Of all the worlds within this one, there is one where anything from time traveling to falling in love is possible within the physics of a few two-dimensional panels. It is hard to come across anyone who hasn’t been exposed to comic books in some way or another, as it has long been an inexpensive and accessible form of art.
For many, comics are the warm memory of reading the Sunday funnies or sneaking an issue of Spiderman in between their history book pages. For many others it has become a lifestyle that fuels a multimillion-dollar industry that has grown significantly reaching $870 million last year compared to $265 million in 2000. Just in Indianapolis alone there are eight comic book stores.
But for those like myself -- even though I’ve read an immense quantity of Archie, Calvin and Hobbes and Peanuts -- feeling part of the “comic book world” remains elusive due to its magnitude and the complexity of its titan figures. Even as I write this, I must confess that I’ve never read a Superman or a Daredevil. If I were quizzed on Marvel versus DC, I’d fail miserably. And if you asked my very honest opinion on the depiction of female superheroes, I would only be able to tell you I think sports bras are an under-utilized costume choice.
Yet tucked in between shops in the burgeoning Fountain Square area, The Hero House’s shop owner Mike Rittenhouse understands that there is a world of people like me that simply do not know the ropes.
“I’m probably more forgiving than most,” he says, as I look around and see a T-shirt bearing an image of a Dalek that reads “OMG it's R2D2, I loved him in Star Trek!” I understand the joke is about
someone like me; a person with enthusiasm for something they do not understand (to put it kindly).
“I tend to view everyone as being same, just some people know more about something than others and vice versa. I respect those who don’t know who R2D2 is just as much as the ones who know a lot about Star Wars,” says Rittenhouse, who is also a member of the band Five Year Mission. It’s a collaboration of five Star Trek fans who write and record a song for each of the episodes of the original Star Trek series from the 1960s.
“I actually get offended when I see someone make fun of somebody else just because they don’t know. It makes me mad because that person might actually
become a huge fan and love what you love just as much if you give them a chance to,” Rittenhouse says.
For many people that chance has come in the way of comics that appeal to them. “I feel that there is much more variety of female roles now, especially in the smaller publishing groups,” says Erin O’Kelly Phillips, who’s been a comic reader for about 10 years and is a fan ofThe Dark Tower and Morning Glory series.
Phillips looks for variety or recommendations from others, not necessarily comics that are exclusively about women or only have female leads, although gender and inclusivity are important topics to her.
“There are a lot of comics, online and in print, that not only feature well-rounded female characters, but give voice to LGBTQQA authors and characters.”
I learn that among those multidimensional female characters, some of them are traditional supersheroes but with lesser-known backstories.
“Batwoman turned to heroics after being discharged from the military for being a lesbian, and the new Ms. Marvel is a Muslim who has to find the balance between her desires and her parents’ expectations,” says Borzou Ouranos, who’s been reading comic books since he was a kid.
He can relate to the premise of Ms. Marvel, having been raised Muslim. “My parents didn't believe in buying comics, so I spent most of my time in the library reading them for hours,” he says.
Ouranos explains to me a sentiment echoed by Rittenhouse. He says there was a time not too long ago when most titles were based on white, hetero male protagonists. The women were presented as side-roles or love interests. There were only a handful of women heroes that had their own books, such as Wonder Woman, who has recently been depicted problematically in spite of her feminist origins, or She-Hulk.
“It used to be that women were usually drawn in scant clothing and highly sexualized while their male counterparts would be fully covered. Now we have female characters that have costumes that are just as awesome as their male counterparts,” says Ouranos. “However, not all of the female characters have made that transition yet.”
Browsing the store to see what catches my eye, It’s not the badass ladies in spandex, or the romantic graphic novels. Not even the Sailor Moon mangas I fondly remember (from television). It is the handmade ones that remind me of my art school friends. Rittenhouse has an entire section reserved for local and independent self-published/small press artists.
“Ever since we opened, I’ve always supported anyone who had their own creation. I am happy to sell it,” He says.
I realize that there is something out there for everyone. Whether it’s the "brilliant but troubled" characters of Morning Glory or Ms. Marvel or the
oddball characters with more punchlines than story arcs for me. The comic world has one new resident today.
The Hero House is located on 1112 Prospect Ave. and will be celebrating its sixth anniversary Nov. 22 with comic book creator Mark Waid in attendance. Stay tuned by following them on Facebook.