Read of the Week: “Comic Book Hero”

Browsing the cover story archives of the Washington Post Magazine, I came across this gem of a story, “Comic Book Hero.” by David Rowell. The story profiles Andre Campbell, a 44-year-old legally blind would-be comic book artist.

It’s not the story of how he succeeded in overcoming the odds and cracking into comic book publishing along side D.C. Comics and Marvel — he doesn’t. Instead, it looks at how one man’s dream, no matter how unlikely, has driven him since childhood.

Early in the article, it is clear that the story is about Campbell, not his business prospects as a comic book tycoon. Rowell accompanied Campbell to his first visit to an eye doctor in two years. Campbell is able to try out a “CCTV” device that would greatly improve his ability to read. He tests it out on a Hulk comic from his bag. Rowell captures the moment beautifully:

Garber kept talking, but Campbell was captivated by the eyeball, which belonged to Bruce Banner, who had spent his life trying to rid himself of the Hulk and who, in that moment, had just been hit by a cosmic blast. In the panel, he is laid out in a giant crater. Is he dead? Veins shoot out in little rivers of pale blood from the pupil, and his emerald eye, rendered, as Campbell could see now, with three shades of green, radiated a lifetime of failure and heartbreak. Campbell had never seen a piece of art so clearly, and he was lost in that single eye.

Rowell also closes with a fine scene at his son’s elementary school “Career Day”:

In the last class, Jason’s fourth-grade class, the kids were asking for his autograph — another first. Some had comics from National Free Comic Book Day — a publicity event dreamed up by the industry during more desperate times — and put those in front of him, and others handed him blank sheets of paper. Then others decided that he should sign their backpacks.

Here, no one asked him about his plans for distribution. No one wondered how much of his own money he had spent on Heritage or what he could do with members who didn’t show up for meetings. They didn’t criticize his dialogue or originality as an artist. They didn’t know how long he had worked to keep his dream alive, and they couldn’t understand that, in fact, it was on this very day, with them, that he had finally arrived. He couldn’t see the students clearly, but it was clear to Campbell how they saw him.

Great stuff, especially that closing line.

In addition to the story, the Post does a nice job with some bonus features, including a narrated slideshow, a video of Campbell drawing, a side feature about some of Campbell’s characters, a transcript of a live chat between readers, Campbell, and Rowell the day after thge release of the story, and a few final notes from the author. The beauty of the web is that while the article itself stands alone, all these bonus online features are relatively cheap and simple to add the story, yet add value to readers who want to explore further.

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