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So, this is awkward.

Some part of me has always known this day would come, of course, but until now I’ve been reluctant to share the truth with more than a handful of people. Now I realize that I really should be honest with you about this part of my life.

You see… I read comic books.

I grant you, this isn’t as big a deal for an alleged grown-up to admit as it used to be. With the geek ascendancy represented by shows like The Big Bang Theory and a slew of popular sci-fi and comic-book-related movies and TV series, the conversation about comics has definitely changed in the last 20 years. Just not enough yet to avoid having a good friend and respected fellow creator recently ask on Facebook, his tone of implied scorn clear, if anyone “actually reads comic books” anymore.

From the midst of the crowd gathered before him, a single hand rose, tentatively: mine.

Not the new stuff, I will say. While I was a serious aficionado 30 years ago, with a collection that topped out at several thousand carefully bagged and boxed issues, once I became a father, my priorities changed and I sold off 95 percent of my collection. Over time, though, I’ve replaced significant chunks of what I left behind with graphic novels reprinting key storylines. (One example being the source material for the current movie X-Men: Days of Future Past.)

So, as my ever-patient spouse is wont to inquire, what’s up with that?

There is pure nostalgia, of course—memories of youth echoing back to me off the brightly colored pages. But there’s more as well. One of the ideas examined in Believe in Me is that we’ve become so cynical as a society that the very idea of heroes has come to feel antiquated. After all, in an ironic post-modern world—and in an era when those who assert their moral superiority the loudest are often the most morally bankrupt—how can you continue to believe in the potential for human beings to do right, simply for the sake of doing it?

Comic book writers are a different breed: they believe heroes can still exist. Their heroes may be complicated or conflicted, but what defines them as heroes is not special powers or flashy costumes, but the moral choices they make. (A description that applies equally to the likes of Harry Bosch and Elvis Cole in the mystery/thriller genre, another favorite of mine.)

Over the years, many comic book writers have cited the legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table as a key influence in their journey to telling stories populated with heroes and villains. (And in fact, one of my favorite stories ever told in the comic book medium combined sci-fi and Arthurian legend into a limited series called Camelot 3000, in which Arthur fulfills the prophecy that he will return in the hour of Britain’s greatest need—which turns out to be during an alien invasion in the year 3000. But I digress.)

My original introduction to comic books at age six came in the form of Classic Comics, illustrated retellings of literary classics like Robinson Crusoe, The Count of Monte Cristo and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. From there, my path led into Arthurian legend—several volumes remain on my shelf today—and into mainstream superhero comics like X-Men and Avengers.

Whether armored, or costumed, or neither, heroes fulfill our yearning to see the good triumph, both in the world in general and within a single human heart. This remains true even if victory is never complete and even if the struggle is a perpetual one—maybe even more so, in fact. Heroes teach us that there is courage in simple persistence, and that the best part of ourselves is always within our grasp.

So, yeah, I read comic books—and chances are Jordan Lee has a graphic novel buried somewhere in that black duffel of his, too.

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