There’s nothing like a story to take you away from somewhere. When I was much younger, I used books to escape from a world that was often loud, unintelligible, and overwhelming. I would sit for hours, in chairs, on the floor, under tables, in the car, reading until my eyes blurred. Fantasy was always best, but any story would do. I read Tolkien with the same rapture I sometimes perused my school’s only encyclopaedia with, because you can find a good story in anything, if you’re determined enough. I read because I liked it. And I read because in the back of my head, it sometimes felt as though I had no other choice. When the real world won’t do, sometimes stories are the only remedy.
I fell out of my habit, as I grew. I found other hobbies, and I found less free time, and I found that the world didn’t always need to be escaped from. Lately, though, I’ve been revisiting my binge-reading past. Words fly by, the back cover closes, and my hand reaches for the next in the pile. I haven’t racked up any of the library fines my childhood self was notorious for yet, but that’s only because most libraries are still closed. Stories are where we make our escape. These days, no matter your situation, I think we can all agree there’s plenty to escape from.
Why, then, are the stories we tell and the art we make so often discounted when it comes to the tallying up of essentialities? And why are stories often only deemed ‘valuable’ when they pass the litmus test of ‘literary, ground-breaking, intellectual’? I want to submit to you that in this day and age, and always, all stories have inherent value by nature of their existence. If a story brought you comfort, it has value. If a story took you somewhere else today, it has value. If a story helped you for even a moment, it has value.
We use stories as a lifeline, every one of us, and often, we take them for granted. That’s why this week I’m making a concerted effort to think about the story-tellers, from the author of my favourite blockbuster novel to the letterer of my favourite indie comic. As assistant publisher here at Renegade, I’m lucky to witness a fraction of the unimaginable amount of work that goes into every creative work we produce and every story that results, often for little material reward or recognition. I know the real value in the content we produce is that, somewhere, for somebody, it brought them a moment of peace, or escape, or joy.
There are hundreds of thousands of podcasts, paperbacks, comics strips, television episodes, radio-plays, and yes, of course, graphic novels, that serve as the welcome background radiation to our lives. Whether or not they have ‘value’ as we’ve been taught to evaluate them, they’re ingrained in our culture, in our history, and in our day-to-day existence. Regardless of their intent or supposed quality, they are an important part of our wellbeing, of our culture, and of our collective history. Especially when times are tough, we rely on them to help us imagine how things might be different. We rely on them to bring us somewhere better. Eventually, we’ll rely on them to tell us about what things were like, and what people thought.
So, take stock of the stories in your life. I bet one helped you even today. And take stock of the story-tellers behind it all, and the thousand moving parts that helped that story reach you. We’re all looking for an escape, these days, but there’s only so many people with the skill and determination to help us do so.