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called to draw a larger circle (part 1)*

June 6, 2011

Brace yourself for the latest installment of Chasing Maybes, or “Challenging Myself to Happily Adopt a Series of Alien Experiences and Write About Them.”  In short, I’ve charged myself to put my preferences on trial, one Trivial Pursuit category at a time.  This month, I’m diving into uncharted Entertainment waters.

Late last week, I dropped by the Chapel Hill shop where I am consigning clothes as part of my previous a gift a day project (sadly, it appears that my cast-offs aren’t exactly burning up the cash registers).  I strode past the adjacent comic book store without a backward glance.  As I left the shopping center after my futile quest, I noticed the comic shop’s nearly empty parking lot and thought absently, “I wonder how that place stays in business?  Are there really enough comic book buyers in the area to warrant its existence?”

It was at that very moment that I heard the call (SHAZAM!):

“Anne, meet comic books.  Comic books, this is Anne.”

Last week, not only did I know absolutely nothing about comics —  any meager familiarity was derived from Kevin Smith movies and the one Archie comic I owned as a seven year-old — but the idea of entering a comic book store, making a purchase, and actually reading it filled me with dread.

Knowing nothing about the topic, I admitted to the following assumptions:

1.  Comic books are all violent and/or misogynistic

2.  The “artists” who create comic books are untrained — any high school student could reproduce their images and content

3.  Comic book fans are either: a). skinny white guys who live in their parents’ basements, or b). people dressed up in ridiculous costumes

You can imagine why, based on these assumptions, I’d lived my entire life loath to approach the genre.

[One point of clarification about this project:  my goal is not self-flagellation.  I aim to choose experiences that, while foreign to me, might expand my worldview and provide me with new perspective.  I’m interested in forcing myself to attempt new endeavors, not in torturing myself for no good reason].

Talking to my husband about my inkling (pun intended) to delve into the world of comics, though, he reminded me that our friend Scott is a serious comic book fan.

This gave me pause.

Scott neither lives in his parents’ basement nor (as far as I know) dresses up in ridiculous costumes.  Aside from being a generally nice and intelligent guy, Scott is also a former DJ who, over the years, has introduced Steve and me to some great bands.  Iron and Wine, Bright Eyes,  and Carbon Leaf have all made it into my I-Pod thanks to Scott’s generosity.  He and I have similar taste in music, I mused, so is it outside the realm of possibility that I might also enjoy — gulp — comic books?

I emailed Scott immediately with a question I now know was inane: “Can you recommend a comic book popular with women?”

Kindly, he emailed me back with a couple of recommendations, one of which was Leave it to Chance (by James Robinson and Paul Smith, for those of you who won’t visit the Amazon link), and I set off to buy the book.

I’ll be honest:  I first considered whether or not a mainstream bookstore might carry Scott’s recommendation.  I supposed that, if reading the comic book were my actual challenge, then where the book was purchased was of little consequence.  Fortunately, I recognized my comic store dread for what it was and forced myself through the glass door of Ultimate Comics.  I was nervous.

The store was nearly empty.  Other than the clerk working behind the counter and the gray-haired customer barraging him with (to me, anyway) indecipherable questions, I was its only patron.  I found this comforting.  After a brief reconnaissance of aisles of superhero comics and glass cases full of figurines, I spotted Leave it to Chance.  I waited for Other Patron to complete his interrogation of the clerk, then placed my book on the counter, praying for a swift and undiscovered exit.

“So, why are you buying this?”  the clerk, blue eyes twinkling, asked me immediately.

No swift and undiscovered exit for me.  I was about to be outed as one who didn’t belong.

“A friend recommended it,” I began, “because I’m new to … comic books.”  I stumbled on my words.  Comic books?  Comics?  Graphic novels?  I wasn’t even sure what language to use.

He lowered his gaze, meeting mine.  “What do you mean, you’re new to comic books?”

I suddenly realized that I’d lowered my speaking voice to half its normal volume.  I didn’t want Other Patron to hear me, having already observed his apparent obsessive knowledge of comic book facts.

“I’m doing a project, ” I semi-whispered, “in which I learn as much about comic books as I can.”  I stole a glance at Other Patron, who appeared to be lost in a voluminous stack of Marvels.

I exaggerate not at all when I say the clerk’s face positively glowed.  Was my presence now legitimized?

“Ohhhhh!  Well, you need to call my brother,” he thrust a card into my hand, “because he owns the shop.  He is at the Heroes Convention in Charlotte, along with everyone else who normally works here.”  He looked down at his hands, an imposter, too.  “He’d be happy to talk to you…  there’s nothing he loves more than talking about comics.  Just let him know what you need.”

We talked for a few minutes longer.  Before I left with a handful of flyers, business cards, and brochures, Other Patron addressed me in a loud voice.

“Excuse me, but you need to read Peter Allen David,” he said solemnly, hands in his pockets.  “If you’re learning about comics, he is your first stop.”

Dutifully, I wrote down “Peter Allen David” in my notebook.  As I did so, I was struck by how unsparing both men had been with their help once they knew I was open to learning.  I considered the powerful effect of admitting ignorance, of placing myself in a position of receptivity, on the success of this project.

Other Patron had advised that Peter Allen David was my first stop.  I appreciated the suggestion, but before I even climbed into my car, I knew what my first stop had to be.

Heroes Conference?  In Charlotte?  Two measly hours on the highway?

Count. Me. In.

And the plot really thickens … check out Part II of this post on Wednesday (this really isn’t a feeble attempt to string you along; rather, this post is already over a thousand words and I know you have families and jobs to attend to).

I hope the forces of good lend you a superhuman Monday.  Thanks for showing up.

* This post’s title is from a poem by Jennifer Bosveld.  More on that Wednesday.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Kris McL. permalink
    June 6, 2011 9:50 am

    Dan and I visited Ultimate Comics off 54 yesterday as we took a wrong turn off the highway… I bought 6 comics – but admittedly am a fan of comics/graphic novels and have a college friend who writes them. So am I to infer that you actually went to the convention?? Sweet!!!

    • June 6, 2011 7:37 pm

      I wonder if you met the same guy I did? He turned out to be really great. I’d love to hear about your writer friend sometime.
      You inferred correctly, and I can’t wait to share the convention story with you Wednesday. Hope you guys are doing great!

  2. Jeff permalink
    June 6, 2011 10:22 am

    I’m really not into comic books/graphic novels, either, but I do like Daniel Clowes’s work. Check out Ghost World, the series upon which the movie of the same name is somewhat loosely based. Whether in fiction or film, I tend to gravitate toward gritty realism and dark humor.

    • June 6, 2011 7:39 pm

      Thanks, Jeff. I will check out your suggestions. You might like one of the comics I discovered, too (I’ve only read the first one, but like it and bought the series). I’ll tell more about it on Wednesday, but it is called Lackluster World by Eric Adams.

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