This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, July 11, 1990

July 11, 1990 - Comic Books

When I was in fifth grade my parents got me a pair of black, horn-rimmed spectacles.

Some kids fretted about the names other kids came up with -- "Four Eyes" being the kindest -- but that never bothered me. From the very beginning I truly liked having glasses. Partly, it was because I discovered that I'd been living in a sort of French impressionist world and hadn't even known it. I used to think trees were made up of intriguing swashes of color. Turned out they had sharply-etched leaves, definite branches and bark. The world was abruptly crisp and clean-edged. It was exciting.

But that's not the real reason. Even when I first learned that I MIGHT need corrective lenses, I was almost smug about it. Why? Because I have always identified with Clark Kent.

The first "real" book I read was #Danny and the Dinosaur#. And I can still rattle off the whole of Dr. Seuss's #Green Eggs and Ham# from childhood memory. But I LEARNED to read from comic books.

A lot of parents think comics books are intellectual fluff. But nothing could be further from the truth. Comics are wonderful bridges to literacy. A child can enjoy the pictures right from the beginning. But what really hooks the interest and imagination is the plot. To follow the plot a child needs to develop a vocabulary. At the age of 6 I could recognize and spell "invulnerable." Could you?

I cut my teeth on DC Comics, featuring Superman (50 years old last year), Batman, Green Lantern, the Flash, and many, many others. The stories often hinged on some "gimmick" -- a scientific fact or bit of logical deduction. I learned not only to imagine the improbable, but also to look beneath the surface of the story, to analyze and detect. Comic books taught me both to dream and to reason.

As I got a little older, I switched over to Marvel Comics. There I found Spiderman, the world's first neurotic superhero. I discovered Thor, the Thunder God, who sparked in me an abiding interest in Norse mythology and literature. The world of comic books gradually acquired all the rich complexity of the real world, a morass of plot and subplot, the likely and the legendary all intertwined.

In retrospect, I think superhero comic books were some of the best teachers I ever had. (Of course now that I'm an adult I read more sophisticated fare, like the comic book "Flaming Carrot.")

Parents, if your son or daughter is drawn to these universes of inspiration and heroism, please be kind. In fact, you should probably increase his or her allowance (and kids, you can tell your mom or dad that a college-educated person said so). Your child is not only learning to read, but learning to emulate greatness of power and spirit, tempered always with compassion and integrity.

To the world I may be a mild-mannered librarian, but in my imagination I have learned to leap tall buildings at a single bound. I thank comic books.

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