Let me start with some background, just to give you a sense of where I'm coming from as an educator and as a researcher. In other words, let me get the boring stuff out of the way first.
When I was a kid, I loved comics. My friends and I sat around arguing over who the best characters were and who could beat who in a fight. We traded them, haggling over how many Superman comics would be equal to one Spider-Man. We hoarded our allowances for weekly trips to W, a town about 40 miles away that had 2 drugstores, both of which carried comics. If we went together with one set of parents or another, the ride home would be silent, each of us lost in his own paneled world.
You see, when we were kids, the act of reading comics was what was most important. We read our comics and then read them again and again until they fell apart. We collected to read and to share those imagined worlds with each other. We even made our own comics, a line of superhero comics with a burgeoning continuity that escapes me after all these years. Comics were central to both our reading and writing as we grew up in that small town.
I kept reading comics off and on through high school and into the beginning of university. I even worked at a comics store during my first couple of years of undergraduate, but after I left that job, my interest in comics seemed to disappear as well. I finished my BA and, through the subsequent years, both an MA and a PhD. Then a few years ago -- this would be 2003 or so -- a UW student, MW, asked me if I read comics. I told him that I had in the past, but that I hadn't picked one up for years. It turned out that most of the students in that class were reading comics and so he convinced me to borrow a collection from him (the start of the Bendis run on Daredevil). As I read, the pleasure of making meaning through the combination of all the multiple elements on the comics page returned to me. I found myself caught up in the Hell's Kitchen that Bendis and Maleev had created on the page. I asked him to loan me some more comics. I started to explore on my own and began to see how rich in both actuality and possibility the comics medium was. I was hooked (again).
From there, I started to think about my own experiences with comics when I was a kid and the kinds of literacies that resulted from those experiences. I started to think about the multiple literacies we develop as we read comics and the possibilities of comics as a teaching tool. Those musings started to coalesce over the next couple of years, resulting in articles on comics and multimodal literacies in both English Journal and College Composition and Communication. Since then, much of my research and writing has centered around parsing out the connections between comics, what they are used for, how we read them, and why/how they are useful in education. In addition, I've taught a course entitled The Rhetoric of Comics and beginning a week from today, will be teaching a course entitled Words and Pictures: The Contemporary Graphic Novel. In other words, comics are now fairly central to both my teaching and my research.
Of course, all of that is the adult me, the academic me talking. The kid in me still loves stories told through words and pictures arranged in panels on a page. The kid in me likes nothing more than to see how it all unfolds, how the words and pictures come together, and how all the panels come together to tell a story I want to talk about with my friends.