This week a little girl’s passion for comic books and a new movie with an old soul came together to transport me right back to those first fleeing experiences of early comic book love.
Shopping in Isotope Comics last weekend, I bought the collected Yeah! by Peter Bagge & Gilbert Hernandez (and I know that I’ve written about both of these guys before, so don’t worry, I’m not going do it again… not right now anyway.) A self-proclaimed homage to characters like Josie and the Pussycats, plus two of my favorite creators working together meant that I had to buy it. At least I tried to.
Grabbing the last copy off the shelf I happily paid and stashed it in my oversized handbag. (That’s the secret, by the way. The fashion for giant handbags is so that women can hide a ton of comic books in there. At least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.) Anyway, I lingered a little in the store to discuss the movie X-Men First Class, which really blew me away and while I was there a little girl came in dressed head-to-toe in pink. I suppose she was around 10 years old, if that, and was absolutely thrilled to be buying comic books. Clearly this was a regular excursion, as she had a details list of books she had been researching and she explained that she was looking for a specific book.
They went off to the relevant shelves and discussed it further before I overheard the realization that the book she was looking for was actually the one I had just bought; Yeah!… and I had bought the last copy. How could I keep that book and deprive her? For me it was just one of three books that I was buying that week, and it would probably sit on my bedside table for at least a week before I had time to read it. The need of this little girl was far more immediate than mine and so I put another copy on order and gave her mine. While her dad paid for it and she sat down to read it, I asked him what comic books he liked.
“Oh, I don’t really read them. I prefer non-fiction” he explained, and indicated his own reading materials, he had brought a book so that they could sit together and read for a while. “She likes comic books” he said, “so I bring her here.”
I was so impressed that this little girl got deeply into comic books on her own, without being able to steal her dad’s comic books, like I could. Stopping to acknowledge that debt sent me back, remembering my interest in those first few discarded comic books he had. It tied the whole day together for me, the reason that I was there to give her my book was because I’d lingered in the store to talk about the X-Men movie, which was the first comic book that I remember reading and really getting into out of my dad’s comics. That dog-eared early book, when they were just a bunch of teens in the 60’s, really captivated me. At the time I’d only heard of adult superheroes, like Wonder Woman and Spider-Man, this was my first taste of younger people in a learning situation. Although they were older than I was at the time, those teenagers were the closest thing I’d seen to a kid in a comic book and it had a big impact on me.
With those comic books long gone it was wonderful to see that the movie X-Men First Class was actually era appropriate. I don’t know if a comic book movie origin has ever been set in the actual era that the heroes were originally spawned, but it worked incredibly well. Ripe with context, the entire look and mood finally felt right for the characters. There is a reason that comic book characters like Marvel Girl wore knee high boots and a miniskirt, while Magneto wore a purple coat and Chelsea boots – that was fashionable then. The bold colors and choices of the team made that much more sense set in the correct time and place.
I’ve long loved the fashions, architecture and product design of the 1960’s, and I’ve happily studied the political climate and social mores of the era. This was such a pivotal time in America both on a broad political level and on a small individual level. Creatively and sexually the country was just blowing up, it was an amazing time of optimism and change. While I adored many (many, many) things about X-Men First Class, keeping the look of the era was marvelous.
Designers like the Eames were well represented in the general background of X-Men First Class, but if I have one small change, I would have liked to have seen more of the times. With that in mind, today I went to a rare, 70mm screening of Jaques Tati’s stylish 1967 film: Playtime. Very much of the time, this is a fluid description of people happily getting lost in their modern environs. While the era is close, in this instance it wasn’t a contemporary film set in the ’60’s, but a film from the ’60’s. Obviously the subject matter and mood is entirely different, but it was still interesting to compare a contemporary depiction of the time, where the era is almost a supporting cast member, versus the actual times depicted in Playtime.
Another enjoyable aspect of X-Men First Class was that it had a feel of a mid-’60’s urgent heist movie, and I was thinking that next I’ll watch Charade (Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant and Saul Bass designed the titles/end credits – it is streaming on Netflix if you’re in the US) and then maybe rent The Italian Job (because Fassbender’s Erik Lehnsherr reminded me of the lanky young Michael Caine in it.)
I am lucky to live in a time and place in which all of these diverse films so are easily available for us all to watch and share. I only wish that old, out-of-print comic books were similarly easy to find. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again now (particularly in view of the current announcements about relaunches and such); Before comic book companies plow tons of energy into faffing about with ludicrous, massive new shakeups, they need to clean up and post their back catalogue for download, particularly anything that is out of print. If it were movies, we’d expect it. Comic books need to be held to a similar standard.