Dawn of the Geeks, part one
By Desmond Reddick
01 March 2009 — In the pages of one of the greatest novels ever written, James Joyce wrote: "Whatever else is unsure in this stinking dunghill of a world, a mother's love is not." In my case, this is the very reason I am even affiliated with Earth-2.net. I was raised to be a geek through the indulgence of a family of non-geeks. My life is a social experiment. Join me.
It was the summer before I was to start kindergarten. The year was 1984, and by no means the nasty future Orwell had made it out to be — this was a thought I had all the time that year. There was still innocence in the world. GI Joe was on the air and it was okay for the cartoon heroes to use guns, because they were shooting the bad guys. We didn't wear bike helmets, and if we fell off we waited until the bleeding stopped before getting right back on. It was an age where you didn't have to have your eyes on your child at all times. Thus, every weekly shopping trip for me was spent sitting cross-legged on the floor next to the spinner rack of the local Safeway.
I would absorb every comic that was there as quickly as I could and choose one that my mom would buy for me. I don't remember the first comic I ever had in my hands, but I do remember the first one my mom ever bought me: Super Powers #2. I remember not knowing who most of the people on the cover were, but I also remember thinking that Superman looked like he was in trouble. And yes, soon after I begged for the toys. I wish I still had them.
From there I branched out into Batman, Superman, Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four and Classic X-Men. I studied comics more than read them, because I couldn't read them. But I could soon read because of comics. I became the kid who brought comics to school and was derided for it by my teachers — but then lauded for my vocabulary by using words like "cameo" and "agility." You all know where I learned those words, right? Exactly.
I became, then, a reader of epic proportions. I devoured books and went right for the horror section of every bookstore I entered. I don't know what started the horror angle, but I've always been drawn to the dark fantastic. And literature offered more of an escape in that regard than comics ever did. I'd read most of Stephen King's bibliography and can guarantee I was the only kid in my grade six class who'd read Stephen King's It. I remember because I shared the part where Pennywise uses a certain "C-word" with all of my friends. My parents bought me books that I was too young to read because I hungered for them, and when your kid wants to read, you don't refuse them. By the time I was 10, I had read Stephen King, Joe Lansdale, Clive Barker, HP Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe.
The shift to horror films was natural from there. For the next several years I visited Crazy Mike's Video and rented two movies a week from their massive horror collection — also known as "Mecca" — and alphabetically schooled myself in video nasties of all kinds. As a result, there is nary a horror film released on video in the 1980s and 90s that I haven't seen.
The whole time my parents indulged me. They weren't excited about my preference of cinematic genre, but they knew that it was too late to do anything about it. They would never (and still won't) admit it was their fault to begin with. On one occasion, I remember very well them going away for a week to the Maritime Provinces of the Great White North while I stayed with my aunt. When they returned, they presented me with a Xerox box filled with horror novels — both classic and paperback trash — from a used bookstore. I was giddy with excitement and even giddier when they told me another box was being shipped.
It soon came to the point where the love of comics was too much to be contained in one squeaky spinner rack, so weekly one-hour trips to Chris' Collectables — the closest comic book store — were part of the routine. I dove for back issues, and this is where I learned to appreciate older comics. Soon I began frequenting Foot's Hobbies, and when my favorite clerk at Foot's bought the business and renamed it Greyhaven, I shopped, hung out, ate and debated comics for the next 15 years and counting. I bought the first issue of Youngblood from Adam. Now he knows me well enough to warn me against such purchases. I wouldn't have invited him to my wedding if he didn't.
The horror film aspect of my geekiness is the most insular, as it is the one I have been indulged in the least, but my parents were still liberal enough to take me to Hellraiser II: Hellbound in the theatres; I was nine years old. A few years later, I distinctly remember my mother arguing with the guy behind the counter because he wanted to charge her adult price for my ticket to see Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare. Mom lost her argument that day, but I won; it was the first time I saw a 3D movie.
But it was my grandfather who really schooled me in genre film. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents in my youth, and much of it was spent watching movies with guys like John Wayne, Jimmy Cagney and Humphrey Bogart. "Real men" as Gramps would say. I'm fond of the fact that Touch of Evil has been my favorite movie since elementary school. But it was when he pulled out the VHS tapes with classic Universal films like Creature from the Black Lagoon, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman and The Invisible Man Returns that he really impressed me. It wasn't until I started reading trade magazines in high school that I realized that other people besides me and Gramps had seen these.
It wasn't just horror movies though; I was pedigreed in geeky films. The first non-Disney film I saw in theatres was Red Sonja, and I remember asking my mom how they got those people behind the screen. I celebrated my seventh birthday party by watching Howard the Duck with my friends, and discussed the nature of revenge on my 14th birthday after watching The Crow with my dad. It's been a part of me since the beginning.
Getting back to Super Powers #2, one thing I didn't notice about the cover until the better part of a decade later was that it was drawn by a guy named Jack Kirby. It's too bad the interior artwork didn't match that frantic cover. I lost that issue and only recently have I been able to find it. It's still hard to hold without welling up in tears. You see, I'm not the kind of guy who remembers exactly what issue number a certain character appeared in for the third time or what year a comic got cancelled, but I knew this issue inside and out even a decade later. It's what set me on the road to geekdom.
I'm now conducting a social experiment of my own. I don't want to be the teacher that I had; I am a teacher who uses comics to teach my students, especially those with difficulty reading. I don't want to be the parent who blindly indulges; I am a parent who will guide my sons through the world of geekdom through media that shows the fun side of imagination and bedtime comic books. I am who I am because of those who came before me, and I can't forget my roots. Going back to that terrible comic that I would probably urge people to skip today, I am reminded of another James Joyce-ism. I'll end with it: "The longest way round is the shortest way home."