Saturday, September 25, 2010

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A Life of Fandom


It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. So wrote Charles Dickens in his famous classic, A Tale of Two Cities. Whenever I hear someone complain that they are bored, I cringe a bit. How could one possibly be bored in this day and age? This is the best of times, well, with the exception of going to work, making out bills, fixing small problems around the house, and so forth, but that does come with life. Now that I think about it, it can’t be great all the time. I guess Dickens was right on the money with those profound words, but I digress. I guess my point is I can’t see how one can be bored with all that life has to offer today. I have so many interest and hobbies that I can’t find the time and energy to pursue them all. Recently I’ve been reading a fan press book by Jim Van Hise called Rocket Blast and the Comicollector. I highly recommend picking up a copy if you are a fan of comics, pulps, comic artists, or anything around that periphery. In issue number two that I was reading, it contains a large portion devoted to the author Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan, John Carter of Mars, and several other memorable characters. However, in the introduction of this book, Hise, relates how he grew up in the 50's and got engrossed in fandom. I was totally engrossed by this article and could relate very well to his words as I grew up around that same time frame. Televisions were black and white, there was no remote control, they didn’t think about a target audiences as most things were made for the adult audience, and cable had not been invented yet. People hooked up their sets through an antennae and there were just three channels: ABC, CBS, and NBC. So if you happen to catch a movie or program that appealed to you, it made special impact. Plus there were no VCRs, so the only way to catch it again, really, was just by chance, unless it just happened to be a program that came on weekly like The Twilight Zone, for instance.

My earliest recollections of childhood viewing consisted of watching cartoons of all kinds, the old George Reeves’ Superman show, Howdy Doody (a marionette, variety program for children), Little Rascals, The Lone Ranger, The Three Stooges, some of the old Republic serials, and kid shows like Sky King (a series about an airplane pilot and his daughter, Penny), and several other adventure or humorous programs. When I was younger I remember hearing, not actual viewing as I was sent to bed, King Kong, as it came on too late for me to say up and watch, plus my parents probably knew it would disturb me. So me and my brother got sent to bed while my Dad and sister stayed up and watched it. I listened, however, intently from my bed and was terrorized as the jungle drums began, and later as King Kong showed up to battle horrible dinosaurs, and later on spread terror to Manhattan. All that blood curdling screaming and growling and Fay Wray shrieking in terror, well, that was enough for my overactive imagination, and it gave me nightmares anyway for the next week. But at the same time it was one of my earliest introductions to the world of sci fi or speculative fiction that has stayed with me today.

After that I wanted more, and I remember going to the only in-door theater in our town to see other such features, or those my parents would allow. Movies like Swiss Family Robinson, Walt Disney cartoon features, Journey to the Center of the Earth, the Ray Harryhausen films were all movies that seem to draw upon my imagination. It was also around this time that Marvel started putting out its Silver Aged super hero books. Now being a kid, my income was limited, but back then comics cost just a dime (later going up to a whole twelve cents), I could easily pick up a few comics a week along with some candy or sport cards. I remember picking up Fantastic Four, Superman, Batman, the Flash, Turok, and even kiddie comics like Richie Rich, Dennis the Menace, Baby Huey, Hot Stuff, Casper, and several others.

I remember the first double billed sci fi film I saw with a friend. He told me about it at school, and pretty much hyped it up, and asked me to go. My Mom was a bit reluctant having gone through some of my midnight terror problems from the past. But after a little begging, she relented. The double bill was none other than I Married A Monster From Outer Space along with the now classic, The Blob with Steve McQueen. Well, it didn’t take long, about the middle of the first film, that I knew I was going to be scarred to death around midnight. And sure enough, for weeks thereafter I suffered nightmares and paranoid feelings about creatures under the bed behind doors and so forth. Well, aside from these few misgivings; it did not deter my thirst or interest in sci fi, high adventure, and flights of fantasy.

I remember watching many of the early Twilight Zones with my Dad after we’d all had supper. He enjoyed westerns a bit more, but also like sci fi. I remember pretty well watching the episode of Twilight Zone where aliens had landed. They posed as being benevolent beings, and offered a rosy picture to mankind of how they would cure disease, increase prosperity, and so forth. They even offered free trips aboard their flying saucer to visit their homeworld as a friendly gesture. A scientist found a book from them he was trying to decipher. Many space flights had already begun taking earthlings to their alien homeworld. Many had begun packing their belongs wanting to join the aliens on their homeworld as it seemed paradise. The show ended as more earthlings had boarded the space ship, the scientist finally breaks the code to their language in the book. As the door closes on the space ship, he pleads, “Don’t go, don’t go aboard. It’s a cookbook!”

Oddly enough at this time, even though I was a fan of this stuff and actively pursued it, the thought of fandom never occurred to me. It was just something I enjoyed, along with maybe my brother and a few friends. There weren’t any fanzines so to speak of like Starlog or whatever to even keep one informed of upcoming things of this nature. Oh sure, Marvel and DC comics still had their blurbs in them of upcoming comics to keep an eye out for, but unless you were very astute and knew of a great pharmacy, grocery store, or magazine shop, you’d probably end up missing them anyway. I never really paid much attention to who even drew the comic or wrote them. I just liked the characters and the wild adventures, and that was about it. Attention to those details didn’t come along until later.

My Dad got transferred with his job to Ft. Worth, and shortly thereafter to Big Spring, Texas.. Usually when a move happens, families lighten their loads, and try to move light. My Mom therefore found no use in our old, moldy comics, and the plastic models of Universal monsters or car kits we’d put together, so out they went, along with the baseball and football cards. Hey, urban legends have to come from somewhere, and I guess there might be some grain of truth to some of those legends. Granted, the comics and stuff she threw out were not in mint shape as being pretty young kids, me and my brother would read them multiple times at the kitchen table whenever we ate. So some, if not most were pretty mangled and I’m pretty sure had mustard and ketchup stains all on them, along with missing covers and such. So, I’m sure my college education could not have been funded by these childhood treasures.

When we moved, I guess the adage, out of sight, out of mind proves relevant, as my interest in comics disappeared. I was not anywhere near a comic shop or place to buy them. I was beginning a new school year at a new high school, and in a different environment. But fandom was still near me. There was this wild TV program coming on after I got home from school. It was space opera, and had this crazy alien on it with pointy ears. The stories were out of this world and full of rough, tumble adventure. Well, Star Trek, over time, evolved into its own fandom spinoff. But also I remember a strange black and white soap opera that came on around this same time frame. It was weird. For one, why was a dang old soap opera coming on at this hour of the day? Plus it had horrific, gothic mystery overtones to it. They all lived out in this mansion and all sorts of spooky things were happening to them. Barnabas Collins, a guilt ridden, 175-year-old vampire, and the townspeople of Collinswood, evolved into another small cult phenomenon called Dark Shadows. It aired on ABC also about the time I got out of school from 1966- 1971. Of course, there was another hip show on around the same time that all the kids were watching. It was the Batman show with Adam West and Burt Ward. I think we liked that over the other actually. We’d always want to see who the new villians were, and being already aware of the Batman through the comics it was a natural. Sure today it seems a little corny and out of date, but back then in the swinging 60's it was a huge hit. Zap Bang Pow! I am also a big music fan, and have followed it with enthusiasm even before the Beatles and the British invasion. At around the same time there was another hit TV series on the airwaves. The show had these four mop top, crazy Americans calling themselves the Monkees. That was another hit in our house. I bought their albums, and watched that show week to week. Talk about a show though not exactly aging well... Although I still find their movie, Head, sort of fun and interesting. We were also fans of the Smother’s Brothers show. I enjoyed their brand of folkie, hip humor, and they always had cool bands on their program too like The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and the like.

I think around this time, even though there was still no computers and no Internet, no real magazines like Starlog or such that I could find or at least that I was aware of; I still considered myself bonafide fan. I had all these interest that I enjoyed pursuing that has held to this day. I was a hopeless fanatic, a tizzy devotee, and there was no turning back now–not that I ever wanted to. Fandom has brought a lot of pleasure to life.

I’ve continued to follow my muse. I remember well enjoying the first Star Wars film and the sequels and prequels thereafter–I love that stuff. There are now Star War books, comics, and even an official Star Wars magazine that diehard fans can follow. I’m a buff of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’m addicted to reading about the spice on Dune and enjoyed watching the made-for-TV movies on the Sci-Fi Channel about them (there is even now computer games about Dune as well). I’m drawn or seduced by the one Ring that rules them all in Lord of the Rings. I’ll be back too, whenever a new Terminator film shows up and watched Neo unravel the mysteries of The Matrix. Marvel has started getting on the silver screen recently as well. Now we can watch our favorite mutants battle for truth and justice and our favorite web-slinger swing from building to building searching out the bad guys. The amount of speculative fiction these days is simply amazing and overwhelming.

I also got back into comics once I got out of college and started working to where I could splurge a bit on buying comics. There’s some great stuff out there: Watchman, Dark Knight Returns, Marvels, Kingdom Come, Sandman, manga, and the list goes on and on. Once you delve into the whole realm of sci fi, speculative fiction, horror, and fantasy the amount of worlds and ideas offered up is really amazing. Plus what still amazes me is that I know I haven’t seen it all. There are still hundreds upon hundreds if not thousands of books, films and things I have yet to discover. So life is good. It’s rewarding, and I’ll continue to seek out new worlds. I find it hard to think of living in any other time in history, and no, I rarely get bored. And yes, most of the time, I do think these are the best of times.

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