“Always carry a comic book with you, kid”
These words filled my ears for the first time back in grade school and I’ve not since forgotten them, there is a reason why anyone picks up a habit and wether it be for good or ill there is always a time and place to tell the origins of such a habit. For me, this is the proper time for me to tell this story. Now if you give me a few moments of your time I’d like to tell you why I carry a comic book with me wherever I go…
It was a rainy, December day of the year 2000 (Cliché opening i know, but please bear with me) and my eight year old self was running through the halls of PS12 in Woodside, Queens trying to get to class on time. My mind was racing in trying to figure out a good excuse as to why I was late, I had never been late in my short academic run and for the first time since I had returned from Mexico I had a teacher who I really, really liked and I wasn’t about to disappoint her. Upon arriving to the classroom it seemed all was not quite right. Kids ran amuck, backpacks littered the space between tables where the teacher had just last week demanded we keep clear and most puzzling of all there was no sign of a teacher, the coatrack stood alone with no weight to bear, her huge bag did not sit atop her desk and the chalk board was clean. No quote of the day from a random poet, no “Do now”, “Aim” or even heading with the day’s date. I took my seat on my designated seat which was thankfully empty, no one else took their proper seat and if someone had taken mine….. well, I would’ve been far too shy to ask for it back. The Vice Principal, a big blonde woman with broad shoulders and a voice deep enough to scare any man regardless of age came into our classroom, and with one command everyone fell silent and sat back down onto weightless chairs. Queue the great “National Anthem” and then rang the morning announcements, the Vice Principal looked at her watch seemingly frustrated and then the door opened and a red haired man, slender and tall came walking in whistling a familiar tune. He reached out and whispered something into the Vice Principal’s ear as she got up off the teacher’s desk, she faced the class and introduced our substitute teacher for the day, asked us to show him respect and then took her leave.
Why so much exposition? well, that’s because of the great weight this story holds for me. I was a shy boy growing up, a loner by trade and a master of silence. The teacher’s would call me “Silent Ivan” and “Ivan the Terrible” jokingly poking fun at the possibility that I was silent because I was always plotting and executing acts when they could not see me. It was all for fun and laughs but they were right to assume that my mind was a loud one. You see I’d have the odd habit of playing stories in my head and writing them out on my notebooks, it was a mechanism I used to pass the time during class as I had the tendency to finish work faster than others. What did I think of? Well, Superheroes, Star Wars stories and adventures of characters I had seen or read about in a movie, tv show or book somewhere, sometime. Little did I know however that this particular day would bring the discovery of something that would alter the way I thought about any story from here on out.
Anyways back to my story: It was recess/lunch time and I had chosen to stay behind and read up on some chapter books from the small selection of books we had in the classroom shelf. The Substitute Teacher seemed to be ok with it so long as I didn’t destroy the room. My rapid search among the titles in the small pathetic library produced a worn and torn copy of The Martian Chronicles by a Mr. Ray Bradbury. The cover was torn out and scribbles of blue and black ink surrounded the back cover, it was obviously not meant to be there in a library full of colorful worn books. I sat back into my chair and attempted to read what was at that time the most intimidating book I had laid eyes on. Just as I was about to open up the book to it’s first torn up pages the Substitute Teacher came in. The tall red headed man slumped back unto his desk and from his messenger bag retrieved a stack of magazines, a quick glance in his direction gave me clue as to the content of these magazines. I saw the words Marvel, DC and probably the most iconic to me at that time: Spider-Man. He glanced over at me, obviously noticing my repeated glances in his direction as they had become predictable. I quickly buried my face into the wrecked book in my hands, a hand touched my shoulder and I looked up almost hesitantly. The tall red headed man crouched down to my eye level and placed a comic book onto my desk. My first instinct was to quickly dispel any sort of angst and calmly look him in the eye and explain that I didn’t mean to stare at him, my young mind assumed I had done something wrong even if that wasn’t at all the case. “Read this” he said ever so poignantly, his finger pressed down on the comic as he slid it closer to me. “Is this for school work?” I stupidly asked, he began to chuckle to himself as he replied “sure, kid it’s for school, just read it and tell me what you think”. I flipped the book to its cover revealing it to be Ultimate Spider-Man #1, a new mint copy yet to be read or so that’s what the seam looked to be. I flipped open the first page and was immediately taken aback at how wonderful it all was. This was my introduction to comics themselves. movies, TV shows and games were all I knew of this character before. But before me there in front of my young eyes the world of Spider-man became ever so new, fresh, and forever ingrained in my young mind as the definitive origin story for a character I had grown to love outside his original medium. I read it so studiously, taking in every panel and observing it all out as if looking for literary clues in an all text chapter book. Before long I was immersed in a world of comic art, and though they could not move on the page, each character somehow seemed more expressive to me than any animated series or live action movie I had ever seen. Perhaps it was because it left just the right amount of visual for imagination to decide, or maybe because up until that point a story in a book, to me, was text on plain paper, bound together. My fingers eagerly flipped through each page, no commercials in my way, no stupid 30 second ads about some new toothpaste, no side conversations from random strangers in the edges of a dark theater, no distractions, just me and my comic book. Before I knew it, it was all over. My mind, lost for those few precious moments of fiction rushed back into a noisy classroom where my annoyingly loud classmates returned from lunch. I flipped the book closed and slid it under my notebook. The last half of the day began and yet I could not focus on the mathematics lecture, my mind drifted away as my fingers awkwardly fidgeted for the release of the trapped comic book underneath my book. My mind went awry with thoughts and made up scenarios that anticipated the future adventures of Peter Parker in this newfound world of printed wonder, one where I can imagine the actions between panels, one where the sound effects are made by myself, and the flow of the story is determined by how fast I can absorb it all. The sub finished up the lesson, the day was over, my notebook was (aside from a few markings here and there) devoid of the entirety of the day’s lesson. Everyone lined up outside, I packed up my things and approached the Teacher at his desk, where he too was packing up for the day. I placed the book on the table and he took a look at the book and then at me. “You like it?” he asked. My shyness prevented a sound from coming out of my mouth but I simply nodded with a stupidly awkward smile. “Keep it” he said as he smiled at me, “But it’s not mine” I replied, “It’s ok, just make sure you pass one along someday. Always carry a comic book with you, kid” he patted me on the back and we proceeded out the door and into the outdoor courtyard in front of the school where parents almost too eagerly picked up their kids. As usual I walked home alone, and yet it did not seem too lonely that time.
It was from then on that I carried one of these colorful, wonderful pieces of art in my lunch box, then my book bag, and now my messenger bag. Whenever I see someone in need of a good story I hand them a copy of whatever book I’m currently enjoying that month. It’s an odd thing to think about really, but it all came about from this one event in my life. In terms of my comic book habits? well, I went on to follow the adventures of Peter Parker of the Ultimate Universe for many many years. It saddened me to see him go recently but perhaps Miles Morales is to some kid out there what Peter Parker was to me at eight years old: the doorway into the wonderful world of comics. That alone, is worth the change. Good o’l web head went on to be my #1 favorite superhero where he remains today, constantly competing with Batman to keep that spot. I hope someday, perhaps some kid will write up a full blog post in an online outlet about how I made them a believer in comics. That may be someday perhaps, but today I am satisfied with posting this up in memory of this wonderful Teacher, who not only subbed in for the day but changed my life course in one single action, and thus gave me endless years of fuel for imagination. To anyone who read this entry up to this point I thank you deeply, all the best.