Why and how do we so often lose and let go of what used to prop us up?
Speech Day yesterday, and as a student explained the Marvel Comics heroes he loved to the slightly sleepy class, he pointed to a picture of the Uncanny X-Men he'd posted to the board. Staring at those super-heroes from my seat at the back of the room, my mind started to wonder, almost independently of myself: Was that a John Byrne drawing? Or maybe Dave Cockburn. Looked like a group-shot from the Seventies, at any rate. That thought alone was enough to set me right off.
How much of my early life was consumed by comics? I can remember exactly where I was when I read certain comics. Picking up the final issues of SECRET WARS II and CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS on the same freakin' day from Memory Lane Comics on St.Paul Street in St.Catharines, the owner chubby and long-haired and black-bearded to boot, his girlfriend tattooed all up the arms, each entry into their store feeling like an illicit foray into my first counter-culture. Chatting with the elderly owner at a comic-store rival, just up the road, that old Collegiate math teacher who moonlighted as the proprietor of Len's Odds and Ends. Some dude in his sixties, wearing a black leather jacket with Spider-Man on the back! Who had ever seen such a thing? And his kindly grey wife, a grandmother-type who knew all about the Avengers! My world was rocked.
Even thinking of the the names of the artists and writers I loved as a kid feels like hearing about old friends that long since passed away. Feeling excited when that Canadian expat (via Great Britain) John Byrne took over the INCREDIBLE HULK, only to leave after six issues to helm SUPERMAN. Byrne had left his group super-hero book ALPHA FLIGHT (a whole squad of Canuck super-heroes!), swapping entire creative teams with Bill Mantlo from the HULK. I remember standing in the shower after reading an issue of ALPHA FLIGHT that was now quite Byrne-less, puzzling over in my mind if I liked the new origin story given to that runt of a hero named Puck. Once I sat in the backseast car of the Lakeshore Plaza while my mum did her stuff, reading a silly spoof of a comic named PETER PORKER: SPECTACULAR SPIDER-HAM, and on one of the editorial pages the writer, Tom DeFalco had a column where he mentioned as a child how he wanted nothing more from life than to work in the comics field, and here he was, doing that, due to hard work and belief, and that maybe someday in the future you could be that same person if you just did your thing. I felt like he was aiming directly at my head. That moment still pierces me. And so, a few years later, when I went to New York City with my dad, and got a tour of the Marvel offices, and sat in the editors' room for the Spider-Man books, casually chatting with the editors, learning that Spidey would get married to MJ the following summer, holding original art of Venom I later learned was drawn by Todd Macfarlane, I believed in some sense that one day I might get there for good. To that place. Where I wanted to stay.
That never happened. A few years later, discovering Stephen King, I set aside that particular childhood passion for good. My parents chucked most of my one thousand comics, garage-saled to oblivion. I probably haven't read two or three comic books in the past quarter century. What was so much of myself is now just a fond recollection. And that saddens me on some level, makes feel as if I have abandoned a child simply because they weren't all that cute anymore.
Yet it's also, in a weird way, ennobling. We can move on, explore, surpass what we were and find other things to adore. The memories endure, and the passion still simmers, but there are other avenues to tread our aging feet down. Still, there are those moments. Occasionally, at night, restless for sleep, I'll remember myself reading a comic, a copy of FANTASTIC FOUR in the backseat of our car, the cover-art still vivid, the inside-panels quite clear, the way the sunlight from the window warmed both the side of my face and those pages that my fingers so loved to caress.