When I was a kid I used to pretend to be ill so I could bunk off school and go to the library. That’s how square I was. I’d feign illness, then nip down to Cheam Library to choose books, before coming home to eat cheese on toast, lounge on the beanbag and read. Boy, was I a devil.
That’s pretty much my ideal day still, and so it’s no coincidence that since turning freelance – which is basically licenced truancy – I have rediscovered my love for the library. Let’s just take a minute to appreciate what a wonderful concept this is: a huge building where you can borrow thousands of books for free, or just hang around avoiding the tramps and reading periodicals.
It’s particularly useful because I have also rediscovered my love for comics. As a teenager, I subscribed at various times to Transformers, Roy of the Rovers and 2000AD but put these childish things away when I was 16 and thought I should be reading NME and Camus, even though I really preferred Rogue Trooper to The Plague and The Lemonheads.
I’ve often wanted to get back into comics and picked up the odd book from the rejects pile at Time Out, but balked at paying £15 for something that I could get through in a couple of hours – if I want shitty value for my entertainment I’d go to the cinema.
Which is where the library comes in handy. I can nip down there once a week and pick up five new books without paying a penny. Brixton Library has a pretty decent selection of comics, and I have a lot of catching up to do, so it’ll keep me happy for a few months yet. Although I wish they’d get in a complete set of The Invisibles.
So here’s the best of what I’ve been reading: V for Vendetta, Swamp Thing, Y: The Last Man On Earth, Superman: Red Son, Batman: The Killing Joke, Batman: The Dark Knight, Batman: Face To Face, Slade, JLA: The New Frontier, Tamara Drewe, Gemma Bovery, Greyshirt, Crisis On Infinite Earths and Preacher.
Most of these are great. Gemma Bovery and Tamara Drewe are wonderfully subtle English middlebrow lit classics – and far preferable as such to, say, Ian McEwan. Greyshirt is a wildly smart genre spoof that reminded me of the best of the Coen brothers. JLA: The New Frontier was wonderful nostalgia. And anything involving Batman is always going to be great. Well, apart from all of the films.
Then there’s Preacher, which is one of the lewdest, sickest, smartest, weirdest, funniest, scariest and most brilliantly written, drawn and dramatised pieces of art I have seen in any form for years.
When one of my friends found out I was reading comics again, she accused me of reading ‘tosh’. I suppose it is, but only to the extent that most fiction – be it radio, cinema, TV and novels – is ‘tosh’. And some of it is very far from tosh indeed. Equally, I’ve been surprised how many people I know have also turned out to be fans of comics, quietly chipping in with recommendations and suggestions when I’ve mentioned my regained love. And it is love. How could it not be with something as beautiful as this?