Here is the full text of sequential art expert Comic Book Girl 19’s talk titled “Using comic book characters to identify your true self” at TEDxClaremontColleges conference.
Comic Book Girl 19 – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT
Hello, I’m Comic Book Girl 19. And I host a self-titled show on YouTube where I talk about comics, movies, literature, television, anything that’s artistic, that has a story that I feel is “the good stuff.” And it’s a very opinionated show.
I have a lot of strong opinions about art, and I want to share some of those opinions with you today.
And while I talk about more than just comics, I feel like comics are the medium that have really inspired me the most. And they have helped me to understand myself and the world, and have really answered a lot of questions I’ve had about life.
And I know that when a lot of other people have questions about life, they tend to turn to things like self-help books. But not me.
I’ve always found myself turning to fiction, because I believe that narrative provides a world where you can simulate feelings and experiences in a safe way. It teaches you how to empathize with other people. And not only that, I feel like comics really show you how to deal with life versus just telling you.
Another thing that I love about comic books is the colorful cast of characters that you meet in them. And let me tell you about my favorite characters, the X-Men.
Now, for me, Cyclops and Jean Grey are more real than Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. And for those of you who are unfamiliar, the X-Men are a group of mutants with fabulous and terrifying powers, who are shunned and feared by society, when all they want to do is peacefully coexist and just have the right to be themselves in public.
And this idea really spoke to me when I was a child, because, growing up, I was a girl who loved watching horror movies, and drawing, and reading comic books — growing up in Alabama.
And to make matters worse, I was born into a family of very conservative engineers. It’s really comical now, but back then it was really confusing and a bit of a nightmare.
And then I met the X-Men. They showed me that I wasn’t alone, that there were other people out there who didn’t fit in, who had to fight for their rights to be individuals.
And not only that, there were just as many women on the team, and they were just as powerful and important and intelligent as the male characters, which really confirmed a lot of suspicions I had about gender equality.
And I got to live vicariously through these characters; they helped me to have an understanding of society’s fear of the different.
I learned that heroes never give up, I learned that they get to look super snazzy while doing so. And even more than that, I got to appreciate my struggles from a higher perspective, and cope with an imperfect world in a healthy way.
So, today, I want to tell you about one fun method of using the power of characters to find support, context, understanding, and meaning in your own life story.
Because, as we all know, life’s tough. We all have challenges and burdens and flaws to overcome.
What’s my burden? Well, as I said earlier, I’m weird, I don’t really fit in, and I have never been, nor will be, normal. And I come from a family and cultural background that really tried to pressure me into being something that I wasn’t. And that’s the thing.
Growing up, I knew that I didn’t fit into these molds that I was trying to be pushed into. But I didn’t really know what I was supposed to be doing otherwise, because I didn’t have the best understanding of myself at the time.
And I feel like to reach your full potential, you need to get a handle on yourself, you need to learn who you really are in the inside in order to become the hero of your own life story.
So, society says that it values individuality and that it encourages individuality, but that’s not really true. Let’s get real about it.
Society pressures you to be just like everybody else, and many just go with the flow because there’s a lot of instruction for being normal. It’s pretty easy.
But being an individual, the instructions really aren’t as obvious because it’s different for everybody. And that’s okay. It’s kind of a puzzle, you have to figure it out, try to have fun with it, as best as you can, even though it can be really confusing.
And before we move on, I want to let you know that even though — or even as powerful and wonderful and awesome as it is to be your true self, I feel like I need to give a little bit of a warning because it’s a hard road.
You’re going to have people coming left and right out of the woodwork, trying to take you down, going to try to make you feel bad, for being who you are.
And the thing is that even though it’s a really hard road at times, I want you to know that it really is the most fulfilling thing you can do in your life.
Excuse me. So, let’s all cast off the chains of oppressive normality together today and learn how to be your true self.
So, what I want you to do is a simple thinking exercise. It’s free, anyone can do it. What you need to do is pick a character that you love — something from your childhood always works, but you can also use something that you’re really resonating with now.
And before we continue, I want you to know that I’m using comic book characters, but, because this is different for everyone, you can use any character from any medium that you feel comfortable with, including history and even mythology.
So, who do I love? Well, I love Quentin Quire, the Kid Omega. For those of who are unfamiliar with him, he is a rebellious, teenage X-Man with a pink mohawk and an anti-establishment attitude to match. He is a high-level telepath, with a variety of psychic skills, and I feel like, among the X-Men, he’s really the embodiment of chaotic good.
And I find a lot of striking similarities between us. I mean, we both have the power to suddenly influence large groups of people. Me, through my show. And we’re both very resistant to psychic manipulations. I hate commercials. Turn off your televisions.
And we also both challenge the status quo, especially among our own kind. I mean, one time Quentin Quire staged a riot, he incited a riot at an Open House day at his school, the Xavier’s School for Gifted Mutants, ruined the whole deal — I mean, they were trying to make good with the humans.
Everybody was bummed about it. And at the end, after his rebellion was put down, Professor X came up to him, and they asked him, “Why did you do this?”
And Quentin said to him, “You’ve always encouraged us to dream, sir, but I just wondered what would you think if we dreamed something you didn’t like.”
And that’s a question that I found myself wondering. From an even higher perspective, I feel like Kid Omega is really an avatar for the intellectually gifted — and I know a lot of you TED people out there might know what I’m talking about — and deals with a lot of the same issues that we do.
For example, feeling like an outsider among outsiders, and, as I said, constantly questioning existing power structures, and are they right?
Even more, having a hard time dealing with certain social situations and getting into trouble in certain social situations. In second grade, I experienced a socially traumatic incident that I’d like to share with you.
For reasons that I will never understand, my teacher asked all the children who believed in Santa Claus to go to one side of the room, and all the children who didn’t believe in Santa Claus to go to the other side of the room.
And previously, I had deduced that Santa Claus was not real through a comparative handwriting analysis of my father’s handwriting and Santa’s, and also, Santa left boot prints in the snow that matched my father’s shoe size. So, I wasn’t buying it.
And I finally had the chance to share my truth with my classmates. I was really excited because I wanted to — I didn’t want them to live a lie, and I didn’t want them to feel stupid when they figured out that Santa Claus wasn’t real.
So I was hotly debating it with myself: “Do I go to Santa Claus’s side? Do I take a stand? I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
I was really nervous, really excited. I waited till the end, and I took a stand. I decided to go to the other side of the room. I was the only one.
And in that moment, I realized that I had made a huge mistake. I was immediately ostracized. I was told I was a witch who believed in talking doors because I do not believe in Santa Claus. Who’s laughing now?
And reading about Quentin Quire has really helped me to appreciate those traumatic experiences. It helps me to appreciate how “punk rock” I was in second grade. I was anti-establishment before I even knew what anti-establishment was.
Looking back, I feel really proud of myself that I took a stand. And even though I caught a ton of shit for it, if I could go back and do things all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Because reading about Kid Omega has really helped me learn how to love myself better. Because if I love Kid Omega, and I identify with Kid Omega, well then, I have to kind of love myself by default.
So, if you think that comparing yourself to characters that you love is a really fun way and interesting way to learn more about yourself and embrace your true self, you may be interested to learn that you can also do this with characters that you hate.
Because as Carl Jung said: “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” An axiom which is very uncomfortable and entirely true.
So, who do I hate? I’ve got beef with Peter Parker. Notice that I said Peter Parker and not Spider-Man. Because, in my book, Spider-Man is all good. He has a cool costume, he is a web slinger around New York, he’s cracking jokes, taking down bad guys, he’s making out with Black Cat on the rooftops. I mean, he’s got it going on.
But, in comparison, his life as Peter Parker totally sucks. He can’t pay his rent on time, he’s constantly worrying about his bills, he can’t keep a job, he’s constantly disappointing his friends and family because he doesn’t spend enough time with them.
And he even acknowledges this about himself. He even has stated before that he has the good old “Parker luck,” and that he never fails to fail.
And one day when I was outlining all of my fails, I came to realize that the reason that I’ve been hating on Peter Parker is because I am Peter Parker!
All of my problems are his problems. I mean, I’m good at being Comic Book Girl 19, and from the outside it looks like I got it going on, but, behind the scenes, my life is a lot less glamorous and I feel like I’m kind of a hot mess.
Reading about Peter Parker and realizing this, it’s really helped me to open up my eyes and understand new things about myself that gave me a context to confront anger about things that were going on in my life that I necessarily couldn’t control.
And it helped me to not be so hard on myself. Because, at the end of the day, even though Peter Parker is kind of a loser, and he can’t get it together, he’s still Spider-Man, and he’s still a really good guy, saving the city.
So, in review, comparing yourself to characters that you love and hate is a really fun and interesting way in learning how to embrace your true self.
But I want to take that one step further, because I believe that once you know your true self, and once you have an understanding of the inner materials that you are working with, you can step beyond any limitations that you find by identifying characters who have traits that you want to possess in your own life and channel in that energy.
For example, I’m more of a creative type, I’m not really a “business and numbers” sort of lady, but I do have a small business, and it is expanding.
So this year, I want to channel a part of my energy into a Lex Luthor archetype, to empower myself, to help meet the needs of my show.
Now, Lex Luthor may be a supervillain, and he may be trying to kill Superman all the time, but he is a brilliant strategist and an amazing problem solver, and he is an amazing businessman and entrepreneur.
If you think about it, he has chosen to take down an almost untakedownable person. And I feel like you have to have a really good attitude about problems to choose to do that.
Lex Luthor even once said that some would argue that life is a series of problems, and shouldn’t we look at those problems as a chance for us to find solutions?
So, in review, don’t let society dictate who you are, and who you are not supposed to be. Only you can find out who you are, and then from there it’s up to you to build yourself into a Super-You.
It boils down to thinking of your life as a story and thinking of yourself as the main character. And I believe that everyone has the opportunity to lead an amazing and interesting life, and leave one hell of a tale to tell when it’s all said and done.
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