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Elliott Serrano Presents:









 

Sometimes you just need a place to retreat to…

…and for me growing up, that place was the world of comics.

In an earlier column I related the story of how my father bought me comic books when I was but a wee bairn to help me learn to read. The gamble paid off spectacularly, helping me develop a love for reading that I still have to this day. But more than giving me an exercise for my young developing mind, comics helped me consider looking at the world in which I lived in different ways. You see, at the time, my parents were going through a messy separation (and subsequent divorce) and my world was one devoid of heroes, with people who didn’t look after the weak and the innocent. The world I lived in had absent parental figures and predatory characters that were there to pounce on you when you were most vulnerable. It was an unsafe world where you had to look out for yourself and your siblings, sacrificing what little happiness you might have had for the greater good of family. To me, I was living a microcosm of what heroes in comic books went through every month.

I’d read comics in my room each night. Outside my door my siblings would watch TV or play games or do whatever they did as their brother the ‘hermit’ (as they often called me) sat in his room in his solitary world. Once mom finished preparing dinner, she’d get ready for work at her night job and ‘leave me in charge.’ On the days she didn’t work, she went out with friends and ‘left me in charge.’ Now mind you, the concept of me being ‘in charge’ pretty much amounted to my staying home all night in my room making sure my brothers and sister didn’t burn the house down. My siblings tell me I wasn’t much for company back then.

I didn’t go out very much. (Hm. Come to think of it, I didn’t go out at all.) I had friends who I saw in school each day, but had to beg off going to the movies or a party because I was the family babysitter. So I’d read, and sometimes write, or even draw. I’d dream of becoming a hot shot comic book artist and one day drawing the X-Men book like all the hot shots did back then (and still do today).

(Uh yeah, that’s not a typo. I said X-Men book, as there was only ONE mutant title to be found in those days.)

As I got older, that view changed. My drawing skills weren’t as good as one would need to be to become the next Jim Lee and the world of comics started to recede into the background.

Girls, a job, career considerations (ideas of becoming an artist were shot down by my dad who advised I ‘go to trade school’ instead), realistic expectations and the simple fact that I needed to grow up at some point forced my favorite four-color fantasies out of view.

The way I saw the world slowly began to change. As I got older, it wasn’t so much a bad place as a challenge to be faced. Bad people existed, for sure, but so did the good. There were villains, but there were also heroes. And when the time came for me to decide among who I wished to count myself, I harkened back to the day when I considered being a superhero when I ‘grew up.’ No, I wasn’t going to put on a costume and patrol the streets by night - watching shows like ‘Who Wants to be a Superhero’ kind of demonstrate how silly the notion can be - but I would try to do something with my life that would exemplify what being a ‘superhero’ really is.

Look after the weak and the innocent.
Stick up for those who are being abused and exploited.
Be a voice for truth and justice.

Yeah, that’s the stuff.

Now those who know me pretty much associate me with what they perceive as my obsession, which is comic books. Devin Grayson once told me that she took it as a compliment when people associated her obsession: Batman, so I guess being associated with an obsession isn’t so bad. But I guess obsession isn’t the right word for it. See, I’m not sure I’m so much obsessed with comics as preoccupied. My world view has been influenced by them to some extent, but not so much so as to let it be seen only through ruby-quartz visors meant to contain my mutant optical blasts.

Heh.

See, I concede that I am a geek. A BIG comic book geek. Why else would I be writing this column? But it’s not all that I am. And while I do love comics and the world they take me to every time I read them, it’s been my mission in life to make the real world a better one, not unlike the world of heroes in comics.

In my ‘day job’ I work with kids who live in a world filled with violence and death. To them, it’s an accepted fact of life that you may not live past the age of 20. Guns, gangs, drugs and abuse are just ‘the way things are.’ It can get pretty depressing sometimes, talking to these kids and trying to get through to them, trying to show them that there’s a world outside the one they know, one with joy and peace, family and harmony, life and love.

Some of the kids I’ve worked with have told me how much they enjoyed spending the time they did with me. And I’d like to think that maybe I’ve helped change things for them, just a little, for the better.

But then there was the kid I worked with who was shot and killed the day he was released from juvenile detention. (Kinda sucks when you’re trying to tell kids the world isn’t as bad as they’d like to believe and then the world goes ahead and makes a liar out of you.)

It’s a never ending battle. Like the heroes in comic books, you’re going to take your shots and have your share of defeats, at least until the next issue.

And that’s what I tell myself, each and every day. It’s not easy, that’s for sure, but you have to keep going, through the gloom and despair hoping the next page or panel brings you into the sun and your happy ending. The world is a hard place to live in for some, I know that from experience, and sometimes it takes more than it gives. For those who lose a lot, my heart goes out to them.

But I truly believe that the world is what we make of it, whether good or bad. And if it sometimes gets a bit too rough to handle sometimes…

Well…

You can always find a place to retreat to. A place where heroes dwell and legends live; a place where you can draw inspiration to keep fighting the good fight; where mighty beings soar the skies and the good guys always win. It’s not a bad place to be, even for a grown up kid like me.

Life gettin’ you a bit down? Read a comic book.

That’s what I do.

E.R. Serrano

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