The first "comic book" hit the United States around 1933, arguably not a very old story telling format. The first books were mostly re-printings of comic strips and for humor. In 1938 the world was introduced to it's first superhero. Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel brought us Action Comics number 1 in 1938 and with it our first glimpse of Superman. From there the floodgates opened and many years later the story format endures. Spawning movies, books, video games and TV shows.
I recently moved and while doing so realized how out of order my comic collection had become. After settling in to the new house I pulled all of my many (too many) comics from their boxes. I can't really explain the joy to someone who is not a fan, but I can go from a bad mood to a good one, just by flipping through a few issues. While onerous, the task of cataloging and re-boxing all of those books brought about a sense of joy and nostalgia. This got me thinking about why they meant so much to me and how they have impacted me as a writer.
First I should explain that not only had comics been one of the first things that got me into reading, it was also the first type of story I started writing. Me and a few friends around the age of twelve started creating a world. We worked out characters, background for the world and why the types of people were in it. We had plot and setting, protagonist, antagonist, all of this learned by just reading comics. Of course for us it was just fun and a means to stretch our imagination and hang out with each other, but in truth much of what made me want to be an author came from that time in my life.
I was watching an interview with Jim Butcher (Dresden Files) and he was talking about him and Brandon Sanderson writing action scenes in their stories that made it obvious they had at one point wished they wrote for the Avengers. This is true, the focus of most comics is the action, it really shows a good way to have flow within your action scenes and many give a good idea of how to build up to and move on from a fight.
Villains, now while many bad ideas for villains come from comics there are some interesting ideas as well. Simon Williams, also known as Wonder Man, turned himself into a super being and joined the Avengers with plans of luring them into a trap. It was repayment for Tony Stark (Iron Man) sending his family business under. In the end Simon couldn't cause the deaths of the Avengers and sacrificed himself to save them. Some people even believe Lucas got the idea of Darth Vader from Dr. Doom a Marvel villain(shrug). I know that for me a hero is only as prolific as his villain, and a villain is only prolific if he has a good reason for being the way he is and I pulled many ideas for what the "bad guy" is from the multitude of outside the line people offered in comics.
After all of this I can thank comics for what they have taught me, but I think the biggest impact they have had on me is my idea of heroes. I read a book about Superman, here is someone who could live life like no other. He's able to fly to the beach hang out drink some mojitos and be back at the fortress watching the big screen, in seconds. He could just kill the bad guy and be done with him. Superman could show off and have money and women and all the things most people strive for, instead he uses his gifts to help those around him. What he strives for is to save instead of kill, to follow the rules and try to make the world a better place. I think most people know how hard it would be for us given his abilities. Then someone like Batman, he loses his parents and instead of taking his large means and burying himself away somewhere to sulk, he rises above. Comics are filled with this self-sacrifice, power equals responsibility kind of mindset.
I know they are not for everyone, but maybe if you are not already into them and you pass by a comic book store think about stopping in and checking out this interesting, innovative type of story telling.