Saturday, June 21, 2014

Public Origins: How I Became the Dork That I Am

by Jeremy's Junk

It was the summer of 1984. I was 9 years old. My mom was dating my step-father at the time, and every Saturday morning, both of our families would meet at the Firehouse restaurant at the Kaiko’o Mall in my small hometown of Hilo, Hawaii. We’d all eat our breakfast, then go wandering about the rest of the mall, usually spending our weekly allowance (I got $2 a week for taking out the trash before the garbage man came by early Wednesday morning.)

One of our frequent stops was the neighboring drugstore. It was easily the one stop that could stretch my hard-earned $2 to it’s fullest potential. It had an aisle dedicated to candy, another aisle full of cheap Japanese toys, stationary, and lastly, they had a pharmacy. All the way in the back, they had a magazine corner. The wall was lined with various magazines and in the corner of this corner was a little circular rack of comic books. The first two rows at the top were Archie comics, and the remaining 5 rows below it were dedicated to superheroes.

I had never really gotten into these books before. Usually, by the time I got to the back of the store, I’d already had my mind set on buying the candy or toy that I found on the way over. At most, I’d pick one up and flip through it in the same way that I’d flip through the magazines, just to pass the time. Besides, I wasn’t very big on reading.

During one of these visits, I had made my way to the comic book rack without any candy or toys in hand. I still had my fresh $2 in my wallet, and I was going to spend every penny, damn it. So I began whirling the books around and one cover caught my eye: it was a Green Lantern issue with the hero throwing his ring to the ground and yelling, “I QUIT!”

WHOA, WHOA, WHOA! First off, I remembered this Green Lantern guy from Superfriends. He was friends with Superman and Batman! He could create anything he could think of with his ring! He’s a SUPERHERO. Since when do superheroes quit being superheroes? WHY would he want to not be a superhero anymore??? Was it even possible?!?

It was only 75¢… that’s less than half of what I had! I bought it.

From the moment I sat on the bench just outside of the store entrance, to getting in the car, stepping out of it, and finally sitting atop my bed in my bedroom, I must have read that book at least 5 times. So many things to think about!

Green Lantern is not just one guy—he’s one of thousands. But he’s the best of them.

He doesn’t just protect Earth, but other planets, too.

He can fly through space without space gear.

Just like Superman and Batman, Green Lantern has a real name—“Hal Jordan”.

And he wants to quit having superpowers.


Also, who were these guys “Len Wein and Dave Gibbons”? I knew comic books were drawn (everybody knows that. D’uh!), but written, too?

The issue itself was really not what a kid would expect from a superhero comic book. There were no evil villains present. Not so much as even one battle to be seen. No cries for help; he didn’t save anybody. Nothing. The main hero of the story didn’t even win at the end—he lost his super-powers. (Sure, he DID win in the sense that he gained his freedom from being duty-bound in order to spend the rest of his life with his girlfriend, but that was outside of my scope of being a kid!)

It was just about him questioning his decision to leave, getting past his friends who don’t want him to quit, going through with it, then saying goodbye. All while flying through space and talking to his alien buddies and bosses, and visiting an alien world.

Then the BIG question: “What comes next?”

To my surprise, these books came out once a month. EVERY MONTH. That’s 30 days. To a 9 year old, that might as well be 30 years.

By the time the next issue came out (with a NEW Green Lantern guy,) that first issue I bought was in tatters. It had been re-read, examined, re-examined, and traced over. I wanted to be able to draw him myself, and needed to know what his costume looked like from all angles—and I was so glad that this Len Wein guy drew him at all kinds of angles and poses. (Of course, it took me years to realize that the writer’s name always displayed first, meaning he was the Writer and Dave Gibbons was the “Drawer”!)

I remember sitting in the backseat with this issue opened on my lap, as my mom drove us home. I told her THIS is what I want to do when I grow up.

For my birthday the following year, my older sis asked me if I wanted to go to the Comic Book Shop. “There’s such a thing as a COMIC BOOK store???” I remember stepping into that tiny, cramped wooden room. The walls were covered with very old, sealed issues of comics I had never seen nor heard of before. The place SMELLED of comic books! Heaven.

A few months later, Crisis on Infinite Earths started, and I decided to spend the other half of my allowance on it. What I didn’t realize was that the issue I bought at the time was actually #2—I missed the first issue. It wasn’t until a year or two after the series ended, when I flew to Honolulu that I got to buy and read it… for 10 times the price!

Soon after the Crisis books ended, DC announced that they were going to revamp Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. Starting them from scratch.

And that’s how my collection started (as well as my first notion of  “being in debt!”)


The Dork said...

I remember reading my first X-Men comic - it was Uncanny X-Men #167. Up to that point I had always been a DC kid. But when I read that comic it blew my mind! I was like who are these people - they are crazy f'ing cool! That issue turned me into an X-Men junkie for decades!

Kal said...

I was there at the same time. I got twenty dollars every two weeks and I spent most of it on comics. I had a pull list. I remember all the comics you wrote about. I remember an X-Men Annual with Dracula that got me into comic collecting after losing my childhood collection at the bottom of the Atlantic.

Rob said...

I would collect empty bottles at my Grandma's house and bring them down to the local liquor store for the recycling money. I'd then have to decide between playing video games or buying a Batman comic.

The Dork said...

HAHAHHA - its funny what you do to earn money as a kid. I collected soda/beer cans from the local state beaches/parks and washed windows. Holy mother of God I washed a lot of windows.

The Dork said...

Kal, how did you lose your collection in the Atlantic?

The Dork said...

I "lost" my Mego Superhero collection, because our neighbors house burned down. It was a couple days before Christmas so my mom came to me and said, "That little boy just lost all his toys so I'm going to take all of these (my mego superhero dolls) and give them to him for Christmas!" Needless to say I was pissed and even to this day I give her massive shit about it!