Saturday, May 13, 2017

My Favourite Book, Part Three

I’d spent my early years with a loving and supporting family and classmates and friends who seemed to accept and understand me, but at around age nine that kind of fell apart.

First of all, you're missing an "of."
Second, though, this just looks like
a bunch of people with flippers
for hands, unless I'm focusing on it.
I found that friends would trick you into thinking they were doing things for you, when really they were just using you to get something they wanted. I learned that my family loved me, but they didn’t really understand me, in a lot of ways. And even the most sincere friends could, at times, be insincere, and family could hurt family. There were ways to tell when this was happening - tone of voice, posture, body language - but I didn’t seem to understand these things as easily as everyone else did.

Even just simply socializing, hanging out with friends, became a bit of a minefield, and I was unprepared for the experience. It was like I’d grown up with native fluency in a language, only to wake up one morning to find that I had the vocabulary of a toddler and someone had changed all the rules.

I set about learning the language of socialization, but it wasn’t easy. My major hiccup was not understanding when people were being sincere, and so how could I know? I couldn’t well ask someone, “Excuse me, are you being untrustworthy right now?”, so, it became a matter of trial and error, a conscious effort to determine what sincerity looked like, how to tell when a friend was angry even when they said they weren’t, and whether a grown-up was really in the mood to talk.

It was really hit or miss, and I did actually ask questions like the one above, naively assuming that people who were trying to deceive me wouldn’t go so far as to lie about such things. Just watching people move wasn’t enough. I had to bring in some heavy hitters.

Ah, this was a sight that
promised an entirely wasted
Friday night.
Three things really helped: books, Dungeons and Dragons and comic books. Some time, I’ll need to write about prose books and tabletop RPGs and how they formed my socialization, but we’re aiming at talking about my favourite comic book here, and I’d intended to do it in two blog entries and I’m not sure I’m going to get to it in three. Anyhow, what makes comic books so handy for learning body language can be summed up in one name: Jack Kirby.

Jack Kirby’s impact on comic books really can’t be overstated. I know that’s a cliche, “impact can’t be overstated,” but, seriously, you can’t. His artistic style didn’t just merely make an impact, it’s still making one. Have you seen the Doctor Strange movie? You know that weird trip Strange takes when he first meets the Ancient One, falling through a multiplicity of dimensions before landing back in our world? That’s Kirby, through and through.

You even see it in some of the dramatic poses in other Marvel movies, like the big group shot near the end of The Avengers, right before they take down the Chitauri, and some of the slow-mo shots in both Civil War and Winter Soldier.

I've used this picture before, but it's worth reusing. This what
football looks like in Jack Kirby's head.
Kirby had an ability to make it look like a static page was moving, using simple line-art, perspective and anatomy to give great, pantomime indications of what was happening in the panel, and while I didn’t actually collect much Kirby at the time (he was over at DC Comics), Marvel’s artist bullpen was very much The House That Kirby Built, and it made for a wonderful catalogue of body language. I mean, yes, the motions were over-exaggerated and it wasn’t perfect, but it was something, and more importantly, it was honest.

Worth mentioning here that these issues haven’t gone away at all, I’m just 40 and I’ve spent a lot more time watching how people behave. I’m still genuinely terrible at it, though, compared to most, so if you think that I’m missing what you think is an obvious social cue, do me a favour and let me know, politely if you can.

If your face doesn't look like
hers when you're reading
comics, find better comics.
Anyhow, the summer before I turned nine, I got a new weapon in my socialization arsenal: I discovered that there were entire stores dedicated to selling comics. The first time I walked into 1 000 000 Comics at 2400 Guelph Line, I think my heart actually skipped a beat. Of course, I made a beeline for the latest issue of the Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition, but after that? After that? I just kind of stood there, overwhelmed by the sheer number of titles on offer.

One of the titles I’d been buying, when I could find it, was Marvel Saga, which is another odd purchase for a young boy, as it’s basically a rundown of older Silver Age stories, entire issues condensed down to a handful of pages with a few panels of action, but it was handy for getting an idea of the kinds of stories you could expect from the different heroes.

I picked up a Captain America comic, a World’s Finest comic and an X-Men. They were, somewhat disappointingly, basically the same thing as the comics that I’d been pulling off of grocery store shelves, but in the next couple of months I was able to figure out what my tastes were, and they ran heavily toward the X-titles.

A lot of ink has been spent in long arguments about whether the mutants of the X-titles are supposed to represent teen angst, anti-gay sentiment or anti-semitism, but all I can say is that when someone was repulsed by Beast for his appearance, or Phoenix felt separated from humanity because of her abilities, I felt like I knew exactly what they were talking about.

And so it is that comics transitioned from being something that transported me to strange worlds, to being something I used to understand the real world, to being something that connected my imagination to my social life to my reality. And it was in this time that I found the comic that brought all of that together for me: New Mutants Annual # 2, which I’ll talk about next week. Hopefully.