Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Prelude To Fandom

The daughter of my mother's best friend shares a birthday with me, so our families spent a fair amount of time together while I was growing up. Not long after my younger brother was born, though, I found myself bored at their house. After all, the adults were focusing on the baby and I couldn't entertainment myself by playing with Brooke's girlie dolls. (Cut me some slack; it was the '70s and gender roles were still pretty rigidly defined.) So I was given a small stack of comic books to occupy me/keep me out of trouble.

Looking back through old photos in Mom's albums was interesting in that all of the pictures of me prior to age three were largely unremarkable. They could be any other child, really. But after that incident with the comic books, a trend starts emerging fairly quickly. This is the earliest photo of me that I could find as a comic book fan, taken around Easter 1976, age three and a half...
A few months later, as the U.S. celebrated its bicentennial, I was clearly oblivious as I swam with not one but TWO different inflatable Batmen...
Clearly, by my fourth birthday, I had become quite enamored with superheroes. The cake decorations here were drawn by father, copied from various comics from that initial pile I was give, cut out on card stock, and held in the cake via popsicle sticks. The flash washed out the figures, but you should still be able to fairly easily discern Robin, Green Lantern, Superman, and a classic Neal Adams pose Batman. I believe that's Flash between Supes and Bats.

Same birthday with me showing off some of my haul...
"I'm Goddamn Batman!"

Hmmm. Not as powerful as when Frank Miller uses the line, for some reason. The mask, I believe, I had previously judging by the obvious rip in the paper. And for those who might question why I'm pretending I'm Batman while wearing a yellow plastic raincoat...That's Mom on the left, FYI.

I'm not sure exactly when this next photo was taken, but it looks like a trip to Grandma's house where my brother and I were actually being good. Note the Superman patch on my shirt.

OK, let me try this again...
"I'm Goddamn Batman!"

Still not working, is it? That's me on Halloween 1977.

This next one is later that year. My folks were finishing work on a new garage before winter got too nasty, and the photo is me finding/utilizing some of their scraps...The shirt I remember was a favorite of mine. It had a cool image of Batman on the left in color, and the right had three comic book panels of Batman trouncing various villains in black and white. (Probably the Joker, the Penguin and Catwoman but my memory's a bit hazy on that last one.) I remember vividly being disappointed when I outgrew the shirt and could no longer wear it. (Actually, it looks pretty small on me here already!)

And what kid can forget about Christmas?A Batman board game and a home-made Superman costume? How much cooler could things get? (I still have that board game, by the way! Absurdly cheaply made, though. The game board itself was only printed on card stock, and the playing pieces were generic leftover pawns from a cheap chess set.)

(Oh, as amazing as it would have been to have me flying over a fireball as it looks like I'm doing in the second photograph, I think that's just a chemical screw-up in the original Polaroid.)

May 1978...I have no clue about this photo's context, but it's clearly me eating an orange while wearing a Spider-Man shirt.

Then we have my birthday. Dad used the same figure cut-out as decoration idea from a few years earlier...As I study that picture more closely, I'm pretty sure that's actually a second cake that Grandma brought by some time after the initial celebration, and Dad re-appropriated some of the figures from the "primary" cake to decorate this one.

Birthday gifts from Grandma. I'm absolutely certain she had zero knowledge about who the Human Torch was...
Birthday gifts from the folks. You can see a Spider-Man velco dart board, a Batman mug set, and a Super-Friends lunch box.The dart board strikes me as particularly interesting because it's co-branded with The Electric Company, which partially explains the discrepency in art styles between the Romita Spidey and the cartoon villains.

I don't know exactly when this next shot was taken...... but I'll bet you didn't know that anyone ever made a Spider-Man pogo stick, did you?

Another birthday. I believe this is 1980...Look closely. I'm wearing Hulk pajamas. You can just about discern the basic pose and part of the logo. I remember coming home from school one day and playing in the yard for an hour or so before realizing that I somehow managed to get dressed without removing these pajamas at all. I spent the whole day wearing my PJs underneath my school clothes, just like a superhero, and I hadn't even intended to do it!

In the summer of 1982, we had our first significant family vacation (that I recall at any rate) and my folks took us to Florida. The shots of me at Disney World have me sporting a t-shirt with some cartoon mouse on it that I can't quite recognize, but we also hit several other tourist spots as well. This is a wax recreation of Christopher Reeve as Superman in his Fortress of Solitude from a museum of Hollywood icons...I recall that the only other exhibit there that I recognized was from The Wizard of Oz.

Same trip. The NASA Space Center...Tube socks? Check. Cheap, bulky camera dangling from my wrist? Check. Tinted plastic sun visor? Check. Fanny pack worn on my hip? Check. It's frightening to think that the Superman tank top is the only thing that doesn't make me look exactly like a stereotypical tourist.

And here it is: my infamous eleventh birthday and the defining moment which took me on the road to comic book fandom...On the left is a box Dad made for holding my comic book "collection" (such as it was at that time). He cut up a copy of Marvel Team-Up #129, glued the pages to a cardboard box (at the time, none of us had heard of long boxes), and covered the whole thing in clear contact paper. Not seen in the photo was the copy of Fantastic Four #254 which was so immensely original and absorbing to me that I had to get the next issue. And the next. And the next...

And there you have the TRUE origin of Sean Kleefeld, comic book fan.

2 comments:

Matt said...

Sean--Neat post. I am loving the Batman bike!

We're probably separated by a few years but I recall owning the most awesome plastic Batmobile with push pedals. I was four or so (which would make it 1980) and it had a little plastic CB for me to talk to Alfred and a bat-shaped steering wheel and everything.

I have searched in vain for pictures of it online, but trust me: It ruled. Much like that bike.

Rob said...

VERY cool! Loved seeing all those pictures...I really wish I had immersed myself at a young age with comics, I really only discovered them around 13 or 14 when a friend took me to the local comic shop which happened to be two blocks from my house, and I never stopped going...