By the end of my last year of high school I was still very much a comics junkie. Although I have never tried to completely kick the habit, I did spend a lot of time then paring back my pull list and attempted to manage how much I actually acquired on a month-to-month basis. I had a disposable income and boy howdy I used it.
University beaconed and it seemed suddenly the self-conscious, nebbish outsider with big glasses and oversized t-shirts that had entered high school was finding unlikely acceptance in his new environment. All it took was a little refinement in personal grooming and attire to lead to greater self-confidence, and reestablishment (or redefining) of identity…. it all did wonders for my social life and thus self-esteem. Yeah, I was still a geek, but post-secondary, being a geek suddenly wasn’t all that bad. My Superman “S”-shield t-shirt was a big hit on campus and I found new social circles to play in that embraced individuality rather than conformity. Nobody ever looked differently upon me for my comic book fanaticism, and a few people even found me more the interesting for it. People who were snobbish in high school now seemed relaxed and cool, just as some less socially adept kids seemed equally relieved to have left an old life behind. People in upper years of university didn’t look down on the new kids, not the same way a grade 12 grad would look at a grade 9 freshman (if at all). It was like an even playing field, and you could connect with anyone, and everyone seemed to be walking with their minds open, receptive to what’s different and new. A comic book habit was not uncommon.
My tastes had redeveloped between my closing year of high school and the opening year of University, and I was no longer looking at comics and movies and music as strictly entertainment but also as art. The conceptual side of things began to play as much a part in my enjoyment of entertainment as the execution, and I learned to see past merely my gut reaction and analyze what I had taken in a little more. Movies, while being for the masses, have always catered strongly to an adult audience, but even though I had always trumpeted the maturity level comics could achieve I rarely looked past the development of the superhero genre, and often hit a wall trying transcending them. But, within my new environment I was encouraged to explore things beyond what I knew, to look outside the box in terms of how I thought, and I extended this to my comics interest.
Vertigo was the most readily available source, and I became a fast proponent of the imprint, the bulk of the stories weaved around some element of fantasy or another, but frequently literary in bent or cerebral in storytelling. Neil Gaiman, Steve Seagle, Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Grant Morrison and more became the new face of comics, the people daring to do something different and succeeding at it. Series like Sandman Mystery Theatre, Preacher, and the Invisibles weren’t the first things I would read when I picked up my weekly stash of books, and often were left lying aside for weeks or months — my affinity for superheroes still reigned supreme — but it was those Vertigo books that messed my shit up, that really got me excited about what the medium could do and how stories could be told. That DC and Marvel both embraced these writers on their mainstream superheroes tells me that their editorial wanted the same thing out of their superhero books, to recapture the sense of excitement Superman or the Fantastic Four gave them when they were kids, reviving them with a new sense of adult-centric thrills. Either that or they were desperate for someone to pull them out of the atrocious rut they found themselves in after the comics bust of the mid-90’s.
Thanks to Vertigo, I became more adventurous in the titles I was selecting, venturing outside the mainstream, looking at Slave Labor, Oni Press, Caliber and a host of other publishers who came (most who also, shortly thereafter, went) to try something new. What I learned was superheroes are predictable, and dependable… even with bad superhero books you know what you’re going to get. But with indie and smaller press books, it’s a real crapshoot, and there’s little or no sense of familiarity with most of them. Sometimes the artistic style is underdeveloped, over-simplistic, or downright horrible, other times the writing isn’t nearly as insightful as the ideas, or the ideas aren’t befitting the writing. I picked up quite a few anthologies in the later 1990’s as a means of trying creators out, as I discovered that I could more rely upon a writer or an artist to deliver than I could a series, or character, or company.