By Lily McGarr, 17, Santa Monica HS
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Lily recently began reading the Hellboy series after seeing the movie.

I have always been into fantasy stories. I love the idea that people could move things with their minds, shape shift, talk to animals or fly. I wish I could.

My favorite has always been the X-Men. They were outcasts, and I felt like I could connect. They were ridiculed and hurt for being different, and so was I. They got mocked because they didn’t look normal or act normal. I was mocked because I didn’t act like the “cool kids.” The comic books were a place I could go that would allow me to forget all that. It was an escape, a place where I could almost become super human. I could protect myself from all the people who hurt me.

One of my sixth grade teachers got me into graphic novels. I had fallen in love with the first X-Men movie and when I told my teacher that, he suggested I try reading the graphic novels, which are several issues of a comic in one larger book. I was a little nervous. I had never read a comic book before, let alone a graphic novel. Was I ready to read 200 issues in the X-Men series to catch up with the story? Would I be so behind in the story that I would get totally confused and give up?

A couple weeks after that conversation with my teacher, I went to Barnes and Noble. And, lo and behold, I actually found the first issue of Ultimate X-Men. I was excited because I could start from the beginning.

The next day I started reading Ultimate X-Men Vol. 1, “The Tomorrow People,” while I was at my dad’s house. We were outside, him with a mystery novel, me with X-Men. In the story, the government has created giant robots to kill mutants. The President of the United States thinks that mutants are too dangerous to be trusted and must be eliminated. The X-Men try to destroy the robots and try to let the world know that they are not monsters. After finishing, I had to find out what would happen next. Would they win over the hearts of the human race, or be forever hated by the people they had to protect? The graphic novel did such a good job of transporting me to another world that I read the whole thing without stopping, which was unusual for me.

I had expected the graphic novel to look just a little better than a third grader’s drawings, but the art caught me off guard. The bright reds and yellows, the soft blues and pen strokes captured an emotional intensity beyond what the movie showed. I felt like I was in the story. I wanted to get the next one immediately, but I had to wait a few days.

After that, I became an official comic reader. Reading the graphic novels allowed me to get away from some hard times I was going through. Boys started asking girls out but not me. And people made fun of me a lot for my bad acne, not being as pretty as other girls and the way I dressed. I was in an Avril Lavigne phase, so I wore lots of colorful layers. That was weird, I admit, but that didn’t give the kids free reign to make fun of me. At the time, I went to an expensive private school, but my family was never very rich. I couldn’t afford to go shopping at Fred Segal and my mom wouldn’t buy me an iPod. I think some of the kids saw how uncomfortable I was and they thought it was easy to pick on me.

Illustration by Brian Lopez-Santos, 16, Marshall HS

I had friends, but still I felt that people weren’t seeing the true me—the girl who would talk to anyone about their problems if they needed it. The girl who always tried to make sure people were happy. They didn’t see the Lily who studied hard, who was quirky, fun and jumpy, too, like everyone else at that age. 

By seventh grade, which was the worst year for me, I began to notice that there was more to X-Men. Not only did the comics let me escape, but X-Men also had an underlying message—tolerance and equality, which my parents have always taught me. It was amazing to discover this; I had always thought that X-Men was just a cartoon. I began to read and like the graphic novels more than the cartoons on TV, because they had this more serious message. The mutant powers that made the X-Men outcasts also saved the people who banished them. Even though the X-Men were fictional characters, I started to feel better about myself. I could understand and connect with X-Men more because I always believed in tolerance—which I didn’t experience from the kids at school who made fun of me because I was “different” from them.

As I read the graphic novels more, Wolverine became my favorite because of his amazing sharp, knifelike claws that he can make pop out whenever he wants, and slice all the people that he’s angry at. When someone made fun of me, or laughed at me, it would have been nice to have a superpower.

Even though I loved the X-Men comics, I didn’t want to tell other kids about it, because they might think I was geeky. At least I knew that I could trust my friends not to make fun of me. It came up casually, when we were talking about the X-Men movie in seventh grade. I said that the Wolverine character in the movie was different compared to the comic book. In the movie, Wolverine became a softer character, while in the comic book, he was harsh and mean. My friends weren’t very interested in what else was happening in the graphic novel version of the story, but they were cool with it.
The comic book store was unexpectedly normal

Before my first venture into a comic book store, I had planned on going with a friend. I didn’t want to be the awkward girl in there by herself. But the day we were supposed to go, she had to baby-sit. I ended up going to Hi De Ho Comics in Santa Monica by myself.

I expected all the stereotypes of a comic book store. The cashier would be a geeky-looking high-schooler with a high-pitched voice. The kind of guy who doesn’t play sports and who knows a little bit more about the comic book world than he ought to. I thought the customers, except for me of course, would be little kids and their parents. I thought there would just be comic books, and nothing else.

But, when I stepped in, it was different. On one side were books about comic books and different artists. There was also anime. In the middle was a shelf with all the new comic books. And on the other side were graphic novels and clothing—Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman shirts. And there were customers who were so swept up in the stories of the graphic novels they were reading that they didn’t notice me pass by. The cashiers were actually college-age girls who were very pretty, and who you wouldn’t expect to know anything about comics, let alone be working in a comic book store. The customers were different ages. All the employees and customers seemed like nice people. It allowed me to realize that just because I read comic books didn’t mean I was a geek. I wasn’t an outcast like I thought. I knew that I could come back again without feeling awkward.

Once I had escaped middle school, I felt a lot better about myself. I wasn’t as shy and embarrassed and I found I had a lot more confidence. Though the bullying had not fully stopped, I ignored what was left of it. I didn’t really care, because I had great friends who loved me. I was still reading comic books, except I didn’t use them for an escape—just for entertainment. I still wanted to be able to fly, but I didn’t want to fly away.