May 6, 2015

Giant Box of Comics presents "Stories from the Comic Life" - "My Mum" by Tom Miller

A little while ago, I sent this message out to some of my friends and colleagues who are, in my opinion, very interesting people with whom to talk comics:

"I'd like to invite you to guest-post a short piece on an important, influential, however you might put it, piece of comics or comics writing that you've read. It doesn't have to be your favourite comic or anything, and it certainly doesn't have to be rigorously researched and academized. But I think it would be interesting to know what pieces of comics culture have impacted you deeply, and then to disseminate those thoughts to a wider audience."

Over the next few weeks, I'll post what they sent me, which I hope will provide an interesting picture of the ways in which comics, and comics culture, in all their myriad forms, have an effect on those who love them. 

I'll start with a short story about my Mum.

I blame her, you know. It's all her fault.

When I was 9 or 10, we lived in Mississauga, Ontario (Canada for you non-Canadians). At that age, I was getting to the point where I felt relatively comfortable walking to the local convenience store by myself. It was about a five minute walk from our house, but far enough that it made me feel pretty big getting to do it. It was there that I discovered comics. I'd read Archies, and Richie Riches, and had a stack of old Doctor Who Weekly magazines. But it was in that store that I discovered those curiously-coloured items that would come to, in large part, define my life. Superhero comics.

The first three comics I bought were Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars #7, West Coast Avengers v.1 #1, and Transfomers v.1 #1. (Also, can I just say, that Sienkiewicz cover is amazing!) I still have them. For some, the most expensive comics, or the extremely rare ones, are the crown jewels of their collections. For me, it is these. Only one other one has any greater stature.

When I discovered comics, much to her credit, my Mum encouraged my brothers and I to read them. I still, to this day, meet people who would never do that with their kids, people who think that reading comics will lead to some Wertham-esque delinquency and illiteracy. I may admit to a bit of healthy delinquency over the course of my life. But I'm pretty sure it's not because of comics.

At that time, for some reason that perhaps my Mum can clarify, we decided to take advantage of a subscription service at a comic shop in Burlington, a couple of towns over. The reason I say I'm not sure why we did this is because at that time I'm sure there were comic stores in Mississauga. Though, thinking back on the chronology, we might have been living in Oakville by this point. Anyway, we each got to reserve a few comics per month, and my Mum did too. She'd read them as a kid (her stories of her old Superman collection that is long vanished still fills me with sadness. Seriously, the first thing I'm going to do when I invent a time machine is go back and rescue them from wherever they ended up. Maybe it's already happened....), and she started getting two series that not only fundamentally changed the way I saw comics, but the way the industry did. One was the first issue of The Dark Knight Returns, and one was the first issue of Crisis on Infinite Earths. I guess there's arguments for which one changed the industry more, but the stronger argument is of course for DKR. It literally changed the way that that hero was defined forever. We will never see a mainstream Batman free of the influence of that series. Miller's series reinvented a myth.

But that's not the one that's the jewel of my collection. I still have it, but I don't love it, don't look so fondly on it, as I do the first issue of Crisis.

I should point out that, to this point, I was pretty much a Marvel kid. This was my first real exposure to the DC There were two Supermen? Two Green Lanterns? There used to be two Batmen, but one was dead? I had no idea what was going on. But my Mum continued to buy the title, and I continued to read it, and bit by bit I started putting together the idea of infinite parallel dimensions filled with superheroes, vast cosmic events that threatened the very fabric of reality, multiple futures that diverge from one particular short, the series introduced me, in a way that I think Marvel comics are only just getting to, to the vast, mythological potential of the superhero.

More the point of the story, however, is that I will never, ever be able to read that comic, that crown jewel of my collection, without thinking about my Mum. It's intrinsically linked to her now.

It should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with my blog that the superheroic myth is very much what I am still wrestling with as an adult, albeit, hopefully, in a more sophisticated manner than my 11 or 12 year old self. I have wrestled with it, in some form or another, for most of my life. For me, teasing out the ramifications of fictions like these has become an almost religious, or at the very least spiritual, calling.

And I blame it all on my Mum. If she had never bought this comic, I may never have found that purpose that has driven me my whole life.

Tom Miller is the guy who writes this blog.

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