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Celebrate #NationalComicBookDay by Looking Back at the First Comics That Hooked Us

To all the comic books I've loved before.

jamie hewlett adam martin

It’s #NationalComicBookDay, a day to celebrate the sequential art form that we geeks hold so dear. Like all art, comics serve many functions: they entertain us, they help us escape our day-to-day lives, they reflect the world we live in, they inspire and move us. What makes comics so special is that, as we grow from children into adults, comics grow with us. They mature and tackle heavier subject matter; they mirror current events. Comics are a living, breathing art form, and it’s wild to remember a time, not that long ago, when they weren’t a dominating force in popular culture.

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Many of us first encountered comics in the checkout line at the supermarket, begging our parents to buy us the latest issue of Archie Comics. Or maybe we discovered them in the Sunday newspaper, poring over Calvin and Hobbes or The Far Side with ink-stained fingertips. But do you remember the first comic book that grabbed you, that made you a comics fan?

For me, that comic was Jamie Hewlett and and Alan Martin’s Tank Girl. As a die-hard fan of the 1995 film starring Lori Petty, I quickly sought out every Tank Girl book I could get my hands on. As a young girl, they were unlike anything I had ever read before: lewd, nasty, violent, and wickedly dirty.

Rebecca Buck, the titular heroine, was wildly different from any woman I had ever seen in comics. Her queer punk aesthetic and no-f*cks-to-give attitude resonated in a deep way. I didn’t know girls could act like that, and the comics made me feel bold and empowered in a way I had never felt before. I read and reread the trade paperbacks until the spines broke and the pages fell out. (Adult me now knows how to care for and store comics, thank goddess.)

Detective Comics Annual 8 1995

(image: DC Comics)

Plenty of comics would go on to earn a place in the long box of my heart. 1995’s Questions Multiply the Mystery Detective Comics Annual Vol 1 #8 by Chuck Dixon and Kieron Dwyer, a devastating Riddler origin story, showed me how dark comics could go and how complicated and nuanced villains could be. Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World perfectly captured the adolescent ennui of post-high school life, and Brian Michael Bendis’s Alias series broke my heart and introduced me to one of my favorite flawed heroines ever, Jessica Jones.

daniel clowes

(image: Fantagraphics Books)

There are countless more books that I loved, but I always come back to Tank Girl as my comic book geek origin story. How about you? What was the first comic book that turned you from a casual reader into a full-fledged comics nerd? Share your favorite in the comments!

(image: Titan Comics)

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Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.

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