Comic relief

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I rarely read comic books as a child growing up in England; I was more of a book kid, when I wasn’t watching TV, of course. (Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach and the less well-known, Danny, Champion of the World being my favorite reads.) Comics in the U.K. just didn’t hold my attention, which is odd because the American equivalents came to feature prominently in my life.

I did read some of the great British comic staples such as Beano for a while, Dandy only very occasionally and Eagle even less frequently. The stories generally didn’t land for me and the characters weren’t engaging so my early childhood experience with comics could only be considered a dalliance. In my adolescence I read Shoot!, Roy of the Rovers, 2000 A.D. and the like, but again not with any consistency.

British comics, for me at least, didn’t have the level of interest or glamour to really hold my attention. T.V. imagery provided a scintillating backdrop to my childhood and reading books allowed my imagination to do likewise. Comics should’ve been somewhere in the middle, providing captivating visuals coupled with exciting story lines, but I always found them all a bit, well, dull.

Then one summer, in 1984, my attitude towards comics changed dramatically – and I have America to thank for it. It was a Sunday morning and I had walked down to our local newsagent's to collect the papers for my Dad — as well as spend whatever change I had left on sweets. Whilst picking my Dad’s newspaper up off the rack, my eyes were drawn to something striking. There was Spider-man and the Incredible Hulk! But not just those two heroic icons, there were a whole slew of brightly costumed super-heroes bursting off the cover of a comic!

There was a dude with shield, another with a hammer, a guy in a robot-looking suit with flames coming out of his boots and a mean looking fella with claws coming out of his hands! Who were they? What was this? I had to know!

My sweets money became my comic money, and I purchased issue No.1 of Marvel’s highly ambitious, multi-titled crossover event, Secret Wars. That was that. From then on comics became a staple of my adolescence.

Some friends and I found a couple of authentic comic shops in Oxford, England and would cycle there at least once a month to purchase American comics. I read every issue of Secret Wars and having been introduced to Captain America, Iron Man and The X-Men, I had to read more.

Occasionally I’d stumble across a comic that didn’t center around a typical hero-type character, no flashy costumes or any powers to speak of, just good old fashioned relationship-based storytelling. One such comic was called Bone; it was an absolute gem.

Recently, I introduced my eight-year-old son to Bone, over 20 years since I had last picked it up. I handed him the first of the nine collected volumes with more anxiety than I had anticipated. Was he too young for it? Would he enjoy it? If he didn’t, would I be crushed? (Hint: Yes!)

He ploughed through the first volume almost without looking up before eagerly requesting the second. Later, he excitedly took his first trip to a comic shop with me in search of whichever volume he needed next and picked up other comics at the same time. He loved it. And I loved sharing the experience with him.

Then one night I had a unique and unforgettable privilege. I stopped at my son’s bedroom door, ready to enter his room and tell him it was time to stop reading and go to sleep, when I noticed that he was finishing up the last page of Bone, Volume 9. His journey with these wonderful characters, the same characters that had impacted me so greatly in my youth and who had stayed with me to this day, was coming to the end.

He finished the story, lingering on the final panel, before slowly closing the book and resting his hand atop as he continued to stare down at it. It was a powerful, sad, but joyous moment.

My boy, who loved to read, had found a new outlet for his passion. He found comics; and I can say with the confidence that comes from first-hand experience, that they will continue to be there for him for the rest of his life.

Mark Turner is formerly of Oxford, England, but has lived in America for the past 15 years, the majority of that time in Colorado. Mark enjoys playing soccer, hiking and biking when the weathers good, and when the weather's rotten, writing blog entries that he hopes will amuse and entertain. Mark can be followed on Twitter @melchett.

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