You may have noticed that Moviepilot looks a little different this week... because it's Comic Book Week! That also means that you may have noticed some of your favorite contributors sharing their comic-book lovin' stories, so I thought I'd join in.
If you read many of my articles here on Moviepilot, you will already know that I am a huge comic book nerd, but what you might not know is that I have a very on-again-off-again relationship with them, and I'm definitely not the person to geek out over the latest issues. Here's why...
As a kid in the 80s and early 90s, I moved around a lot. And not just around one country, we schlepped all over the world, a new country every couple of years. Small schools in far-flung places had the incredible advantage of not having enough students to form cliques - with as few as twenty kids from kindergarten to grade twelve, there were no jocks and nerds, and it took me a long time to even realize that video games and comic books were looked down on.
Living in the Congo at age six, there wasn't a whole lot of outside entertainment. Video tapes, video games and books were our whole world, simply because there was nothing else to do! We would while away the hours playing Duck Hunt and Fifth Gear (and debating whether waiting at the bottom of a hill for a turbo-enhanced-boost was cheating), and when someone took a trip back stateside and returned with a comic book, you bet we all read it! X-Men was the favorite, and I fell in love with Rogue and Gambit - my first kid crush was on the Rajin Cajun.
My first introduction to the characters wasn't running down to the store to pick up the latest issue of a long storyline, it was re-reading slightly random issues, and then discussing them at ridiculous lengths with friends. Without being able to go and get back issues, we relied on other kid's collections or memories. ANd with nothing else to do, I immersed myself in every detail of every copy.
In the US at age nine, I was back in the land of PBJ, Kool-aid, and cartoons! Believe me, I took advantage of that every single day after school. I'd already been introduced to the X-Men, but this was my first experience of watching them on screen, and more importantly, of seeing a storyline unfold episode by episode. I would rush home to check out what the X-Men and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were up to, and dreamed of one day being as cool as Rogue or April O'Neil.
Sadly, after another move, I was stuck in a small town in Scotland with no comic shop to be found, and no way of knowing where one might be. (Remember kids, this was still the mid-nineties, and google was in it's infancy!) Despite still being a card-carrying nerd (science club, math camp and quiz bowl were on the schedule), my new friends weren't really into comics, and I moved on to sci fi and fantasy books, along with tv shows and movies that would join the comic pantheon- Buffy, Star Trek, Star Wars, Dr Who. Much later, I moved on to the far more popular outcast subcultures - my love of fantasy translating into the goth world, and leaving superheros far behind.
Then, in 2000, Fox reminded me of the thing I loved as a kid when they released the first X-Men movie. Watching, I was catapulted back to my first love, and although IB exams and then university took up most of my time, I started to find my way back to pop-culture nerd dom. Comic books were becoming cool again, and it made it so much easier to find places to buy them, and ways to read them.
This was both the best and worst introduction to comics. On one hand, there's no one making fun, no one making you feel left out, and in my case (praise the comic gods) no one telling me that that was "boy stuff". The fact that comic book movies were able to facilitate my return to something that I was passionate about throughout my childhood as a Third Culture Kid and a nerd is something that I will always be grateful to Fox for - no matter how badly they keep screwing up my favorite characters! The upsurge of comic book popularity might make some long-time fans furious about just anyone coming into the treehouse, but it made it easier for me to re-discover something I love, not be looked at as a crazy person for reading comic books as an adult, but more importantly, find new ways to read.
Because the hardest thing about learning to love comics in such a haphazard way is that I never learned to navigate the shop. The event-titles, lingo, chronology and pull-lists are as foreign to me as an African beach would be to the kid with glasses running out every Wednesday for the next installment. I still don't have a pull list (the shame!), and I still don't keep up with every story line.
Instead, I love picking up trades, glorying in the ability to read whole arcs in one sitting. I love finding new characters (still!) or focusing on old favorites; collecting everything I can and getting to know them better. I love heading to conventions, adding collectibles to the shelves, and of course, watching every live-action show or film I can manage.
This is also why I will never understand the hatred there is in some corners for the "gentrification" of comic books. I was never wedgied for taking about Superman (although, seriously. Science club. Quiz bowl. There were other reasons.), so when I see more people talking about superheros, I'm reminded of popcorn and beanbag chairs with my entire school. I'm reminded of some of the best times of my life, where everyone can have fun talking about the incredible adventures of the fictional spandex-clad. Why would I be upset that comic books are "mainstream"? I wasn't lucky enough to grow up with a local shop, so if it wasn't for that, I wouldn't be here. Nor would the white streak I dye in at my temple.