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The Wednesday Waffle: Issue Nineteen - Putting away childish things. Or, y'know, not.

"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things." 1 Corinthians 13:11

A long time ago, aged about fifteen, I sat in my school hall while our Deputy Headteacher*, a certain Mr Headly (known to all as "Deadly Headly" - a moniker he had earned over the course of years) read that verse from the Book of Corinthians to us. It was time, he opined, to put away "childish things" and embrace our responsibilities as students about to embark on our G.C.S.E. studies.

I remember back then, full of adolescent confidence and sure beyond measure of my ground - in the way only a fifteen year old can be - thinking "Nah". And you know what? Almost uniquely amongst the opinions I held at the time, I look back and think that I was totally right.

I was reminded of this recently by the kerfuffle surrounding the stance taken by an American Talk Show Host (I'm not naming him, he's a professional controversialist who craves your outrage and attention - he doesn't deserve it) following the death of Stan Lee. He took the view that the reaction to the great man's death was over the top, and that the fact that America was a country where adults thought comics were important sort of summed up how dumb that society had become.

There was, as you can imagine, some social media backlash, but the talk show host in question doubled down, insisting that comics are a medium for children and semi-literates. (I'm paraphrasing the talk show host, but that is a direct quote from somebody who will surprise you - more on that a bit later...)

So, to be clear, the line we take at Destination Venus is simple. Comics are a rich and vibrant medium - sometimes they are indeed produced for Children, the likes of Hilda, as seen above, would be an, as I guess would be the perennial Beano and the more traditional Archie Comics.

Sometimes they're dumb, escapist nonsense - any number of superhero books spring to mind - and that's OK. Large amounts of the material produced in pretty much every medium is dumb, escapist nonsense. From Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure to the comic songs of Tom Lerher, to the novels of Jane Austen, to Brooklyn Nine-Nine to frescos of Roman gods waving their bits around on the walls of posh Roman villas on Pompeii. (To name but a few.)

All of the above examples were created with the express purpose of entertaining people. All succeeded. All were hugely popular with their intended audience, many have retained thier popularity to the present day. So clearly just because a thing was created to entertain an audience doesn't preclude that thing from also being thought provoking, mentally stimulating - even wise.

So, now the question is "are comics different from other mediums like novels, movies, TV shows and such?" And the answer must surely be "No" - and an emphatic "No" at that. Comics are just words and pictures arranged to tell a narrative - just another way to convey ideas.

Which means there's only one question left - "Is there something about the nature of comics that limits the medium only to telling stories which are either for children, or are just dumb escapism? Can comics aspire to artistic greatness, or are they simply a disposable medium for simple stories and uncomplicated ideas?"

And there are many people who would say that the answer to the question was "Absolutely yes." You've probably heard the reasoning. Young, pre-literate, children enjoy picture books. As their reading skills develop they move on from picture books to what some would call "proper books". Since comics can't tell their stories without using pictures (or by definition they can't be called comics) such people would argue that comics equate to picture books and are thus inherently inferior.

The thing is though, those people are wrong. On every level.

For a start, even if there was something inherently childish about picture books - and I'd argue strongly that there isn't - comics are not "picture books". Comics use pictures as part of the narrative structure, in the same way that picture books do, but they also use words. To fully understand the story you need to understand both.