Of course they make a big deal about how they are aiding social progress. They may well fool themselves into believing this, but we need not be fooled. They are creating a collectors item. The North Star "gay marriage" comic may represent the shortage of good investment opportunities in our economy more than it represents a decline in our society.

If you have not heard of Northstar, that is not surprising, he is pretty obscure. He runs fast, like "The Flash." and "Quick Silver." However, he is not nearly as well known as either of these and many other speedsters.

Northstar is sort of a hero, but just barely. He is suspected of using his super powers to win athletic contests and engaging in terrorism for the separatist movement for French speaking Canadians. In the comics I read he was never a very heroic, or even likeable character.

The big picture is that comics do not sell many copies and almost all those are bought by adults. We have better things to worry about. Furthermore, do not let what small influence they do have bother you too much. You may have a bigger readership with a letter to the editor, a reasonably popular blog, or personal web site than the comic has. Several pages on this site have received many more page views than the typical comic pamplet.

Superheroes in Other Media

Of course comic books do have a large indirect influence on society through other media. Many of our most popular movies are based on superhero comics. There are also live action TV shows, and children's cartoons. The audiences for these are very large and include a lot of young people, but they are popular entertainment, not collectors items, so the kids may never see Northstar, and are even less likely to see his "gay marriage ceremony."

So Catholics, Christians, and religious people in general should avoid getting too excited about the latest stunt in the 20 page comics pamphlets, normally called comic books. We have bigger issues to worry about.

Graphic Novels

But comics do not just come out in, pamphlets, the material in the pamphlets is often collected together and published again in a longer format, the graphic novel. Graphic novel, means a long, frequently pretentious, comic book, not pornography. These are frequently comics aspiring to be literature.

Graphic novels are not collectors items, the way comics are. Most comic pamphlets cost three or four dollars. A year or so later they are usually worthless, but occasionally they go way up in price. Graphic novels are perhaps more likely to retain a larger portion of their original value, but they rarely go up in price, and their value is probably not so dependent on them being in perfect condition. So people are generally far more willing to share them. This means they probably have far more readers, and some of those readers will be children and teens.

This is particularly true if the graphic novel is included in a public or public school library collection. My public library and public libraries in general now have large collections of graphic novels, they can usually be found in the Young Adult section, though some may well be in the adult and juvenile section. What goes into the library collection maybe far more a concern for the conservative religious person, and far more easy to influence than some stunt like the Northstar "gay marriage."

Getting Bible Comics into the Public Library

These graphic novel collections represent an opportunity for Christians because the youth librarians who work in the the public library, and school librarians are often very open to including religious comics, excuse me, religious graphic novels. For example, The Picture Bible by Iva Hoth, or the new Action Bible. I have frequently found these to be a very easy sell. The librarians are often conservative, and in many cases religious. They are a bit uncomfortable with many of the graphic novels and when you mention good, high quality religious comics they are frequently more than happy to include them in the collection.

You can read more about convincing your local library to include these in their collections here.

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Last updated December 7, 2014

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