Context

This is a true story.

One afternoon this past summer, my 19-year-old son was walking down the middle of the street in a neighborhood here in our town. 

A car pulled up behind him. 

My son did not move out of the road, just kept walking.

After a moment the driver honked his horn.

Without turning around, without missing a beat, my son flipped the bird over his shoulder and kept walking.

I have no doubt that, had the car behind him been a police car, my son would’ve had a pretty uncomfortable afternoon after that.

I also have no doubt that my son would not have been arrested, let alone shot. 

Because my son is white.

As the news comes in from Ferguson that a grand jury has declined to indict Darren Wilson for the murder of Michael Brown, I am reminded that context is everything. 

And I am profoundly dejected.

“…and we change with them.”

When I moved to Michigan in 1996, one of the first things I set out to do in my new hometown was find a comic book store.

Finding the right comic book store is like finding the right church. And more difficult in a town where there is a church approximately, seemingly, within a quarter mile of wherever you happen to be standing.

But I digress.

It’s all about the people. A good comic book store is a place where you can count on the people who work there: They’ll hold your stuff for you… They’ll make suggestions based on what you like… They’ll talk to your kids and give them little toys or comics.

simpson comic book guyAfter a few weeks and a lot of really bad comic book stores. The owners were, mostly, the typical stereotype: Guys so loaded down with their own snark that they couldn’t help but sneer at everything, even things they liked. They lived The Simpsons cliché with a remarkable lack of self-awareness.

There was the guy who had a great little shop in the hip pre-hipster part of town with all kinds of rarities, pronounced “manga” properly like he was correcting the rest of the world, and refused to get me something so mainstream as Batman Animated Adventures for my two year old son. But he had no problem putting “recommendations” into my weekly pull bag and expecting me to buy them.

At another shop — the biggest one in town and possibly one of the best stocked comic stores I’ve ever been in — the guy behind the counter clearly had a large base of return customers with overstuffed pull bags . . . so he couldn’t be bothered to remember my two or three measly issues every month.

To use a technical term, they were all assholes.

Tardy's Collectors CornerI got lucky when someone pointed me towards a little rundown shop called Tardy’s Collectors Corner. The minute I walked in, I knew I was home.

Comic books have been a part of my life since I was very young. I’ve got my older brother Scott to thank for that. He had two big cardboard boxes of comics that I’d dig through, reading them over and over again.

Every so often, I would walk up to the local 7-11 where I’d paw through he rows of comics. I’d buy however many I could with the dollar my mother had given me. Or, if none caught my eyes, I’d get a slurpee and bubble gum. The slurpees sometimes came in collectible plastic cups with different comics characters on them and they were very cool.

slurpee cups superhero 1907'sI was probably five years old. It was different back then. I wandered around on my own all the time. And they sold comics everywhere: Drug stores, grocery stores, liquor stores, gas stations, toy stores — everywhere but book stores, oddly enough.

I remember the first time I went to an actual comic book store a few years later. It seemed… exotic. I’d never heard of such a thing before. I remember the bagged comics hanging on the wall behind the counter — stained glass windows behind the altar.

I read comics all through grade school and junior high. I don’t think I ever knew another kid who read comics. They’d read them when they came to my house. Same thing in high school, in college. Most of my friends read a comic for the first time, went to a comic book store for the first time, because of me.

Seduction of the Innocent by Frederic WerthamI read an article recently about the social and economic impact of Frederic Wertham’s impact on the comics industry. In the 1950’s, 95% of of elementary age kids were reading comics and sales topped 1 billion in sales. Thanks to Wertham and his trumped up witch hunt, most of my friends never read a comic before they met me. And the industry today is struggling with sales of only 7 million.

I don’t know how those numbers break down between Amazon and other online retailers, brick and mortar book stores selling the popular “graphic novels”, and the always-struggling independent comic book stores. But I’m guessing the comic stores are the ones who are seeing their numbers dropping year after year.

My first comic book store was a place in Orange County, California. Freedonia (after the Marx Brothers movie, of course) was where I bought my first issue of Cerebus. I met Chris Claremont there and he signed my copies of the Wolverine miniseries. I bought Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns there.

The guy who owned the place — I can see his face but I can’t remember his name — usually nodded approvingly over what I bought and made suggestions. Thanks to him I bought the first issues of Sandman and Hellblazer there. I bought my first issues of Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing there. I bought Watchmen.

That was a good place. I spent years looking for another one in two different states, three different cities. And failing.

So when I walked into Tardy’s, it was a relief.

The guy behind the counter was gruff, curmudgeonly. But he knew his stuff and clearly loved comics. And he had a little twinkle in his eye when he saw my son looking in awe at all the posters and naming each of the superheroes he saw.

stuffed cerebus dave simThere was a stuffed Cerebus on a high shelf behind the counter. Someone had thoughtfully put a pair of lace panties over one ear, a slightly disturbing but clever little nod to issue #95.

There was a custom sketch by Bob Burden (titled “The Girl with the Radar Shoulder”) on the wall behind the counter. It’s still there.

And, when my son asked to use the bathroom, I spied a little stack of those old collectible plastic slurpee cups by the sink.

Home.

Kirby — that was the owner’s first name, I later learned (and is there a better name for a comic book store owner than that?) — ran the place with his wife. They were friendly and welcoming, keeping their shop going in a neighborhood that had seen . . . well, maybe not better days but, at least, cleaner ones. Their store was the safe haven. A warm little corner of color and fun.

As near as I could tell, their shop and the bail bondsman on the corner were the only two ongoing survivors in the local retail apocalyptic landscape.

For over eighteen years I’ve been going to Tardy’s. Kirby and his wife have watched my kids grow up. My son, now twenty, has his own pull bag now. My four year old likes Adventure Time. My sixteen year old daughter just bought the first issue of Wytches and the lastest Batman/Superman there. I’m proud of all of them.

Comics are touchstones in my life. So is Tardy’s.

cerebus_300I bought the final issue of Sandman there. I bought the final issue of Cerebus there. I bought the final issue of Hellblazer there.

I sat in my car outside the store with each issue . . . having a little wake each time, saying goodbye to characters I’d loved for years.

I bought the first issue (and, then, all the issues) of Promethea at Tardy’s — thanks to recommendation from Kirby, of course — a book that would end up resonating through my life, beliefs, and work in ways I would have never expected.

The last few years, I’ve seen my share of hard times. Tardy’s has always been there, letting my pull bag go more than a few months past due when money was tight. And, in good times, they’ve always been glad to try and find some rarity or special order for me.

Yesterday at Tardy’s there were a few new faces behind the counter — at least, I didn’t recognize them. But that’s probably because, as I’ve gotten older, people tend to blur together a bit.

I didn’t think much of it. Kirby’s staff has fluctuated over the years. There were a few forgettable kids who came and went. But it was cool to see his son working the counter sometimes. Of course, Kirby and his wife were usually, almost always, there. And it’s always a lucky day when my visit falls on the same day when the excellent and friendly Tim — the Flying Dutchman of Tardy’s — is there.

alan moore glyconYesterday, my pull bag was empty (alas) but I found that issue of God is Dead that I’d heard about — the one with Alan Moore’s Glycon essay in it — so that was good. While Julia helped her little sister find a missing issue of Fiona and Cake, I looked around for some kid-friendly comics to hand out on Halloween.

I overheard the guy behind the counter talking to another customer. He was saying something about Kirby selling the business to him.

And my heart just fucking sank.

Omnia mutantur I reminded myself as I made my way to the front. So it goes.

The guy must have seen what I was holding (or he saw Julia’s comics) and said “Have you read Birthright?”

I hadn’t. He gave me a quick synopsis and it sounded like something I’d like. So I went and grabbed it.

While I was paying, I had to ask: Were they really buying the place?

They were. The two of them — Gavin and Deanna — were long time customers and, when Kirby started talking about retiring and selling off the stock, they stepped up and worked out a succession plan with him. It’ll take a couple of years but, in the end, the store will remain.

Somehow, taking with Gavin, my dread shifted over to relieved optimism. He’s enthusiastic and friendly, he’s got good ideas, and he clearly loves comics. He seems cut out for the challenge of keeping a somewhat anachronistic business in a marginalized industry up and running.

Omnia mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis.

One can only hope. If (fingers crossed) things work out, Gavin and Deanna just might be selling comics to my grandchildren.

Thanks, guys. May your gods bless you.

I’ll see you next week.

 

“Come back here and give me my daughter…”

Busy times right now, just a quick share of a song that’s been rattling around in my head for the past few days.

Still holds up, yeah? There’s also a very nice acoustic version of it out there as well.

It occurs to me that this song relates to a new project I’ve been working on for a while now. Maybe that’s why it’s been in my head lately. I’ve mentioned the project here before but the only thing you can see related to it is a Pinterest board showing some of the inspiration, imagery, and themes.

So, this kinda made my day…

mercer mayerWhen I was younger, two of my favorite books were Mercer Mayer’s Professor Wormbog in Search for the Zipperump-a-Zooand One Monster After Another.

Recently I dug them out of a box in the basement. They’re now my youngest’s favorite books.

She’s reading them over and over again, much as I did at her age… over forty years ago.

 

 

 

time and tide

My youngest started school today.

She was excited. She was ready.

It was a good morning, lots of memories.

A bit fraught, a little bittersweet.

We did okay.

We watched her walk to the door.

So confident.

She’s my hero.

But there were tears in the car and, later, more at home — ours, of course.

She was ready. We weren’t.

A flood of feelings while we watched the teacher walk our daughter up to the door.

Later, I thought about the times I’ve watched my children turn their backs and walk towards the future, watched them walk away from me.

It’s hard.

With the older ones — one is twenty and the other is almost sixteen, now — I remember them little.

I remember the feel of their small hands in mine.

I remember their voices.

It’s hard.

I’ve stood there in the night, countless times, and watched over them — watched the gentle rise and fall of their chest, watched the tide move in and out as they slept.

I stand there now, tonight, watching while my youngest rests after her very exciting first day.

And, well, it’s hard.

As hard as anything.

Maybe even harder than with her older brother and sister.

Because I know what’s coming. I know what she’s walking towards.

What she’s walking away from.

And, honestly, it’s a little bit like mourning.

There’s a death in there, somewhere . . . somewhere in me.

I remember the life that’s passed. I hold onto the hope of the life that’s to come.

They turn their backs, they take their steps.

I let them go.

I pray they’ll come back.

— — —

That’s what I want to be for them, as their father — a safe harbor to return to when they need it, a touchstone they can carry along the way.

I don’t feel any compulsion to guide their steps, to point them in the direction I think they should go. I don’t feel a need to shape them, to mold them in my image.

Their own images are so much more interesting and wonderful.

It’s more rewarding for me and, really, more useful for them to just watch and marvel over who they are and what they become.

I know lots of parents who talk about how proud they are of their children. Most of the time, what I hear is how proud the parent is of themselves.

“Look at what I made.”

So I don’t say that I am proud of my children — I am proud of them, of course, but not because I think I had anything to do with how wonderful they are.

No . . . what I am, is grateful.

I’m grateful that they were given to me, grateful to have so much that I really don’t deserve.

I’m grateful to have such wonderful people in my life, grateful to watch them grow and become even more wonderful.

I’m grateful that I didn’t do too bad a job with what the gods gave me.

I’m grateful that I have had each of them there to walk with me for a while through the highs and lows of my own life.

And I’m especially grateful that they’ve let me tag along as they’ve made their way through the world.

I pray that it will always be so.

— — —

The same day that my youngest started school, my oldest invited me to come by and see his new apartment.

This is his first place, a place of his own.

He’s working very hard. It’s a struggle, sketching out your own little piece of the world.

I remember his first room, the little apartment we lived in when he was born. I remember putting his crib together.

And now…

I was impressed to see how he’d made a place of his own — something I was far too immature and weak to have done at his age.

He’s always been stronger than me. He’s always been my hero.

I’m glad he’s doing it. I think it’s outstanding.

And, yeah, I still mourn . . . probably more than a little.

But I’m grateful that he invited me.

— — —

And that same day…

The same day my youngest started school…

The same day my oldest invited me over for a visit…

That same day, my middle child — and the middle is sometimes such an awkward place to be, but she’s exactly the younger sister that her brother needs and the big sister that her little sister loves . . . and I love her for it — she reminded me yet again of how glad I am that she’s my daughter.

She’s funny. She’s kind and sensitive.

She’s boldly talented, writing songs and recording them and setting them free into the world. She has far more bravery and creativity than I had at her age — maybe even more than I do now.

She’s my hero.

And I’m grateful for her, grateful that I have a teenage daughter who actually talks to me.

I’m grateful that she shares her ideas and songs with me, grateful that she trusts me and shares her life with me.

I can’t wait to see where her path takes her.

— — —

I can’t wait to see where all three of those paths lead.

I pray they don’t go too far.

— — —

I am rich with children.

And I am grateful.

 

 

“It sneaks up on you without a warning…”

A bat showed up in the house this morning. He was hiding in the bookshelves.

I assume it was a harbinger of prosperity and long life for my birthday, and not because, y’know, we don’t have a belfry.

He was a little brown bat, very cute. I got him out, safe and sound.

I expect he’s posting to Twitter right now about it.

(Bats use Twitter. Obviously.)

“We feel lost and we feel found…”

Some songs just stick with me, sometimes. I don’t know why that is.

It seems like songs — well, some songs — are more like places. They occupy a physical place in my mind. They’re snapshots of the geography of my dreams. And I find myself returning to them again and again — a place where I’m safe, protected.

The word haven means “a place of shelter and safety; refuge; asylum.” It comes from the words for port and harbor — it means a place you can go, to escape the stormy seas.

At any rate, here’s “Sleep” from Amanaska

Happy Tunesday everyone…