Starting to Explore Manga (aka: My History with Comics)

For some inexplicable reason, graphic novels, comics, and manga (is there an umbrella term to describe all three of these genres? I want there to be, but if there is I can’t find it) have taken a long time to grow on me. I not only wasn’t interested, I was totally resistant to them until only recently—but the more I explore, the more I realize how much I actually, really love them.

The first one I ever read was Maus, probably ten years ago, and it was a unique way to tell a story; I did not see it as the beginning of a change in my reading habits. In 2012 I came across The Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone and thought the same thing.

After that there was gradual exposure, mostly from recommendations and particular events (like Banned Books Week), partly from working in a public library and seeing what interesting things came through: graphic memoirs like Fun Home and Persepolis; middle grade Mighty Girl comics like Giants Beware, Hildafolkand Zita the Spacegirl; and adult fiction like A Bride’s Story, The Color of EarthSaga.

And then, before I knew it, I was picking up superhero comics. I’d always been curious about Wonder Woman; somehow, aside from Superman and Batman (who I’ve never cared much about), I’d grown up exclusively with Marvel. So I checked out the first few volumes of Brian Azzarello’s New 52. Then I read Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, Squirrel Girl, She-Hulk, Hawkeye, and Goddess Thor. I introduced myself to Batgirl and Birds of Prey. I want to start expanding backward in time, reading some of the older comics, as I get more familiar with different storylines and it becomes less overwhelming (have you ever realized how many thousands of superhero comics there are?? I have no idea where to start).

I tried manga with Nausicaa, because I love Hayao Miyazaki’s movies, but it was pretty difficult for me to follow. I struggled with graphic novels for a long time, never sure I was reading the panels in the right order—once I read several pages before realizing I’d been reading the speech bubbles in the wrong order, and they just happened to work. This was even harder with the panels going right to left, and the black and white illustrations made it hard for me to tell what was happening, so I decided that manga wasn’t going to be for me.

I’ve been into graphic novels for a few years now, and comics for about a year and a half. Finally, just a few months ago, I decided to try manga. I’m learning Japanese and a pen pal recommended Dragon Ball to me—and while it wasn’t my favorite, I could tell already that I was interested in trying more. I liked the first two volumes of Bleach well enough that I’m sure I’ll read more; I fell immediately in love with Othello, and have volumes four through seven at home now waiting to be read. My “to-read” list is growing quickly.

It is both baffling and amusing to me, how drawn-out this process has been. I can’t imagine why I was so reluctant to start reading comics, or why it was such an acquired skill, but I kinda have to laugh at myself. Now that I’ve done it, I’m a devoted fan.

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