This summer I ♥ Comics returns to Blog@Newsarama. Each Wednesday comics bloggers and creators will discuss the things they love about the medium.
This week our guest contributor is Matthew Sturges, whose resume includes writing or co-writing (with Bill Willingham) several DC and Vertigo titles, such as Jack of Fables, House of Mystery, Shadowpact, Salvation Run, Countdown to Mystery and Blue Beetle. Check out the main site’s recent interview with him to find out more about Jack of Fables, House of Mystery and his exclusive contract with DC.
by Matthew Sturges
I didn’t grow up reading comics. I spent most of my formative years in a small town in West Virginia, with no comic shop anywhere in sight. You could buy a few comics from the spinner rack at Kelly Drug, which was in the early eighties a throwback to a much earlier day, with a soda fountain, the whole bit. But it was just one rack, and I seem to recall that it held the same four issues of The Incredible Hulk for about a year.
My friend Chris Roberson got me into comics; I think the issue that did it for me was issue eight of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. It’s the first appearance of Death, where she sits on a park bench and shouts Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious! I had a T-shirt of that panel that I wore for years.
But it wasn’t just the comics that drew me in – it was the culture of comics that was just as fascinating to me. I’d been a geek for years, in a time and place when being a geek meant near-total ostracism by the ruling classes of my middle school. I hid my addictions to Star Trek and Doctor Who. The only guy I shared any of this with was the one kid in the sixth grade who got picked on more than I did. But now here was an entire community of nerds whose base of operations was the comic shop. Here recommendations were passed on. Here you could strike up a conversation about Douglas Adams or Monty Python without getting blank stares or a wedgie. It was like a secret club, and I wanted to be a member.
The problem was, I didn’t know the code. When people would ask whether I was a DC or Marvel guy, I would throw up my arms and say, “Neither.” If you’d asked me to name three X-Men I couldn’t have done it. When Roberson would start going on and on about the Legion of Superheroes, daring people to quiz him on the homeworlds of the various members, I could only watch in confusion.
Which, for a while, was fine with me. I’d picked up a few superhero books from the racks, but none of it made any sense to me. To a new reader it was impenetrable. Who were all these characters? How do they interrelate? How come the Flash is three different guys? I was much more comfortable with the mature readers stuff. It seemed cooler, for one thing, and it was all fairly self-contained. I mean, sure, the Justice League shows up in Swamp Thing there for a bit, but it’s all self-contained and you can just breeze past it if you want to. For a long time I was mainly interested in the holy trinity of British invasion writers: Moore, Gaiman and Morrison.
Still, though, it nagged at me. I knew that within the pages of those superhero comics was something that I wanted; that huge continuity and history and shared cultural language was like a siren song. So one day I went out and bought an Essential X-Men book and sat down and read it. Then I started buying Superman, Batman, Justice League, everything I could get my hands on. Green Lantern? Bring it on. For whatever reason I gravitated to the DC books. Probably because my years of Superfriends reruns had prepared me for it a bit better, who knows.
And now, years later, I finally speak the language, although there are idioms that I haven’t mastered. I’ve never read Secret Wars. I hadn’t read the Giffen/deMatteis Justice League until about six months ago (“Ah, so this is where Batman decks Guy Gardner with one punch!”). Some of these things are, I fear, lost to me forever. If you didn’t read them at a certain age, they’ll never be alluring. I’ve read a good swath of the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans, for instance, but mainly for historical purposes. As much as I appreciate the craft of it, I can’t really get into the stories that much.
And that’s fine. I don’t really have anything to prove anymore. I’m married, I have kids, I have a life of my own and I don’t have that burning need to fit in anymore. And at some point my understanding reached a critical mass and it all more or less makes sense now. I’m past the age where I feel like I need to be a quiz kid, and I can just play for the love of the sport.
But I have to say, I love, and continue to love, soaking up more and more of this secret world. It felt good when, at HeroesCon earlier this year I could spend half an hour talking to Chris Sims about Mister Miracle, and how weird it is that Big Barda –one of the more powerful beings in the Universe – spent so much of her life assisting her husband in what was essentially a magic show. As I sat there in his hotel room drinking ROM Collinses (a mixture of a rum Collins and a Tom Collins – the preferred drink of space knights everywhere, and hey, I get that!) I felt like I belonged. I felt, unlike Groucho Marx, that I had finally joined a club that would have me as a member.
And for the 12-year-old in me, that perennial outsider, that means something.