Back in 1988, when I was 10 years old, I had a pocketful of allowance money when I walked into the local pharmacy looking for a way to spend it. My go-to item was always the stuffed animals or their somewhat miserable supply of Barbies, but I hadn't saved up and therefore had to hunt for something a little closer to the $5 bill clutched in my fist. So I headed to the books and periodicals section. I was an avid reader, maybe they had a Baby-sitters Club book I didn't have? As I was looking around something colorful caught my attention. A small book the size of a paperback but shaped a little fatter, a little shorter. On the cover was a cartoon of a father and son having a discussion about homework. The father says, "Archie, how do you explain this low math grade?" and the son replies, "Well, dad! How about the batteries in my calculator went dead!" HA! I use a calculator too! I started to flip through the pages and was captivated by charm of the 1950's style of fashion. And the characters in the stories were all teenagers! They went on dates and drove cars and threw parties! The advertising throughout the book also appealed to me. Ads for Fruity Pebbles, M&M's, and Chips Ahoy. I like those things! I like all of those things! The price on the cover was only $2.25. I would still have money left to buy candy. SOLD.
Thus began my collection of Archie Digest Magazines. I would stay up past my bedtime reading by the illumination of a flashlight. But there was no fooling mom, she would walk past by bedroom and as I quickly tucked the light under the covers she would say, "Heather Marie! Lights out." Pretty soon I had a tall stack of Archie comics on the floor next to my bed. I would read them over and over again. Knowing each one cover to cover. I loved visiting Riverdale. It was a small, safe town that was always idyllic. The gang would get into zany mischief at Riverdale High and then go hang out after school at Pop's Soda Shop. Betty and Veronica always fought over Archie and Archie loved them both, in different ways, and could never make up his mind. Reggie loved Veronica and would always concoct villainous plans to steal her from Archie. And sometimes they worked. Moose, the big dumb lug, loved Midge. And Midge, despite his jealousy, loved Moose. Jughead loved food. A lot. And Ethel loved Jughead. A lot. But through the thick and thin of it, all of them were the best of friends. No matter what.
My favorite Portland event of the year came and went all too fast. One minute I was at the ATM stuffing my pocket full of $20s and collecting my ticket and program to this year's Stumptown Comics Fest. And the next minute I was practically throwing my money at artists and leaving with an empty wallet and a bag full of treasures.
I had a little bit of post-stumptown depression as I was leaving the convention center. It was, after all, still in full swing and here I was leaving in the middle of the hustle and the bustle that was the fest. But I had done half a dozen laps around the room already, I had a measly $4 left in my wallet and I was moments away from plopping down next to a favorite artist or two just to hang out and soak up the atmosphere, becoming that girl. So yeah, it was time to go.
Stumptown Comics Fest is Portland's celebration of indie comics and creators. It's a convention style setup, with rows and rows of tables each run by a comic book writer or artist or publishing press. The style of the books and creations featured are, like all art forms, vastly different from each other and genuinely unique. I went last year, my first year attending, and fell madly and completely in love with the event. I spent hours wandering, slowly taking in what every table and artist had to offer, and $200 later I left the fest with a glow, affectionately clutching my treasures to my chest. I'd been looking forward to this year's event for months now, being sure I had the day off of work and the spending money set aside. I attended the event on Saturday and I've decided to share my findings with you all in detail.
I started reading comic books back in 1999. Well, that's partially true. I started reading Archie comic books back in the 80's. Every week I spent my allowance on at least one Archie Digest and would proceed to read it half a dozen times, memorizing each panel to the point where reading the story played more like a cartoon on TV than a book I was reading. But after I entered high school my reading preferences changed, and while I still occasionally read from my stacks of Archie comics, I no longer sought out new books or expanded my interest in the comics genre. It wasn't until 1999 that I met a girl who introduced me to Warren Ellis's Transmetropolitan, and then to Garth Ennis's Preacher, it was then that I fell head over heels into the comic book world again. And so I started to explore what that world had to offer to adults, and my findings were surprising. Creative and intricate story lines, excellent writing, gorgeous art, vibrant colors, let's just say that I started to read quite a lot of comic books after that. I gravitated more toward the indie comics or at least to the comics that didn't focus on the typical Marvel or DC world of Superheros, and there I comfortably stayed for many many years. It wasn't until just these past few years that comic book writer Gail Simone lured me into her world with her indie creation Welcome to Tranquility which floated me over to her other title about a group of second rate villains, Secret Six. Then shortly thereafter she took up the Wonder Woman title therefore making me curious as to what I may be missing from this fantastic writer if I continued to avoid the mainstream superhero stuff. So I started reading Wonder Woman which snowballed a little into her Birds of Prey run which led me to some Huntress titles and now I'm reaching even further into the pot and digging around for some Black Canary/Green Arrow runs. Like I said, snowballed.
I started reading the comic book, Fables, a little over a year ago. Drawn in by the breathtaking art and compelling story idea, I picked up the first collected volume and read it through at breakneck speed. Fables, written and created by Bill Willingham, is a comic book featuring beloved characters of well known folk lore and fairy tales (who refer to themselves as "Fables"). But these characters aren't what we remember them to do be when we were young. Instead, Fables offers a slightly different take on those magical and mythical worlds and its occupants and gives them all a real-life twist. The foundation of the story goes something like this - The Fables have been forced out of their Homelands by an unknown and mysterious enemy known as the Adversary. They have traveled to our world via magical portals and formed a secret community in New York City known to them as Fabletown. The Fables who are unable to blend in with human society (such as monsters and talking animals) live at "the Farm" in upstate New York.
From here we launch into a journey of war and revenge as the Fables decide to finally take the Adversary on in order to free the remaining enslaved Fables and to reclaim their homelands. Within this journey are countless stories of love and loss, redemption, discovery, deceit, and brave adventure. We discover what kind of woman Snow White turned out to be. What ever happened to The Big Bad Wolf. The ups and downs of Beauty and the Beast. How many wives Prince Charming really had. And that infamous cursed toad. The cast of characters is vast and their personalities complex. The roads that Bill Willingham has taken with these stories and characters has been surprising and with every volume that I have read (going on 12 volumes now) my heart swells and races with each page I turn. And did I mention the art is gorgeous? My eyes dance and marvel over every panel, every shadow and texture of color. The artist has made these characters recognizable but weathered. Rarely do we see the pale-skinned perfection we've come to see in Cinderella or Snow White, instead their faces reveal a life long-lived, unimaginable hardships and journeys traveled. But their beauty remains, as is their nature and their lore, and Fables stays true to what we know of their past stories. It simply tells us what came after, and at times, what came before.
Ever since finishing Summer of Night by Dan Simmons, I've decided to take a book-reading sabbatical and catch up on some stacks of comic books that have been warming my shelves for some time. Every morning and every evening, on the bus ride to work, I take out a comic book or two and pass the commute reading. One out of every three instances wherein I'm reading a comic book some nearby male engages me in conversation about the fact that I'm reading a comic book. The topic of conversation varies, some men are just shocked that a girl would even chose to be reading a comic book at all. Other times they want to have a discussion about the particular comic book I'm reading. And some just want to talk about comic books, period. My taste in comics usually lean more toward the obscure and if you're not a serious comic book reader it's most likely you've never even heard of the titles I read. I'm finding that most of the men who talk to me about comics read mostly from the Marvel universe, Spider-Man, X-Men, Hulk, Iron Man. I don't know if this is because of the recent popularity of Marvel comic book-based movies creating a resurgence of interest in those titles, or because Marvel characters are just cooler. Who knows! The "type" of guy that talks to me about comics varies as well. I've had a few, what appeared to be, older uber geeks talk to me. Those are usually the ones that comment on "pretty girls" don't usually read comic books and will you marry me please. I've had some young dorks who aren't very well informed in comic book knowledge and I mostly just spin their heads with comic book shit they've never heard of before. I've had older regular-joe guys comment on my choice of reading material. And I've had a few downright hunks want to chat my ear off about titles that I love. In the past three weeks I've been approached about every other day. It's astounding!
Today was a young cutie named Ben. While I was reading a trade paperback of Birds of Prey, he decided to ask me about the comic I was reading. "What's it about?" he asked. I laughed and said, I wasn't sure. I explained that I wasn't actually a BoP reader and that I was only interested in a side story that was taking place over the span of the five issues collected in this particular trade. He continued to smile and said, "Oh, I understand..." and then I continued to explain that the DC universe is a little too layered and bound in character/plot history to really hold my interest for long, it tends to get complicated and reference heavy and that I was only sucked in to this DC title because a writer that I enjoy jump started an older series that I've started to like ... and that's when his eyes glazed over and I'd lost him. He said, "I only read Spider-Man, I love that dude" and so I said, That's interesting, what do you think of the recent story reboot Brand New Day, where Peter Parker lives in a world where he and Mary Jane never marry and therefore having a domino effect on the rest of the past and present? He said, "Huh, I've never heard of that before, do they have that in book form, like at the library?" And it was then I realized that this guy isn't a comic book reader, he's just read comic books. And it was about that time when he changed the subject to Chuck Palahniuk. Yeah, I can talk Palahniuk too, bring it. Meanwhile I notice that about three other guys sitting close are not-so-subtly paying attention to my conversation with Ben.