Monday, July 05, 2010

The Relativity of a Moment

Since Eben07 is a comic––true, it's more accurately a webcomic, but the fact remains that whether on the internet or on the page a comic is a comic is a comic (apologies to Gertrude Stein, deceased)––I would like to share a moment in my life: my first comic book. It seems too clean and unlikely a situation where my first comic ended up being 1991's prestigious and ubiquitous X-Men #1, a landmark in the comic book industry written by Chris Claremont (who went on to write novelized sequels to the movie Willow, among other things) and drawn by Jim Lee, an early illustrative hero of mine. The book made statistical history when it became the biggest selling comic book of all-time with some qualifiers: It was released in the rising tide of the speculative comic book collector's market in the early 1990s that would reach its height in the middle of the decade and collapse soon thereafter; what that meant was that in order to secure the money of comic book collectors (distinguished from comic book readers, I would argue) Marvel released multiple versions of X-Men #1 with the implied promise that they'll pay off mortgages some day. Four different covers were produced as well as a special version that had a gate-fold cover which was all four covers strung together in a wonderfully open-mouthed, tense-muscled, big-breasted, middle-of-a-sprint panorama typical of Jim Lee's style at the time (he's become much more pensive). To make sure every collector was able to easily get a copy of each of the five covers (plus the super-special gate-fold edition!) more copies were printed than ever before. In all, approximately 7 million copies of this first issue were sold and is, apparently, still the best-selling comic book of all time. From what I can gather, though, it's still worth no more than the $1.50 cover price.

More important than all of that, however, was that it was a moment in my life. I almost want say "Capital-M Moment," but I say that kind of stuff too often now and I fear becoming Daniel Stern's narrator from The Wonder Years (i.e., saccharine). It was that, however, because it introduced so many elements that would become integral to my later life. It introduced the idea of comic books (obviously), and, specifically, the idea of the sequential illustrated narrative, that images don't have to be moving to convey ideas, emotions, and plot accurately. This first purchase also introduced me to the world of illustrative arts in a way that newspaper comics did not. The idea of dynamic form and provocative design (in every sense of the word) made an impression on my still impressionable young mind that influences (in part) everything I do today with Eben07. Third, the contents of the book gave me something to care and obsess about like people do television shows (my mother and her soap operas), music, movies, books, etc. To follow the same characters through their melodramatic and seemingly endless journey was a new idea that, in hindsight, was equally inspirational and corruptive.

It was the first time I had really gone out and done something on my own or with a friend. My close friend at the time, Patrick, was really into comic books. He was one of those friends that your parents (as mine did) warn you to steer clear of after awhile. He was the friend that taught me how to cuss, how to ditch class (though I never did until college *nerd*), how cheat at video games, and how to be more independently minded in general––that friend. He helped me realize that I do have my own tastes in things that can be separate from my parents and family, things that I enjoy and they don't or won't, a life outside of the confines of the home. Lastly, it was one of the first things I bought on my own which helped solidify the previous idea. Not only was this comic mine but comics, vicariously through this flimsy book, became mine.

Because of all of the above, I hold X-Men #1 close to my heart. I guess it could be called a guilty pleasure. I don't brag about owning it (no reason to), I don't cite it as being the very thing that turned my life around or focused my future; like I said, it was only a comic book, a moment, not an epiphany. But then I see this on the internet:


Like many of you may have instinctively done, I started to turn away in disgust, thinking I was seeing some sort of vile internet joke taken too far. Then I saw Jean Grey on the underside of the lid in her disgustingly functional green miniskirt, worn while she heroed under the moniker "Marvel Girl." Reading the article that hosted the above picture, I found out that this toilet has been plastered painstakingly with pages only from X-Men #1, the comic book that rocked the world. While it apparently was a labor of love, of appreciation of this landmark issue, I was taken aback by the gesture before I found my center again.

As the owner of the moment that shares with the above toilet this particular comic book issue, I realized that the wave of imposed irony on the youthful years of my generation rushes over everything. Many are keen to whittle away the importance of very superficial and materialistic things into clever inside jokes that wink-wink-nudge-nudge their way across the internet and into Hot Topics everywhere. Burgoon & I may be doing the same thing within the pages of Eben07. Is irreverence the new flattery? Does my generation not give any thing due reverence? I shy away from using the word "respect" because I doubt an over-hyped comic book by a company sniping the tendencies of nerds with too much money and too little forethought hardly demands respect. When did everything become a joke and when did we lose the ability to express our nostalgic appreciation honestly with wide eyes and hushed tones? Maybe respectful nostalgia is a response that has become cliche and our appreciation can only be truly expressed in new and different ways. Seeing this X-Toilet made me realize that these capital-M Moments are mine alone and meaningless outside the singular maraca between my ears.

Even if my modestly respectable opinion about X-Men #1 is out there and may be a story and moment shared by many other people, I didn't even realize it was a moment when I bought it. In fact, I didn't even realize that silly comic's role in my history until I was microscopically and metaphorically moved when I saw the X-Toilet. That assumptive ignorance is probably why the original comic dissolved years ago from disuse, half-heartedly replaced by another copy (with a different cover) somewhere along the line, a line surely dotted by other forgotten and overlooked signposts that kept me on my path. It was just a book to me, a thing to look at so I wouldn't have to waste a precious shake of the rattle to remember it.

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