When I was a kid, the comics I read were, not surprisingly, primarily those I could get my hands on. Mostly superhero books from DC and Marvel. As I grew into my teens, and my interest in comics became more than a passing interest, I started going to local comic shops and flea markets and such. My parents were quite supportive, and ended up spending far more time than they may have liked helping me sift through long boxes.
After a little while, Dad started seeing that there were more subjects and genres out there than guys in tights beating up other guys in tights. I don't recall precisely when/where, but at some point, I realized that my father had a comic collection that was double the size of mine. (Which isn't saying much. I'm pretty sure this was still several years before I was even able to start working at McDonald's.) At any rate, I started reading his comics as well since I'd already read all of mine several times over.
Looking back, what strikes me is how I was exposed to decidedly different cultural influences without knowing it. Dad had a good collection of Asterix books and a few with Iznogoud (both by René Goscinny) and there was some non-Blueberry Moebius books. It would be years later before I realized those weren't American in origin. I think I figured out Judge Dredd and Rogue Trooper were British considerably sooner, but that realization wasn't immediate by any means.
I suspect the first real instance of understanding I had that some of the comics I was reading came from outside the U.S. was the First Comics version of Lone Wolf and Cub. I believe there was an editor's note or something on the inside of at least one of the books, talking about how the images were all flipped from the original Japanese so they would read "properly" to Westerners. It was so radical a departure from my ego-centric teenage self that I had to take notice. "Heeeeey, these weren't written in America..."
"Heeeeey, I wonder if some of these other comics weren't written in America..."
(I was considered a bright kid, but I was still a teenager and thus thick as a brick.)
But it all slowly sank in.
"Wait. Translated by...?"
I like to think that a lot of my attitude towards the world today -- the idea that people are people regardless of political borders or language or cultural heritage -- stems at least in part from absorbing those other comics BEFORE understanding anything about who wrote them. I liked Asterix because it was fun book. It happened to take place in France, sure, but Julius Caesar wasn't trying to conquer America, so of course it took place over there. That it was written by a Frenchmen was immaterial. What was important was that it was about how insanely hapless these Roman invaders always were against a midget and a dolt; that was hilariously funny in an unabashedly juvenile way.
I wonder if more kids were exposed to not only comics, but comics from all over the world, only to later understand that they were reading French/Brazilian/Japanese/Indian/whatever comics... If more people were to do that, I wonder how much more appreciative we would be of cultural differences. Maybe we'd be less inclined to come up with ugly terms like "towel-heads" and see that maybe there are points of view different than our own.
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