I learned how to read from the comics page. My father would sit me next to him on the couch after work and read the strips with me, top to bottom (even the ones I just didn’t get, like Doonesbury.) My first big collection was Garfield. I started asking for them for birthdays and Christmases when I was in second grade and got up to book thirty before I finally realized the jokes weren’t getting funnier as I got older. (Now, Garfield minus Garfield, that I still like.)
Next, I moved onto Foxtrot, which occupied my wishlists until eighth grade. I still actually own every collection of Foxtrot I ever got and just reread them these past few weeks. It’s amazing how many of the jokes I still remember, the plots that stuck with me — Jason goes to camp, Roger writes his novel. Back then I thought of myself as a Jason (NEVER a Paige) and I lived in a family of Jasons of different ages. My brothers built Frankenstein computers, my sister called herself a Calculus Goddess, and I buried my nose in fantasy books. Now, reading through the collection, I realize that I’ve transformed from Jason to Andy, the mother. A writer, rolling her eyes at the exploits around her and cooking mock-ably wholesome food for her family.
I had a Far Side phase (but that never real ends, does it?) and then nestled into Calvin and Hobbes in high school when I started dating for the first time. My boyfriend and I read the collections, notating them for each other. Calvin and Hobbes depended on a world of imagination. Look too closely and the soap bubble pops; same with first love. Still, love through comics, what could be better?
Though that relationship ended, my love for the comic genre never has. I studied Shakespearean comics as part of my grad school thesis and have written up a course for teaching graphic memoirs (I can geek out about these for at least thirty class periods, as proven by the syllabus). Away from the office, the comics page is still the first I peruse and in my current work in progress I’m writing a cartoonist character who fascinates me, and it wouldn’t be possible without those strips my father read with me, patiently sounding out the words I didn’t understand.
What are your earliest comic influences? What do they mean to you today?