I was a very small child when I was born and frankly, I was a bit of a mess. I’m not proud to admit that I soiled myself several times a day and I was extremely weak and uncoordinated. It took me a while but I managed to pull myself together enough to become literate by the time I was three. That was also around the time I discovered comic books.
Perhaps it was the intriguing melange of four colour art indifferently printed on cheap newsprint with a sequence of over-wrought words alongside for the ride that caught my eye. Maybe it was the lurid glossy covers that drew me in. It’s possible I was just bored. But whatever it was, combined with an intensive immersion in a regimen of phonics, helped me learn to read at such a tender age. To this very day, I steadfastly maintain that comic books are an incredibly useful tool for promoting literacy. That unique mixture of pictures and text gives vital context to both, so that one can decipher what the words are trying to say. Plus, comic books are a combination of dialogue and often frantic exposition. The Stan Lee School of Writing has influenced me more than I would care to admit, although most of the earliest comic books I remember reading were DC, not Marvel.
Batman had a tv show. Superman had a tv show, too but it was in black&white most of the time. Batman, on the other hand, was a riot of colour and mod design and dutch angles. Superman was so square, he had corners. But Superman and Batman were friends, in the comic books. Best friends. They appeared together in a book called World’s Finest. And Batman was colourful on tv but boring in the comic books. Superman could fly. Batman was just some dude with a cool car.
When I was four, I went out for Halloween dressed as Superman in a home-made costume created by my mother. I wanted it to be as comic book accurate as possible and she did her best but I looked more like George Reeves than the way Curt Swan drew Superman. I even greased my hair into a spit-curl (well, I didn’t do it but I did demand it be done because that’s as important a part of Superman’s costume as the cape).
It was cold and raining that year so not only was trick-or-treating truncated and miserable, I got soaked to the skin because Superman didn’t wear a jacket over his costume, goddamnit. My strongest memory of that night, other than the wet hell of a failed holiday, was after it was over, eating candy and watching Goldfinger on tv, wrapped up in a warm dry bath-robe. James Bond couldn’t fly either but he also had a cool car.
Superman was the first time comic books inspired me and then broke my heart.
COMING SOON IN PART TWO : MORE HEART-BREAK.