words and pictures

Sunshine Comics was tucked in a strip mall off US-1. On Saturdays, I pushed through the door and breathed in the smell of paper and ink. The aisles were stacked with cardboard boxes. I'd crouch on the floor and search for buried treasure.

The guy at the cash register called me, "Chrissy." He'd slump in his chair, munching an Arby's sandwich, as I dug through the piles.

"Elves. She's always looking for elves," he'd say.

Yes, I was looking for elves. Wendy and Richard Pini's elves, to be more specific. Back in middle school, comic books were my sanctuary from the world. I wanted to be brave like Cutter, the leader of the Wolfriders. At school, I felt powerless, drifting through the hallways. Comics offered the promise of escape.

"Reading is magic," said the poster at Coral Reef library. I couldn't agree more. In second grade, I hid under the covers with a flashlight, reading Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I borrowed my sister's dog-eared paperback of The Hobbit. I read everything--the classics, too. And I never stopped loving comic books.

Years later, I re-read the entire ElfQuest saga. It was like visiting old friends. This time, I noticed details that I hadn't seen before. As I turned the pages in "Siege at Blue Mountain," I paid attention to the spaces between words and pictures. I noticed that my imagination was filling in the gaps, creating moments of action and dialogue, (or even complete scenes) that didn't exist inside the panels.

In college, I took my first class in creative writing. My professor encouraged me to trim excessive description and leave space for the reader. It's all about making choices. Pick a strong noun or verb. That's your secret weapon.

For the longest time, I'd heard the opposite advice. Students are often told to "add more" to their stories and essays. Finally, I discovered that it's not necessary to describe everything. Give the reader one or two important sensory details. Let them imagine the rest.

In a way, every reader imagines a different story in their mind. That's what makes reading so fascinating. I'm reminded of Wendy Pini's elegant pen-and-ink drawings, the way she evokes a character's inner thoughts in one small gesture. When I’m deep into a story, I forget that I'm reading words on a page. Then I remember: magic does exist.

comics and zines at The Newsstand, a pop-up store in the Brooklyn subway


  1. "... it's not necessary to describe everything. Give the reader one or two important sensory details. Let them imagine the rest."

    Yes! I also love this about writing, and about reading, too. There is, as Anne of Green Gables would say, "so much scope for imagination in it."

    1. Yes! I think that's why movie adaptations are often disappointing (although I loved the Anne of Green Gables TV series when I was little...)

  2. I love how as you got older you recognized you read differently. And I've never read comic books, but hearing so many people mention them as their gateway to reading or writing, I feel like I've missed out on something. :)

    1. Ahh! There are so many amazing graphic novels out there...and it's awesome to see teachers bringing them into the classroom.

  3. I'm in the midst of learning to trim...

  4. Imagining characters and worlds is what reading is about. I love your last line too. "Magic does exist." That says it all when it comes to books. :-)


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