Earlier today I was recalling with my wife my teenage years , those often solitary (though not necessarily lonely) years some 15-20 years ago (egads!) where I routinely hid away in my room obsessing over, well, comic books primarily. Oh, I liked music quite a bit, and I had a few female fixations, but comics were life and death for me. They mattered more than all else. The frequent visits to the LCS went from being a fun excursion to a mandatory weekly event.
Like any crazy obsessive I clipped images from magazines - Wizard, Previews, Comics Scene, Overstreet’s Fan, Comic Shop News - and wallpapered my room with them in a colourful, borderline unhealtly collage. It wasn’t just the walls, it was the ceiling too. I woke up many a time with a clipped Joe Quesada drawing of Ninjak or John Byrne She-Hulk resting on my face, a white spot on the ceiling where the image should be, and, immediately, was again.
I can’t even count the number of times, or hours spent, reorganizing my comic book collection into different sorting methodologies, sometimes alphabetical, sometimes by character, sometimes by company, sometimes by how much I liked them. I think a lot of these reorganizations didn’t make sense and hence necessitated another floor-covering re-sort. My dad, handy guy that he is, made a rather massive (and I recall, extremely heavy) bookshelf for my comics, one which held the equivalent of seven long-boxes worth. Once I ran out of room on that (which was pretty much immediately), he built into my closet a shelving system that featured a swinging shelf that provided an additional 33% more storage, yet I still required at least three long boxes of additional storage beyond that.
I wouldn’t say my life revolved around comics, but it wasn’t far off from it either. I cared about comics, I cared about the characters, I cared about the creators and the health of the industry and my local comics shop as much as, say, my friends or my education. My dream, like any fixated-on-comics kid, was to be a comic book artist, and in the last two months of my high schooling I had written and illustrated a full 24-page comic as a creative writing project, which actually turned out okay, in retrospect (but is not nearly as pro as I thought at the time).
When I knew I couldn’t commit to the discipline being an artist required I turned to writing and put together pitches, constantly making notes for character and story ideas, and even writing up a few scripts (though doing so by hand has made them borderline illegible so many years later). But deep down I didn’t really commit to being a writer either, as, like so many of us who dream of creating our own comics, I was fearful of moving beyond the fantasy of it, and actually contributing to the comics community. Those pitches and notes never went anywhere but in a file folder.
Deep down I feared I wasn’t cut out for the creative lifestyle (and man, you really have to commit to your craft if you’re going to do it, and even then expect failure but don’t lose hope for success). My alternative - my back-up plan - to drawing and writing was entrepreneurship - owning and operating my own comic book store, another part of the fantasy I had long held. I even did a co-op credit working at my LCS (a trend I started that continues to this day there), which led me down the path to the Business Administration program in my post-secondary education. But by the time I hit University, reality had knocked on my brain hard. As much as I loved comics, as much as I wanted to be a part of it, it wasn’t my reality and I knew that the sensible me inside wasn’t going to let it be. My reality was button-downed business, not exposing one’s talent (or lack thereof) to the world at large to be embraced or rejected (the fear of success and fear of failure are equally potent). Where I grew up, we had one success story in show business… Paul Schaffer, Letterman’s band leader. There was no one else to look up to, and I was no trail blazer. I didn’t care about the business world, I cared about comics, but I was too naive to know what to do about it, and far too incapable of venturing outside my comfort zone to try.
Those who can’t do, teach. In entertainment, those who can’t do, review.
My obsession with comics faded somewhat throughout university, as I was exposed to the broader culture of entertainment. That enthusiasm spread to television, movies, and music so that by the turn of the millennium I was buying CDs and DVDs as religiously as comics. I started to review things on all fronts which I’ve continued to do over the past decade. It’s not creatively satisfying, but I know I’ve gotten pretty good at it. I’ve committed to it more than I’ve committed to any other activity related to the creative fields, to the point were I was working towards a make-or break venture in 2008 that utterly fell apart in one quick server fail and nearly obliterated all passion I had for everything entertainment.
Not long after that I became a real grown up (you would think getting married and being a step-dad would’ve done it, but nope, not quite). I got my financial affairs in order, I bought a house, my daughter was born, and very, very quickly, all that stuff I thought I was so passionate about didn’t matter as much. I like movies, I like music, I like television, but I’ve started to be okay doing without them for stretches of time. Comics, though, I still love comics. But I don’t love them like I used to. They’re like an old friend, they still matter to me, I still care about them, but they’re not as important as they used to be. I see them once a week, but I’m not checking in with them every day like I used to.
My stepson is about 2 years away from the age where I really started investing myself in comics, and his personality right now is very much like mine was at his age. What he loves are comics, toys and television, just like I did way back when, to an almost exclusive degree where going to any extracurricular activities is just taking time away from reading and watching and playing. I’m seeing the signs and he might be an asocial nerd-in-progress (like me). Not unpopular or a “loser” but trench-headed in the mindset that fantasy and escapism are more important or more interesting than the real world. I get it. I used to be there and occasionally would like to go back there. But I wonder, should I encourage, discourage, or completely let him discover his own path in this regard? It didn’t serve me too badly in the long run, but it also held me back somewhat from having a greater, more adventurous youth. I have to wonder.
Funny thing is, I still have all the dreams I used to…of becoming a comic book writer and artist (though the artist skills have long atrophied but I’m hoping one day to get the time to rebuild those too) and even to run my own comics shop (though I know that possibility will probably disappear almost completely in the next 15 years). I doubt I’ll ever make it as a full-time pro, but if I ever achieve the discipline to work on something day after day (rather than, say, watching four episodes of Angel on Netflix in an evening, or spending two hours writing blog posts) I can actually put something out there, stop commenting and actually create. I don’t think I really care anymore if people don’t like it (I’ve had enough negative comments from just reviewing that has steeled me to the internet’s troll-ful ways) and I’ll probably be incredibly grateful (though not too much so) to the people that do.