Comic Books
 

On Salinger and Generation X

generationxLet’s talk about Generation X. No, not the actual generation X. Those slackers ain’t worth my time. Millennials 4 Life. No, I want to talk about the comic book, Generation X by Scott Lobdell and Chris Bachalo. I’ve written in the past about how Generation X was one of my favorite books growing up, but it has only been in recent months that I’ve given any sort of thought as to WHY it was one of my favorite books.

And, trust me when I say this: as a 14-year-old, I adored this book. I had almost the entire run, collected the sweet action figures, and even recorded the original broadcast of that made-for-TV movie that Fox did. I didn’t just record it; by God, I actually liked it.

See, in 1996, I was 14 years old. I was a shy, awkward video game geek, who was bullied on a regular basis. Girls never liked me, and I wouldn’t have known it if they did. I was as disenfranchised as anyone could get, and I was the perfect audience for Generation X. Unlike the original X-Men, which attempted to address major civil issues, and Claremont’s X-Men, which further explored concepts of alienation within society, Generation X focused on teenagers struggling with just being teenagers in a world that feared and hated them. Every teenager struggles with his or her place in this world, and Generation X spoke to that struggle, using the allegory of mutant powers to do so.

I loved Claremont’s X-Men. Still do. But, when I started reading those comics, the X-Men were adults and dealing with getting married and having kids. While they still had to deal with alienation, it was a different kind of alienation that I couldn’t really understand. They felt distant and old, and while I could appreciate and enjoy the stories, I found it hard to find myself inside of them. Generation X, however, was different. The students in Generation X had fun and developed crushes and tried to learn more about each other and themselves. They were dealing with growing up and all of the hormonal changes that happen during that time. When I was struggling to find myself and fit in, Generation X showed me characters dealing with the same issues.

In a period of life when many teenagers hate what they look like, Generation X gave us Chamber, Penance and Skin, all characters with physical deformities. While none of us had diamond skin or were missing the bottom half of our faces, we did have to deal with things like acne and gangly growth spurts. While I can’t speak for every comic fan from my generation, it felt real — like Lobdell was creating a comic book that spoke directly to me and the stuff that seemed so important when I was a teen.

In ways, I guess, we could consider Generation X to be the comic equivalent of Catcher in the Rye: a voice that speaks to disenfranchised youth and says “life sometimes sucks, but that’s okay. You got this.”

I’m certainly not the first to equate the mutant powers of the X-Men to puberty, and I won’t be the last, but I’m not sure anyone ever handled it quite as well as Generation X did. At least, I think that’s true. I’m not absolutely sure, and I’m not entirely sure I want to find out. Because, I think the Catcher in the Rye comparison is pretty apt, and when I went back years later and re-read that book, I hated it. While I understand its importance to the counter-culture movement of the 1960s, I can also read the book now and see it for what it is: a collection of passive-aggressive whining written from the perspective of a teenager who thinks he understands the way the world works.

During its original run, I loved Generation X, but looking back, I often wonder if I would have loved it as much if I were older when I originally read it. It was certainly well-received critically, and I think, on the whole, the comics themselves were well-written. Lobdell did a great job with the early stories. And, if memory serves me correctly, the later teams wrote some good stories as well. The art was bright and vibrant, and the comics were always a visual feast for the eyes. On a technical level, they were good, well-constructed comic books, and I believe a 32-year-old Christopher would be able to see that and appreciate it. On the whole, a 32-year-old Christopher would like it.

But, I don’t know that he would love it.

And that thought terrifies me. See, nostalgia is a funny thing. It’s a powerful thing. It shapes and defines truth and reality in ways quite unlike anything else. It can make a bad thing good, and a good thing great. But, it’s a double-edged sword. When it disappoints, and it often does, it cuts with a fury that leaves you broken and tattered.

I don’t know if my memories of Generation X can survive that.

Then again, if the goodness of Generation X only exists in my mind, is that a good thing?

I don’t really have an answer for any of this. As I said, I have only just started to explore why Generation X meant so much to me growing up. There’s a real part of me that wants to just grab my old issues and read them all straight through just to find out what I think about it. That part of me is impetuous and slow-witted. The other part of me, the part of me that cares about the stuff I grew up with, tells me it’s not a good idea right now. I’ll probably end up listening to the second guy. I am older, and logic usually wins out.

That first guy, though. That first guy is loud.

 

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Quarterbin Follies #5: Bad Island

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I have a strange relationship with Doug TenNapel. Now, we don’t go to the same barber. Our children are not in Boy Scouts together. We don’t even live in the same state, Nevertheless Doug has been a part of my life for years.

Most of us Gen-Xers first met Doug through his creation Earthworm Jim. Whether it was action figures or video games or the cartoon show, Jim was a fixture of the mid-90s. But I do not know Doug TenNapel from Earthworm Jim—I just never got into it. I would spot the action figures on the shelf of our local Target and think, man, that’s weird, and that is about as much as I knew.

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Quarterbin Follies #4: Boondoggle and Johnny Delgado is Dead

Before diving into today’s reviews, I want to talk a little about the two joys of comic collecting. (I imagine these might well apply to other collectings, but this is my column, darn it!) The first, and I think the ONE MOST talked about, is the hunt: that quest to find the particular thing to round out your collection – that sublime time spent rummaging through boxes long and short in comic shops or flea markets. Or the remarkable, incomparable thrill of finding that forgotten treasure that the shopkeeper doesn’t even know he has. What victory!

But mostly, I want to talk about the unsung collectors’ thrill – the unexpeCoverscted treasures – those books you buy on a whim, or in a lot, or in a box at some garage sale. They’re the ones that say something special about the way you look comics. At least, I assume everyone has those stories. Hell, that’s how I found Marvel’s Obnoxio the Clown, Gerard Jones’s El Diablo, and Mike Baron’s Butcher. It’s how I discovered Moon Knight AND Ragman for crying out loud! I had one such experience just the other day. Continue reading

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Punching the Clock

punch-clock-featuredNext week, I will start full-time work for the first time in over five months. I graduated from college with my Master’s degree in English in May, and since that time, I have been awash with applications, resumes, and cover letters, almost to the point of hopeless desperation. As rejection after rejection rolled in, broken up only slightly by the occasional interview, my natural optimism began to wane. I started to question my self-worth, as a job hunter sometimes does, and I often felt as dehumanized as a straight, white male ever can feel dehumanized.

But, then the big call came in earlier this week. I got a full-time job, which starts next week. Jubilation flooded my mind, at first. After that, I was struck with a stunning realization: from here on out, I will have to juggle full-time work and making comics. It’s not impossible, and I’m certainly not the first to experience this, but it definitely took a moment to process. Continue reading

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The Quarterbin Follies #3.1: Cortland cont.

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Welcome back, Internet!  If you weren’t here yesterday, we were chatting about the rollicking techno-fantasy Cortland and its comedy sequel Out At Five, both by Omaha’s Matt Johnson.

(Click Here for Part One of the Interview!)

OutatFiveR: I must confess, that when I first ran across Cortland (I suppose it was in 2006) it didn’t really do a lot for me. I only read a couple of weeks of strips, and while I got a few chuckles, it seemed a little inaccessible to me.  Looking back, I honestly believe it was my PC user bias! I’d had a PC in my home every day since I was 7, and while I had used Macs during my one year of college, I never really appreciated them. They just seemed needlessly foreign. Well, a lot of water under the bridge, and this time my reaction was vastly different. I have never cared more about Mac and the history of the Apple line as I have in the last four weeks.  Have you had any similar comments?

J: The most frequent compliant I’ve heard about the comic is that it seemed to be insipidly pro-Mac, sort of a cheerleader for the platform. This wasn’t surprising, since I first started drawing the comic for a Mac e-zine called ATPM back in 2002. But if you read the whole comic, you’ll see I have plenty of jabs at Steve Jobs, Apple, and everything else in the Mac community. One reason I started Out at Five was to try to break out of this Mac-centric mold and be able to try different things without the shadow of being a Mac Fan Comic hanging over it.

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The Quarterbin Follies #3: Cortland

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The year was 2006, and Ideal Comics had just made the leap into the wild world of webcomics. We chose Comicgenesis as our host. I actually have no idea why, but for one thing or another, there we were. In hopes to connect with other creators, I started perusing about the other titles and their message boards hosted on the site. It was around then I first heard of the Cornstalkers. The Cornstalkers were a group of webcomickers, mostly from Middle America, who hosted their own message boards at www.cornstalker.com. That site had been started by Matt Johnson, the creator behind a little webcomic named ‘Cortland’. 

Now, when I first ran across ‘Cortland‘, I read a few pages and then decided to give it a pass. For no particular reason, it just failed to grab me.  Maybe it was the Mac in-jokes or the fact I had recently left the corporate world for the world of private-non-profits—I really can’t say. Robert Frost once said some stuff about a fork in the road—brother, I think I took the wrong fork.

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What DC is Doing Right

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This week, Warner Bros., the conglomerate that owns DC Comics, the publishers of everyone’s favorite giant rat, announced ten new movies in the prospective bag over the next five years:

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
Suicide Squad (2016)
Wonder Woman (2017)
Justice League Part One (2017)
The Flash (2018)
Aquaman (2018)
Shazam (2019)
Justice League Part Two (2019)
Cyborg (2020)
Green Lantern (2020)

To no one’s surprise, there are some pretty expected titles up there. We have Superman v Batman: Dawn of Justice, which is a weird name, and of course the Zack Snyder-helmed Justice League. There were, however, some cool surprises, though. Movies like Wonder Woman, Flash, and Cyborg. And some I don’t get, like Suicide Squad. I mean, seriously, why follow your big Batman and Superman film with Suicide Squad? It makes no sense.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Fox’s Gotham, and how the show was representative of DC not understanding their audience. And I was very tempted to write about that again, especially in light of these announcements. Let’s face it: It’s a great list, and I’m excited about some of the movies, but it’s evident that they don’t have much of a cohesive plan at the moment. It kind of looks like they’re just throwing a ton of different things at the wall to see what sticks.

What? Marvel just made a ka-billion dollars on their movie about a C-List team of outlaws? Do we have anything like that? Suicide Squad? Sure. Close enough.

I didn’t want to write about that, though. Not too much. Often times, I grow tired of lobbing criticism onto the Internet to join with the other bunches of negativity floating around. Instead, I want to lob some praise DC’s direction. Cautious praise, of course, because I’ve been burned before (**Cough Cough** Green Lantern **Cough Cough**), but praise none-the-less.

Here’s a list of four things I think DC is doing well in their current onslaught of films with washed-out colors.

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Chris's Comic Picks: Soulbinder

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I met Jimmy Wahl a few years ago on a comic book website. He went by a different name back then, but he was funny, knowledgeable, and quick. A few years later, he and I worked for a different comic book site as the editorial team, writing and selecting content to post for the small audience of the site, which was mostly composed of friends from other sites. It was during this period that I got to know Jimmy pretty well, and additionally, I got a chance to really read some of his writing.

I knew he was interested in writing comic books. He had told all of us as much a few times. But, I never got a chance to read any of his comic scripts. He never offered them, and I never asked. Our friendship was a professional one, and we kept our discussions on writing focused purely on the reviews and articles we wrote for the site.

This is one of the reasons I’m so excited to talk about Soulbinder. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a fantastic, dark comic book featuring a gritty atmosphere and intriguing story. But, additionally, it’s like seeing the culmination of a dream my friend has long had.

Soulbinder #1 is the first of five issues, all of which Jimmy plans to publish in the next year. The story is excellently-paced, with a healthy dose of intrigue, mystery, and suspense. The comic opens with a woman giving birth. The infant is stillborn with a crescent-shaped scar on its cheek, and as the mother watches in horror, its body is stolen by a mysterious figure. The entire opening sequence is shown using next to no dialogue, aided greatly by the bold linework of artist, Aaron Bolduc. Bolduc’s lines are heavy and black, heavily contrasted by large amounts of white space and a touch of grey here and there. The art itself aids in the mystery, creating the dark and gritty atmosphere that pervades the rest of the comic.

The story jumps ahead twenty years after that, and we the reader see the rest of the story play out. We see a cop named Tim investigate a murder, which he believes may be linked to similar crimes from twenty years ago. In the first issue, we aren’t told the connection between the birth in the opening pages and the murders in the second half, but that only adds to the intrigue. From the get-go, the first issue of Soulbinder creates a series of mysteries that beg to be solved, and I for one am excited to see it play out.

But, as excited as I am for the story of the comic book, I am also excited by the story behind the comic book. Like other creators, this has been a long process for Jimmy. “I’ve been working on the project in earnest for about 18 months, but the story and characters have existed in some form for years in my head and notebooks,” he says. It started as a character created for a website featuring a fantasy wrestling league.

“In my teen years I participated in online wrestling federations, which for those unfamiliar with what that is, it was a bunch of amateur, and often teenaged, writers coming up with wrestling matches and story lines infinitely better than the current stuff being televised by WWE. I spent most of my time writing a comedic tag team named Alcoholics Unanimous with a friend, but created a darker character for a change of pace. The darker character, which was called The Unknown up until a few months ago when I learned that Mark Waid has a series under that same name, grew on me and I developed it until it became what it is now, The Soulbinder.”

As an independent creator, Jimmy joins the ranks of countless others who have toiled away over the years with great personal investment to create something they’re passionate about.

It’s the story of independent comic books, and one I care about deeply. Independent comic books have existed for decades in some form or SB_1_COMPLETE PDF_page27_image5another, and they’ve run the gamut from brilliant and historically relevant to weird and twisted, sometimes all within the same book. They are always a labor of love, and the creators themselves are rarely motivated by a desire to get rich or be famous, but rather, they are motivated by the opportunity to tell a story that they want to tell, and have that story reach an audience.

It’s one of the reasons Jimmy chose Kickstarter to fund his comic. “I used Kickstarter for the purpose of extending the reach of the comic from the start,” he says, and he’s certainly not alone in this choice. “Kickstarter has something like 35 comic projects funded monthly, which, in an abstract way, makes them one of the largest comic publishers.”

As a whole, crowdfunding has changed the face of independent comics in much of the same way the Internet did twenty years ago. In the decades previous, independent comic books usually struggled to find an audience, often being relegated to comic shops local to the creator, and even then, they were usually glossed over by the mainstream books by DC and Marvel. There were some exceptions, of course. Bone and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles certainly come to mind. On the Internet, however, independent comic book creators could connect with fans across the country in ways they’d never been able to before, and that was a wonderful thing. It still is.

And crowdfunding sites, like Kickstarter, have only made that wonderful thing even better. By tapping into that increased pool of potential fans, creators can now fund their comic books and reach an even greater audience. Fans get new comic books from the creators they love, and creators get an opportunity to keep making comics, while reducing their initial investment. Everybody in this scenario wins.

It’s not a perfect system, of course. A lot of crowdfunding campaigns sometimes come down the whims of a fickle public. “I went in with tempered expectations,” Jimmy says. “I knew that Soulbinder wasn’t something that could match the magnificence of potato salad, so I didn’t expect to raise $50,000.” Still, he worked hard and advertised his campaign to friends and family, and ultimately it paid off: Soulbinder was funded within 30 days, and Jimmy sent the comic off to the printer immediately.

“The one thing that I can’t stress enough is that the comic should be ready to go to print the moment the money hits your bank account,” Jimmy says. “The biggest complaint of anyone backing a project is having to wait for their reward. Once your campaign ends start getting quotes from printers and getting everything ready to go out.”

On the whole, independent comic books are never going to die. As a labor of love, creators will continue to create them, regardless of the process they use. I love crowdfunding, though, because it makes the process easier, and anything that increases the presence of independent voices within the comic book industry is something that should be praised.

Here at Ideal Comics, we love the inherent idea of independent comic books casting off the shackles of the industry and going forth alone. When we started this company almost a decade ago, that was what we were trying to do. It’s why we funded our comic books ourselves and decided against distributing through Diamond Comics, often opting to talk to local stores ourselves. I still remember writing a personal letter to comic book shops around the country asking them to carry Zing Comics #1, and even getting a few issues onto shelves. It was a great feeling to see an idea we had worked so hard to produce finally come to fruition.

And when that idea results in a comic book that is as good, and fun, and intriguing as Soulbinder is, it’s even better. I’m excited to see where Soulbinder goes from here. Not just because I’m friends with Jimmy, and not just because I’m a fan of independent comics, but really, because I’m a fan of good stories, and Soulbinder – at least the first issue – fits that bill.

If you would like to pick up a copy of Soulbinder #1, you have a number of ways to do so. The comic will be available at New England Comics locations in Massachusetts beginning on October 15. Jimmy also intends to publish the comic on Comixology, though he doesn’t yet have a date for that (follow him on Twitter @JimmyWahl for updates). Lastly, he says, you can contact him by email to purchase a copy from him directly.

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Quarterbin Follies #1: Electric Girl

galart11A young, attractive person, possessed of powers beyond those of mortal men, rises above both adversity and the daily struggles of life, sacrificing him or herself for the greater good. You’ve heard that story before, right? What about this one: a normal girl with a normal family, and a pretty normal life, tries to figure out how to deal with one not-so-normal talent and a constant companion that is anything BUT normal? Well, that will not sound so strange to anyone who has read Electric Girl.

You’ve never heard of Electric Girl? Neither had I. I totally stumbled on it this last August, and if you will allow me a moment, I think the finding is a story worth hearing. See, we at Ideal Comics made the decision this summer to expand the scope of what we did with our website. We didn’t really change what WE creators would do. We just decided to let in all-of-everybody on our side-conversations and geek-outs. Doesn’t that sound fun? Well, sure it does, but as time for the launch crept closer and closer, I suddenly realized something: I haven’t been following new comics for years. It’s a long story.

So, the prospect of a weekly blog sat before me – a chance for me to express my tastes and thoughts, what has informed our own stories. But a weekly column, see, that was heavy. I am not a person of few words, but I do have many weights and concerns and commitments, and the idea of not having something to say on schedule, well, it terrified me a bit.

I needed MATERIAL. I needed fuel for the nerd-fires. And so, like any good nerd, I hit the local library – specifically the Gering Library on the south side of the river. And there, wedged between unordered X-men and Spider-Man TPB’s was a single aquamarine volume with a simple cover of bold, deliberate lines which formed a figure – not some over-sexualized Amazon or grim and brooding outsider, but a happy and pleasant young woman holding lightning in her hand.

Electric Girl was a comic series by Michael Brennan that followed the life and misadventures of Virginia, a girl born with the unique and unenviable ability to generate static-electric shocks from her body. In what seems a blatant if brilliant thumbing-of-the-nose to genre politics, there are no costumes and no code-names. This is not to say that the ideas of heroism and villainy fail to rise within the story, for often ‘Ginny’ is made to use her unique ability to “save the day.”

Written in a nonlinear style, Brennan spends time telling stories of Virginia as a child and as a young woman, although most of the tales center on her life as a 19-year old college student. Ginny herself shines like a very real star—wavering and sparkling, but bright. She struggles with the inconvenience of a static-electric life, while trying to maintain her tenuous grasp on her own happiness. Having lived her whole life with this power, lacking more control in the past than in the present, Ginny is well known as ‘The Electric Girl,’ a name spoken with derision as often as not. Nevertheless, she refuses to allow folk to dismiss her as a freak. In kindness to her friends and persistence in her day-to-day, she shows true heroic spirit.

The other aspect of the book that defines it, and really sets it apart, is the character Oogleeoog. Oogleeoog is a gremlin who has been with Ginny her entire life, serving as adviser, mentor, antagonist, and invisible friend. Brennan, with a notable ease, implies an entire gremlin society running in an unseen parallel to the human world, a society whose aims and goals are founded on the “virtues” of mischief and screwing with the humans. Oogleeoog is unique amongst other gremlins in that while he is one of the most accomplished gremlins, he holds a tenderness for Virginia and her friends and family, balancing a veiled affection with what can best be called orneriness. It is a mix that makes for wry comic gold.

All these elements make for a mulligan stew that is equal parts bizarre and comfortable. Ginny meets love struck zombies and rampaging robots, faces off against conniving cousins and bad hair days (which has some weight for the Electric Girl). And she does this all while trying to finish school and deal with her pet dog and her parents. The stories ride the line between the mundane and the absurd, sometimes leaping clean over in delightful ways. And all of this is accented by Brennan’s bold line work and stylized, almost sketchy details.

Beyond all of this is what I think might be a sublime undercurrent. Brennan tells stories from throughout Virginia’s childhood, so we see her as a young child on bad days and as a teenager on worse days. But in all this, Ginny is revealed as a remarkable young lady. She is neither vain nor self-flagellating. She is not seeking redemption or revenge. She is not some militant. She is rather like so many young women, dedicated to being and doing something worthwhile. In that, she is sometimes the hero, true. But her motive is not glory, but rather a not-heavy-handed devotion to doing the right thing. She is a normal girl in extraordinary circumstances, who uses her upbringing and support as an anchor in the storm—just like we all do.

Electric Girl has been collected into a set of three mass market trade paperbacks, published by AiT/Planetlar. More information is available at http://electricgirl.com/.

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On Ducks and Batman

HowIGotInI am old enough to remember reading Superman in the newspaper. I’m old enough to have seen the Super Friends on television. I grew up with re-runs of Lou Ferrigno’s Incredible Hulk and Linda Carter’s Wonder Woman. And yet, I owe my passion for comics to a man who drew ducks.

It was the middle 1980’s, and I was a lower middle-class white kid in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We didn’t have cable TV, and we didn’t have a VCR; however, every afternoon after school, I had Ducktales. Somewhere in the place where UHF met VHF, and before or after Heathcliff and Inspector Gadget, I had the chance to tune into the adventures of Scrooge McDuck and his great-nephews. It was the perfect stuff for a preteen—action, adventure, magic, mythology–all wrapped up into tasty half-hour segments with decent voice acting.

Flash-forward a couple of years, and me and my family had left the Big City and the South behind, moving into the semi-rural high plains of Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska. Here we had three channels, and none of them showed Ducktales. I was distraught. So, imagine my elation when, walking through the local supermarket, I spied, amongst all the other magazines, a comic book of Uncle Scrooge Adventures. It was the same ducks that I had grown to love in the same crazy hijinks. Now what 10-year-old me didn’t understand was that these weren’t new things designed to cash in on some new, fancy TV show, but rather, they were actually reprints of old Carl Barks comics from way-back-when—long before I was born. Carl Barks was the guy that CREATED Scrooge McDuck, and Flintheart Glomgold, and the Junior Woodchucks, and all things that made Ducktales amazing – and almost 50 years before by I’d ever heard of them. Well, that is what got me to the ‘Rack’, and it was not long before my childhood memories of superheroes sparked curiosity within me.

The first superhero comic I bought was Now Comics’ Green Hornet, volume 1 issue 13. The action, the gadgets, and the sense of history and legacy hooked me, and I’ll bet I read it 12 times that first week. It was a couple of weeks later that I picked up issue 3 of Dave Gibbons World’s Finest prestige format miniseries, and it blew me away. Heck, I even liked Jimmy Olsen in that one! Now, I was 11 or 12, and money was hard to come by, so it wasn’t until the next February (about 2 months later) that I bought my first monthly Batman comic, #459, with a story by Alan Grant highlighted by the emotive shadows of Norm Breyfogle. The story took place on the anniversary of Bruce Wayne’s parents’ death, as Zorro once again played in Gotham. In the closer, Commissioner Gordon had a heart attack on the last page, and it was like a gateway drug. I had to know what happened next. Then, while waiting for the next issue, I saw there was a new robin. My mind was blown, and I was in comics for the long haul.

You see, for me, comics are not about the villains, or the plots, or saving the world. Comics are about the people that do these things. The people that sacrifice–the people that overcome. They are hero’s tales, and it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, if you’re mighty or weak, if you’re in shape or a little soft about the middle, these very human characters act as inspiration and as water-marks of the dreams we humans shoot for. To see Batman struggle with the memories of his own trauma from loss, to see Commissioner Gordon strive to grasp his second chance, or to see Tim Drake try to become something more than a nerd – that’s why I tuned in then, and that’s why I tune in now.

I have written a little about writing before. My writing starts with a desire to give to everyone out there the thrill and the passion I felt sitting on the floor of the grocery store, or by the spinner-rack in the bookstore in my little town in Western Nebraska – that connection to ideas beyond our place, and maybe even beyond time. Ideas that really meant something to me. I hope they mean something to you as well.

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