Don’t be That Girl. You know what I mean. The one who does it for the attention, for the quirk factor, because it’s cool and hip and “in”. The girl who says Seth Cohen is her spirit animal because she found a Batman t-shirt at Hot Topic. Don’t be the one to wear comic book knowledge like a neon sign that says “eat your heart out nerd boys,” the one who does it for attention, the one who does it for a boyfriend. That’s not what this is about. And let’s be honest, you’re not fooling anyone but yourself. So do everyone a favor and don’t be That Girl.
That was never what this was about.
Do it because you love it. Take the train ride to Harvard Square’s New England Comics every Wednesday the minute class lets out because you can’t stand the thought that the latest Birds of Prey is out and it’s not already in your hands. Ignore regular social interaction to watch the new episode of Young Justice, because the suspense is just about killing you. Babble incessantly about the dramatic restructuring of your favorite comic book universe to your roommates, who could honestly not give less of a shit. It’s an itch, it’s a tic, it’s an obsession. This isn’t about dropping a few names like “Martian Manhunter” or “Barry Allen” at a party in a circle of guys so they think you’re cool, and maybe you won’t go home alone tonight. This is you alone in your room, wrapped in a blanket and biting your lip so hard you nearly draw blood because your favorite character is about to die in Dollhouse, but you can’t bring yourself to stop turning the pages.
This is not about glamour.
Never limit yourself. A love of comics doesn’t mean you’re confined to grungy outfits, awkward social interactions, or low hygiene standards. There’s no need to prove yourself with t-shirts and belts and wallets and sweaters all emblazoned with the Green Lantern symbol. If that’s what you’re comfortable in, by all means knock yourself out. But no one ever said you can’t love comics in a nice sweater dress and four inch heels. No one ever told you to put down the remote and step away from the CW when The Vampire Dairies is on. And no one could ever fault you for flipping through the pages of the new Justice League with freshly self-manicured nails. Because when you love comics, it shows when you speak. There’s a fire, there’s a glow that lights you up when you talk about these characters, your characters. Your eyes get brighter, your gesticulations grander when you rattle off their story lines better than you could recall what you’ve eaten for lunch for the past week. It shows, it always shows whether you’re in nerd couture or haute velour.
This is not about looking the part.
Date a boy because you both love comics. This will be a mistake, but one you will almost certainly make. He will charm you with his seemingly endless knowledge and borderline fetishism for Catwoman. You’ll be able to talk for hours about just one single angle of Comic Books Today, and the mutual love for ink arranged in panels on paper will overshadow the fact that on a basic human level, caped crusaders aside, you and he are completely and utterly wrong for one another. You won’t notice at first, because you’re too busy explaining why you think the Flash is far superior to any single member of the Bat family, but one day he’ll respond to your argument with, “I’m sure we’ll fix you eventually.” And then you start hearing it more. When you’re uninterested in some indie comic? “We’ll fix that.” Your deep love of processed cheese a la Doritos and Kraft Macaroni? “Easily fixable.” Fix, fix, fix. It doesn’t even sound like a word anymore but the hiss of a snake, and you recoil at the sound. You were never aware you were so damaged, so in need of repair. When did he become this person, someone who wanted to fix your opinions, fix you? Has he said this before? Has he always been like this? How did you miss that? And then it hits you like a pile of bricks: you were so busy loving comics that you forgot to make sure you could love the boy behind them.
This is not about love for anything except the story on the page.
You’re going to drift eventually. Who do you think you’re kidding? You’re a twenty year old college student, and there are never, ever enough days in a week. You have meetings to attend, homework to do, articles to write, and a job that never seems to have enough employees to fill out all the spare hours. So you put off your comic book catch ups and tell yourself you’ll marathon a whole bunch of them next week. Or the week after that. But weeks become months and months are no good for continuity. It’s like you blink and suddenly half your favorite characters have been reassigned to different teams or killed off or worse: retconned. So you let them go, because you think it’s too late. Because it’s been too long and they’re in too deep, so you might as well stick to oneshots and disjointed serials like Tiny Titans. Maybe even convince yourself, in your darkest hours, that you’ve finally “grown up.”
You are, of course, delusional. Relapse is inevitable, less a possibility than a cold, hard fact. You can run, hide, lie all you want. But one day you’ll need to go buy yourself a “real person book,” something on grainy paper in black and white, with numbered chapters and characters who sit around and sigh about the human condition. One day you’ll stroll through Barnes & Noble in pursuit of that “real person book” and feel that familiar magnetic pull as you pass by the comic rack. It’ll grip you, vice-like, until you give up and give in to the urge. And suddenly it’s too late to turn back, you’re on the floor with a whole mess of new issues sprawled out around you, electricity pulsing at your fingertips as you plow through one story after another until a Barnes & Noble clerk finally tells you to either buy the comics or get the fuck out. You exit the store without a second thought to the book you initially came in to get, the plastic bag in your hands heavy instead with comics. Kiss your real friendships goodbye, because you’ll be holed up in your room for a week or two, desperate to discover everything you’ve missed - every alliance broken, every relationship started, every kick and punch and laugh and tear - in your absence. And yes, it was your absence. Comics have always been there, waiting. You were the one who chose to leave.
This is not about having time, and this is most certainly not about growing up.
Ignore the boys club, don’t let them rile you. And oh, how they will try to rile you. Some will ask if you’re shopping for your boyfriend. Others will show you and your geek feminism the door, will tell you comic books are a “guy space” and you’re overstepping the already generous bounds were you were allowed. Your penchant for dresses will not help, and your bookshelf that is just as much young adult fiction as comic books might just bury you alive. Learn to let their knowing smirks roll off your shoulders when you purchase Wonder Woman or an old back issue of Teen Titans Go!, smirks that say they expected nothing more of a girl. Grit your teeth. Dig in your Forever 21 sandal heels. Stand your ground, because this is a battle worth fighting.
This isn’t about them.
Don’t feel ashamed. Don’t you ever goddamn feel ashamed. Not when your roommates roll their eyes, not when your mother asks you if you’re ever going to get real hobbies, not when your manicurist not so subtly offers you a Cosmopolitan substitute for your battered copy of Flash: Terminal Velocity. And especially, especially not when you’re flirting with an oh-so-serious boy who momentarily makes you cringe at the thought of him seeing the enormous JLA/Titans: Technis Imperative poster on the wall of your room. Crush that feeling, smother it out. There’s no place for shame here. There is nothing embarrassing about passion, about devotion to a vastly unappreciated medium. There is only loyalty. There is only pride. There are only the glowing coals in the pit of your stomach when you discover a new tough-talking character named Starling, coals that threaten to burst into the raging fire of obsession in coming months. This is something you care about, and don’t you ever let anyone tell you different.
This isn’t even really about comics.
This is about you. This is about loving what you love and not giving a damn what everyone else things. This is about the warmth it makes you feel, the smile it puts on your lips, and never, ever having to hide your unabashed enthusiasm for anything. Who gives a shit if you’re not acting your age? Not acting your gender? Next time the world tries to call you out, tell it to fuck off. Because this isn’t about the world, or the boys club, or your mother of your roommates or your manicurist or that oh-so-serious boy who is cute but not that cute. This is about you and it always will be about you. Because the world isn’t the one you’re answering to when you climb into bed at night. All that’s left is yourself.
Well, yourself and a shitton of comic books.