For a lot of comics fans, their love for the medium was fostered under the wing of a dad figure. Whether it was an actual father, or an uncle or a big brother, I always got the impression that comics were a realm ruled by dad-ness. Even the books themselves (much like in the Disney world) tend to prioritize dads over moms. But for me, comics have always been a mom thing.
Whenever someone asks me how I got into comics, I always paint the picture of me as the overactive kid who only calmed down when his exasperated mom shoved an issue of Archie Digest in his face. This isn’t a totally fair description, though. Don’t get me wrong, I was plenty exasperating, but I don’t think it fully shows who my mom was. She was my first gateway to reading. My mom didn’t just randomly pick Archie for me to read because it had pretty colors and cartoon characters. She actually grew up reading Archie herself. Did she think it would shut me up? Absolutely. But did she simultaneously know that Archie and the gang were good clean fun that her five year old, and that the world of Riverdale was just overall dope? Damn skippy she did. For her, comics were a way to get her hyperactive son to sit down, and a thing we could have in common.
And so it went. I would ask my mom who Harold Washington was, and she would give me a newspaper. I’d run around the house swinging an imaginary lightsaber, she got me a library card and I read the novelizations of Star Wars. I laughed inappropriately at a scene when we were watching Waiting to Exhale, so we read the book together. Instead of putting me on punishment, she made me read the encyclopedia (I made it all the way to osmosis). And when my grandmother died, my mom bought me Harry Potter to help me find a place for my grief.
As someone who grew up estranged from his dad, I gravitated to comics that featured a father-son relationship, and often lived vicariously through those books. I can’t tell you how many times I got chills when Alfred referred to Bruce as his son, or whenever Peter lamented the loss of Uncle Ben. Even recently with books like Underwater Welder (really anything Lemire does) and the most recent Cyclops run, there were times when I would well up a bit. This isn’t a reaction to my relationship with my own father, as it is a reaction to the beauty of how these books tackle father-son love. And yet every time I see Archie and Jughead or Betty and Veronica staring at me in the checkout line at the grocery store, it’s my mom that I see. And every time I put a comic in a kid’s hands, I’m reminded of my mom opening those same doors for me.
I lost my mother in February of this year, just shy of her 58th birthday. For months, I’ve found it nearly impossible to write or even think straight. I took the rest of the school year off, and I haven’t been able to write anything until now. But I had comics, and just like 30 years ago when this journey started, comics have helped me dig my way out of this hole. I went to San Diego Comic Con for the first time, and Eric and I met some really cool teachers from across the country who all believe in the power of comics, just like my mom did.
I’m back at work now, pushing comics in the classroom and molding young minds. Working on mending my relationship with my father. Little by little, I’m finding a new normal. The new Archie series debuted this year, and it’s every bit as important to me now, as it was when I first met the gang. Archie’s still a lovable clutz, I’m still in love with Betty, and Jughead will forever be my kindred spirit. I like to think the Lady would really love it.