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“The Friendly Secret Society – My love affair with comics” by Elf Lyons

My love affair with comic books, the shops they reside in, and the people who read them, is a recent one. It was not one that I was born with, like a weird inherited super power, from one eccentric to another. There was no cool mysterious mother-figure in a mask who handed me a copy of an old battered copy of Batman and just disappeared into the shadows… there was no crazy radioactive shop-owner who bit me and suddenly turned me into a panel-devouring lycra-loving comic book deviant… I wasn’t orphaned and then raised in a Forbidden Planet and trained to draw by an old woman who was good at karate….

No. I was an all-girls-school teenager. Comics were not a thing to me (if you don’t accept the Twilight Graphic Novel as a thing…). On weekends I was given Bunty magazine. Superheroes to me were ‘Totally Spies’ and the‘Powerpuff Girls’ at 9am on Nickelodeon. I was ‘too young’ according to the boy who worked at Odeon to see the first Spider Man in 2002. I’ve never seen the Star Wars films. My parents raised me on French New Wave films. (They are odd). Comics, for some obscure gender rule, were advertised to me as a ‘boys thing’. I just assumed it wasn’t for me and thus never dared step into the stores I would often gaze at with interest around Covent Garden, London.

Rocking my school's 1,500 dressed as Superwoman

Rocking my school’s 1,500 metres dressed as Superwoman

But then, at 21, like a proper first love, it struck me hard and I was overwhelmed. Before I knew it, like an addict, any spare money I had was immediately spent in amongst the saturated colours of MARVEL, DC , DARK HORSE, IMAGE, IDW… I was a comic-book addict. I didn’t want to be anywhere else. I would tell anyone who would listen ‘HOW GREAT IS WATCHMEN?!’. I wandered around the shops with bright pink hair, looking like the younger sister of Ramona Flowers, but less cool and more enthusiastic.

The joy of comics was exemplified one night in 2010 as I travelled home from a comedy gig. I sat on the tube and devoured The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, only to look up and see a young guy holding his notepad up to me with the words: ‘THE FILM IS TERRIBLE. DON’T EVER WATCH IT. IF YOU LIKE T.L.E.G YOU SHOULD READ ‘V FOR VENDETTA’. A weird and beautiful moment of interaction with a stranger, all due to our shared interest in graphics and fantasy narratives. Sure, he could have just said that rather than write it on paper, but we’re in London, and in London we don’t talk to one another.

THAT moment is why I love comic books so much, and the community that surrounds them. Loving comic books is like being part of the most detailed secret society, but a secret society not gilded in elitism and hierarchy, (you don’t have to wear black tie), but instead with an open-doors policy, with the password being “OH! You like that comic? You should read this… here… let me show you…”

Me, attempting to be Barbarella.

Me, attempting to be Barbarella.

I was recently in Adelaide for the Adelaide Festival. I was touring my stand-up show Being Barbarella (a stand-up show inspired by Jean Claude Forest’s 1960s comic) and I was keen to sell tickets to a like-minded audience. I knew no one and I was nervous. I chose to hand out my flyers around the three comic book shops in the area, and that is how I found my Adelaide family. I returned after one month in Australia with a very heavy suitcase. Not from clothes and tourist items, but from all the comic books and graphic novels I had acquired over the month – a mixture of gifts from others and my own personal acquisitions.

Sadly, even in 2015, people often say to me after gigs ‘But Comic Books aren’t really a girls thing?’ or ‘Not many women read comics though? Do they?’. There seems to be an assumption that it is a testosterone fuelled world – where only Batman, Spider Man and Superman reside. This is a naive assumption and for me, has never been the case. From my few years in puppy-love with the world of comics, and my research due to the subject of my stand-up shows, I would argue that there has never been a more strong dominant presence of interesting women and believable human female characters in comics than now. We are on the rise! An army of oestrogen! And this is so evident when you look around any comic book store now. Our characters are not just there for the ‘male gaze’. We are icons, feminist baddasses. From the diverse characters in the currently very popular The Wicked and The Divine, to the intricate drawing of artists like Tula Lotay in Image’s ‘Supreme Blue Rose’ – both on the page and off, we are visible. And that is what I’m keen to tell people.

I am very excited to be regularly writing for Big Comic Page – expect from me little updates on cool and awesome up and coming writers and artists, assessments of current themes, and books that I like at the moment.

If you like my writing check out http://www.theelflyons.com for more details

Lots of love

Elf
Xxxx

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