Ed Catto: Geek Culture – How Far We’ve Come!

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When I was a kid an ad in my local Pennysaver newspaper caught my eye. It was placed by a guy selling old comic books. In those pre-Internet days The Pennysaver was a weekly community newspaper that served as a want-ad compendium. As a young boy this particular ad was especially glorious because (1) I loved comics and (2) living a small town like Auburn, NY, I didn’t have a lot of ways to get old comics. Sure, occasionally we ordered by mail, but this was different.

IMG_1891One problem was that this seller lived on the “other side” of town. Way over on the bizarrely named Frazee Street. And Mom was very suspicious that there were sinister motives involved. The person placing the ad might have been luring young boys, like my pals and me, with the siren call of comics. After much discussion, I wore my mother down and she said she’d supervise a visit to this suspicious seller of old comic books.

The first visit was… fantastic! This collector had amazing stacks of all the old comics my neighborhood cohort and I had previously only dreamed about. We were eager to read Silver Age Marvels. To us, it was like finding buried treasure. And the collector (“a guy named Joe,” in fact) priced his wares fairly. His method was to charge us 60% of the stated value in the Passiac Book Center Guide Catalog. Yes, in those early days, the Overstreet Comic Book Guide was a mere babe in publishing years. Instead, the local gold standard by which to judge a comic’s worth was with the mimeographed and stapled pages of the Passiac Book Center Guide.

Library 3Well, Joe wasn’t an axe murderer and, in fact, over the years he,and his wife and kids became family friends. But it was a slow process for my mom to get over her maternal trepidation.

Now, contrast that story with the recent classes I’ve been teaching. I’ve been asked by local organizations – Bergen Community College and the Ridgewood Library – to teach courses on “How to Create a Graphic Novel.” That’s a fancy way of saying “Teach Kids to Make Comics.” These courses are tailored to high school, middle school and even elementary school kids. We review the basics and quickly shift to the creation stage with several short exercises. And you know what? These classes have been very close to full or SRO every time!

Spurred by a thirst and curiosity for pop culture and comics, kids want to know more and their parents want them to know more. And they are not intimidated. These kids want to fully engage and create their own stuff!

Some kids are talented in drawing and some are natural born storytellers. Some are a little shy, but typically even they are fully engaged by the last 10 minutes of class. In general, there’s not a lot of hesitation. In fact, so many of the students are eager to share their pop culture credentials with me. They want me to know that they know comics and graphic novels and plotlines from superhero TV shows and artists’ styles and Marvel Comics trivia. Way back when, I’d work hard to hide all that from my peers or teachers.

IMG_1896And at the recent classes in the local library, the staff trotted out many of their graphic novels to show to the class. And they sure knew their stuff. The library staff was vigorously promoting comics to the kids – cool stuff like the collected editions of the new Ms. Marvel comic and Scholastic’s Graphix books by Raina Telgemeir.

In fact, I couldn’t help but wonder if librarians are the secret weapons on the front lines of Geek Culture – but that’s probably another thought for another column.

It was great to have parents drop off their kids to learn about comics. It was encouraging to see how passionate kids (of many ages) are about Geek Culture. And I think it would be cool to follow some of these kids and see if the spark that was lit turns into something more.

There you have it: community approved Geek Culture for all supported by all. We’ve come a long way from Frazee Street.