by J.D. Roth
At book group Sunday, we discussed Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Though the book is not about comic books, comics provide the background for the action. The entire story is informed by comic-book themes. I’d argue that one of the characters (Joe Kavalier) is intentionally drawn as a sort of comic-book hero, complete with a series of comic-book villains and a comic-book secret lair.
During the discussion, Kris wondered aloud why it is that men — or some men — are obsessed with the things of their childhood, stuff like comic books and videogames. Her question implied several sub-arguments, including:
The group discussed the first point at length. We talked about reasons men might like the toys and activities of their youth. We even noted that some women do cling to girlhood toys and activities: dolls, Nancy Drew books (of which Kris has a large collection), etc.
But I don’t feel like we explored the second and third topics much at all. Since I disagree with Kris’ premise, I’ve given this some additional thought.
Kris calls this fixation on the things of youth “childish”, and she means it with the negative implications of that word. I don’t agree with her. I think it’s fine to like the things we enjoyed as children.
For one thing, I’m not convinced that comic books and videogames (or dolls or Nancy Drew) are meant only for children. Many people come to these things as kids, it’s true, but many come to them as adults, too. It seems artificial to label these things as childish — especially when the labeler doesn’t have much experience with them.
What’s more, collecting the things from our youth, doing the things we used to do, can provide a heady sense of nostalgia, a visceral connection to the past. It’s a great way to feel connected with our personal histories, with our family and friends.
Hobbies kept from childhood can also help us better understand our selves. I’m able to look at my life-long interest in astronomy, for example, and trace its role in my life. I can do the same with comic books, tracking how my tastes have changed — or stayed the same.
I think it’s foolish to just blindly cast off our childhood interests as “childish” simply because we’re older.
Updated: 22 September 2009