Saturday, March 19, 2016

Before Comics Were Cool - The Gen-X Recollection Project: Matt A.

I was beyond excited to see this entry show up in my inbox. Matt A. - who pops up in the comments - is a friend going all the way back to the 4th grade when he and I had both just moved to Austin.  His family came in from Minnesota and my own from the Houston area. Matt was my first comic book buddy, but I'll let him tell the tale.

We lost track of each other in the maelstrom of the early 90's when I moved away, but found each other again in the past decade when we both returned to Austin.  Matt's folks, by the way, are easily some of the nicest folks you would ever meet.  They get a solid thumbs-up from me.

Matt also had a special nickname at my house.  My grandparents were from Finland, and liked Matt enough that they called him by the Finnish version of Matt, which we bastardized to "Mutty".  He's still "Mutty" to my parents.  I doubt he knows this.

The thing is:  Matt knows. He was there at the very beginning when I was making all sorts of questionable calls. To get really old school, Matt and I played the Marvel Role-Playing Game together, rented Monty Python and the Holy Grail together, and, indeed, made our first voyages to the comic shop together.

Matt: Circa 5th Grade, Freaking Out The Squares

When I was 10, my family moved down from Minnesota to Austin, Texas. I was interested in a wide variety of sports, G.I. Joe, Transformers, and Star Wars, and I was just starting to get a taste of video games.

With the move, though, came new friends. Most of my interests were shared with the kids that I met in Austin. I had to transition to different sports - hockey wasn't too popular in the south at the time. But because the TV shows were shown nationally, we all had a shared interest in the toys of the time.

However, one kid I met had just started reading comic books. He showed me an X-Men comic, and I remember feeling a little strange about it. I had heard about them from my dad, who had told me that they were silly stories that kids had read when he was young. So I had this picture that comics were for kids younger than us.

Soon after, I traveled back to Minnesota to visit my friends there, and I remember seeing a comic book store in a mall we visited. On a lark, I decided to buy one. I looked over the rows of comics, absolutely mystified by the variety, and picked one because it had a neat looking guy in a purple mask winking at me (it was a West Coast Avengers #14 with Hawkeye on the cover). I bought it, and actually tried reading it. I was captivated by the crazy adventure shown with drawings. I must have read it 5 times while I was visiting my old friends instead of spending time with them.

But it was only half of a story. Like all serial comics, it took place in the middle of a story, and I wanted to start from the beginning. I asked the boy's mom that I was staying with if we could go back to the store. I had this picture in my mind of finding all the previous issues. Instead, I could only find the issue that came right before it.

Soon, I was that straight white dude living in North Austin pedaling his bike to Ballard's gas station to grab some funny books, candy and soda on a summer afternoon.

At this point in my life, Dungeons and Dragons also started to creep into popular culture. I had played it once with my cousins when I was 8, and the idea of constructing these stories with your friends grabbed me. My Austin friends were playing it, and we expanded into other kinds of role playing games.

This brings us to the late 80s, and the time that I was in middle school. It's usually a hard time for kids, and this was the time I remember experiencing the most teasing from others - I wouldn't call it bullying. I never directly experienced it as directed towards my nerd interests, though, but rather because of my nerd interests. Those interests cast me as the outsider, and put me as the target of their jokes.

One of my Austin friends was another kid who moved down about the same time I did. He had recorded the TV show "Robotech" while in Minnesota, and when I came down with pneumonia, he let me borrow it. This led me into searching out more stuff like this, and soon I was watching whatever Anime I could get my hands on. It wasn't until I entered college, though, that it became much easier to find in the States.

So there I was by age 14 - deep into comic books, role playing games, playing video games on my computer, and just starting to watch Anime. Then I found out through a BBS that there was a local group of people who met at a park, dressed up in European fantasy clothes, and hit each other with foam padded weapons; that thing that the kids these days call "LARPing." I don't know if I could have been a bigger nerd or not.

By high school, I think I was pretty insulated against the nerd insults. I knew I wasn't among the cool kids, but I had my group of friends that I could reliably be around.

It wasn't until college that I really started to notice that the activities I was able to continue to be part of were highly looked down upon by many other people in the wider society.

Really, I have to say it all started when that Ryan guy introduced me to comics, and kept me going by having lots of other comics all around the house that I grew into. He and his brother also introduced me to all kinds of role playing games, which just entrenched me deeper into nerd culture. So it's really all his fault. Gee, thanks Ryan. One of these days I'll show him that I still have his Zach level 36 thief, and that Dungeons and Dragons club rules that we wrote up in my backyard.

See, he turned out okay!

Closing note from editorial:  Man, I would pay cash money to get back my Zack the Elf character sheet back.  Time to bust out the Dungeon Master's Guide and put the gang back together again.

If you, too, have memories of pre-internet geekdom, we'd like to hear from you!  Here's how to join in.


JAL said...

I know the name Gary Gaygax, only because of Matt A.

Matt A. said...

I had forgotten that I had a bit of a nerd-crush for the TSR folks like Gary Gygax.