I LOVE COMICS
I love comics.
I love comics so much, I have to do my own.
A couple things happened last week that made me realize just how and why I love comics so much. Settle in, and I'll tell you:
In the summer of 1973, our family moved from Dallas, Texas to rural Vermont. To say that it was a culture shock would be understating the situation. In public school in Texas, for example, we had etiquette lessons; the correct way to answer the phone, the respectful way to address your elders, that sort of thing.
The first day of school in Vermont, however, both my sister and I ended up at the principal's office for being extremely sarcastic to our teachers. Our crime? In answer to a direct question, I had said, "No, sir" to my teacher, and my sister had said "Yes, ma'am" to hers.
We got in trouble for that.
Before the school year started, though, we stayed in an apartment complex a few towns over from where our house was being built, and from where my sister and I would be going to school. So we didn't have a chance to meet anybody we'd be going to school with, and there weren't really any kids in the apartment complex besides us. My sister and I got along pretty well, but there wasn't a whole lot of things we could do. We got bored pretty quickly.
Down at the end of the street, though, was an old-fashioned general store. A rickety old ramshackle house, with the front part of it expanded to an all-purpose supply store. Quaint and pretty much as bucolic as you're probably imagining. Picture a Saturday Evening Post cover starring Vermont hippies, and you'll be on the right track.
Whenever we got bored with trying to spot minnows swimming by in the small stream or tired of biking around the woods or flying kites or looking for a good place to build a tree house, we would end up down at the general store and buy some maple sugar candy which was nearly the most exotic thing we had ever tasted. We could buy 45s for our turntable… I still have the AM radio versions of "Walk on the Wild Side" and "Uneasy Rider" that I bought there…
…or we'd load up on comic books.
Now, I'd already been a big fan of World's Finest and Adventure Comics and Captain America, but I also liked those Charlton hot-rod comics and Gold Key Westerns. I'd read anything, really. I could take comics or leave 'em. Even as a kid, I knew the difference between real and make-believe, and these four-color adventures were cool, and all, but obviously made-up.
I mean, Spidey swinging through New York City may well have been King Arthur riding to Camelot for as much as it meant to me. They were just stories.
Then, one day, we rolled into the General Store to get some comics, and one had been separated from all the rest at the spinner rack, and had been set up in a pile next to the cash register. A little sign said that the story in that comic took place in Rutland, the town just up the road.
I remember thinking, "Whaaaaat?" There was no way that a made-up story could take place right up the street.
So, I bought the comic. It was Avengers #119, and the Collector had come to Rutland to kidnap the Avengers, who were in town for the Halloween Parade. And there really was a Halloween Parade in Rutland! This story could have actually happened!
It was right then that I realized that wondrous and magical things could happen in comics.
Twenty-eight years later, give or take a month or two, and I found myself out to dinner with my pal Selby and his friend Steve Englehart. We talked about this and that, until Steve asked me where I grew up and I answered, "Mostly in rural Vermont." "Oh? Whereabouts?" says Steve. "Near Rutland," I say. "Ever hear of the Halloween Parade?" says Steve.
Whereupon I launched into a much grander version of the story you've just read, while a slow Yoda-like smile spread over Steve's face as I told it.
"And that's the one comic that got me into the whole art form," I end up. "I doubt I'd be doing what I'm doing today if I hadn't got such a big kick out of that book at just that time."
Steve looked at me and said, "I wrote that."
And that's one of the things I love about comics. Something that Steve worked on for a month or so back when Nixon was still President had a positive and lasting effect on at least one kid, out in the world. And that's a pretty powerful thing.
One of the other things I love about comics is the sense of community that's engendered by the folks on the front lines of comic book entertainment, and that was underlined for me at this past weekend's Alternative Press Expo.
This show had it all: Fae Desmond and David Glanzer and their able staff ran things with clockwork efficiency. Sometimes the scope of these things is such that odds are something will fall through the cracks… but if it did, it went unnoticed by those of us on the floor.
The venue itself was perfect; big enough to fit everyone in but small enough that the interactions were useful and intimate, and not rushed or impersonal.
Usually comic book conventions are frenetic and jangly things, but surprisingly APE was bustling without being overwhelming. I was able to give my pal Ed Brubaker a hard time about writing Batman but still retaining his edgy independent street cred, while looking at frankly gorgeous Steve Lieber art from an upcoming Detective. And Steve was keeping up his end of the conversation while working on comic pages. I couldn't believe it. The man's a machine!
And of course, it's always fun to see folks I only see a couple of times a year, like Bat Lash and Jackie Estrada, of Supernatural Law, and Jon and Terri Hastings, of whatever the hell it is that Jon's working on now. I could list off a big run-down of all the folks I talked to, like the wildly-talented and must-draw-for-me Eric Canete, or the electric bon vivant Brian Scot Johnson, of www.khepri.com fame, or the crew from Oni, or Jeff Nicholson, or Scott McCloud, or Shannon Wheeler, or any of the few dozen other cats who sweat blood onto the page, but I'd just make you all jealous that you weren't there, and no doubt you've read many reports of the success of APE already, anyway.
Which is a lesson for you, if you'll see it:
You really ought to start making plans for next February, to see the best show of the year. The Alternative Press Expo really is that fun. The sense of community, the feeling that we're all in this together, well…
…it just makes me realize how much I love comics.
I'd like to just parenthetically interject here about the vagaries of copyright law. Apparently, since there's not a lot of overlap between the two products, DC Comics' copyright to the term "Kryptonite" is not tarnished by the fact there's a bike lock using the same name. While Kryptonite-the-piece-of-Superman's-doomed-planet is a viable and wonderful thing, I'd like to take a moment and say that Kryptonite locks' unique design and resistance to leverage attacks make them impossible to get off the front of your Yamaha Riva 200 when the inner tumblers of the ancient lock corrode and break, making the key useless. Yes, I know this is a hypocritical tirade against an inanimate object for doing the job it was designed to do perhaps too well… but why should it cost $200 to power saw one of these things off your front fork? WHAT ARE THEY MADE OF? WHAT ARE YOU PEOPLE HIDING? www.kryptonitelock.com.
Email about this column should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Oh, there was much rejoicing across the land, as there's finally updated new content at http://www.ait-planetlar.com. Check out the SKY APE stuff and the space suit page. My, I would have traded my sister for one of those when I was fifteen.
Knowing a good idea when I see one, I've nicked the "question of the week" thing from Steven Grant, and ask you all to tell us the one comic that got YOU into funny books, over at the Loose Cannon Message Board.