Fun could be bought at the drug store.
No, not that, Smithson. And stop that sniggering. And, no – not that either, Grigson.
When I was a boy in central Iowa, the town's drug store was the repository of goods affordable to a child. A soda could be purchased for a dime. They had little goofy plastic people in little plastic sleeves that cost a dime. There was the candy, of course. And then, the comic books.
In the days before ComiCon, before comic book stores – comic books were sold at news-stands (which we didn't have in central Iowa in the early 1960s) and drugstores. Garish of color and large of print, they were attractive on their own.
My parents, like all right-thinking people, didn't quite approve of comic books. Mitch, the barber, had a couple of comic books on a table that I got to look at while my brother got his ears lowered. But, that was that until I started getting an allowance. And so, my brother and I would spend as much time at the comic book rack as the employees would allow, and then we would make our choice. An awesome responsibility to decide which tales of thrills we'd actually spend our precious dimes on.
From that time to this, I've been a fan. OK. So now you know. To this day, each week I buy a few comics at the local store and read them while eating cookies and milk.
I favored (and still favor) group books. The Fantastic Four were fine. When we were kids and played "Fantastic Four," I always had to be the Human Torch, since he was the "little brother" of the group. (Pretty much the same reason I was always Robin when we played "Batman.") And Justice League of America was pretty dull. Me? I love The Avengers.
In the day, the group was a band of testy friends. I liked that. I liked the Vision, who was a mainstay of the group for many years.
The writing has gone up and gone down. There have been forgettable years when I could barely read the book because I didn't care about the characters or the stories.
Recently, I've been enjoying comic books less and less. And I've wondered why. And it took some time, but I figured it out — for me, anyway.
In the 1960s and much of the 1970s, The Avengers (and most Marvel heroes) had regular interactions with normal folks. A character wanted to help the world, and so became a school teacher. Because of an adventure, the Vision was required to drop by the school to inform the administration that Mr. Charles wouldn't be available to teach today.
That kind of interaction doesn't fit into many of the mainstream books of today.
The recent Avengers movie was good, and I enjoyed it as a fanboy should. But note that it was a movie that took place among the special characters. Thor's a god. Iron Man, Captain America, and the other heroes mix it up with a world-famous scientist. Or with Nick Fury, a badass superagent. With one exception.
The scene between Mark Ruffalo and Harry Dean Stanton has a different feel to it. I would argue that it feels different because it's a (brief) interaction with a normal person.
Why does this matter?
The interaction of the fantastic with the normal in a comic book helps provide an anchor. And it invites a kind of intimacy between the storyteller and the audience.
It's not about "realism" – whatever that might mean. It's about building a relationship.
Intimacy isn't meant to be easy. Usually in the theatre or acting worlds we talk about "vulnerability" and "being vulnerable." And there is something to that. Yes, vulnerability is a facet of acting. But that isn't the whole story.
A major aim of human beings is intimacy. To be close. To know. To have an emotional connection that depends not on language. And it's emotional intimacy that's hard.
Recently, I was having a conversation with a young actress about Stanislavsky. What did he want? Well, many things, I said. But near the top, Stanislavsky wanted silence more than applause.
This is one of those things that's always a mystery to "civilians," but highly prized among fine actors. Applause is nice. But sweeter still is the silence that comes from having invaded the hearts of an audience. The quiet that comes from the stolen breath of an audience enraptured in a moment of intimacy. Yes, the accolades are nice.
But to be emotionally intimate with several hundred people at once is something quite amazing.
I'll keep reading comic books. The writing might pick up again.
And I wish you much hearty applause. Nothing wrong with a good hand.
But may you also know the amazing feeling of sharing one heart with an audience.
Y'know, I kind of like the quiet.