A few posts back I started talking about my reasons for loving comics. In that post I mentioned there were two elements to my long-term love affair with the medium, one fairly generic and the other more personal. Today I will look at the more personal one, which I believe is unique to me. I know, I know: every personal situation involving me is unique as at any given moment I am a unique individual in a unique environment with unique reactions etc (I read philosophy stuff too !!). What I mean is that I have spoken to and read about the experiences of many comic fans, and I have never come across anyone who has had a similar experience to mine. Actually, it will make more sense if I talk first about the common experience which seems to be shared by most comic fans growing up, as I can contrast my own experience to that.
The common experience most comic fans I have spoken to/read about seemed to have had was one in which comics were considered a childish and fruitless pursuit, with the young fan being actively discouraged from reading the printed miracles they had discovered. In many cases these fans are devastated when their overzealous parent gives/throws away their beloved collection, and/or have to hide the comics they have managed to acquire to avoid this event (re)occurring.
This event has been cited so often by comic fans to be an axiomatic law of comics fandom. It is definitely the first thing a non-comics reader will say when you mention you’re a fan: “I used to read comics, but my mum/dad/grandmother/uncle/some random dude who was staying at my house threw them out”.
I never had that concern. Ever.
Instead, I was raised in a family where comics were enjoyed, discussed, purchased by parents and generally lauded as a great source of laughter, drama and even knowledge. Everyone in my family, from my parents and grandparents, through to aunts and uncles all enjoyed comics, and considered them as just another form of entertainment. I remember there being comics around me from the moment I paid attention to what was around me, and as I grew older I noticed more and more instances of comics being read and loved. Here are the strongest memories from my early years:
# Mum and dad would cut out and save from the newspaper each day the “Love is…..” strip, and kept the collection of strips for many years.
# Babcia (the Polish word for “grandmother”) came to Australia after WWII, and English was her second (really third or fourth) language. Babcia would read Archie comics to improve her English, as it had slang words she would not otherwise encounter
# My godfather Joe had a great, slightly cynical, sense of humour which I loved. He enjoyed strips, and the book collections thereof, like Conchy, BC, Wizard of Id and Broom Hilda. I would devour these when he (and others) bought them. My sense of humour was very much built on these type of strips (and MAD magazine, which we will get to later)
# Similarly, my Aunty Mary was a huge Snoopy fan and collected every paperback collection which was issued. I remember being sick and staying with Aunty Mary, spending the time reading as many of the digests as I could. Even now, reading Snoopy makes me feel better if I am unwell !
# Dad was the biggest comic fan of all, who loved to read anything that made him laugh (he was even happier if it made him think on things too). This means there were always copies in the house of MAD magazine, weekly British humour comics like Buster, Whizzer & Chips and School Fun, the English versions of the French albums Asterix, Iznogoud and Lucky Luke, Harvey comics – Dad’s favourites were Spooky and Hot Stuff – Disney comics and Looney Tunes comics. One of the reasons our house was so full of laughter is there was always something funny to read. Dad made sure of that. Dad would never be more excited than when I brought home the latest volume of Asterix or Iznogoud from the school library, and we would read them multiple times in the fortnight timeframe we had to make sure we absorbed all the levels of jokes they contained !
As I grew older there was always someone to share my burgeoning love of comics with me – first my family, then my mates, sometimes even by teachers (I impressed my 3rd grade teacher with the names of Mars’ moons. I learnt that nugget of information from a Conchy comic) and finally the creators themselves. I consider myself lucky that my experience of comics was one where the reading of them were encouraged and celebrated. Sure, some unenlightened folk thought my hobby was immature, but with the support of my family I was able to continue reading comics with the certainty that I was not strange or immature, but was simply exploring yet another medium in which stories were told. I was a very lucky geek !