By Anthony Loveday
Comic books saved my life. Okay, well maybe they didn’t save my life, but they certainly made it a lot more bearable.
My parents divorced before I could even speak and my father left my 22-year old mother to raise two young sons on her own. I never met nor spoke with him before his death from alcohol-related causes in the early-1990s. I was in my early-20s living in San Francisco and attending art school at the time. It was the first attempt I had ever made to contact my father, only to find that he had died just six months earlier. I didn’t feel sad, exactly. After all, how much emotion can one feel at the death of a complete stranger? All I could do was take it as a sign from the Fates that we were never meant to meet.
My mother remarried within a few years, this time to a Mexican national with limited English language skills and a penchant for drinking, sexual affairs, and emotionally and physically abusing my mother. To my brother and me he was a complete non-entity, simply “that guy married to my mother.” I still feel sadness and embarrassment at the memories of police cars at our home in the middle of the night, the neighbors peering out their curtains at the alcohol-fueled domestic drama unfolding in our front yard. Needless to say, I never had the experience of a positive father figure while growing up.
My mother coped as best she could while working two jobs, paying a mortgage, and trying in vain to win the genuine love and affection of my stepfather. She of course loved my brother and me and we never suffered from outright neglect in any material sense. We always had new clothes for the start of the school year and dinner was always on the table. At the same time, my mother was overwhelmed by the stress and anxiety of her existence and this often manifested itself in verbal and physical abuse aimed at us. I can vividly recall tensing up as a child upon hearing the front door open, signaling her arrival home from work, fearing I’d forgotten some chore that would send her into a fuming, expletive-filled rage. While I know that my mother loved me and that I could always depend upon her for a number of things, expressions of love and support were not among them.
As a young boy and teenager I gravitated toward interests common to many my age—movies, Dungeons & Dragons, and above all, comic books. I attended comic book conventions, spent many hours and dollars at Geoffrey’s Comics, a local comic book store in Gardena, California, and devoted a lot of time to reading and rereading the exploits of heroes donned in boots, capes, and cowls.
While my older brother Mike and I shared an interest in these things, there was little real affection between us. To this day I think he has never gotten over our father’s sudden abandonment of our family. Being less than a year old, I was blissfully ignorant to that event as it unfolded, but Mike was 4 ½ years old and plenty old enough to feel the pain of our father’s abrupt disappearance. Smoldering anger resided deep within him and unfortunately I was the nearest available outlet for his misplaced emotions. His bullying, intimidation, and physical abuse lead me to view him as an even greater source of fear than my mother.
Retreating from this reality into the pages of comic books provided me the solace I so desperately needed. Among my favorite titles was “The New Teen Titans." I was drawn to Pérez's artwork, Wolfman's rendering of the young title characters, and the spectrum of personalities within the team. There was the stoic Cyborg, the buxom yet childlike Starfire, the practical-joking Changeling, and of course, the charismatic Robin, now out from under Batman’s wing and leading his own team of heroes.
The fact that Wonder Girl, another member of the Teen Titans, was an Amazon allowed for multiple plotlines involving characters from Greek mythology, another deep interest of mine from childhood. “The New Teen Titans” numbers 11 – 12 were published in the fall of 1981 when I was 11 years old and placed the team in the middle of a battle pitting the actual Titans of ancient Greek myth (Kronus, Rhea, etc.) against their offspring, the Olympians (Zeus, Hera, etc.). Needless to say, a comic book that brought my favorite superheroes together with Greek mythology simply transported me. I can vividly remember wishing I had some friend or classmate with whom I could share the pleasure of the experience but ultimately finding I was alone in this joy.
Rereading these issues these many decades later I am immediately aware of the vital function they and all the other comics and role-playing games and movies served during my youth. What I lacked in my home life—strong allies, powerful protectors, heroic role models – I found in comic books. So even if comics didn’t save my life, they served as more than just a diversion because they provided me an essential defense mechanism for coping with and rising above my home life. Most importantly, now I am able to recognize that all those years during my youth while I was seeking a hero to protect me I was actually serving as my own greatest protector. And while today I only read the occasional comic book, I have three long boxes on the floor of my closet, which I see every morning as I get ready for work. Though these hundreds of comics are a bit cumbersome and take up a lot of room in my small apartment, I’ll never give them up. I’ll carry them with me for the remainder of my days.