Thursday, 8 April 2021

A CAUTIONARY TALE OF PRIDE BEFORE A FALL... (OR: WONDER AT THE POWER!)


Copyright MARVEL COMICS

When I were but an 8 or 9 year old lad (he said in his best Hovis TV ad voice), only two of my friends were prepared to indulge my superhero roleplaying shenanigans by dressing up in homemade costumes and running around the neighbourhood pretending to fight crime.  (The only 'crime' was our costumes, 'cos they were dreadful.)  John was the first, and he was Robin to my Batman, and Philip was the second, and he was Wonder Man to my Power Man (or it may have been vice-versa).  The latter two names were nicked from The Avengers tales reprinted in Terrific, a black and white weekly comic by Odhams Press which featured Marvel stories.  I think they were originally villains, but we converted them into heroes to better fit our purpose.

Believe it or not, I came in for quite a bit of stick for my costumed activities, being the object of some ridicule from a few older local kids - who were much more interested in playing football and the like, as opposed to embracing more fantasy-orientated pastimes like I did.  I realise now that their scorn was probably a facade to preserve their street cred with their pals, as I've since spoken to one or two other people who likewise cavorted as the Caped Crusader when they were a similar age to myself, give or take a year either way.  The difference, in one instance anyway, was that they confined such roleplaying to their back gardens and didn't take it out into the surrounding environs where they'd be subjected to the scrutiny of their peers.

Just over 20 years later (1989), when Michael Keaton's Batman movie was a blockbuster hit, it seemed that everyone and their brother was wearing a Batman tee-shirt.  I took great satisfaction in the realisation that I'd been a couple of decades ahead of them, a real 'trailblazer'.  However, for much of my teenage years I grew up thinking that, a couple of pals aside, I was the only person my age who read superhero comics.  It just didn't seem to be the 'in-thing' among 'ordinary' teenagers.  So for a long time I believed that my comicbook collecting interests were the solitary pursuit of a select few who were destined never to meet, and was a guilty pleasure that shouldn't ever be admitted to outside of a close circle of friends.  Imagine my surprise then, when I attended my first-ever comic mart in 1982, and saw men in their 40s, 50s, and older, searching through boxes on tables looking for some never forgotten cherished treasure from their youth.

And you know what?  I thought it was sad.  Small, nerdy, dishevelled-looking men with combover hairstyles and milk bottle spectacles, who one could all too easily believe had never had a girlfriend (or any relationship with a female of the species outside of platonic) in their lives.  "How could they allow themselves to turn out like that?" I thought.  Well, now I know.  Okay, I still have a luxuriant head of hair that is doubtless the envy of many, as well as my own teeth, and I'm a fairly tall, handsome manly-man who doesn't look as if I'd blow over in a strong wind, but - as opposed to the youth in my early 20s that I was back then, I'm now older than most of the people I couldn't help but be silently aghast at, at that mart (in Glasgow's Royal Stuart Hotel in case you were interested) all those years ago.

In fact, having believed that comic collecting was the hobby of those cast in my own image - i.e., quiet, insular, inhibited, thoughtful individuals who were beyond the common throng of ordinary mortals, and was a 'secret', magical interest that only a few select adherents were privy to - I was extremely surprised to find that hundreds of other types of folk from all walks of life also shared my love of four-colour (and b&w) printed periodicals.  It was a shock to discover that what I thought was a 'private garden' was open to everyone - high, low, good, bad, rich, poor, old, young, etc., etc.  I must confess that it took the shine off it for a while, as something that I considered exclusive to me wasn't, in fact, exclusive at all.  Some of these people seemed downright weird, not quite right, and it was with alarm that it struck me that I was probably perceived of in the same way by those who mocked me for playing at Batman as a lad and reading comics at any age.

Now I know what you're thinking - what a terrible snob!  And you're right!  In the ignorance of youth I felt that my hobbies, pastimes, interests, etc., helped mark me out as the individual I thought I was, and that I had a virtual monopoly on them.  Maybe you were the same?  Then comes the day when you find out that you're really not that special at all, and you're just another small, insignificant cog in the huge wheel of life, and that what you saw as your own personal playground (whether it's comics or anything else) is not confined to, or reserved for, your sole pleasure.  Now I'm the sad old guy who should know better, searching for reminders from my past on the Internet and elsewhere, in pursuit of my expired youth, labouring under the delusion that I can somehow reclaim it.  I'm hoist with my own petard.

So what are your thoughts, Crivvies?  Did you once hold similar views as my younger self, or were you always aware that, underneath a few superficial differences, we're all the same?  Jock Tamson's Bairns as it were.

15 comments:

McSCOTTY said...

When I was a kid my pals and myself tended more to dress up as Cowboys , WW2 Soldiers and (my favourite) Knights/Vikings . What was chosen largely depended on the film that was on TV the night before. We occasionally did the superhero thing but it was limited (from memory) to Batman and Superman as there were masks etc easily available for them and all you needed for Superman was a red kitchen towel to wrap around your neck, characters like the Marvel heroes were pretty much an unknown quantity to us back then (especially Wonder Man) . I can’t recall ever getting any stick form older kids but that may be a repressed memory lol.

Ahhh comic book fans. I have to say I had the same feelings when I first encountered comic/SF geeks (meant endearingly) when I first attended comic marts etc. Although I have always read and loved comic books I have never had any pals that were into them (past the age of when we read them up until about 11/13 years old) in that way that they would attend marts (let alone still read them) after around 17 years old. I don’t think any of my mates knew I like and read comics when I was in my late teems until my 30s as I was also into football, music, gigs and going to clubs/pubs at the weekend so it was never really a topic that came up as we were too busy talking about girls, music , clubs and errrr girls . In fact I used to date a girl in my mid 20s for around 5 years and she was never aware of my comic book interest. So when I first attended comic marts I was also quite taken aback by the characters that attended them. Many as you say had a tendency for being very overweight , dishevelled and not exactly into hygiene or any basic fashion sense. But ironically back then a 40 year old male wearing a Superman t shirt with a Batman duffle bag slung over their shoulders etc and his belly hanging out of his scruffy jeans was considered my others to be pretty sad, but today its trendy . Despite that I found most of them pretty decent guys when I spoke to them. My biggest embarrassment / grip with comic geek types was the utter importance they put on really silly things that didn’t matter related to comics (i.e. getting noticeably angry when discussing who wrote a certain comic book or an artist that inked panel 5 on an obscure 1971 Charlton comic etc) and there inability to be interested in anything else outside of comics. Personally I don’t link myself to being like those geeky guys now as its not all consuming for me although I had to admit to feeling more conspicuous now than in the past (grey haired old man) when in Forbidden Planet etc looking for comics in amongst the new trendy elite comic hipster types.

Kid said...

Great response, McS, thanks. I remember being disappointed at my first mart and thinking that if this was the type of people who were into comics, did I really want to be counted among them? I didn't see myself as the same kind of person they seemed to be, but perhaps I had blinkers on and people who knew me saw me as exactly that kind of person. Also, there's something seductive about thinking one's interests 'belong' only to yourself and aren't shared by the teeming mass of humanity; you know, like it's a secret only you and a few select 'worthies' are privy to. So like you, I never saw myself as a geek, but I'd probably be shocked to discover that others saw me as exactly that. I don't really attend marts anymore (only ever went to a handful at most in my life), preferring these days to get stuff from ebay or direct from publishers. There's so much about your comment that tallies with my own experience (football and drinking aside), that it's reassuring to learn that I'm not the only person who thinks (or thought) as I do (or did). Wouldn't it be interesting to know what the 'geeks' thought about our kind of comics reader? Probably considered us imposters.

Kid said...

Meant to say that I also played cowboys and Indians, and soldiers (well, 'best man fall'), not just superheroes. I also used to play at 'Time Tunnel', rolling over the grass as if I'd just been ejected from the tunnel into another time and place. Can hardly roll out of bed these days.

Colin Jones said...

I've never been to a comics convention so I don't know what a comic nerd is supposed to look like but Paul's comment about nerds fussing over trivial things reminds me of a scene in 'The Simpsons' where Comic Book Guy is at a convention and he's looking through some boxes of comics and he says "They've mixed up Amazing Spider-Man and Spectacular Spider-Man - this will not do!"
Paul also mentioned being a "grey haired old man" in Forbidden Planet (surely you mean a "silver fox", Paul?) which reminds me of the time I was in FP about 10 years ago and I was in rather a hurry to pay and leave but I got stuck behind an old man who must have been at least 75. He was a bit deaf because he kept saying "eh??" to the young man on the till. I had no choice but to wait until he was done which seemed to take forever. But it proved that people of all ages read comics!

McSCOTTY said...

Yeah I liked the idea that Comic fandom was a niche interest - I was aware of fans more via the letters pages of fanzines and the UK reprints etc so I just considered them to be like myself as my only interaction with them at this point was in the letters read out in my "mind". I met some of these guys in real life a few years later (u some unknowingly to them at marts ) and many fitted the stereotype but a couple were more interesting and to be fair almost all (not all)a. were nice guys. I met this one comic geek that had a blog in EK for a coffee what an numpty he was ol

Kid said...

Nah, forget the 'silver fox', CJ - McS was right in describing himself as a 'grey-haired old man' ('Cos that's what he is - hee hee). And save us from being stuck behind old people in queues, especially when they want to chat about the weather for 15 minutes and don't start packing their messages until the very last one has passed over the barcode. Strewth! (And yes - I know we'll all be like that one day.)

******

I know the guy you're talking about, McS, and you're right - what a numpty. Vain, opinionated, aggressive, domineering, pedantic, and full of himself - but also extremely interesting, incredibly handsome and manly, with a full, luxuriant head of hair. And did I mention how handsome and manly he was?

Colin Jones said...

Kid, I mentioned recently that I'd read the novel "Shuggie Bain" which is set in '80s Glasgow and characters in the book talk about "messages" and "message bags" which I didn't understand but you mentioned "packing their messages" in your comment so do you mean shopping? Characters in the novel also said "flitting" for moving house which is a phrase you often use too.

McSCOTTY said...

I think that may have been myself that was in front of you in FP Colin :)

I just had a memory jolt there regarding the Time Tunnel comment Kid, we used to do that as well and I had totally forgotten all about that until I was driving down the road to pick up a parcel when i got a flashback to the time - scary fun stuff (the flashback not the game)

Kid said...

Yeah, CJ, we use the word 'messages' for 'shopping' - as in "Do you want any messages?", which means "Do you want any shopping?"

******

Like 'Best Man Fall', it was always wise to first check that there was no dog turd on the patch of grass you were about to roll over, McS. Having said that, I wasn't always so wise and occasionally had to go in and change my jumper or trousers. It's a tough life, eh?

Phil S said...

Hmm. I can’t say I was affected that way. I think perhaps I wasn’t paying attention to the other collectors. But I’ll tell you a story when the 89 Batman movie came out. I was in a restaurant in Santa Monica wearing my Batman t shirt and the waitress asked me what do you want caped crusader? So she was having fun. I wore the same t shirt at a Supermarket in Sydney in 1991 and some total stranger came up to me and told me I was too old to wear a Batman t shirt . What a jackass. He was a rather overweight old man. Haha . My opinion is I don’t care what other people think, I’ve had my share of people thinking I was weird collecting comics and I don’t give a hoot what they thought because I didn’t know them, they weren’t my friends. Perhaps the collectors in London were different ? But definitely at cons in the US it was a an older crowd and by that I mean 30 over and old hippies . When I started going. Now it’s a lot of young people buying action figures and old guys at the comics . And hot girls in costume so I’m not complaining.

Kid said...

I'm not sure about London cons, PS, though I suspect they're the same as Scottish ones, which are the ones I went to a few times. The hot girls in costumes bit sounds good, especially if it's Valerie. Now if someone like her had been at the cons I was at, then I would never have noticed the old sad geeks (of which I am now one).

Dave S said...

I too preferred comics when it was a niche interest. There's just something that doesn't sit right with me that the same kinds of folk who laughed at me at school for reading comics can now explain the origin of Iron Man and talk with authority on how Thor's hammer works.

Yeah, when I first started going to marts, I was surprised by the number of older folks around, but got to enjoy seeing the same people at each mart, even if I rarely had any conversations with them other than "how much is this". There was a couple from, I think, the North-East of England who used to have a stall at every mart that I liked seeing- the lady had a very distinctive voice!

Kid said...

One of my pals I've known from primary school was never into comics and couldn't understand my fascination with them. And yet he was blown away by the first Marvel Studios Captain America movie - the fights, the special effects, etc. What he didn't get when we were kids was that I saw comics that way in my imagination as I read them, whereas he just saw drawings on a page - if he ever looked at a comic that is. Yeah, now there doesn't seem to be the same stigma attached to reading comics as there used to be.

McSCOTTY said...

That's exactly how I saw comics in my head Kid they were like a movie, sadly that's no longer the case for me. Reminds me of how I probably saw how I played with my toys as a child.

Kid said...

I think we probably no longer see comics like movies, McS, because they seem to consist mainly of talking heads these days. Also, ironically, sometimes they're trying too hard to look like layouts for a movie treatment that they lose the spontaneity that Kirby imbued his pages with.



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