When I was around 8 or 9, I discovered Archie Comics, and read them voraciously until I was around 14. I literally had hundreds, to the point where they filled one of those big gym duffle bags when I "donated" them to a younger cousin who I was quite close to (Gator*, I've written about him before...).
I had so many, and had read them so many times, that after several years, it started to bother me because they would recycle so many of the stories. One year, actually just a few years ago, my parents bought me an Archie comic to put in my Christmas stocking, kindof as a joke, and I was delighted! But, when I opened it up, every single story was recycled/reprinted, even though the book was brand new. I had read them all... even with a more-than-decade-gap between my last Archie comic purchase.
But it was still really cool that they bought it for me.
My toughest teenage years were between the summer of Grade 8 and the end of Grade 9. Sure, Grades 10 & 11 were not a lot of fun either, (Grade 12 was pretty okay), but that year-and-a-half span were ones I never want to live again. Like, suicidal-thoughts-every-day kinda bad. That time period is the one I pull from when I write... which probably explains why my stories (and characters) are pretty dark.
One of the bright points I had to hang onto was coming home, always exhausted because school had gotten noticeably harder and all the 'dyslexic-work-arounds' that I had honed in elementary school were all failing me at once, and I would flop on my bed and read those Archie comics. The bright colours, the round and cartoony faces/figures, the silly, mindless stories... it helped me to recharge, to realize that, while school had no redeeming features, I still had somewhere I could rest mentally.**
I gave away those Archie comics when I didn't need them anymore.
And now, Gator is all grown up, has finished a music degree, is working on a second, and is living a good life. I admit, I haven't thought about those Archie comics in years. I always figured when he got bored with them, he also handed them off to someone else, or donated them to a used bookstore.
I got a surprising email from Gator's mom (my aunt) yesterday. She works within the social service/counselling world of things, in a middle school.
She emailed me, not about the comics, but to ask if I would repair a teapot my Nana had painted, because the gold was wearing away along the handle. At the end of the email, we had this conversation back and forth:
I was thinking about you today watching the kids at my school reading all your old comic books. You would not believe how many kids have poured over those books. When one batch of kids moves on to high school the next one comes from elementary and discovers them all over again.
It is quite a legacy.
Wow, I can't believe you still have those!!!
How nostalgic :D
I know. It is hilarious to see the kids reading them like their lives
depended on it. I have a lunch room where there is a big bin, another big
bin right outside of my office and a drawer full of them so I can rotate
them part way through the year if the kids have read them all.
...and I was struck by her choice of words in that last section. "...reading them like their lives depended on it..." And I wonder how many of those kids had enjoyed a moment of reprieve, just like I did, while reading those silly, mindless stories.
And I think that's so absolutely awesome... that years of my hard-earned allowance & birthday money went to these books that are still being used, still being enjoyed, and (hopefully) still being needed.
Books are a wonderful thing, but they're even better when they are shared :)
*Not his real name of course... he used to bite me when he was little, so that was my nickname for him.
**Okay, I wasn't just reading comics... in fact, I think there's a photo somewhere of me at my parents' cabin with a stack of Archie comics on one side, and a stack of books about math, history & physics on my other side. But you get my point :)