Searching for a Real Scare
Halloween is the one time a year when we search out scares. The rest of the year we avoid them. I started the month of October with a few scary movies, a couple of suspenseful stories, and one haunted house without any real scares. I’m not saying I haven’t had a few startles and jumps, but I haven’t had a, “What’s that in the in the shadow, under the bed, in the closet?” kind of scare in quite a while. Is this because I’ve grown immune to the standard scares provided by movies, stories, and such? Have I been overexposed and desensitized? Has it all become too cliché? Maybe I’m in the minority but I do enjoy a good scare once in a while so this Halloween season is not off to a good start. Then I got to thinking about what used to scare me.
One source of a few childhood scares was a graveyard next to the grade school I attended. I was a latchkey kid (do people still use the word latchkey these days) and on my way home I either walked around or through that graveyard. One cold and rainy fall day (I’d like to say it was during October but my memory isn’t what it was) in third grade a few friends and I were sharing scary stories toward the end of the day. They were rather typical Scooby Doo style scary stories until an eighth grader decided to join the conversation. Most of the common school stories about the graveyard were a bit over the top and populated with demons, ghosts, and other various monsters. These things still scared me a little but I was at that point in my life where I knew they weren’t real. The story the eighth grader related to us was different. Although it is a pretty standard urban legend I didn’t know it at the time. He told us the story of a group of teenagers who drove a car into a tombstone while trying to leave the graveyard after a night of drinking. All of the teenagers, save one, gathered around the damaged tombstone, mocked the deceased, and laughed at the damage they caused. The teenagers drove off and were in another accident, this time hitting a telephone pole. All the teenagers, save the one, died in the accident. A couple of friends and I cut through the graveyard to verify the eighth grader’s claim. There was a tombstone near the access drive that was damaged. We didn’t say much the rest of the walk home. I lived the farthest so those last three blocks alone in the cold and rain were an eerie kind of quiet. That quiet was broken by the sound of skidding tires on wet pavement and the sound of metal on metal. A fender bender in light rain was a simple coincidence, but for a nine-year old it was enough to make me sprint that last half block and turn on every damn light in the house.
I visited my mother yesterday and took her hound dog for a walk. We took a round about way through the neighborhood and cut through the graveyard on our way back. The tombstone is still there (and with 35 years of life experience I realized the damage was from weather). But as I stood before that tombstone my heart began to race. For a brief moment I felt that fear, maybe not the fear but the memory of the fear from that afternoon in third grade. H.P. Lovecraft wrote, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” As we grow up and gain life experience less and less remains unknown so less and less remains scary.
I’m not saying there isn’t plenty of unknown out there for me to be afraid of, but for now I’m thinking back to those original scares, that time when there was a little more unknown than known. Instead of movies, stories, and such that simply rehash the known, I’m going to revisit the ones that made me turn flashlights toward the shadows, check under the bed, and keep the closet door open. I’m hoping to bring back some of those old scares. Tonight is Jack Nicholson in The Shinning. What are you watching?
or Why You Should Attend a Performance by Leslie Goddard
Even I find campfires and rain a bit much at times. The former can dry out your eyes and the later can soak your socks. Sometimes I want to sit in a chair and have and entertaining experience that leaves me with a greater understanding of history. If you are of a like mind, may I suggest that you attend a performance by Leslie Goddard.
Audiences are transported through time and space for an hour of living history during Ms. Goddard’s performances. In the past year I’ve watched Ms. Goddard bring Louisa May Alcott, Georgia O’Keefe, and Grace Kelly to life. In each instance we, her audience, are made to feel as if we are welcomed visitors in the homes of these great women. Her performances are both entertaining and insightful looks into the lives of important figures from our past. The audience leaves with a greater understanding of the woman presented and her role in history. Ms. Goddard is the embodiment of living history. If you don’t want to smell of burnt wood or wet wool then I suggest you visit Ms. Goddard’s website and see if she if performing near you.
But a Campfire Sent Me Looking for a Book
I’ve always been an avid reader, and books on various historical topics have always littered my bookshelves. I feel that it is important to view the world with one eye on the past. History provides perspective and perspective is necessary for understanding viewpoints (both our own and those of others). Books about history have helped me establish perspective and understanding, but many of those books were quite long (and some were also quite dry). This is why I enjoy historical reenactments and living history.
I attended a living history event a few weeks ago by a group representing French voyageurs. I already knew about the history of the French in Louisiana. I also knew that several cities, towns, rivers, and such near me have French names, but I did not know how far north France’s influence reached before I attended the event. Over the span of half an hour I learned about the lives of French voyageurs, American Indians, and how both impacted the history of the United States. Attending a reenactment and/or living history event may not make you an expert on a topic (neither does visiting a museum) but it is a great place to start learning. Standing next to a campfire learning about Nouvelle France and birch bark canoes was enough inspiration to send me to the library.
The Impact of Historical Reenactments
It doesn’t require a vast knowledge of history to know who was victorious in World War II, yet amateur historians like me continue to attend WW II reenactments. This past weekend was my eighth visit to the annual World War II Days held in Lockport, IL. I knew who would emerge victorious but I still went. There was a bit of a twist concerning this year’s reenactment that got me thinking about why I attend every year.
The three day living history event hosted Civil War and Vietnam War reenactors, but the main focus, as the title suggests, consisted of living history demonstrations and a reenactment of a battle from Word War II. The battles reenacted have varied during my past seven visits but the premise was always the same, U.S. and allied forces battle and defeat a German force. The twist this year concerned the opposing forces. There were a few groups of reenactors that portrayed U.S. forces in the living history portion of the weekend, but the battle that was reenacted was between Soviet and German forces. Watching a Soviet force defeat a German force got me thinking about history from a long view. Germany was an enemy that needed to be defeated and the Soviet Union was an ally that was needed to defeat Germany, but history has shown the Soviet Union (maybe I should say Joseph Stalin) was not the great liberator of the masses it (or Stalin) presented itself to be. As I walked among the German, Polish, Soviet, and U.S. camps I got to thinking about how living history events and reenactments show us how fluid history can be (I don’t mean this in any sort of revisionist history way). History is a fluid timeline that in some ways folds back on itself. Reenactors exist in the present with a full knowledge of what has happened between the historical events they reenact and the modern day in which we all live. These living historians provide us with an experience from the past tempered with knowledge of the present.
Attending World War II Days gave me cause to think about the roles each of the major allied and axis powers had in the war and its outcome. The event allowed me to, for a brief moment, put myself in the time that was World War II and it left me thinking as I went home about the long term relationships those powers had after the war and how they shaped the world we live in. Living history events and reenactments, if done well like Lockport’s World War II Days, give us the opportunity to think about history and its impact on our lives, and this is a good thing.
or What I Learned When Superman Died
Do you remember where you were when Superman died? I’ve never been a serious reader of any of the Superman titles, but his death marked an important moment for me and my relationship with comic books. The year was 1992 and I was in my second year of college. I had been a pretty serious reader of comic books for several years, but by the fall of ‘92 I had cut down the number of titles I was reading for a couple of reasons. One reason was due to a lack of money needed to keep reading all the titles I wanted to follow (the rising cost of comic books is worthy of its own post). The other was due to feeling a bit self-conscious about reading comic books. The college crowd I was associating with tended to look down on anything that wasn’t ‘serious’ literature. I allowed their opinions to give me cause to doubt the relevance and value of comic books.
That changed while I was browsing the back issues at All American Comic Shop way back in 1992. Superman was dead. For a brief moment comic books were in the mainstream media, and some people saw the death of a superhero as a way to make a buck or two. While I was looking through some old issues and talking with the clerk, Kevin, a couple of people came in and asked if he had the issue where Superman dies? Kevin sold each of them the issue and they went on their way. I asked Kevin if they knew that the issue they bought was just one part of a larger story arc involving the death of Superman. Kevin shrugged his shoulders and said they, and a whole bunch of people before them, weren’t interested in the story. They just bought the issue thinking that it would be valuable someday. Kevin and I got to talking about the types of people who bought comics. He said that some people were primarily investors, not concerned with story as much as resale value. Other people were fans, more concerned with the value of the story being told than how much the issue would be worth in five years. We wrapped up the conversation by exchanging what we felt were some of the most important story arcs in comic book history and how they compared to the death of Superman.
After I read the books I bought that day I got to thinking about those people I associated with who didn’t think comic books were ‘serious’ literature. Those investors I saw at All American Comics shared something in common with my college associates. Both viewed literature as an investment of sorts. One looked to make a quick buck and the other looked cash in on some sort of intellectual superiority. Unfortunately the latter made this decision without thinking about the relevance and impact comic books have had on our culture. What was worse is that I allowed their opinions to influence me. I resolved that day to not let anybody give me cause to question what I read, and I’ve held true to that resolution for over fifteen years. Now if only could just do something about the cost of comics.
Does Medium Influence Experience?
Readers of comic books will often argue their preferred format. Some prefer going to the comic shop and picking out titles by hand while others like tapping the titles they want while sitting on their couches. Some readers enjoy the visceral feel of paper pages while other readers like being able to zoom with two fingers. Some like having a physical bookshelf of titles in their homes while others prefer a virtual shelf of titles they can always have with them on their tablets. All of these are valid arguments for either paper comics or digital downloads but they mostly center around personal convenience or some sort of sentimentality. The larger question I want to ask is: does the format influence the experience? Does the medium, paper vs. digital, influence individual reader’s experience with the book? Will one format have a greater and/or longer lasting impact on the reader than the other format? If so, why? I’m interested in hearing what you have to say.
A Second Reading and a New Interpretation
As I grow older I find myself trying to thin out my possessions. I haven’t decided if this is some sort of late midlife existential crisis or maybe I’m just getting tired of storing, moving, cleaning, and tripping over all the shit I’ve accumulated during the last four decades. I’d like to sound hip and say it’s the former but it’s probably more the latter. A couple months back I was sorting some comic books into keep and donate stacks when I came across Bob Harras’ six book series Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. I remember enjoying it when I read it over thirty years ago, but my memory of the plot was a bit vague. So with beer in hand and some 1980s music for ambiance I sat down to reread the series to see if it would make the keep stack.
I was a geeky kid in high school who read comics (this was before being a geek or reading comics was considered cool) when the series debuted in 1988. I was an avid reader of a few Marvel superhero titles at the time. I was also developing an interest in spy and mystery novels (the inexpensive, paperback ones that you could buy at your local KMart). It was Jim Steranko’s cover artwork that first caught my attention back in the summer of ’88. It wasn’t the kind of comic book cover I was used to. This was a cover for a novel, the kind of novel I that wanted to read. That cover suggested adventure, espionage, and pages of thrills. Thirty years later the cover still impresses me. That cover makes you pause before you turn the page and start reading. After an appropriate pause I did turn the page, and I was glad I did.
It’s interesting what thirty years will do to, or for, your memory. Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. is still the action story I remembered enjoying as a teenager, but Harras did so much more than write an action story. He gives us Nick Fury, a man who faces an existential crisis (one much more complex than my possible first paragraph crisis). Nick Fury is forced to question the meaning and purpose of his work and accomplishments as Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. and come to grips with the answers. In 1988, the protagonist’s dilemma was something I couldn’t fully appreciate. Thirty years later I discovered a story of personal crises and political intrigues. This story was true in 1988, but it was a truth that I didn’t have the life experience to fully understand. The story still rings true in 2019 and with over thirty years of life experience (and as many years of comic book reading) it is a truth that is readily accessible and exceptionally well written.
Harras’ well-developed story, along with the talented artwork of Paul Neary and Kim DeMulder, is well worth reading. One of the features of good art is that it can be read or viewed at different times in one’s life and provide varying interpretations each time. Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. accomplishes this. At the time of publication it provided a geeky high school kid who was beginning to discover a world of literature a well written action story. The series also provided this middle aged reader with a contemporary commentary on modern man and the political world he lives in.
Nick Fury vs. S.H.I.E.L.D. (1988) by Bob Harras with artwork by Paul Neary and Kim DeMulder.