Today is Free Comic Book Day. I highly suggest that you find your local comic book store and visit. You never know what you can end up bringing home.

I love comic books and graphic novels, although I have only recently been collecting my own. There are some who think that comics are just for kids. That is so not true, especially with today’s anti-heroes. Like many others with older siblings, I have my cool, older brother to thank for my introduction to comics as well as for teaching me to rock out to the classic sounds of Eric Clapton, The Eagles, and many more.

My brother had a small but substantial stash of comics. Some even had plastic sleeves. And my brother let me read all of them. I remember falling in love with Ghost Rider (although that love has not extended to the films). But I loved the story, the illustrations, the pop in colors, and most of all the fact that my brother and I could talk about what we read. Unfortunately, my mother unwittingly threw out the collection in one of our moves. We still mourn the loss.

I lost some of my direct connection to comics in my high school years – it wasn’t cool for a girl to read them. Then in college, I found out that reading guys’ comics they had in their dorm rooms was actually a novelty that might get me a date. Also, there was a resurgence in movies from comic book characters. Although Tim Burton‘s Batman is campy, I lined up for it then and still enjoy it now. But what I really loved was that the comics became dark.

Ultimately, I have to thank Kevin Smith with Clerks and Mallrats for letting me know that comics and being into them are cool at the same time I graduated and started making my own money. I will never reach the comic nerddom like on his show Comic Book Men, but I do enjoy seeing that there are both monetary and sentimental worth to them.

We now live in a world where heroes are anti-heroes, our ultimate heroes like Superman die, and the colors of illustrations are no longer just the bright primaries. And if you include the influence of comic books on the graphic novel, there are new worlds in which to enjoy long narratives. I have a special shelf for my small but growing collection, but sometimes I have to defend why I have The Walking Dead on a shelf near Pride and Prejudice (the original, not the one with zombies). For me, they’re both essential pieces of literature to treasure.

If you don’t agree that comics are important in today’s world, consider the movies of the past 20 years. The Batman franchise rose, died, and rose again. Spider-Man is getting the reboot treatment this summer after a not so successful dancing version from the last movie. Superman – well, that’s a touchy subject since he became less than a hero in the last installment (if you don’t believe me, see what Kevin Smith has to say about Superman Returns). And if you haven’t noticed, The Avengers have a money-making film out this weekend for which I’ve already written my opinion in yesterday’s post. There is an infinite treasure trove of possible subjects for movies for the next 50 years and beyond. But to get the full enjoyment, you have to go back to the original material – otherwise, how do you enjoy the moments when Stan Lee makes his cameos? Also, how can you appreciate the nod to Captain America’s changes in the comics as represented in last year’s movie?

Beyond popular adaptations like The Walking Dead invading our televisions, there’s also the reverse creation of comics, manga, and graphic novels. Several shows have gotten expansion comics made like Firefly, Buffy, and The Guild. Although I’m not sure why, Twilight got the manga treatment. Even Shakespeare isn’t safe as some of his classic plays can be found in manga form. While I don’t think everything should be turned into a visual narrative, I think it shows how influential it can be.

My favorite author, Neil Gaiman, created one of my favorite characters in his Sandman series. As one of my first graphic novel anti-heroes and introduction to the Vertigo brand, I was forever changed. As a fan of the darker side of comics, John Constantine, The Watchmen, Hellblazer, and more just float my boat. But because of my initiation into comics with my brother, I will also love my Captain America, Batman, Wonder Woman, and more. It’s a wide, wide, world of comics, and I’m just glad I live in it.

As a writer, I try to learn from comic books’ story building and creation of dialogue, a huge problem for me. As a former teacher, I think it’s time that we include some comic books and graphic novels into the curriculum instead of turning noses up at them. As a fan, I’m thrilled that it’s Free Comic Book Day, and I’m on my way to go get mine!