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Comics

The Comic Book Adventures of Professor Claude Taylor

Communication professor Claude Taylor’s secret identity as a comic book fan has been revealed! Hearing Taylor talk about superheroes and comic books, it was easy to see he is not just a fan of the medium but a super fan.

In an interview with The Outlook about all things comic book related from his introduction to superheroes to the current status of comics.

Taylor’s affinity for superhero adventures began upon finding his brothers comics at an early age. “My first contact with comic books was the ‘Giant Size’ large format books that were popular in the 1970’s,” Taylor said. “My older brother had some Marvel titles, and I used to look at the pictures when I was five-years-old.”

He also said that early on, he saw some comic book media on TV like “Wonder Woman” and “Batman,” but the one that stood out the most was “Super Friends.” “I was an avid viewer of Saturday morning cartoons and the best one was the ‘Super Friends,’” Taylor said. “That was the best…with the team you had multiple characters all the time.”

As his comics fascination grew, Taylor talked about how he would eagerly await the arrival of new comics. “I’d wait for the delivery truck at my local convenience store. I used to get it first out of the truck.” While an avid reader, Taylor said he was becoming a collector, too. “…I used to buy a ‘read-copy’ and a ‘collect-copy’ of my favorite titles,” saving them in plastic casings with back boards to keep them mint.

As time passed, Taylor gravitated more to Marvel comics than DC, saying he’s 80 percent Marvel and 20 percent DC. He mentioned how he was “fascinated with the Fantastic Four origin story. I remember going back and reading about them.” He also listed Spider-Man and the Hulk as other stand out characters. “As a kid, they are the kind of big superheroes that caught your eye,” he added.

Taylor said, “Marvel captured your attention in different ways. At the time in the late 70’s, Marvel heroes were easier to identify with and easier to just like the story while DC was dodgy and old…”

However, to this day, Taylor’s favorite hero is still Daredevil, attorney Matt Murdock who, despite being blind by an accident, had his other senses reach super levels. One of Taylor’s prized possessions is the entire Frank Miller run from the series, where Daredevil experienced both extreme physical and emotional challenges with the sharp-shooter Bullseye and his ex-girlfriend, Elektra.

Taylor explained he liked Miller’s run because he “changed the game so much…Miller was the first artist and storyteller I remember to dirty [comics] up. He made it new and violent and that was what [readers] were all looking for.” Taylor added that he liked Miller’s grittier take on comics more than past artists like Jack Kirby, co-creator of series like Fantastic Four.

He also listed John Byrne and George Perez (especially his “Teen Titans” run) as other comic creator favorites.

Although he enjoyed certain solo heroes, Taylor said he is a big fan of superhero teams. “I have always been fond of team hero stories. My favorite heroes always and today are the Fantastic Four. I just love their story and concept. I also collected the Defenders, X-Men, the Avengers, JLA (Justice League of America), and Teen Titans over the years. Teams seem to capture and hold my attention the most,” he said.

Beyond collecting comics, he would also attend comic book conventions in New York City in the 80’s. Taylor described at the time that the event occupied “one floor of a hotel convention area” unlike the mega events in cities like San Diego.

However, Taylor eventually faced a dilemma in his comic collecting. “The summer before I went to college I was trying to collect at the same pace but I couldn’t do it.” He also said how the price increase of comics from the glory days of 55 cents books was also a factor in his purchasing. He explained that “…at the time, I had approximately 1,400 comic books. I have added a few here and there but I still have all the books I’ve ever bought.”

Some of his most prized comic collections beyond Miller’s “Daredevil” run include “Fantastic Four” #195-320, “The New Teen Titans/X-Men” crossover, and miniseries featuring characterss like The Thing and Wolverine. Taylor also described his fascination with “What If,” a series that presented alternate Marvel storylines and mentioned he had 40 out of the 47 issues from Volume One.

As Taylor acquired jobs teaching in higher education, he never lost his passion for comics and was able to present discussions on them in classes and conferences. While at Rutgers University, he had a class focusing on communication and pop culture and spent half a semester on superheroes. He had his class focus on questions like, “Where do they fit into society? What makes them interesting” as well as discussing the industry itself.

This professor also utilized his knowledge and desire at a comic book conference for academics in 2008 where he presented his own paper.

One of the highlights of the event, Taylor continued, was hearing comic book icon Scott McCloud (“Understanding Comics”) talk to a large audience about comics and the rise of digital comics.

While he might not read comics on a regular basis now, Taylor said he continues to follow series like “Daredevil” and “Spider-Man” as well as mini-series. He added that the latest title he has followed was “Iron Fist.”

Today, Taylor said he sees artists having a stronger role in comic book stories than writers saying it’s “a reflection of our visual culture.”

On current comic book news, Taylor mentioned that although he hasn’t read any of the DC New 52 books, he likes how the company rebooted their series. He said, “Part of what they’re doing is cleaning up the slate and starting again. They are reinventing heroes for a new generation.”

Now speaking of a new generation, comics have been entering fresh territory on the Internet and said he is “interested in what digital comics may offer.” He also recognized how online resources makes it is easier to look up past series and continuity details rather than having to search through back issues for answers like back in the day.

As for comic book movies, while these are successful for moviegoers and comic fans alike, Taylor isn’t as enthused about most of them. “I’m not really crazy about comic book films overall,” Taylor said. “I think the Spider-Man and X-Men series have been the best so far.” He described how movies are “not the medium for comic stories” by being unable to grasp the same excitement and thrills that artists bring to the page.

Ultimately, when Taylor remembers his childhood and collecting comics, he’s still engrossed by the hours spent traveling to new worlds and fighting villains. “Every weekend this was my entertainment, it was escapism. There were so many weekends I got swept away.”

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