16th Sep2010

Live Free or Origin Hard

by Will

Comics as escapism – this is a concept that is always bandied about when people try to explain the notion of collecting & reading comics. Supposedly, we read superhero comics because they take us out of our day to day lives, and might even inspire us to greatness, as we observe acts of heroism. I don’t discount any of this, but I know that, for me, I enjoyed the escapism that the hobby provided me. This is going to get into a lot of family stuff, and may not be as action-packed as the other stuff, but there is a point here. Trust me.

So, we already covered that my mom had me late in life, but it should also be said that my father passed away from an aneurysm when I was three. So, I tell people that I was raised by the Black Golden Girls: Mommy, Muddear, and the Aunts. Being a single mother, my mom was at work most of the time, so I spent most of my time with Muddear, hence the Alabama trips and whatnot. Then, around 1993, something changed.

To go even further back, my mom had been married before. This is actually a bit of an odd story. She got married when she was 26, to a guy named Fred West. He was a bit of a cad, but their marriage lasted about 14 years. When it ended, she said that she was never changing her name again. She eventually met my father, Willie West, who was not related to Fred. So, she got to keep that name-change promise.

In any case, I bring up Fred because he resurfaced around 1993. You see, he had time to think about what he had done (whatever that may have been), and he decided that he wanted her back. Since he had “con man tendencies” about him, he knew how to get to people. He realized that the best way to get to her was through me. Now, this isn’t a standard “creepy stepdad/mom’s boyfriend” kind of thing. I LOVED him. He was a really fun guy. It was hard for me to think he could’ve done anything wrong, and he genuinely seemed to care about me.

So, how does this relate to comics? Well, he used to SHOWER me with toys and comics. Of course it was in order to curry favor with my mom, but I would have these free-for-all days, where he would pick me up in the morning, and we would hit 4 comic shops, 3 Toys R Us stores, and a McDonalds. Even though I’ve exhibited the whole “I’m asking for this just to see if I can get it” behavior, it wasn’t like that here. We’d get in the car, and he’d ask, “So, where to today, buddy?” This was how I learned about comic shops and the back-issue market, as I was always looking for new places for us to go. This took place during the summer, so we’d make these runs about 2 or 3 times a week. Honestly, it got to the point where I had run out of shops and things to buy.

These Fred Sprees were fruitful, as they taught me about local comic stores, like Geppi’s Comic World and Barbarian Books. I also had my introduction to back issues, as I tried to catch up with what the characters had been doing before I got into comics. Geppi’s used to have these $5 grab bags, where you’d just end up with the worst comics. I didn’t know that then, of course. They ALL seemed cool to me, even if it was a Crystar comic from the 80s, or Moon Knight #27. I loved those grab bags because they taught me about other types of books on the market, and they all seemed like these ancient treasures. Even if they were just 10 years old, they felt like these relics from forgotten times. I loved seeing the ads for canceled cartoons and failed breakfast cereals. I also realized that many of them didn’t also didn’t end in one issue, but that just gave me something to search for next time. The seeds were being planted for my love of The Hunt. I was beginning to see comics as things to be collected, and as I had already learned from the Happy Meal toys, I’m a bit addicted to collecting.

*Not actual family. I wasn’t that lame.

Anyway, as this was going on, there was a period where we were almost like a nuclear family. Sure, the aunts and Muddear were still around, but Fred would come by and take Mommy and me to dinner. We’d be in a booth at the Hot Shoppe (that’s for you MD/DC folks!), and I’d be reading an old copy of All-Star Squadron, as they laughed at some joke he just told. I liked that, as it was something I had never had before, but had always seen on TV. It was like I had a mom and a dad, and we were all just happy together.

So, eventually my mom put a stop to the Fred Sprees because she really didn’t think he had changed, and she didn’t want to give him false hope. There was no need for him to waste all his money on comics and toys if it was going to be in vain. Fred stuck around for a while, but he finally moved to Virginia. He died a few years ago, from Alzheimer’s. I could tell he wasn’t necessarily “all there” back in the day, but that was part of his charm. Just another reason I loved him.

So, when I think of “comics as escapism”, I’m not thinking of how cool it would be to be Batman, or what it must be like to live in Metropolis. I fondly think back to the time when I had what society considers a “family”, and how much I liked that feeling. It was fleeting, but comics were there for the whole thing. I can look at a copy of All-Star Squadron now, and it all comes back to me. Maybe that’s more accurately “comics as nostalgia”, but isn’t nostalgia just escapism from the present? Next time, I wrap this all up and bring us to the present.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Five