ORIGINS OF A COMIC BOOK JUNKIE: No Comics In School!?
BY JENNIFER M. CONTINO
I've joked before that comic books were like my drug addiction, but, in a way, there were more parallels than just my willingness to lie, steal or borrow to get enough money to buy my comic books. I soon discovered that like most drug users, I had to hide my love of comic books from most people or be labeled with a scarlet letter C on my head. In elementary school, none of the other kids seemed to care too much that I liked superheroes and read comic books. When I changed schools though, that was all about to change.
When I was in fourth grade, it was decided that a school a few blocks from where I lived, across the street from my grandmother's house, was going to be reopened, and that those of us who lived in the park should now attend this school. I didn't mind, I was terrified of the woman who was supposed to be my fourth grade teacher at the old school. I saw her in the halls, and she never smiled. Worse, our classroom was next to theirs, and she was constantly screaming and yelling at the class. Just looking at her was terrifying. She reminded me of a female Darth Vader. So when we were told that we could go to this school, I was looking forward to it.
Unfortunately, I went from being one of the most popular girls in third grade, to being a relative unknown factor at this new school; because it wasn't just people from the park who got to go to this school, they were bussing in kids from a nearby town to go here as well. I didn't know any of these kids, and they all came from farms and other rural areas. Worse, they all were really tight, good friends. I went through most of fourth grade being the odd kid out of my class. There were only four other girls in the class. At my old school there were an equal number of girls and boys per class. Here, we were in the minority. Also at my old school, the boys thought it was cool that I knew all the superheroes and most of the girls were also fans of Lynda Carter's
version of Wonder Woman
That wasn't the case here. It was fifth grade when my comic book troubles really began. In fifth grade my teacher noticed me reading a comic book during free time, and she was quite perplexed. Really. You'd think she saw me eat a live mouse or something. She was just in shock that I had some Legion of Super-Heroes
and Justice League of America
issues in my desk. She didn't know if she should let me bring my comic books to school. Now, her book shelves were filled with the old Dynamite Magazines, Jack and Jill
and other kid staples, which students were allowed to read during "free time;" but she seemed to have a real problem with my comics. I didn't see the difference between those 'tween magazines and my comic books. But she asked the rest of the class what should be done about it. I remember a girl said, "Mr. M. [our fourth grade teacher] didn't allow her to bring comic books to school." That wasn't true. I had comic books in my desk in fourth grade, and read them all the time, but after she shouted that out, my teacher took it as the truth. So she decided she should follow his example and not allow me to bring comic books to school either.
I wasn't quick enough on my feet to tell her to ask Mr. M. if he let me read comic books. I just accepted her telling me I couldn't read them in school and went from there. Luckily, this school library had a few comic books in it that I could check out like my old school library. Since they were library books, there wasn't much the teacher could do about it. But fifth grade was when the rest of my new class started to really think it was too strange for a girl to be reading comic books that weren't Archie
. I got teased more than a few times and saw my place in the pecking order slowly sinking lower and lower -- all because I loved comic books.
I only knew one other boy in my class who read comic books, but he wouldn't admit to it. He was terrified of being teased for reading comics, like I was being teased. I'm sure the kids would have thought it was "normal" for him to be reading comics, much more normal than I. But, he just wouldn't admit it, even though we traded more than a few comics on occasion.
I found it funny that there was this "no comics in school" kind of policy being enforced, especially when I learned that The New Teen Titan Drug Issues
were supposed to be given away in school. All of the teachers got a copy of the first comic book, but we didn't. Now, as just about everyone knows, I was obsessed with The New Teen Titans
. Pre-Crisis Donna Troy/Wonder Girl is my favorite comic book character of all time. So, I had to have this comic book. I knew my fifth grade teacher had children at home, so I figured she'd give her copy to one of them. But Mr. M. was, to my ten year-old mind, an old man. He had to have been in his sixties. I also knew he wasn't married, so I figured he didn't have any little kids at home to give the book to. So, after school, I went to his classroom, and asked him if I could have his copy of the comic book.
I was brash then, a lot braver and figured the worse he could do was say "no," but I hoped he'd say "yes."
I always liked Mr. M.. I thought he was a good guy. There was no hesitation on his part, he said I could have it, but it was in one of many stacks of things he had on and around his desk, so we had to find it. Mr. M. was a little sloppy. You could hardly see him through the piles of stuff on the desk at all times. I didn't mind having to sort through things if it meant in a short time I'd get my comic! We began to go through piles of papers. I think it was five or ten minutes later when my fifth grade teacher stormed into the room and demanded to know what I was doing. I guess it looked bad, I was on my knees behind the desk going through a stack of books and papers, and he was sitting at the desk going through another stack of papers. At ten, I had no clue what the fifth grade teacher was thinking. I innocently looked up at her and said, "He's going to give me his comic book!" with a big grin on my face. She came over and stood there until we found the comic book and I left.
She never said a word to me about it. But her tone of voice, and the look on her face are something I haven't ever forgotten. Even if I really didn't understand her concern until I was much older. She didn't need to worry though, Mr. M. never did anything inappropriate with me or anyone else I knew. Her concern might have been because of another incident that happened in fifth grade
around the same time, but I'm not sure. I kind of had tunnel vision. I just wanted my comic book.
And I was so excited to get that comic, I ran all the way home from school. I was surprised that Robin, a staple in The New Teen Titans
wasn't in the issue, and that this other guy, The Protector, seemed to be taking his place here. I was also surprised by Starfire's new "outfit" which, again at ten, I never realized her costume might be considered inappropriate for school children. But it was a good story.
I often wondered though if Mr. M. got in trouble for giving me his comic book, or if he got some kind of chastisement for having me in the classroom alone like that. I didn't think anything about it at the time, but it's crossed my mind since.
Fifth grade was one of the last times I ever brought comic books to school, but it wasn't the last time I would become known for comics in school. However, that's a story for a future column ....