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Valuable lessons I’ve learned from comic books

Comic book heroes suffer hardships more than any other characters in history; heed that lesson, R Murali Rajaratenam writes


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Amid the anxiety surrounding the coronavirus pandemic and the latest movement control order in Malaysia, the silver lining is that I finally have time to read the trade paperback and hardcovers editions of comics that I have collected.

I have loved comic books since I was a teen. I have often wondered is it about them that I enjoy so much. I have thought about it for days, weeks and months without ever finding the answer.

Recently, I sat down to read one of my favourites and then it hit me. Suddenly, I knew exactly why I enjoy them so much. To my surprise, there isn’t any one character or theme that explains it. Rather, it is the subliminal messages buried in their pages that draws me to them.

Tough topics

Topics like racism, drug and alcohol abuse, and sexism are usually deemed taboo. In that case, is a person who suffers from any one of these meant to suffer alone?

The comic industry doesn’t think so, and over the years it has done an admirable job of speaking up. They have created entire story arcs designed to raise awareness of each of these problems.

Real world issues

Comic books have become an outlet for writers and artists to get their opinions into the market. Real world issues are highlighted throughout their pages.

It is the comic books that aren’t afraid of these topics that have become the most sought after and memorable comics in history. Off the top of my head, I can think of references in comic books to the Suez crisis, Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), buried landmines, world hunger, safe sex and feminism.

Comics do what most of the world can’t. While the world struggles to find a politically correct way to bring these issues to the forefront, comic book writers are thinking of the next topic to highlight.

Unlike most platforms, the comic industry does not fear the implications of its actions, and so many comic books say what the world needs to hear.

Everybody has problems

On your worst day, you are not the only one struggling.

Peter Parker is a teenager trying to find his place in the world, all the while dealing with the everyday crises involved in being Spider-Man.

Clark Kent is a man with two very different identities. As Superman, he must cope with being the epitome of all that is good, while as Clark, he juggles his normal life.

Just like Peter and Clark, we are forced to juggle two very different worlds: our professional life and our personal life. Yes, it is hard and yes, it can be overwhelming.

But remember this: people all over this planet live on next to nothing, barely able to scrape by. They sometimes go days without water and even longer without food.

No matter how hard you perceive your life to be, someone, somewhere is much worse off.

We can make a difference

We all want to change the world, but so very few of us do. While most think that changing the world is impossible, the ones who actually create change understand that anything is possible. The question is how.

Take some time to figure out what your definition of world is. Is it your street? Neighbourhood? City? Country? The entire planet?

And what change do you want to create? Whatever it is, define it. Write it down and repeat it to yourself daily.

From there, equip yourself with the knowledge, people and resources to make it happen. It is not as hard as you might think.

If Superman can make Metropolis a better place, you can make your world a better place too.

Never give up

CS Lewis famously said, “Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”

Comic book heroes suffer hardships more than any other characters in history. They lose allies, battles and their health, all while creating a better world.

Heed that lesson. Learn from it. A future – our future – is worth fighting for.

When life knocks you down, get right back up and continue moving.

R Murali Rajaratenam is a senior matriculation lecturer in public relations, human communications and public speaking at a local private university. A former journalist, he is also involved in corporate training, event management and media relations

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