As the internet has risen in size, scope, and access during the 21st century, fans of comic books, science fiction, Japanese animation and no end of subcultures have been able to mingle with each other like never before. No longer are fans limited to letter columns in comic books themselves or the occasional fan magazine or newsletter, or merely attending conventions in person. From 1999 – 2007 alone, things such as “blogs”, “Twitter”, and “Tumblr” (respectively) filled this virtual space and allowed the “geeks” and “nerds” to form online cliques like never before. Although long seen as the stereotypical pastimes of antisocial men, the rise of the Internet has seemed to give rise to the “revelation” to this current generation that such things can appeal to women of all ages too. And as a counter to the term “fanboy”, the word “fangirl” has arisen to unite women with tastes for comics or adventure throughout the web as well. Unfortunately, many online communities can become a microcosm of “real life” communities, and issues such as xenophobia, sexism, and misogyny can arise from members who should know better. Hardly a fortnight goes by without some story about a case of notable “fanboy rage” against a female journalist covering such subjects online, or some huge comic book multimedia company representative saying something tone-deaf in regards to gender relations.
Such matters usually both appall and puzzle me as a fan, a “journalist” and a human being myself, considering where the initial spark of my own love for this hobby came from. To this end, today is the best day to offer tribute to the source of that spark, my mother. Many adult fans introduce the “hobby” of comics to their children, or such things are introduced by other relatives or siblings. While many sons can profess learning of such things from brothers or fathers, I wonder how many could admit it was from their mom where a love for comics first blossomed?
She came of a time before the Internet or VHS or other sorts of things some take for granted now. It was the heart of the Cold War era and society had very rigid rules for men, women, boys, and girls. Both gasoline and comic books were cheap; for only a dime a comic book offered cheap entertainment for children with bright colors and brighter characters. It was Batman, Superman, and the “family” of Superman comics (especially “Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen”) which first sparked my mother’s love for comic books as well as science fiction in general. When her allowance wasn’t enough to fuel her desires, she used money earned by recycling bottles and cans to earn her latest foray into adventure. Through syndication, the “Adventures of Superman” starring George Reeves was still beaming into black and white sets for her to enjoy, among other shows. Before long, it was “Star Trek” on the small screen as well as “Star Wars” in film, and “Dune” in novels, which propelled her interests for science fiction into the time when I first arrived on this planet. To this day, she shares the classic lament of many a “comic book guy” out there, giving away her comics of youth as she reached adulthood.
As a kid, I hardly knew a time when I wasn’t within easy access to comic books due to her. According to our family legend, she briefly dated one of the artists/inkers of Marvel Comics’ “G.I. Joe” comic book series and through him gained the ability to read Marvel’s entire stock for free. Once that ended, she adjusted her budget to include monthly subscriptions to the comics she’d grown to like best. By the time I began to read, that meant “Incredible Hulk”, “Amazing Spider-Man”, “Web of Spider-Man”, “Fantastic Four”, and “Thor”. Her troves of comics, still in the plastic wrappers and boards offered by Marvel’s subscription service, were always within reach so long as I didn’t mangle them or make a mess. It was a time of great change with some of their designs; Spider-Man was often wearing his black costume, She-Thing was a member of the Four, and the Hulk was Grey. Next to “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” and “The Smurfs”, “Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends” was one of the first animated shows on TV that I vividly remember watching with her. One of the longest “geek” conversations I recall having with her was when I saw a strange cover to one of her “Incredible Hulk” issues and she patiently explained that the behemoth had started out green, and his shift to being grey was more recent. As I got older I preferred the hard luck heroism of Spider-Man while she preferred the sci-fi family of the “Fantastic Four”, the pure emotion of “Incredible Hulk”, or the handsome blond locks of “Thor”. The years went on and I grew up, but she was still getting subscriptions to various comics, such as “Daredevil”, as I began college.
Throughout my childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, my mom was always there to help me grow in both matters of life and matters of geek. Her fondness for the armada of toys offered by 1980’s franchises was so high, she expressed some dismay when I grew out of them. Whether it was “He-Man” or “Batman: the Animated Series”, “X-Men”, or even “Gargoyles” making strides in TV animation, she always enjoyed it alongside me. So long as local newsstands still sold comic books, one could never tell when a random outing might result in her grabbing a random “Superman” comic to see how the “man of steel” was faring. She could enthrall me for hours noting how “Enterprise” fractured the continuity of previous “Star Trek” series from the original to “Voyager”. Although “Superman” comics may not be had at newsstands anymore, “Smallville” long entertained her in that regard, and these days “Arrow” serves as her favorite shirtless comic book hero on TV. And to this day, she could probably recite the entire original “Star Wars” trilogy line by line from memory.
As such, I never needed blogs, Tumblr, Twitter, or the Internet to “learn” that the world of superheroes, space ships, mutants and aliens didn’t exist solely as a male power fantasy. They were as much a part of mom’s world as her hair, inspiring and entertaining her in no end of ways through no end of times to march to the beat of her own drum. In that regard I have maintained the family tradition, and proudly intend to continue so long as they exist. The world of comics can unite unique people of all shapes, sizes, and colors, so long as we heed the lessons within them and don’t use the anonymity of the online world to behave like super villains instead of super heroes.
Happy Mother’s Day to the best mom in the world (in my biased opinion). Thanks for introducing me to worlds that continue to stretch my imagination just as they have yours. I’ll never forget it; at least so long as I avoid any cosmic radiation.