Saturday, February 10, 2018

Geek Origins

I'm a fairly huge geek, which falls under the category of the least shocking news about me ever. One day I will do a blog post about my geek office here, in all it's glory. I'm keep waiting because it just needs one or two more things for it to be finished.

I've been saying that for several years now. It's never going to be finished. It will only ever be "done for the moment."

Now the origins of the geekery....that's something a bit more complicated.

Honestly, no one was geeky in my family when I was growing up. I'm pleased that I have cousins who have come after me that are geeks. And if my niece isn't going to be a geek, then she's going to be exposed to it and have the option available to her if she wants to pursue it.

At best the early origins of it come from Archie digests and the comic book publisher Gold Key. They used to print these old UFO and Other Stories comics and digests. I have no earthly idea where they came from. I sincerely doubt my parents bought them for me. I seem to recall them just being there when I visited my grandparents around the bay.
I remember reading this story.


I just did a little research into them online, and there isn't a lot. The Wikipedia article is kind of mediocre. The comics were originally printed in the late 60s, but I doubt that's what I was reading. I think there were reprints in the mid-70s, which was more likely. Back in those ancient days, I could wander down to a convenience store and buy comics. But for an idea what I'm talking about, this article is a good taste. I remember some of those covers and the one page of interior art tripped a memory.

Honestly, I loved those stories. I'm sure I must have bored family with wanting to know about UFOs in the Bermuda Triangle, Area 51 and why aliens kept stealing cattle. I know they probably wouldn't hold up to a reread now, but for a 7 year old, they got the imagination going.

For years I just assumed that age 7 - this would have been in 1977 - was when my geekery exploded. Star Wars came out that year. I'm not sure when I saw it for the first time, but I know I saw it at least three times. And despite having been previous exposed to comics (I think), I mark 1977 as the first year I started collecting them.

And here's where memory gets tricky. The first three comic series I remember collecting (Oh, let's be honest, buying. It's not like I was bagging and boarding these things), were all based are toys and movies. They were Godzilla, Shogun Warriors, and Micronauts. The last two were based on Japanese toys. The first one, well, I think we all know Godzilla.

I would have sworn all three of those comics came out around the same time. They didn't. Godzilla came in August 1977. Shogun Warriors came out in February 1979 and Micronauts came out in January 1979. So I was wrong about the timing. The geekery actually came later than I thought.

But I still have Godzilla. My memory of that is rock solid. Right?

Well, I have a memory of seeing Godzilla movies at the old Capital Theatre in downtown St. John's. I seem to recall my parents dropping me off to watch the movies because they didn't want to see them. But I have no idea how old I was at the time. I keep thinking I was around seven, but I have some difficulty believing they would let me see a monster movie alone at that age.

(Some, but not beyond the realm. My parents gave me a huge amount of freedom at a young age.)

But my first Godzilla comic was #4. It featured Godzilla fighting a monster called Batragon on the cover. And this is my memory: Going into Trans Canada Drugs at the Avalon Mall (bonus points if you remember that drug store), seeing the comic on the stand and begging my mom for the 35 cents for the comic.

Look at that awesomeness. How can you resist that if you're a 7 year old geek. Oh, and thanks to the magic of the internet I can now say the begging probably happened around November-December 1977.

I don't have the comic anymore. Had it for years, when it was basically tattered pages in a plastic bag before finally tossing it.

There's also one funny story that goes with this comic. In 2012 I went to New York Comic Con and one of the artists I was excited to meet was Herb Trimpe. He drew Godzilla back in the '70. Now Trimpe was one of Marvel's big artists back in the day, and it wasn't because of Godzilla. He did a little thing known as drawing Wolverine for the first time. He was actually selling original pieces of Wolverine art at his table which I didn't buy because:

A. I'm an idiot.
B. I was so excited to get him to draw Godzilla. Which he did. And he jokingly cursed on me for making him draw all those scales.

Herb's Godzilla drawing in my sketch book.

And I told him that he drew the first comic I ever bought - Godzilla #4. To which he very gently pointed out to me that while he drew most of the series, in fact Tom Sutton drew #4 and #5.

Well.....shit.

Trimpe was still awesome. He passed away a few years ago, which shocked a lot of people because he was so energetic and outgoing at cons. It was a genuine thrill to get to talk to him for a few minutes. He also loved baseball and sympathized with my love of the Expos.

This Godzilla series is delightfully insane, by the way. It effectively ruined me for Godzilla for life because nothing was as nutty as this comic. This is a good article explaining why it was nuts, but I think it can be adequately explained by one of the central premises of the comic. That SHIELD, the premiere espionage/defence agency in the Marvel universe, consistently manages to lose a giant radioactive T-Rex. And not it's not like they're tracking him around world or the Pacific Rim. No, the western United States. Could not find him for big stretches. Even at 8 years old I was wondering how hard could it be to find a giant radioactive dinosaur.

I was devastated when they cancelled it. For years I assumed it was for poor sales, but Marvel lost the rights to do the series. However, it was an early lesson on how the people who make the things you love will eventually break your heart.

Michael Golden drawing of Acroyear of
the Micronauts from NYCC 2015,
But by then I was onto Micronauts and Shogun Warriors. Now, you might thing the main premise of these comics was to sell more toys. And I'm sure they did. But Marvel also had another premise - work in their super heroes. So Godzilla featured SHIELD, the Champions, the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. Shogun Warriors featured the Fantastic Four. Micronauts featured Man-Thing, the Fantastic Four, X-Men and others.

You might have come for the toys, Marvel made sure you left wanting to read their superheroes. Perhaps not surprisingly my first super hero comics were the Fantastic Four. And after that, well, I was off to the races.

The comics vary in quality, looking back. Godzilla is goofy fun. The first 12 issues of the Micronauts hold up surprisingly well, mainly due to Michael Golden's art and a fairly dark sci-fi premise. It's sunk a bit by some very clunky dialogue. And Shogun Warriors, well, I haven't read it in decades.

Which is kind of a frustrating thing for me. Unless you want to go back issue hunting, or digging around on torrent sites for illegal downloads, there's no other way to read these comics. Because of complicated rights issues, they haven't been reprinted. I have a copy of Essential Godzilla, which is a cheap b/w reprint which is nice and all, but I'd love a proper full colour HC. Same thing with Micronauts. Marvel owns some of the characters in the book, Haboro the others. Another publisher - IDW - currently prints a Micronauts comic. It'd be nice if they reprinted those old 70s comics.

As for Shogun Warriors, well, if that ever gets reprinted, I'll be astonished.

But effectively I've been at this for 40 years. Digging up some of this was a nice trip down memory lane, but also a useful reminder that no matter how certain you are about something in the past, odds are you're not remembering quite the way you originally thought.

Last Five
1. Big parade - The Lumineers
2. Love me like a man (live) - Bonnie Raitt
3. Kiss that frog - Peter Gabriel
4. We got the power - Gorillaz
5. Striptease - Hawksley Workman*




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