comic book love

I’ve known Dex for a number of years and most recently she became my husband and I’s kick-ass roommate. I am indebted to her for the stunning piece of artwork she drew for a series of mine that ended up being my favorite tattoo. Not only is she an amazing artist, but she’s a heck of a human being. *grins* Of course, she’ll kick you if you cross her, which is probably why we get along so well. – K.B.

* * *

I love comic books. I mean I really love comic books. It borders on the unhealthy. I can tell you more about comic character origins, who they’ve hooked up with, and their children’s names than I can about American history. And I know my history pretty well. I’ve been known to put on a rubber mask and proclaim myself to be The Goddamn Batbitch, because I’m not quite man enough to be Batman. Besides, I couldn’t be the Dark Knight. I’m way too loud.

People that know me know about my Batman obsession, and actually enable it, for some strange reason. My coworkers bring me Bat-related merchandise all the time, for example. But the true root of my love of comics comes from Captain America. And since I saw the fantastic film version of it recently, I thought I’d share the root of my madness.

My grandfather taught me to read when I was just barely four years old. He did it with the newspaper comic strips. I’d sit on his lap and he’d have me sound out the words until I got the joke. And sometimes even then, I still wouldn’t get it. So by the time I started kindergarten, I was reading the newspaper comics to him every morning. My grandfather had a very sharp mind, for only having about a first grade education. He had taught himself to read about the same way, when he was in the Army during World War II.

There was a drugstore in the little town I grew up in that he would take me to from time to time for lunch. It was one of those Norman Rockwell type lunch counters, and there was the spinning rack of comic books by the window right beside it. One day I was drawn to it, because I realized they were new things to read. I’d burned through my nursery rhymes and Little Golden books pretty quickly once I got to where I could read on my own. And I grabbed an Archie comic and ran over to my grandfather and begged him to buy it for me.

He looked between the rack, the comic in my hand, and the rack a few times before he said no. I was heartbroken for a beat, before he said “Not that one. If you want to read comic books, you’re gonna read a good one.” That’s when he took the book out of my hand, walked over to the rack, plucked off something from the top (where I couldn’t have reached anyway) and handed it to me.

I couldn’t tell you what happened in that particular issue, or even which one it was. I just remember getting lost in it for the next couple of hours. I could see the images in front of me, and I had a soundtrack going in my mind, with the voices of the characters as I imagined them to be, and all the actions as well. Guns, explosions, punches and ricochets. It was so new, yet familiar, since I had watched a lot of old war movies with my grandfather. See, my grandfather never had a son, just two daughters. One of whom had me. So I got to be a little bit of a tomboy, and that was just fine with him.

Throughout my childhood, I read every comic I could get my hands on, which weren’t many. Once I started living with my mother, she wouldn’t buy them for me, but she would for my younger brother, and he made a mess of them before I ever got to read them. But I did anyway. By the time I reached my adolescence, I resigned comics to the realm of childish things that I no longer needed. And after my grandfather passed away right before my fifteenth birthday, I didn’t bother with them for several years.

When I reached my late teens, I was living on my own and I’d gotten a job as an art assistant working on, you guessed it, comic books. It was just one of those crazy random happenstances that I even got the job. I happened to live in the same building, that was pretty much it. The important part of the story is that I rekindled my love of comics. Only this time, I was looking at it from a more mature perspective, and I’d gained a great deal of respect for artists and writers.

I learned that Captain America was created by a writer, Joe Simon, and an artist, Jack Kirby. Kirby is a legend amongst comic artists. He’s also responsible for the look of most of Stan Lee’s characters that have gone on to become films, like Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, The Hulk, and several others.

But for me, most importantly, he created Captain America. That first comic book I ever owned has meant so much to me, and has shaped my life so profoundly. It became a career, it brought my closer to the man that raised me, it fired up my imagination, and was a means of escape from the utter drudgery of life.

Even now, in my thirties, I still love comics. I have shelves full of graphic novels and action figures, as well as posters on my walls. Just last night I didn’t want to drink my margarita unless I had my Batman glass. Hell, there’s an Iron Man mug on my desk right now holding a bunch of random crap.

And even if all that wasn’t evidence enough of my obsession, I’ll take it just a little further. See, I had twin daughters nearly 12 years ago. I will admit, I kind of wanted a boy, so I could name him after my grandfather. Instead, I got two girls, which was also fine. But it’s a little difficult to find a feminine form of Stanley. So instead, I drew my daughters’ names from something that would have meant something to my grandfather. So I named one Jacqueline (after Jack Kirby) and one Josephine (after Joe Simon). It helps that their father is a far more advanced geek than I am, so he was completely fine with this idea. My girls are aware of the inspiration for their names and proud of it, like the good little geeks I raised them to be.

I’ve seen a lot more girls come out of the “geek closet”, so to speak, in recent years, and I love it. I read to relax, to escape, for entertainment. I’m not really into novels, and non-fiction bores me to death, unless it’s the right subject. So it just kills me to talk to women that have never picked up a comic book, but resign it to something that’s “just for kids”. It’s tempting to throw an issue of Strangers In Paradise or Preacher at them and tell them to get back to me. Both are series definitely intended for adults.

Dextra Hoffman is proof that geeks are sexy. Artist, comic enthusiast, and all around awesome chick. You can find her on Facebook and on Google +.

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15 responses to “comic book love

  1. Fantastic story, Dex. I’m a little ashamed to admit that I started with the Archie comics… but at least I started reading comics, yeah?

  2. Photo credit for above photo

    Don Branum @ Phoenix Blue Photography

  3. Dex, I love comic books of all kinds, though I have to admit I’ve become addicted to graphic novels – Neil Gaiman, yum yum. Thanks so much for blogging with us and will hope to see even more of your work as time goes by.

    Kate

    • Neil Gaiman is one of my current favorites. I have a tattoo on my inner right arm of a quote from the Sandman series. It says “Sometimes you wake up. Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly.”

      I’m planning on getting a Bat-symbol on me in the very near future. 🙂

  4. Great Post! I too, cut my teeth on comic books–Superman, Captain Marvel, Plastic Man, Bugs, Daffy and Elmer. I still love comics, they are the only reason I take the newspaper (I like the sports page, too) but my favorite comic in the paper was dropped, Number 9 Chickweed Lane, so I follow it on line. Brooke McEldowney in my opinion is one of the greats, the art is fantastic and the story lines are great!

    Thanks for the great post!

  5. Yay for geek girls (and guys). For me, it was all about Superfriends/JL/JLA. I’m such a fan of Clark Kent that I sat through all ten seasons of Smallville. (And that, my friends, is pure devotion!)

    Thanks for blogging with us. 😀

    • Lisa, I loved Smallville. It was something my late fiance got me to watch, and it was our weekly ritual to watch it for years. I bawled like a baby when I watched the series finale. 🙂 It was a good run. Now I have to go pick up all the box sets (eeep).

      • My eldest son – he’s almost 15 now – and I watched it ttogether, and we own all but the last season.

  6. Hi Dextra, I didn’t read many comics, but there was a Chinese equivalent of Archie comics I used to like as a kid, but there were no girls in it at all.

    I don’t even remember the silliness the 3 men got into, and the only thing I recall was one of the MCs was named “Big Sweet Potato” (literally translated from the Chinese).

    Funny what the mind retains. 😉

    eden

    • I think there was a guy in my hometown with a nickname like that, no joke. In fact, I dated a guy once that everyone called Tater Tot. Of course, that’s when I was younger and had less sophisticated tastes! *laughs*

  7. This is an awesome story!!! I will NEVER forget my 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Tomlin. She let us have an HOUR to peruse through her many comic book collections she had in class. I can’t remember what comics I was reading. But I will never forget her face, the fact that I got to read comics in school, and that it was definitely the best time of my first years in school.

  8. Hi Dextra:

    Sorry to take so long to reply, but welcome to BIWP.

    While we seem to be opposites—you into comix and graphic novels, not novels, me finding novels the stuff of life, not so much comix or graphic novels—I was recently introduced to the graphic novels by Maureen Burdock. I purchased the first three of her in-progress “F Word Project: Five Feminist Fables for the Twenty-first Century.” They cover many major women’s issues from the femicides in Juarez, Mexico to oppression in the Middle East to female circumcision in Africa.

    Maureen’s artwork is detailed and brilliant and she has been given one-woman shows from London to Hamburg. On a more personal note, before her rise to fame, I was priviledged to have her illustrate, by way of maps, my first two novels.

    After seeing her work, I am a little more open to the art form.

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