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The Secret Origin of …

February 21, 2011

Fan Boy see: Fan Boy do

It started with Tarzan under the stairs.

We may have been a secular household but Sunday’s were sacred. My parents worked in catering meaning family time was consigned to afternoons and Sundays. My childhood self looked forward to this holy day of rest with barely containable excitement. Sure, it was nice to hang with the folks all day, but that was small-fry compared to the anticipation of knowing something under the stairs begged my attention.

Clothes hooks overloaded with anoraks and snorkel jackets hung in the darkness beneath the staircase. They formed a vague curtain through which a six year old boy could squeeze. Behind the curtain of coats a triangular cave existed. Nestled in that dark cave a cardboard box of delights sat amongst the cobwebs and forgotten Leggo pieces. The box magically replenished its contents each week so with the greedy excitement of  little boys the world over I would grab two fistfuls of its contents and make for daylight.

You see, Sunday morning was comic-book picking time.  I was allowed to pick 3 comic books from the box if I’d been good (5 on special occasions), but only on the stipulation breakfast was finished and my room tidy. Some of the hardest fought decisions of my formative life were tackled sat crossed legged in the hallway next to those stairs. Do I choose the issue of Fantastic Four with The Thing doing “It’s Clobberin’ Time!” on the front cover … over the double sized Eagle Special (because obliviously I’d get more pages for my choice – even though I never liked Dan Dare). But my fan-boy tastes were barely developed at aged six so until I knew better infant Jase usually opted for “Tarzan: King of the Jungle” (who I knew from the TV) and anything with a dinosaur on the front cover.

And thus my secret origin began:

From the box under the stairs I learned to read. I learned to write. I also learned how to collect. And most telling of all, my love for those technicolour page turners called comic books morphed into an obsession which pretty much shaped the rest of my life. Whilst the other kids were outside break-dancing, BMX’ing and practicing how to kiss, I was devouring comics and cataloguing my collection like Smaug sat upon on his treasure horde.

You can’t underestimate the effect of such exposure on a child’s formative mind. Covertly, I was absorbing comic book tropes and memes like Bruce Banner being bathed in Gamma Radiation. Instinctively, I grasped character arcs were as fundamental to my heroes as gravity was to me. And that the antagonist’s threat to the status quo had to be neutralised (ideally in the nick of time) less the security of childhood was turned on its head by a world I did not recognize.  I assimilated an appreciation of how to manage vast continuity issues, I embraced the three-act structure and came to the early understanding that there is no shame in the unapologetic grabbing of readers attention with an utterly ridiculous and over-the-top action scene.

But most of all I learned the only constraints on your imagination are the one’s you impose yourself.

Back then, neural pathways formed in my brain which linked the written word, intrinsically and irrevocably, with two dimensional colourful images   … and thus shape how I write today. Now deep into adulthood, I blame comic books for the technicolour, rambunctious nature of my thoughts. At night my dreams make James Cameron “Avatar” look like Pac Man and by day, I cannot write unless I play out the scene panel by panel in my head first. If I can’t visualize it when I close my eyes there’s no way I can describe it on the page.

You see, comic books have hard wired my brain and that’s why I’m equally excited and fearful about this Write Anything gig. I’m excited because I get to bring a fan-boy’s ardour to a website that has helped and inspired me over the years; but I am fearful because this is non-fiction and non-fiction doesn’t lend itself to a mind hard wired to writing with speech balloons, thought bubbles and double, splash page action scenes!

So what am I going to bring to the party? Well, I thought I’d kick off with the comic books series and graphic novels that have got me hot and steamy this side of my teenage meltdown (and it’s not the usual yawn inducing list of graphic novels allegedly testifying to the moment comics grew up!) Then, I might talk a bit about the pros and cons of epic continuity.  I suspect I’ll bang a drum for serial fiction  and talk about stuff like the cliff-hanger and the importance of being hard core when writing action adventure.

But mostly I will continue doing what I have been doing for the best part of my life … and that’s have fun with men wearing spandex.

  1. Jason Coggins permalink
    February 21, 2011 2:02 pm

    A collective thank you to y’all.

    @Rob: I maybe parodying comic books as being about muscle bound heterosexuals in Spandex but there is an amazingly wide spectrum of genres and styles out there other than superheroes. And yes, I really, really want to Big Up Serial Fiction because it’s upstart sibling Flash has been grabbing all the headlines recently.

    @Matt: I’m not even going to touch the S&M comment.

    @Jacqui: I drew up until my early twenties then had to admit I was a bit rubbish.

  2. February 21, 2011 6:59 pm

    Excellent introduction! I would love to see a ‘where you get your ideas’ post or something similar told in the style of comic book exaggeration.

    And you have to love the spandex! (I’m a wrestling nerd)

  3. February 22, 2011 8:39 am

    Great intro Jason. I’m a comic book fan too, though it’s been a while since I read them religiously. At one point in my early adult life I spent about $100 a month on comics. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the future of comic books. Do you foresee online comics taking over printed comics what with the advent of e-readers and phone apps, given the Warren Ellis’s and Paul Dunfield’s of the world are teaming up for online only series like “Freak Angles”?

    Looking forward to more of your articles.

  4. February 23, 2011 11:32 am

    You rock man… so glad to meet you and hear your story. 🙂

  5. February 26, 2011 9:44 am

    Awesome! It’s like I had another me out there all this time. Only, we didn’t have stairs. Fantastic stroll don’t the memory lane of paneled pages. Being a massive Hulk fan, you had me at “Bruce Banner”.

  6. Phil Coggins permalink
    February 28, 2011 8:49 am

    So thats where those missing comics went! Dad.


  7. March 4, 2011 11:57 am

    Great introduction even for one like me who never really frequented the comics world.

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