In which I describe why Wednesday is my favorite day of the week

Oh sure, you might say, that’s easy. Wednesday is Hump Day, the middle of the week. Or Wednesday is the night my favorite TV show is on. Unfortunately you wouldn’t even be close. For me, I look forward to Wednesday because it’s the day new comics are out. Now why in the world does a 44-year-old banker still read comics? I’ll get to that but trust me I have the boxes (and boxes) of comics to prove it.

To understand where I am today, I think you need to understand where I was. As a kid, I was a voracious reader. I loved books, especially fantasy. My first exposure to comics though was at the drug store in the local mall when I was 7 or 8. Eventually, I’d ask my parents to drop me off there when I went shopping.They had one of those awesome spinner racks full of comics. I’d just pull up a piece of carpet and read to my heart’s content. But I didn’t really buy anything because I was 7 and who has money when they’re 7? I may have had a couple of comics lying around my room but it certainly wasn’t a lot.

Now, fast forward a few years. I’m probably 13 or 14 years old and I pick up Uncanny X-Men 155 at yet an other drugstore by my house. No real reason, cover looked kind of cool and I vaguely remember some guys at school talking about Wolverine, so why not? I was completely sucked in. The story was great, the art was great, what wasn’t to like. (Little did I know this was considered one of the greatest runs in X-Men history with Chris Claremont writing.) From there, I kept finding reasons to swing by that Eckerd’s looking for new copies of X-Men. I had no idea then, that comics ran on a monthly publishing schedule. Man, did I hate waiting.

Picture courtesy of Marvel WIkia

What really hooked me in, was a cross-over between Marvel’s X-Men and DC’s New Teen Titans. Not only did it introduce me to a new comic team, but a whole new comic universe. Again, great writing and not a small crush on Kitty Pryde (don’t laugh, she’s even mentioned in a Weezer song.) hooked me and now I had two comics to buy each month. Even then my habit was managed, shall we say, discretely. I certainly didn’t want my Dad to know I read comics. He was a high school jock in his day, how would he even understand? And aside from a couple of guys at school I knew who appreciated comics, I didn’t discuss it much at all. So while I had one reason to go into that store, I provided any number of other ones to get my Dad to let me run in when we were on our way somewhere.

And so my collecting career began. But like any other addiction, it grew. Pretty soon, I branched out into more comics and more characters. All off that spinner rack in Eckerd’s drugstore Then, about 1 year later I found out that a whole comic book store existed up in Clearwater! But I couldn’t drive, so how in the heck was I going to get there? Well, one evening there was a College Fair up in Clearwater that my Dad wanted to take me to. Made sense, I had a future to think about after all. But that campus was awfully close to the Comic Book Store, Geppi’s Comic World. In truth I was far more excited about swinging by there than I was about the college fair. But, I covered my eagerness by casually mentioning to my Dad, “hey, can we swing by this store on the way home, I want to check it out.” Begrudgingly, he did but it was closed. It didn’t stop me though. Like a kid at a candy store I had my nose up against that window, just looking at all the comics in there! The ride home from there was a bit awkward as my Dad only wanted to talk colleges and I only wanted to talk about the wonders of that store!

Soon. two things happened that sealed my comic book fate. One, I got a driver’s license and two, I got a job. Transportation and disposable income! About once a week I managed to work my way up there to peruse the store. Here I discovered two more things about the world of comic books – pull lists and back issue bins. My two favorite comics were still X-Men and Teen Titans, but I was missing huge chunks of back story and continuity in my brain. And, usually, for a couple of bucks I could get these stories. I wasn’t making a ton of money working for my Dad, but I can tell you, most of it went to comic books.

I went on, collecting away, buying comic books boxes and storing them all up. In 1984 though I headed off to college. I kept my pull list intact back home. Every visit home I would drive over to Geppi’s and pick them up. (Given I paid for them with my student loan money I have no idea what that 60 cents an issue cost me in interest!) Eventually, I found a shop in my college town and took my business there. After graduation, I took a job in that same town (more disposable income – yay!). At the time I felt that job was stressful (ha! just wait for it dude.) and on my way home Fridays, I’d stop by the shop to pick up my pulls and the liquor store to pick up some beer. I’d get home, pop open a beer and a comic and the stress (such as it was) from that week would just melt away.

This really explains why I still enjoy comics today. In a world full of work stress, parenting stress (teenagers, ugh) and generalized adult stress (am I really 44?!?) I can get a few minutes of escape with characters I’ve come to know well over the years. And at this point in my life, all I really want is a bit of time away from the daily grind into a world that’s a bit more fantastic than the one in which I live. And it’s a lot less frustrating than fishing or golf!

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In which I become a Dungeon Master

One of the challenges being a geek in the corporate world is finding people to game with. Sure, if you’re going to do Fantasy Football (and I do) or Madden 2012 (which I will when I get it on Tuesday – Woot!) you can usually find someone in the office who plays. But, Dungeons and Dragons? Heroclix? Heroscape? Not very likely.

If I want to find someone to play those games, I have to get creative.  Take Heroclix. Heroclix was my gateway drug into collectible miniatures. But once I got those first few boosters, I struggled to figure out who I might pull in, then I realized…the kids! Unfortunately, they were 4 and 6 at the time, but I was quite sure I could teach them. How do I justify this to my wife though? Math! Heroclix is all about math when rolling attacks, defenses, etc. It was a good plan and it really did get them adding and subtracting in their head. I think they even learned something about strategy (assuming the strategy was gang up on Dad or throw a fit when you lose).

Jumping into Heroclix began to expand my trip into the world of gaming. I learned about message boards and that stores actually host games! Who knew? I didn’t. So the boys and I would roll down to the shops and watch, then ultimately play. It was a great learning experience for all of us. (I’m always amazed how gracious gamers are with kids.) This opened up a whole world of possibility for group play.

But as time wore on I was looking for new games to play. Then, Dungeons and Dragons 4e came out. I hadn’t played D&D since I was 13 (maybe AD&D at the time?) and I really wanted to play this game. Fortunately, a couple of local game shops were hosting D&D gamedays where you could demo the products. So, off the boys (now 10 and 12) and I went to the stores. We had a great time. To this day, the boys talk about “Flame Seed Guy,” a guy playing a Druid who threw a flame seed into a room full of flour or something. He created a conflagration that not only took out the enemies, but did substantial damage to our team! Flame Seed Guy’s real name was Brad and he and I spoke a lot throughout the game, mostly me going on about how I really wanted to play D&D regularly.

At the end of the game, Brad told me that his 4e group was looking for a 5th member. Someone had dropped out and they really needed a 5th character, would I like to give it a whirl. I jumped on the chance. This lead to a great 15 months of gaming for me. The group was great and I learned a lot not only about playing, but how to DM effectively as well. Our DM, Rob really worked hard on our adventures and he ran a very cinematic game. But, as these things do, the group ended. I really wanted to play more D&D 4e but the group was moving on to Savage Worlds.

During this D&D campaign I was relentlessly tweeting pictures and descriptions of our games. I found out that some local friends were quite jealous of my being able to play, and if a seat was ever open….? That seat never opened up in our game, but as noted, I really wanted to play. Over time I came to realize that the only way I was going to play more 4e was to run a 4e game. But that seemed like so much work and I had so much doubt that I could do it. But my desire to play only grew. Sure, I could run some delves for the boys, but that just wasn’t the same. So after a couple of months, I took the plunge.

I reached out to the friends who had expressed so much interest and they immediately jumped on board. It’s a great group of people from diverse backgrounds who share a common interest in D&D (and for the most part craft beer, a story for another day). Bi-weekly games don’t work for our group. We have tried to commit to playing once a month. Two games in it’s gone really well, better than I expected. Our next game is in just a few weeks and I really can’t wait.

In which I contemplate a new acquisition

I used to travel quite a bit for my job, at least 2 weeks a month for 3 or 4 days a week. Business travel is a mixed bag for me. It is nice to see new places but I usually don’t have (or don’t make) the time to actually enjoy them. What I don’t like though, is being away. Being away from my family, being away from my bed and being away from my hobbies.The good news is, as I’ve risen through the ranks (leveled up?) I’ve gained the ability to control and limit my travel. Which leads to the topic of this blog post.

This week, I learned that I’m going to be working on some additional projects. It’s a good thing,but it will mean more travel, especially at the beginning. So as I’m sitting there with my boss, discussing this, one thought randomly enters my mind: “I’m going to need to buy a good gaming laptop.” And as this pretty important conversation goes on, my mind keeps circling back to this gaming laptop: “What kind should I get? How expensive will it be? Will my wife mind? How stupid is this? Get out of my head stupid gaming laptop!” Fortunately, I was able to push this thought back and really focus on the conversation, which turned out pretty well.

So why do I “need” a gaming laptop anyway? You see, I’ve played City of Heroes with roughly the same group of people every Wednesday night since the summer of 2007. Back when we started I was traveling more, but I had a laptop that could handle the game. Those days are long past. And I really like playing with this group. It’s probably the longest sustained geek/nerd gathering in my life. while I’ve never met any of these people in real life I consider them good friends. It’s not something I want to give up on. It’s my version of Bowling League night or the group I golf with every Saturday. And y’know, I get to pretend to be a superhero. How cool is that?

This whole situation is a great example of how bifurcated my life is. Banker by day, geek by night. When people find out what I do (banker guy) they think that’s who I am. They fit me into a neat little mold of who I should be. But I’m not that guy. Don’t get me wrong, I am very good at what I do but given infinite resources, I wouldn’t do it. What I love is games, comics and science fiction. That’s who I am and I think that explains why my thoughts wandered where they did. It’s a great opportunity for me but I’m always going to view it in terms of who I am and how it impacts my passions. I’m OK with that.

So, I’m going to wait and see how this thing plays out at work. And I guess I’m going to start pricing gaming laptops. They can’t be that expensive, can they?

And being a geek, my eyes were opened.

I don’t intend for this blog to touch on politics but it is an interest I have beyond gaming. But as I read this article over at the NY Times I began thinking about how gaming has affected my worldview. The article itself deals with the inability of Congress to compromise despite most American’s alleged desire for them to actually do so. What’s interesting in the article, is the authors thesis that American’s really don’t want compromise because they have so little of it in their own life. The reason, it goes on, is because America has become so self-segregating. We tend to hang out with people who share, support and reinforce our own views. Anyway, read through it, it’s fascinating.

So what does this have to do with being a geek you might ask. Well, one thing geeks share is being geeks. It’s not a political or religious position. We share a common interest in sci-fi, comics, gaming or whatever. And when we get together we talk about those things. As we get closer we also talk about our families, our jobs and our lives. I find that when our conversations get to that level we come from very different political, religious and financial backgrounds.

As I’ve noted, I think I’m outside the typical geek demographic. I’m a corporate banker and regular church goer. By rights, I should be out at the club or on the golf course or some such nonsense. But I’m not. Where I have free time I’m gaming, surfing message boards to be a better gamer or planning my next D&D session.

My geek related activities expose me to a very different group of people than I would experience if I restricted my circle of friends to my work colleagues. I know I’m the better for it. I am constantly amazed as I go through my work day with what my colleagues believe is “regular” or “average.” They base their beliefs on what they encounter in their day-to-day lives and it’s not the life of the average person. I think my “geek side” has opened my life up to people who are not “like” me at all. And through that experience I am able to bring different perspectives to work discussions which ultimately (assuming people actually listen) will make us better and more attuned to what the world is really like.

The more I think about it the more I realize how fortunate I am being a geek. It’s made me something of a square peg in a round hole professionally, and as a result my perspective on the world is far more balanced.

In which I explain why I teared up at the end of Captain America

(To be clear here, I said teared up, not wept.)

A couple of weeks ago the boys (they’re 14 and 12 for the uninitiated) and I went out to see Captain America, the First Avenger. Without a doubt this was the best superhero movie we saw all summer and definitely one of the top 3 I’ve seen since the current superhero movie run began.

Seeing movies like this with the boys is important to me. Of all the geek stuff I am into, comics are my #1 passion. Aside from a brief collection stoppage when I first got married, I have collected comics since I was about 13.  I have worked hard to pass this along to both boys.  I started out sharing comics with them early, both reading them to the kids and getting additional superhero books for them to read. They both have at least a long box of their own (which hold double capacity the way they have them piled and jammed in there, no CGC 9.8 ratings in there ).

The along came the superhero movies. When X-Men came out in 2000 they were way too young to watch it with me. I showed them clips and trailers though, longing for the day when we could share the full experience. Little did I know then how comic book movies would explode through the 2000s. So many great (and good) movies were made. More often than not I went to see them alone or worked to convince a friend to hit the movies with me. My wife is geek adjacent (thank Wil Wheaton) so she understands my love for these things but that doesn’t always extend to sharing that experience (unless Hugh Jackman is in the movie).

So accelerate now to the closing minutes of Captain America. Sure it’s a bit sad as we realize that Steve will never get that dance. But that’s not what choked me up. As I watched the last minutes of that movie, after watching so many fun superhero movies with the boys this summer, I realized what a great summer it has been. At a certain level this is what I always wanted Fatherhood to be, to share my interests and passions and to pass them along. Then I realized that they’re 14 and 12, they were just toddlers when X-Men came out. But it seems like just yesterday. And now I have only a few years left with them to share these experiences. I want to cherish each and every opportunity I have over the next few years before they head off to college and their own, independent lives.

And that my friends, is why I teared up (I did not weep) at the end of Captain America. They were tears of joy and love for my boys who all to soon will be men.

Back into the “real world”

Another Gencon has come and gone. As I get ready to go back to work this morning, I expect the requisite jokes about my ever rumored costume, geeks, and nerds. When you work with a bunch of bankers whose hobbies run along the more traditional lines of golf, baseball and tennis you know they just don’t understand.

There was a time when I was more worried about that. As a matter of fact, until a few years I was a closet geek. I didn’t really tell people at work or at the gym what my hobbies are. I was a bit embarrassed that my interests didn’t fit with who I was during the day. I was a bit like Batman, corporate guy during the day, but something else entirely by night. As I hit the local comic shop near my office, I did more than one check over the shoulder before entering. When asked, “What are you doing tonight?” I would likely respond, “Getting together with friends,” never, “meeting with some guys I met through a message board to play Heroclix.” When I was taking the days off for Gencon, I’d be “taking a long weekend before the craziness of fall.” I’d even snicker along with the rest about the geeks rolling into town.

But a few years ago I decided I wasn’t going to worry about it anymore. Now, admittedly it’s been a bit easier as comic book movies have become the norm and video games have it the mainstream. But there is still a world of difference between hitting the movies to see Spider Man and hitting the comic book store, between playing Madden and sitting down to roll some dice for D&D. I’m still not your traditional banker. The last thing I want to do is play a round of 18, I’d still prefer to roll some 20s. But as I tell my colleagues, some people golf to relax, this is what I do.

Now, they still look at me like I’m crazy. But at least I’m honest with them and honest with myself. Now, if I could just get a game of D&D going over lunch…