Friday, February 15, 2008

Geekdom Indoctrination: the Next Generation…

I’ve been reading my friend, Chuck’s, blogs for a while now. They recount the goings on of a great dad who is basically the balder, more athletic, more professionally successful clone of me. He’s a goatee-clad, barbershoppin’, sci-fi watchin’, music edcuatin’ ubergeek, like myself. The biggest difference between us is that he’s (currently) a stay-at-home dad. As such, he gets more opportunity to pursue and share his geekly obsessions with his 7-month-old son more than I. I have recently been taking every opportunity to share my slightly off-center hobbies and interests with my boy, in hopes that I raise a well-rounded 3rd generation geek. (Sorry, dad, but Ham radio, barbershop, Star Trek, and computers before they were in vogue? You’re a geek, too. You know I use that term with the utmost respect and love.)

Liam has had behavior issues, in school particularly, for much of his scholastic career. Usually involving a temper tantrum following some minor incident he blows out of proportion, he gets pretty regular reports and disciplinary action sent home from his teacher. They ebb and flow throughout the year, ranging from weeks of being the ideal student to suspensions for his fits. He’s never directly violent toward people, and his grades are astounding, but he can be disruptive to the extreme on occasion. This week, he’s been very well behaved, receiving 3 stars (perfect day) and one name on the board (1 minor offence). If he comes home with another star today, as a reward, I decided to indoctrinate him into one of the holiest realms of Geekdom, by giving him his first, REAL comic book.

There are a few realms of Geekdom I haven’t delved into much myself, mostly due to time and/or financial restrictions: Dungeons & Dragons, card-based role-playing games, modern video games (by that, I mean post-NES), to name a few, but most notably, comics. I have a meager collection of some late 70’s “Action” & “Superman” comics I picked up for a quarter a piece in the early 90’s, an early “X-men” comic I’m fairly proud of, a smattering of dated, kitschy titles like “Sledge Hammer” and “California Raisins in 3D” comics, and I once owned a 1st printing of “Batman: the Killing Joke” (sad story behind that one), but nothing I followed regularly or got really into. With all of my busy goings-on, I had to balance my mild-mannered life as a husband, father, student, etc., with my dark alter-ego of UberGeek.

Recently, however, a number of my friends have been talking about comics more and more. Between Chuck and his regular outings to the comic store with his boy, my co-worker, James, regaling me with updates on major title storylines and his weekly trek to spend $60+ on comics, and such, I figured it was at least worth dipping my toe in the water and see how deep I could afford to venture. A former schoolmate of mine recently took over ownership of a comic store nearby, so rather than head out to one of the local comic MegaStores, I figured I trusted my friend Chris to steer me in the right direction of a comic to start with.

I was torn as to where to start. Some collect comics to read, following stories and biting their nails at each cliffhanger. Some buy them to collect, purchasing each one like coin-collectors, hoping their investment will mature greatly and quickly. I’m a little of both. As much as I love the major titles like Spiderman, Superman, Batman, X-men and the like (I’m a newbie, so I haven’t developed a preference for DC vs. Marvel yet), there was a bit too much history in those storylines to jump right into. It’d be like starting to watch a long-running soap opera like Days of Our Lives, with references and characters popping up now and again I’d have no frame of reference to. Too frustrating. I wanted to start with something kind of classic, but at a major turning point where I could start relatively fresh. Then I caught something on a feature story on the news.

Steve Rogers, AKA Captain America, was being killed off and passing his legendary shield to a new hero. This was perfect. A new pivotal point in the Captain America saga, destined to appreciate in value, AND a fresh, new character and storyline. Yes, there will obviously be references to previous Captains, but I could research them or ask any of my well-versed fellow geeks. Off I go to Comics & More.

I arrive at the store and am greeted by my friend, Chris, behind the counter with a warm smile. He’s more than willing to share his vast knowledge of comics and guides me to the genres I’d enjoy. I am absolutely overwhelmed. As I peruse the shelves I find MOUNTAINS of titles I simply MUST read: Star Trek, Transformers, Evil Dead, Darkman (my nickname in high school, due to my perpetual wardrobe of trenchcoat and fedora), and crossovers in seemingly innumerable combinations. I’m a kid in a candy store. They will, unfortunately, have to wait. I have Chris put the 2 most recent Captain Americas on hold for me until my paycheck is deposited, and walk out with a huge grin. I have a new obsession.

Since then, I have popped in to say hi to Chris a few times, most recently, to pick up my Captain Americas, drop him a bootleg of the complete series of Automan. Suddenly, a brilliant thought occurs to me. I’m always on the lookout for inexpensive incentives and rewards for Liam when he’s behaving well. His last one was getting a role in my barbershop chorus’s annual show, "What's Up, DOC?", as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He’ll be up on stage, strutting his stuff next weekend with us, and he's REALLY looking forward to it, as am I.

Lately, when his attitude has been improving, he has been allowed to get into a plethora of other great geek hobbies: magic tricks, unicycling, etc., and indoctrinating him into the Cult of Comics would be a perfect prize. Since he saw the Transformers movie, he’s been hooked on them. He got a few for Christmas and they’re his favorite toys. I grabbed a Transformers comic featuring Blaster (an Autobot who transforms to a boombox), with no particular ongoing storyline to it and added it to my small pile.

Today, after waking Liam up and getting him ready for school, I showed it to him, explained the proper care and treatment of comics (akin to the lecture Sonya got from her father regarding vinyl records) explaining the importance plastic sleeves, careful handling, and proper storage, and told him that if he gets just one more star today, he gets it. If not, I’ll hold onto it for him until he gets an appropriate amount of well-behaved days. He was absolutely thrilled.

I plan on trying to take him to my friend’s comic store this weekend to see the full spectrum of what this world has to offer. This will be great fun for the both of us, starting a journey into a new geek realm with my son as we both discover the joys of comics. I can’t wait!

Quick Plug: If you ever want to get out of the stranglehold of the local comic megastores like Warp 9 and Time Travelers, go check out Chris Brown’s store, Comics & More on John R. Road, at 11 ½ Mile in Madison Heights. So far, he mostly deals in new stuff as opposed to collectibles and vintage titles (though he does have a few). It’s a great (if a bit small for now) store, Chris has a GREAT knowledge of the genre, and is just a fun place to hang out and talk GeekSpeak. I can’t recommend the place enough. Check out his MySpace for more info.

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