Reflecting on Comics and Memory
I've been reading this beautiful book, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, by Umberto Eco. The book tells the story of an aging antique book dealer, Yambo, who suddenly finds himself without his life's memories due to a stroke. Oddly, his memories of books and songs and such remain with him, but it is his life memories, even knowledge of his own name that are seemingly lost. In order to rescue the mental traces of his life, Yambo begins to dig through the paper trail of his early life in an attempt to kick-start his memory. This journey takes him to his childhood home where he immerses into a world of old newspapers, vinyl records, books, magazines and childhood comic books in hope of reclaiming himself, and his nostalgic journey takes him through a not just recollection of himself, but of his family, his generation and society. Now, I wouldn't spoil the rest of the book for you, but I'm talking about this here because of how Eco's novel has paused me tonight to flash through the memories of my own collection of ephemera and the recollections that accompany it.
Like anyone, I have associations with books, comics, music, and films... especially for the things that have carried on so much and for so long in life. For example, I can bridge an incredible amount of life experience thinking about all the steps that have just accompanied reading my first issue of Superman as a child living in my family's apartment in Summerdale, to the most recent issue with Krypto that I read sitting here in my apartment last week. This terribly beat Mego Batman here on my shelf carries the memories of my dad giving it to me when I was a kid and how it kept me occupied playing while my parents inspected the initial work that was being done to build their house. There are so many things in my life that are seemingly just a "thing" on the surface, but they have so much connected to them that establishes their meaning in my life. This is why I think quite a bit about the nostalgia present in this hobby of collecting comics. In my life, I have had the pleasure of following fictional characters as long as I have known most of my oldest friends. The X-Men, The Justice League, The Avengers, The Titans... these teams and their members have always been in my life via my mind and my imagination since my early childhood. I always remember Marvel's Atlantis Attacks as the big event that fun summer before I started high school. X-Men X-Cutioner's Song kicked off during the fall of my senior year of high school, and I fondly remember the excitement everyone in my group of X-Men obsessed friends had over what was going to happen with this event! I have a deep attachment to the Jack Knight, Starman, character because that was my book in college and my life was changing so much as was his! As I look at the listing here in December's Previews for the next Starman Omnibus, I eagerly await picking that book up not just for the mere sake of purchase, but because I have something of myself invested in those tales.
I like the persistence of these things, the junk, the cultural artifacts that occupy my life and my mind. I think that is what is most important to me about the stuff I keep with me in life. I don't need it to survive, but it reminds me that I have survived and thrived and lived and loved. So maybe we're all buying more than a stack of printed, stapled 32 page pamphlets every week, we have considerations bigger than grade and condition when we finally track down that old issue of Sgt. Rock or G.I. Joe for the collection, and there's more history collected in that trade paperback or hardcover than any publisher is aware of when it goes on sale! All of us are also stockpiling memories, markers for who we are, where we are, where we have been, and what we'll be reflecting on one day when we all take time to pause and reflect on the life we have led.
Reflecting on my life, I'd certainly appreciate seeing plenty of faces of family, and friends, and loves, and losses flash through my mind, but I also would like a montage of my favorite films clips, a soundtrack of my favorite songs, and a nice slide show of classic color comic panels!