Cue the Bugles Triumphant

(Or…the article in which Tommy probably gets too personal.)

Cue Sonic Youth’s “Compilation Blues.”

jouparticle1Forgive me. I might ramble on just a little. It’s got to be in there somewhere. Deep down, hiding in the murk at the bottom of the lake, under mounds of dirt and mud, locked in a vault with no key, lost in the cosmic ether, a faint glow in a black forest with no end to it. It’s somewhere in my heart, in my blood, or in the recesses of my mind…the spark. The character. The drive. Whatever it is that you want to name it. The fucking spark. Somewhere within my fat, hairy body is the spark to do something more, to create something greater, to evolve. I’ve wasted so much of my time. I’ve grown complacent. I’ve grown comfortable and bored. I’ve grown boring. Everyday I sit in a chair staring at a screen of dots and lights for hours on end only to return to my home to stare at a different screen of different dots and different lights for even more hours, a lifeless, debilitating cycle of lethargy. I’m motionless as the universe chaotically spins around me. I am a hamster in its wheel. I am a zombie. I work in retail.

Have you ever worked in retail? It’s soul crushing. If you ever want to get a realistic portrayal of the decline of American culture, spend some time working at a store. The most disgusting aspects of humanity seem to thrive and surge in the seas of commerce and consumerism. Greed, anger, stupidity, and all around nastiness reside in every store, in every shop, in every market, a beating ugly black heart swathed in fluorescent lighting and window displays. It’s always been that way. I hate that I’m apart of it. I hate that I feel stuck here. I’m not sure what led to it.

In so many ways I have always been here.

At the heart of my problems is me really. The desire to overcome any rut I have found myself stuck in, be it regarding my education, employment, relationships, or artistic endeavors belies my ability to actually do so. I am always at a loss. Stuck. So overwhelmed by what I perceive I must do to advance myself, that I do nothing at all. At 12 years old, when I made my awkward yet necessary transition from private to public school, meeting new friends in the classroom or on campus was not a problem for me, but extending those acquaintances into something beyond the schoolyard borders left me paralyzed. I sat in my room frozen and sad, unable to pick up a phone to invite a friend over to hang out. And for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. There were times when I actually felt inert with fear at the prospect of calling someone to come over and play. And I’m not talking about phoning up a cute girl or anything like that. I don’t even want to get started on that kind of nightmare. These were kids that I saw everyday, spoke to everyday, hung out with everyday, joked around with everyday, but something kept me from turning these acquaintances into actual friendships. What was it? Was it a self-esteem thing? Maybe.

I don’t like to think of myself as that poor schlub who hates on himself and spends his hours listening to music and writing bad poetry (more on that later), but it’s hard to ignore the facts. I spent a lot of days and nights alone in my room during my early teenage years, reading, drawing, writing, listening to the radio, and wading neck deep through scores and scores of comic books. At that moment, they were my sweet reprieve, my escape, my salvation.

It doesn’t matter how bad it gets, there’s always comic books.

 

Cue Zombi’s “Spirit Animal.”

jouparticle2I remember reading all kinds of comic books when I was a little kid, way, way back in the 80’s. I wasn’t any kind of collector or enthusiast back then, though I recall having a certain affinity for Spiderman and the old Marvel Star Wars books. Then I kind of forgot about them for awhile, focussing my attention on baseball cards and violent action films for a time. At some point in the 6th or 7th grade, on a whim I picked up the fourth issue of The Infinity Gauntlet by Jim Starlin and George Perez. If my twelve-year old head could have exploded, we’d still be scrubbing traces of blood and brain from the walls of my childhood home.

Here we have this book where this big purple guy named Thanos has collected an assortment of powerful gems to make himself a god and is killing super heroes. Wolverine’s bones are turned to mush. Cyclops suffocates. Spiderman gets his head beaten in with a goddamn rock. I was floored. So, naturally I made it my mission in life to procure the other books in the series and read the whole story. From that point on, I was off and running, weekly visits to the comic book store becoming a big part of my routine, of who I was.

Right about the time I was rediscovering my love for graphic storytelling, the comic book market boomed, a virtual tidal wave of record breaking book sales, flashy alternate covers, and upstart indie publishers, a result from the piqued interest in the industry after books like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen ruffled feathers and showed what the medium was capable of. I got caught up in the ensuing tide. The X-Men split into two teams, each with their own series and with Chris Claremont back at the helm (briefly). A bunch of renowned artists bailed from the majors to create their own publishing company. Crossover stories abounded. DC killed Superman. Books were released with shiny, metallic covers, dye-cut covers, foldout covers, and in multiple variants. It was all very exciting. And I loved it.

Most of my evenings were spent reading new comics, re-reading old comics, and writing and drawing my own comics (they were derivative and very bad). And that’s how I spent my free time. I didn’t really go out. I didn’t party. I just came home everyday from school, did my homework, read my comic books, and watched MTV. As lonely as I often was, I can still think back fondly to those days. A lot of the stories were garbage, but it didn’t matter. I had found my thing.

In the summer before I started 10th grade, my long affair with comic books came to somewhat of an end. I had found new loves. Music, going out, cheap beer and cigarettes, and writing bad poetry became the new in-thing. It’s where my heart was at. Coincidentally, the comic book market went bust around this time (or soon after). I like to think that my departure sent shock waves through the industry. I am a narcissist.

It would be six years before Marvel, DC, et al would welcome me back to the fold.

 

Cue David Bowie’s “A New Career in a New Town.”

jouparticle4I’ve read that our early and mid teenage years are some of the most formative years of our lives, the things that we see, and hear, and read, and do setting the template for our future opinions and preferences. There probably is something to that. For me, it was a time when I really got into music, when I taught myself to play the guitar, when I started writing, and when I got into art of all kind. Again, I had found my thing. That being said, everything still wasn’t all hunky-dory. I was a teenager after all, and thus inclined to sullen moodiness most of the time. Even with music I was still lonely. I was fifteen, and as far as I was concerned, the world was shit, and everybody else was having the time of their lives.

It’s amazing how much fun everyone else has in my head.

With pop music as my new savior, I set about attempting to make my own. Pairing simple power chord progressions inspired by Nirvana with cheesy dark and bloated lyrics inspired by worst elements of Trent Reznor, my songs were an exercise in mediocrity…though they did eventually get better (I actually think I’m pretty good at it now). My lyrics were so awful. They were laughably bad. Such generic teenage pain, my lyrics and poetry may as well have been written for those goth kids on South Park. But they were mine. And I still love them for the embarrassing little offspring that they are.

Eventually, I opened up some, made a lot of new friends, and graduated high school. I was still a dork, but I was a happy and confident dork. My passion for art and music held my hand through all the hard times, through all the growing pains. Every kid should have something like that. Some kind of outlet. Something to call their own.

Hey Tommy! Weren’t you talking about comics?

 

Cue Sloan’s “Everything You’ve Done Wrong.”

jouparticle3Pop music may be my love, but comic books had me first.

Towards the end of my collegiate career, I was working in the A/V department for the university. One day, I was sitting in our equipment room/office with a new coworker who was reading a comic. We got to talking about the books we grew up with, the books that we loved, and why I had stopped reading them. Figuring that I had just kind of outgrown comics, I really didn’t have a good reason for quitting (I still had all of my old books in a couple of long comic boxes). My coworker insisted that I get back on the horse. He told me how a handful of writers were revolutionizing the medium again, writing profound and insightful (and in some cases, fucked up) stories that rivaled anything that the Millers, Moores, and Gaimans of the world were writing back in the 80’s and 90’s. He then handed me the book he was reading. It was Preacher by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon.

Earlier I mentioned my 12-year old exploding head. It happened again at 21. A smoking preacher with the voice of God who pals around with an Irish vampire? A misguided conspiracy to protect the bloodline of Jesus Christ? An old man seeking violent retribution on God? What else had I been missing out on?

I fell off the proverbial wagon hard. Comics were cool again. Preacher led me to other books by Ennis as well as seminal works from Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Mark Millar, and Brian Michael Bendis. Initially I thought I would tread lightly, focusing on indie books and series, staying away from the old super hero books the major publishers thrived on. But I caved on that stance pretty quickly. Before long I was reading any and everything I could get my grubby little hands on, and with a substantially larger amount of disposable income at my command as compared to when I was 12, I went a little nuts. It was good to be back.

I mentioned I would ramble, and I have…a lot. I’m not even sure what the point of this essay was. Maybe I’m on some kind of nostalgia trip (it happens), or maybe it’s just that there are so many well-written and innovative books on the shelves right now. Maybe it’s that all my recent writing about pop culture has got my over-thinking my likes and my dislikes and the creation of consumable art. Maybe it’s that I remember how lonely and depressed I often was as a kid and a teen, but that I made it out alive because I felt I had something that was mine. Comic books, movies, and music. Creating art. It didn’t matter what it was. It kept me afloat. It kept me sane. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how bad things may seem, or even how bad things may get. There’s always something to take solace in. I was lucky enough to have several.

And now, I find myself with a wife and son. Again, I have found my thing.

Cue the bugles triumphant!

 

Thomas H Williams

Thomas H Williams

From a bunker somewhere in Central Texas, Thomas H. Williams spends most of his time with his wife, his two sons, and his increasingly neurotic dog. He listens to a lot of music, drinks a lot of excellent beers, and gets out from time to time. For even more shenanigans, visit heavenisanincubator.blogspot.com.

One Response to Cue the Bugles Triumphant
  1. Chester Whelks

    Chester Whelks Reply

    Such good stuff, Tommy. In a time when people’s consumption of culture seems increasingly done just as a means of fabricating and outwardly projecting a personality, it’s nice to be reminded of what nourishment it is for the souls of those who truly love it.

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