I’m proud to be a geek. There was a time, though, when those of us with nerdish tendencies had to suffer in silence. But the last few years have placed amazing advancements such as the internet, next generation gaming and mobile phones in to the hands of the everyman, and woman. It’s no longer just the geeks who can push buttons. Today, you’re uncool if you’re not tech savvy. Hollywood has helped too. Major films based on cartoons and comic books have opened the eyes of the mainstream to those imaginative art forms and bought new audiences with them. Comic books can be bought at bookstores, American university courses are built around them, and libraries carry them for children and adults. When I was first enveloped in this wonderful medium, I never would have dreamed that such saturation and acceptance was possible.
My comics reading life was originally one of extreme limitations. Growing up in the early 1980s in an undeveloped town in Western Australia was not the prime hub of comic fandom. Thankfully my mother was, and still is, a very well read woman. Because we grew up relatively poor, her hunger for literature was filled with frequent library trips where not a cent need be spent. With my Dad working all day, myself and my two younger brothers went with her everywhere. Our library trips were met with boredom. There were no comics in libraries in those days. However an oasis soon appeared only a few metres away. “Beth’s Book Exchange.” Mum could pick up 20c treasures in novel form, and for the first time in our lives we were excited to go to “that place with all the books in it.” That was because little old Beth in her wisdom also had a stack of comics in her large shop. We were happy to kneel down and rummage through them like we were looking for a lost lottery winning ticket. Finally, a world we were interested in. Granted, her comics collection was paltry at best. But it was a sliver of a world we couldn’t get enough of. There was no rhyme or reason to what unkempt titles lay there in a heap, under old photography and car magazines. But we loved them all. And Mum was generous enough to give us a distraction. In our frequent return trips we grabbed whatever we could. We ignored all the little war Commando books and anything that looked too kiddie for our tastes. We left the Archie books for kids far less discerning than us.
Superheroes. That’s what we wanted. The 1980s were a veritable treasure trove for pre-pubescent power fantasies. And they usually occurred on Saturday morning TV. Transformers. He-Man. M.A.S.K. COPS. Dinoriders. Thundercats. Rock’N’Roll Wrestling. Centurions. We even put up with the Pac Man cartoon. From 8am till lunchtime my brothers and I sat entranced in front of this glowing adventure box. We even loved the ads, usually for action figures related to the shows, and would argue about which ones we wanted to get. Our favourite show was Super Friends, and its successor, Super Powers. (Check out this awesome site for nostalgic goodness) This was a show with not only one, but a whole heap of DC Comics’ superheroes. Of course, we were familiar with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. But this was something new. Heroes I’d never heard of, each with costumes and powers better than the last. Firestorm. The Atom. Flash. Green Lantern. Aquaman. Hawkman. And baddies like Gorilla Grodd, Sinestro and Cheetah. Whenever we played in the backyard these were the characters we became.
Each Christmas and birthday we were even more ecstatic to receive our beloved toys. Our superheroes in 3D form. They were even more real to us now. And the best part of all? The Super Powers toys came with original mini-comics. Even better than the toys themselves, these palm sized, full colour escapades cemented our fascination. I still recall reading them with unblinking eyes, marvelling at new characters, the cities in which they worked, their secret identities, their real jobs. And when I saw Flash running across water, or up the side of a skyscraper? Or Wonder Woman flying an invisible jet? Or Superman getting advice from a levitating, meditating Doctor Fate? Forget about it. A life long addiction was born. I clung on to them, for at the time, they were the only taste of the wonderful world of comics we had. I remember getting in trouble from my teacher when she caught me reading an illustrated version of “The Count of Monte Cristo” during reading time instead of a “proper book” like The Hardy Boys or some “young adult” book like everyone else. I didn’t want to read a book about teenage detectives and fast cars and ghostly mansions. Puh-lease. Alien invasions, bullets bouncing off chests, alternate dimensions. That’s what I wanted. And still do.
During my youth in the 1980s was also the prime time for the comic book industry. The decade saw the publication of perhaps the two greatest works in comics history – Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. These two tomes deconstructed the superhero genre and showed what comics as an art form were truly capable of. Comics creators were becoming celebrities and the direct market was born, allowing fans to get their fix at stores solely devoted to comics. Now they had a place to get whatever they wanted and meet others with a similar passion. Of course, all this was happening in the United States, which for me was as far away as Metropolis or Paradise Island. I was still scrounging for dodgy “Australian Editions,” which were cheap black and white imprints of the originals, part of a seemingly random publishing schedule. The benefit of these older issues, however was that they were stand alone stories, a rarity today. It wasn’t until 1988 that I first bought a current, original comic from our local newsagent. Uncanny X-Men Annual #12. It was 64 pages long, full colour, and contained 3 stories to boot. The legendary Chris Claremont crafted a fast paced story and the also legendary Art Adams supplied crackling art. Inside were a whole host of X-Men, including the new member Longshot, whose trippy power was extreme good luck, and even had the team venturing to Australia. My first real exploration into the true world of comics. After that, newsagencies were my prime source for new material until my Dad took my brothers and I to a closing down sale at a comic shop. We found the ad in a local newspaper and begged him to take us the considerable distance and were delighted with all we saw there. Then on a camping trip in 1993 my brother found the Death of Superman trade paperback, and thanks to the 90s boom in the comics industry I saw a TV ad for a new comics shop in the heart of the city. I have been going there ever since. My love affair with comics runs deep. Posters decorate my room, as do toys and import DVDs. I’m always showing my faves off to friends. Whenever I visit a waiting room of any kind, I make sure to leave behind a handful of comics in the pile of old gossip mags. Particularly in Australia, comics have not received the mainstream focus they deserve, and enjoy in places like Europe, Japan and America. It is my dream to show people out there what they’re really all about. And what they’re all about is fun.