Science has found many benefits to reading. It strengthens your brain by increasing connectivity and activity in many of the cortexes. Later in life, this will also help keep cognitive decline at bay. One of the areas it particularly helps is the somatosensory cortex which responds to physical sensations. This may also be why it increases your empathy, as pain is felt in the same cortex. Besides being good for the functionality of your brain, it also helps with your wellbeing. Research shows that reading reduces stress and can alleviate symptoms of depression such as feeling isolated and estranged. And of course, reading is an excellent way of escaping into another world and leaving your own worries behind, letting your brain catch a break.
With all these benefits, reading seems like the perfect pastime to take up (or re-visit) during these tumultuous times where the ever-changing corona restrictions often result in us spending more time indoors and less time with people. This was how I entered the first lockdown almost a year ago: Excited to finally have time to devour books as if I was twelve again. But I quickly realized that making my way through my to-read list was harder than I remembered.
For me, COVID-19 has brought a lot of background stress and anxiety, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels their energy levels are lower despite seemingly having more free time. I found it hard to have the spare empathy to get involved with fictional characters, and when I finally felt ready to delve into new worlds, looking at a novel with all its many words and pages, was daunting. And so, my bookshelf remained untouched and I steadily grew tired of looking at screens, with long series or new films starting to feel inaccessible.
Then, one day I was reminded of the other types of books I had left unread on my bookshelf – comic books. I must confess that I never really understood comics or graphic novels. The price is the same if not more than the average YA novel, and I used to finish them in a 10th of the time; They simply seemed like a bad investment. But during 2020, this changed completely!
Comic volumes are usually a lot thinner than novels and contain less words, so picking one up was less overwhelming. They also didn’t hold the same time commitment (aka energy needed) partly because I didn’t have any old habits to compare to, but also because unlike the novels, it felt like I had to put them down and pace myself since I couldn’t afford to buy new ones as fast. I started taking longer to appreciate the art, really taking in each speech bubble and putting it down after each chapter, to make the stories last. I found myself just as engaged by their stories as with novels, but their visual aspect helped my tired brain experience the narratives. As an added bonus, the more I read, the more I felt able to be creative again and I even started exploring drawing after being inspired by all the amazing art.
To end this article, I want to give some quick recommendations of some of the titles that helped me back into fictional universes and reading, in case you need a little help as well.
THE WICKED + THE DIVINE
Every ninety years twelve gods from various pantheons return as young popstars and have two years to inspire the masses. This was the title that kick-started my comic reading because mythology, pop culture, and mysterious prophecies were too good to pass by. The use of color is particularly great in this and it’s not a book that’s afraid of getting gritty.
PUNK ROCK JESUS
An American reality show buys the rights to new cloning technology to launch their new hit show: The second coming of Jesus Christ. The book follows Chris (aka Jesus) and the people around him from conception to adolescence and examines all kinds of extremist worship whether it be of a god, and idea or money. This book is a study in social commentary and black and white art.
A team of misfit superheroes fights against equally eccentric villains whilst battling the very powers that make them super. I have read both Grant Morrison’s run from 1989 and the current run by Gerard Way. The ethos Morrison took over the title was to see how far they could push the comic medium and how weird they could get. And boy did they deliver! The current run is no different, albeit slightly more colorful. I think the best way to describe Doom Patrol is to tell you that my favorite character is Danny – a sentient, crossdressing street teleporting around to pick up outcasts and giving them a new home.
The previous titles all have a darker side to them with occasional brutality. This is not the case with Moonstruck. This is a wholesome, pastel series about a whimsical world of magical creatures. In the first volume, werewolf barista Julia takes her new girlfriend to a magic show where her centaur friend unwillingly gets turned into a human. Julia and her friends go on a quest to get them their hooves back. This book also has great LGBT+ representation both in the story and on the creative team.