Monday, January 16, 2006

Et in Arcadia Ego

"[Those words] conjure up the retrospective vision of an unsurpassable happiness, enjoyed in the past, unattainable ever after, yet enduringly alive in the memory."--Erwin Panofsky, "Et in Arcadia Ego: Poussin and the Elegaic Tradition," in Meaning and the Visual Arts, (Doubleday ed., 1955), p. 296.

"Being a kid you have, like, 12 comics, and you read them to death; you have them memorized."--Brian Michael Bendis, in The Comics Journal #266, p. 98.

When I was a boy we had little money, but after relentlessly whining, I finally convinced my parents to give me 75 cents a week for candy and comic books. What passed for a local comic shop, though, was a broken down convenience store that I realize now was probably a front for some other (possibly nefarious) business. (This will become clearer below.)

Like Bendis, I was mainly (re-)reading a corpus of comics that I had already purchased or acquired through trades. Some of them I read until they fell apart. Here's a list:

Spiderman #142, 148-53; 155, 157-58; 176, 192, 202, 205 & Ann #10
Spider-Woman #1 & 26-34
X-Men #1 & 97-99
Thor #241, 246-48, 250, 259, 283 & 293
The Incredible Hulk #187, 191-94, 196, 199, 201 & 203
Fantastic Four #162, 167, 182, 214, 219 & Ann #11
Ms. Marvel #1, 3 & 6
Red Sonja #5
Black Panther #7 & 21
The Defenders #32, 35, 77 & 80
The Inhumans #3 & 6
The Destructor #1 & 4
Devil Dinosaur #1
Metal Men #1

The availability of comics at the convenience store was erratic and inconsistent, (as was my ability to afford runs of issues in sequence). The comics that I bought there were not even always in good shape. But you know, I really don't recall being disappointed or bothered by any of this at the time.

How could I have known that Spiderman's creative team was about to embark upon the follies of the clone saga, driving the franchise over a cliff? All I knew was that issue #150 was most excellent: clones of Gwen Stacy and Peter Parker? And one of the two Parkers dies? That was totally deep.

Poring over my 4 issues of the X-Men, I was ignorant of the whole Phoenix/Dark Phoenix story arc that picked up steam in the issues immediately following those that I owned. Though issue #99 was the cliff-hanger to end all cliff-hangers, I never knew what happened when the X-Men faced the X-Men; it wasn't until I was in college that I learned that Jean Grey actually died in issue #100. And the thing is, I didn't lose sleep over this. In fact, I must have read those four issues fifteen times, at least.

How things have changed! For instance, I've been scouring the Internets recently for issue #2 of Samurai: Heaven and Earth. Though I have the other four issues, I can't force myself to open any of them because of this lacunae in the series. Must. Acquire. Issue #2. First.

Has graduate school...teaching...writing academic articles and books...changed the way that I read and enjoy non-academic things? It seems so. When I do re-visit my corpus of comics, what I primarily derive from them is the historian's satisfaction that a few of them are important markers of the passing of the Silver Age. Nice, but no joy.

But that's OK, because the joy that I got from my ritualistic re-readings of my comics was a component of my adolescent mental world. (And I don't particularly want to revive or revisit that.) So, while I can't relive the joy, I can certainly recall it-- that's the essence of nostalgia.

I read my comics for entirely different reasons, now. And that's not a bad thing, either.

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