Earlier today I was asked on twitter ‘What would you say to those that say comics work best as pure escapism?’; and while a bunch of ideas sprung to mind, you, dear reader, know that my verbosity can not be contained to a mere 100 something characters.
I would say for starters, comics are so vast and varried that they can be literally anything that anyone wants them to be. Whether you’re looking for mindless distraction, glossy action, engaging wit, social commentary, breathtaking art, or merely to see girls in spandex that will probably develop back problems later in life; you can find it all in the pages of a comic book. Escapism of course can be an element or motivation for reading, as mutants fighting in outer space certainly aren’t very realistic; however when those same characters are also addressing issues of personal identity and social acceptance we aren’t really leaving our own problems behind but rather taking a mirror to ourselves and looking at them in a new light.
No, no-one can fly like Superman, but we can metaphorically soar over our own issues and boundaries. No-one has super fast Wolverine healing, but we can harden ourselves against the onslaught of what can be a cruel and thoughtless world. No-one can materialize something out of nothing like Green Lantern, but we can push our imaginations to design and build something new or revolutionary. Villains motivations are no longer ‘I’m evil I must take down my counterpart, I hope he doesn’t have any carrousel reversal spray.’ Rather they are mired in reality; acting on greed, hate, vengeance, or any number of other self interests. Escapism is, by definition, an escape; replacing reality or the routine with day dreaming or fantasy. Might I suggest then instead that most comics aren’t meant to be escapism (at worst they are mindless distraction). They don’t set out to make you forget the world around you; but instead seek to elevate and inspire the reader’s own life and decisions through similar (and yes at times metaphoric or hyperbolic) situations.
So to finally answer the original question: no, comics are not their best as pure escapism. They are at their best telling stories of something real, something meaningful; something human. They can have escapist elements of course; but so can anything you choose as your form of entertainment. A comic can be as enthralling as any sporting event, as engaging as any lecture, as moving as any painting, as enigmatic as any prose, or as socially relevant as any political discussion; and that’s why I read.