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Happy Free Comic Book Day! From author Jeramey Kraatz

Today is Free Comic Book day. If you have a chance, you should swing by your local comic shop and pick up one of over 50 special issues for you to take home and devour free of charge. Your local library may even have them! You should ask.  
I’m a big comic book nerd. I had issues of Swamp Thing in my toybox before I was even old enough to read. I was an editorial intern at Marvel while in grad school. There’s a framed poster of Gambit from the X-Men hanging over my sofa right now that has been on the wall of every place I’ve lived since I was in elementary school. I probably know more about superheroes than I do about most of my friends.

I also write books for kids. On good days, I get to chat with young readers. Every time I walk into a classroom or library and see a stack of graphic novels or comics, I can’t help but smile. Partly because comics are kind of my thing, and partly because of how valuable they can be in helping kids and teens grow into readers and writers. I know because I’m a walking testament to that. 

I got into comics hardcorewhen I was seven years old. At the time, there was an X-Men cartoon on every Saturday morning that was the best thing in the entire world. It created a hole in my life that could only be filled with every action figure, trading card, and, comic I could convince my parents to buy me. I was a boy obsessed with superheroes. By the end of elementary school I was a walking encyclopedia of the Marvel universe because I’d readthe Encyclopedia of the Marvel Universe. 
But there was a problem. Comics came out on Wednesdays. The cartoon aired on Saturdays. That left me five days a week without some kind of super-powered fix. 
I solved this in two ways. 
First, I read novelizations of some of the X-Men’s more famous storylines (Marvel used to sell books like this back in the day). After I’d read all of those a few times over, I asked for books that read like comics. I got into kids’ fantasy and sci-fi books. The more I read, the better I became at it, and eventually I graduated to books of all shapes and sizes. Looking back, it seems like a big and important jump in my reading life since moving from comics to novels meant suddenly losing art, but at the time it seemed like no big deal. Part of that is because reading comics improved my imagine. A lot of action in comics takes place between panels or off-screen. The scene plays out in your head, even if you don’t realize it. The ability to visualize the story was what made novels come alive for me, and I definitely owed part of that to comics.
The other way I solved my craving for superheroes was by picking up a pencil and notebook. When I’d finish a comic and knew an end-of-issue cliffhanger wouldn’t be resolved for another week or month, I wrote down what I thought would happen (here’s the imagination coming back into play). Eventually, I started writing my own short tales of superhero exploits. I have never been very good at drawing, so I stuck with words. In a file on my bookshelf right now is a one-and-a-half page story called “The Vampire State Building” I wrote when I was nine (my mom printed several copies of it out when I was done to make it seem official). The story is about Jean Grey (of the X-Men) and me fighting hordes of the undead. I’m pretty sure I stole the title from a book I’d seen at the school book fair, but that’s beside the point, which is that I was creating stories for fun as a kid because I loved comic characters and adventures so much. 
I wasn’t aware of what a huge impact comics had on my reading-and-writing life until I started working on The Cloak Society, a book about a 12-year-old boy born into a family of supervillains. The story is definitely comic inspired. There are a lot of superpowers involved in the book. When I was still plotting out who the characters were and what their battles might look like, I had the strangest sense of déjà vu, until I realized that I’d actually done this same thing before. Countless times. Usually sitting on the floor of my childhood bedroom with a dozen comics spread around me, trying to figure out how the X-Men might work together to topple Magneto’s latest plot. Or while daydreaming about the Avengers showing up in my classroom. I was an adult employing all the skills I’d honed and sharpened as a reader and writer over the years—skills that can be traced back to comics. 
Today is Free Comic Book day. I’d suggest you take advantage of it if you can. There are issues available for every target age group and almost every genre. Here’s a handy website all about the event http://www.freecomicbookday.com. Who knows—maybe you or your student or your kid might end up as inspired by comics as I have been. Happy Reading!
Jeramey Kraatz has wanted superpowers ever since he opened his first comic book as a kid. He’s a graduate of Texas Christian University and the MFA writing program at Columbia University, and is the author of The Cloak Society and it’s forthcoming sequel Villains Risingfrom HarperCollins. His work has been featured in places like Salon, Gizmodo, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Jeramey lives in Texas, where he works in the animation industry. You can find him at www.jerameykraatz.com, or on twitter @jerameykraatz. 
What impact has comics had on your? Leave us a comment and share.