Up, Up, and Away!
Like just about all of you, I’ve been in a constant, sporadic, focused, distracted, elucidating, confusing, exhilarating, and exhausting state of reflection.
That is, the moments of reflection when I’m not consumed with ennui and staring off into space, while eating a stick of butter.
Recently, I spent a few moments trying to connect myself with good thoughts. Usually this means thinking of past events, rather than contemplating the future.
Reflections of the past feel like historical research, while thinking of future events seem more like trying to write fiction. Frankly, it’s not too hard to imagine a dystopian novel, based on current events alone.
Of course, my thoughts raced toward superheroes. Because…why wouldn’t they?
It’s difficult to convey how much I loved superheroes as a child. The Batman TV series, comic books, Saturday morning cartoons…brought so much joy into my young life.
When adults asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d often answer “I want to make comic books.” I wasn’t good at drawing, or coloring as a child…but lack of artistic skills didn’t seem like a barrier.
Though when I was 9, I played my first “real sport” (Little League baseball), and was a slightly better at playing third base than I was at art.
It would be a stretch to say that I was good at it. Though it was fulfilling enough that I had a new obsession.
Lack of talent didn’t feel like a barrier in this context, either. Suddenly, it seemed obvious that my adult life would be difficult in the sense only that I would have to choose which sport I would play professionally…”when I grow up.”
Shortly thereafter I stopped buying comic books, preferring to spend my money on baseball cards, and occasionally Wacky Packages.
Though my brother, four years younger, became interested in comics, so I continued to read them, while I publicly scoffed at such “kid stuff.”
He has never stopped buying them, so there were always fresh titles in the house when we both still lived at our parents’ home.
All Grown Up
Nearly 16 years ago (my only child) son arrived, and felt like I might have finally grown up, but didn’t play a professional sport, or do anything cool like make comic books. On some levels, being a grown up was a bit of a letdown.
My son eventually started to love comic books when he was young, though used to regularly come home with fistfuls of SpongeBob magazines while only occasionally grabbing a Superman, or Thor title.
When my was about 10 we made a trip to the local Comic Con convention . I had never been to this event before, so didn’t know what I was in for.
It was way larger than I expected.
In the beginning, I was enchanted by all the merchandise. Some of it was vintage, some of it was newer; therefore I toggled between “I had that!” and “I wish they made that when I was a kid.”
Soon, I reached point of diminishing returns where my time invested wasn’t receiving a payoff in enjoyment.
I had been through most of the merchandise stands, and my rate of “I had that” moments was declining.
The comic book art became tedious after a couple of hours of countless renderings of superheroes, and many characters I didn’t recognize.
I began whining (to myself) and mouthing the words, “Can we go home, yet?”
My son kept finding things that interested him: The Jeep from Jurassic Park, and other large-vehicle exhibits and other gadgetry. Things I was never all that into.
As I slow-shuffled, with slumped shoulders, to the next aisle in the exhibit hall. I heard a voice call out to get my attention,
I turned to see an elderly man, clad in a baseball cap that said “WW II Veteran”, and a shirt, or coat, that was composed of comic book covers.
I saw that Wonder Woman was standing next to him. It made me smile.
The moment, I made eye contact, he began his pitch, “I was the ORIGINAL Captain America artist….”
I marveled (pun intended) at his New York-flavored voice. It was as though I was in the presence of a performer (perhaps Mike Meyers from SNL Days) doing an impression of a vintage Borscht-Belt comedian.
“Stan Lee used to work for ME!” he continued.
He kept talking as people came up and asked about his artwork. He would be diverted for a few moments, and his wife would ring up the sale of his illustrations, then resumed his “origin story” without missing a beat. His enthusiasm never wavered.
I learned that his name was Allen Bellman, and that Wonder Woman’s ” secret identity was Roz Bellman.
I chatted with them for several minutes, pausing periodically as fans came to get poster art signed. Talking with, and watching, and hearing them was pure pleasure.
My son picked out this illustration by Bellman, after I explained to him about “The Invaders”.
The kid was still pretty shy at the time, so he didn’t interact with the Bellmans that much, but shot a big grin at them, and called out “Thank you!” when Bellman signed the poster.
I think he felt like he’d won the lottery.
A few moments after recalling my years-ago encounter with the Bellmans, I found out that Allen Bellman had died at the age of 95.
It’s hard to describe how much fun it was to spend a few minutes with these people–total strangers, who treated me like a I was lifelong friend.
These were two people who totally embraced “Do what you love. Love what you do.” philosophy.
And they offer proof that even when you reach adulthood, you don’t have to grow up.