What Do I Really Like?
It’s strange that this is a difficult question to answer, for any reason that I could possibly present. There are some things that are easy – eating, sex, sloth – but when we get into the realm of the intellectual, this question becomes very complicated, very quickly. There are a number of things I like, or have liked, or have gone through the motions of liking. But as I get older I start to see the world around in a Fight Club sort of sense, where the things I own have an incredible amount of agency over me. Perhaps the things I own make it easier to build a nest, to fill it with comfort, and spend my days enjoying myself in every imaginable way. But the larger question – What Do I Really Like? – seems embedded with a more philosophic approach. There must be some rationale, even if it is silly. And, as the answers come to me less readily, I start to wonder if maybe I never really liked those things in the past.
There are three primary components to the things that seem to own me these days: books, comics and LPs. All three, as an interest, can be traced back to my mother, really. Growing up, she ran a store that she started – a.k.a. Used Books & Records – and I not only spent a lot of time there, but worked at (and ran) the shop occasionally as part of my set of first jobs. In this shop she sold books, comics & LPs (among other things). I had never really enjoyed reading when I was much younger, and music was always my mom’s domain, something that I enjoyed, but through her listening to it around me. But spending time in this store really engaged a new part of my mind that had previously been spent internalizing a rich fantasy world, largely pieced together from things I’d borrowed from TV & Movies.
At the time, my friend Devin has noticed the comics when he came in, and even bought a few. It turned out he had a modest collection of titles he’d picked up over the years, and gave me a run down of the stuff he enjoyed. There were several he followed, but Green Lantern stuck out for me. My mom had many in her shop, so I began to have my pay in trade for comics, and began clearing out the shop’s collection of different things that appealed to my sense of awe.
Very quickly, I became a Green Lantern devotee. I remember the first issue I picked up – #90 – was a story about a predecessor to Green Lantern awoke, having been unconscious for years, along with a villain this old GL had to capture. At this time, the book co-stared Green Arrow, a wise-cracking anarchist who often depended on Green Lantern to actually deliver the goods, as a bow & arrow didn’t work well in space. In this book, I found a take on Sci Fi I had never seen before, that blended with super-hero storytelling, in a way I had never seen before. And, all this stuff about Guardians, other races and aliens, and Green Lantern’s secret identity. It was a lot for a kid like me to digest. Because there was no Inter-Web-A-Tron or instant access to all information at all times back in those days, the best bet for a kid like me was to save every penny so I could pick up back issues and fill in the gaps, and imagine.
Comics collecting allowed me a chance to let my already fertile imagination to run wild, and Green Lantern in particular seemed so unlike everything else in the world of comics, that I quickly became the biggest evangelist for the book. It seemed like the ultimate power-fantasy: through sheer willpower, you can force things into being, that will then do your bidding. And you can apply this power to anything you can imagine: flying, punching, creating complex technology or blunt instruments, etc. This force-of-will angle really speaks to a teenager, who seems to only have willpower in a world full of rules and restrictions and guidelines and misunderstandings. How many problems would be solved with a Green Lantern ring?
Of course, modern comics are sophisticated, so once you go down the Green Lantern collecting rabbit hole, you quickly find yourself inside the DC Universe, where all their comics take place. This means that through cross-overs and event publishing, soon enough all the books you are reading just to follow Green Lantern’s adventures encompass a number of other books that you never intended to start reading. This has only intensified even more as years have gone on, and anymore it is very difficult to just pick up Green Lantern every month without missing 7/8ths of the story because you’re not reading the other books he crosses over into every month. (But that’s another story.)
At my peak, in early 1990’s dollars, I was spending about $100 a month on comics, to stay current on my new books, and to pick up back-issues I was on the hunt for. Of course, this habit ended in 1992, when I was thrown out of my house by my mom, and had to live on my own. Before long, the painful reality of paying my bills kept my comics collecting in check. In the years since, I have occasionally picked up something here, and something there. Every so often, I go on a huge binge, and buy a bunch of stuff. But the money always reigns it back in, and then I have to cut back. At this point, I have about a thousand books, and quite a few I have never read. I could only re-read the books I have now, and would still have a great time without having to get anything new.
But my tastes have changed tremendously, too. I don’t read Green Lantern anymore, save for the occasional thing here and there. And my favorite character is probably Hellboy, or Swamp Thing. (Again, for different reasons.) And, of course, I’m less interested in DC Comics, unless it is from the 70’s, or older. But that desire to look through boxes of old comics. To read one now and then. And to experience a good story for the first time. Those are feelings I think I will always enjoy.