How I learned to Read Comics with My Childhood Self

iron manGuest writer Shannon Norris

When I first walked into the English Graduate Organization conference I had no idea what I was doing or what the event was about honestly.  I was just covering a story for the Western Courier and needless to say I’m lucky I got a name.

As I was walking around looking for the key–note speaker, I was thinking to myself: “Do I look out of place? Do they know I’m college student? Wait what if they think I’m a writer, oh crud I didn’t prepare anything! Well I could always just wing it and talk about the Mighty Morphing Power Rangers…that’s a comic right?”

Probably wouldn’t have gotten as far as I did if it weren’t for Dr. Banash. Saved my life…and my job!


Moving through the events of the day I made my way to the lunch table where I spotted him: The keynote speaker Dr. William Kuskin.

I felt like an assassin. Only, I wasn’t trying to get away with murder. That is not part of my gen eds. I decided to wait until the time was right before I moved in for the metaphorical kill.

I disguised myself among other graduate students making small talk and sharing stories about writing and preforming in front of people. Little did they know that I was an outsider. I think I even had my English Professor fooled. Apparently she’s giving me extra credit for showing up to this.  I’ll take what I can get. We packed up our things and start heading to the room for the key-note speaker.  The room was mapped out just how I imagined it in my head, with many chairs for people to sit in and a projector of sorts to show movies or power-points.

I sat innocently up front so I could get a good shot of the Doctor…I mean…view… Before he even took the stage I could tell this man was a character. He already had the house laughing like it was No Shave November all over again. A couple sat behind me. I could hear them chatting about not being able to see the words on the screen.

“Why don’t you ever wear your glasses?”

“…I-I don’t know where they are at!”

I suppose that’s one reason.

kuskinDr. Kuskin began his lecture and when he started speaking, I felt like I was being read a comic book about a living breathing human being. I could literally see the panels appear as if they were an old 40s printed Detective Comic Book in my head. The way this man spoke was so captivating. I couldn’t stop paying attention. And then I noticed that I was paying probably too much attention and started taking notes. After a while, I started trying to figure out what his speech was about before he said it. I started creating a crime board in my head of what Iron Man’s Heart was about.

Was it a play on words? A metaphor for something? Mmmm I yearned for more information on his thought process.

This man provided such a deep analysis of many of the characters that I had grown up with knowing them as heroes and all of sudden I began to see them as a representation of problems in our everyday life.

All I could think of is holy hell this guy just walked into my life and placed me in a room to watch cartoons and read comics with my childhood self.

That’s where I feel like he was getting at with this lecture. People are still viewing graphic novels and comics as if they’re just a form of entertainment. That’s not just what they are. Dr. Kuskin provided enough proof to show that Superman practically strips down naked “to feel super,” to feel liberated to show that he’s free and he likes who he is as a metahuman. Batman marks everything with his batman insignia to cloak the very apparent wound left by the death of his parents and uses his labeling of everything as a coping mechanism.

Iron Man did both!

Iron Man is a superman, a man of steel…shrouded in his metal form…like Batman is with his need to label everything batmobile, batarang, batcave.

“Iron Man’s Heart and the Paradox of Online Intimacy” questions what constitutes the boundaries of realness. Dr. Kuskin let everyone know  that “…with art there is always hope.” Everyone was on the edge of their seats as he said this, their eyes unblinking, and I know this because I was one of them and I felt like I’d just gone through some sort of reverse mitosis, a cell fusion of sorts. Part of his brain is now in my brain, just as he’d presented in his lecture that day.