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The Indisputable Matt Maxwell Presents:


I just realized that I need to go back to the last entry to figure out what number this entry should be. Kinda sad when you think about it.

It struck me recently, being a father of an eight-year-old boy (and a five-year-old girl, I can hear my daughter interject) that he’s going to have an utterly, totally different experience of reading comic books than I ever did. This assumes, of course, that he has any kind of “meaningful” readership of comics, and let’s be sure that there’s big quotes around that meaningful part. He hasn’t shown a lot of interest in comics. Much, I suppose like a hippie’s kid wouldn’t show any interest in Hendrix or a punk rocker’s kid wouldn’t show any interest in Black Flag. It’s not that he doesn’t like them, but that they’re not what he’s into.

I can hear the chorus of readers, infuriated, “You’re not selling him on comics when he’s young?! We’ve got to get them while they’re young, Matt, else we won’t have lifelong readers!” Really, you could cut the indignation with a knife. Oh, I’ve tried. I threw the MARVEL ADVENTURES SPIDER-MAN digests at him. Even some STAR WARS comics, MINI-MARVELS (haven’t tried the TINY TITANS books, but I might get my daughter on those.) He’s just not that into them, particularly when his allowance would only allow him a single issue a week or so. He’d rather save up for Lego kits.

My experience has led me to believe that in order to really love something, you need to find it yourself. I’ve had friends expose me to music that I found dull an uninteresting at the time, but then a couple years after the fact, and I hear that stuff again and suddenly it’s like an explosion going off between my ears, purple sparks and blackouts and everything. And then I Get It and end up loving the work for what it is, not what it is to someone else.

See, when I was a kid, most of my friends didn’t like comics at all. They didn’t get ‘em, never wanted to spend money or time on them. So it was my thing, I guess. I’m not sure that’s what made them any more appealing (but it could’ve). The only other guys who liked comics as I did were total outcasts. Myself, I drifted between incasts and outcasts, so I guess I was like the In-Betweener (from the WARLOCK series by Marvel, which I’d never have read without a friend, he being Matt Selznick, pointing me in the right direction oddly. But by that time I only saw him irregularly since he and I were going to different schools, or were about to).

Now, don’t get me wrong, my son loves to go to comic stores with me, mostly because of all the STAR WARS stuff they’ve got there. He’s happily looking at anything but comics, while I’m happily only looking at comics. Between us, we almost make a complete comics fan. He’ll look at a comic only if it’s STAR WARS (or Indiana Jones), but he’s turned off by having to read just a chunk of the story (gee, wonder where he got that idea.) So he mostly doesn’t bother with the singles.

And I’m struck by how completely different the existential situation of being a comics reader was. You’d have no idea what you were going to get at any given week down at the 7-11. And that 7-11 on the corner of Golden Lantern and Crown Valley Parkway (not far from Niguel Hills Maximum Security Youth Facility, where I really learned that the educational system in place wasn’t going to have much to offer me unless I pushed things myself) was my gateway to a bigger world. Yeah, there was the Stop-N-Rob (neé Stop-N-Go) on the corner of…oh geez, something and Crown Valley, about half the distance to the 7-11, but their selection was weaker. Though they did have better videogames, back when you could play videogames in grocery and convenience stores.

Back to comics. Nobody had any way of knowing what was coming in. I didn’t have access to fandom in any way shape or form (not counting the odd copy of THE COMICS JOURNAL or THE SPIDER-MAN INDEX that showed up, a piece of puzzling evidence, suggesting an alien world much larger than the everyday world I found myself in.) Usually I’d just grab my copy of BLUE DEVIL or MAN-THING or UNCANNY, perhaps an impulse purchase because, man, they were all cheap and disposable. Who cared if they were gonna get ripped up in my backpack or torn out of my hand and crumpled by a kid who’d do that sort of shit just because he could. Get another one for fifty cents, whatever.

Yeah, fifty cents wasn’t always fifty cents. But still. Just fifty cents. I’d buy a lot of junk for fifty cents. Junk that might not have struck me at the time, but I still see something in today, something enough to hold onto after a couple of big purges of the old collection. True, I never ran into a copy of CEREBUS or other meaningful independent comic. But honestly, I’m not sure what I’d have done with it had I done so. Sure, there was that copy of the WONDER WART-HOG collection that my parents handed off to me at age what thirteen? Fourteen? But that was an aberration (and what an aberration it was!) I don’t think I’d have naturally drifted towards LOVE AND ROCKETS, even if it had been there for me to drift to. Four colors on crummy paper and guys punching each other out in interesting manners with soap-opera melodrama churning in the background? Gimme. Other stuff, not so much so. I had simple tastes (“had?”), so what can I say?

And beyond the pages, you had the ads, which were either grittily slick (how slick can you be on newsprint?) or lovingly amateurish, classifieds crammed together like rush hour on I-5, not so many miles away. Not that I ever read ‘em for the ads, but that was certainly part of the experience, the ambient noise of my generation like the electronic chirps and chirrups of the arcades of my youth.

Don’t let this be a simple reverie. Keep in mind that I don’t read singles for the most part (AGENTS OF ATLAS being one of the handful of exceptions, perhaps SEAGUY 2 as well). I don’t go to the comic store on a weekly basis any longer (more like “can’t”). I now no longer care what happens to Cyclops and Ororo Munroe. If I find a run of a character I like, I enjoy it and understand this is strictly temporary, like a corvette summer fling or pathetic crush at a distance (not that I’ve ever indulged in the former, plenty of the latter.) But there wasn’t a time that it felt that way. Back then, Frank Miller on DAREDEVIL for three years was forever. Same with John Byrne on X-MEN. Or the entire run of BLUE DEVIL. Time flows more slowly when you’re pedaling down Crown Valley with ELO tuned to a sedate volume on your knockoff Walkman.

I can get entire stories at a single shot today, with a variety of creators and characters that beggar description or encapsulation in any but the mightiest comic shop. Not that thirteen year old me would have the slightest interest in them, mind you. But my son will never have the pleasure of knowing that world. It’ll be gone, has been gone for a long time already.

Of course, he’ll have his own. A URL sent over to his mobile phone perhaps. Or someone slipping him a copy of whatever naughty and deep book is making the rounds (maybe he’ll luck out and it’ll be BLACK HOLE). Perhaps when I’m not looking, he’ll be reading the FANTASTIC FOUR omnibus, even though the color is all garish and wrong. Maybe he’ll hit the mother lode and someone will have sent him the .cbr version of FLEX MENTALLO. He’ll still have those existential pleasures, those experiences that can’t be bottled or traded or sold or burned away. The jolt of reading Miller’s DAREDEVIL for the first time or thinking that just maybe it’s okay if Dark Phoenix eats that star that blows up all those asparagus people (nobody’d miss ‘em anyways.) Just that he won’t feel the same ones, which is both saddening and comforting. 

Matt Maxwell

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