The first DVDs I ever bought my firstborn were probably Baby Einstein discs, but as soon as we got the whole pre-K education thing out of the way, I bought him Batman: The Animated Series. Sure, it helped with his English (French was his first language, he grew up in Paris), but for me it was so much more than that. The geek culture of comics and superheroes helped to shape my life. I always knew that I would pass this passion down generationally, as it was passed down to me in the early ’70s from my dad. When our second son was born, I got away with naming him after Kal-El (a.k.a. Superman). My wife didn’t understand it any better than my mom did, so what’s the best way to explain comic-book culture infatuation?
If you love reading, the world of self-education is all yours
Part of it is just about reading in general. If the wonder of the written word grabs you early then you’re blessed, because half the battle of learning is over. If you love reading, the world of self-education is all yours. Marvel Comics, and later the sci-fi novels of Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Larry Niven, provided me an advanced vocabulary for all the James Baldwin, Malcolm Gladwell and Zadie Smith to come. The magic realism of Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie and Ben Okri novels feel like terra firma when you’re accustomed to the fantastical serialized stories of writer-artist Walt Simonson’s The Mighty Thor or writer-artist Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg.
Comics make you believe in magic, most importantly your own
And there’s a general love for art itself that makes geek fandom worth it. Automatically appreciating Jean-Michel Basquiat is a lot easier when the award-winning abstract comic art of Bill Sienkiewicz is your mother’s milk growing up. Cutting your teeth on the astoundingly fanciful artwork of Denys Cowan, Jack Kirby, Frank Miller, Jim Lee, John Byrne, Frank Quitely, Jim Steranko, John Romita Jr., George Pérez and too many others to mention just sharpens your eye. (Forgive the mixed metaphor.) It’s been said that the mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions. You can’t unring the bell, and comics are that RZA-fied bong bong.
But more significant than anything else? Comics make you believe in magic, most importantly your own. All the self-actualization philosophy underlying new-age bibles like The Secret, The Alchemist, A New Earth and others all boil down to believing in our own inner abilities to manifest stuff. Kind of like superpowers. What greater lesson could you instill in the seeds of any generation than “there’s an S on your chest, so spread your cape and fly”?