The Mad Frontier
Fri 22 Apr 2022 12:30 CST
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I recently celebrated the anniversary of one of my most significant life events. Fifty years ago, I officially became a comic book fan. That may sound tremendously geeky or at least a statement filled with hyperbole, but it’s a simple truth. In April 1972, I was eight years old, going on nine. Thanks to the Batman TV show and various Saturday morning cartoons, I had dug superheroes since I was around five years old. And although I’d read and even bought a random superhero comic book here or there, I hadn’t put the pieces together yet
That all changed in 1972 when I became friends with a kid named “Red.” I don’t remember his real name now, but he had red hair (hence the nickname) and an encyclopedic knowledge of comic book superheroes. We met on the playground, and he would regale me with tales of superheroes I had never heard of, along with the history of four-color worlds of wonder. He soon began loaning me comics, and almost overnight comic books became my number one obsession and primary weekly expenditure. I had maybe purchased ten comics in the first eight years and 11 months of my life, but now I was bringing two or three every week.
But I wasn’t just reading and accumulating comics. I wanted to know everything about them. Not just the mythologies of these pulp paper worlds but who wrote them and drew them and the medium’s history. Its evolution from comic strips, how it was influenced by something called “pulp magazines,” and more. Letter pages alerted me to a thing called “fandom.” Fans corresponded with each other, self-published something called “fanzines,” organized conventions, and a lucky few became professional writers and artists. I wanted in on ALL of it.
I didn’t realize that I was choosing an identity for myself that wasn’t the result of my parents, school, or church. It was a concept of self that I embraced whole-heartedly and that I alone owned. Comic books were not just something I liked; being a comic book fan was who I was. In retrospect, it gave me a template for every subsequent concept of self throughout my life: movie critic, music journalist, fiction writer, magazine editor — or more simply put — writer. I learned that my concept of self wasn’t necessarily tied to my profession at the time, nor was it something I could allow other people to impose upon me. Whatever I wanted to do and whomever I wanted to be started within me. Or, to borrow a phrase from The Rocky Horror Picture Show (one of many teenage obsessions), “Don’t dream it, BE it.”
This idea of owning your concept of self has not only been on my mind because of 50 years of not “outgrowing” funny books (which my mother was sure I would do someday) but also because Nashville and its neighborhoods, like Madison, are at a crossroads. Over a decade as the “It” City seems to be wheezing to an end, and the question is, “What’s next?”
While it’s much harder for a city or a neighborhood to stay true to a singular concept of self than an individual because it’s made up of multiple individuals and influenced by so many external factors, the heart of a community starts with individuals coming together for a common purpose and working out a consensus of vision. Do you want Madison and the larger city of Nashville to be a better place for all, a place where justice, opportunity, and a sense of community stand tall? Well, it’s not going to be an easy task, nor a simple one. Still, as with all concepts of self, the start is to decide who and what your community is, even if others tell you it’s impossible to achieve or mistakes your conviction for a silly obsession. Perhaps you’ll succeed, or maybe you’ll fail. Most likely, you will land somewhere in the middle, between your ideals and something else, but no matter the result, having that faith to believe in something bigger and better is the first step to
And that’s a superpower we all share.