Barack Obama and the Comic Book Time Machine, by Mike Gold
I have always been a major league comic book fan. Always. As a child, whenever my parents dragged me out of town I would make them stop at every possible drug store, newsstand and dime store so I could check out the comics stock. In those days we had no forewarning of what was coming out when, and few outlets carried every title. Some even ignored entire publishing lines.
So when I think back on those trips, I can date them by the comic books I had seen along the way. For example, I encountered Lois Lane #1 at a roadside inn on the road between Gary and Indianapolis Indiana, since replaced by Interstate 65. Ergo, that trip was at the very beginning of 1958. I was seven years old.
In the corner behind the comics rack, I encountered separate drinking fountains: one said, “Whites” and the other said, “Colored.” That confused me, and I asked my father why they needed two. “Because some people are damn idiots,” Dad replied in undisguised disgust.
We were in central Indiana, a place that just a few decades earlier had been the focal point of the Ku Klux Klan. Now, mind, you, if not for the Ku Klux Klan I wouldn’t be alive today.
Born in Chicago, my father grew up in Indianapolis. When he was about 11 years old – with would be 1927 or 1928 – he and his father were in the center of town running errands. The Klan was having one of its massive parades, with hundreds if not thousands of members in full pointy-headed costume marching down the main drag. My grandfather declined to take off his hat as the Klan’s colors passed. A friendly neighbor pointed out his fau pax; he still refused to doff his hat. He and my later-to-be father went about their business.
That night, a number of pointy-heads dropped by their house – such as it was, without plumbing or electricity. They burned a cross in front of the house. The house caught fire.
My grandfather looked at his frightened wife and three children and decided to return to Chicago. Eight years later my father got married and, 14 years after that, I was born. Thank you, Ku Klux Klan.
After my grandfather died in the mid-50s, my grandmother moved from Chicago to Gary Indiana to stay with her daughter Rose and her family. Down the block and across the street was an awesome drug store with two of the largest comic book spinner racks I had ever seen, so I rarely bitched about the long, boring drive. Gary was in better shape in those days, but, even then, it was hardly the sort of place you’d find David, Ricky and the Bev.
Ironically, in 1986 I moved from Chicago to Connecticut and, in that first year, I was exploring my new digs by driving alongside the Housatonic River. When I got to Shelton, the street was blocked by a Ku Klux Klan rally. By then the group’s Grand Imperial Klingon was a New Englander. Go figure. Sadly, fashions had changed – due to our first Catholic president (another irony) so I had no hat not to duff. But I had a middle finger. Two, in fact.
Sure, times have changed since the 1920s, but we need to remember how they’ve changed, and how much change is yet to come. Last week, Barack Obama got over 49% of the vote in Indiana’s Democratic Primary. Generally considered a “red state,” Indiana has been known to elect a Democrat or two, including the Bayh family… the latest of which was on Hillary Clinton’s very short list of vice presidential fantasies. It’s largely a rural state, and southern Indiana remains, by northern standards, quite, quite southern. And Barack Obama, a black man, got over 49% of the vote.
When the results came in, I thought of my grandfather. And I smiled.
Mike Gold is editor-in-chief of ComicMix.