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:

  • Women are not interested in the trappings of their youth.
  • Comic books and videogames are something that only young people are interested in (or should be interested in).
  • It’s somehow wrong to be interested in the things we liked when we were younger.

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.

9 Replies to “Through a Glass, Darkly”

  1. Tiffany says:

    I wonder if it has something to do with my family over doing ANYTHING that you admitted liking as a kid to a point where you were sick of it and never wanted to see another one again. Examples of this are rabbit figures for Kris, strawberry kitchen things for Mom, I went through phases; Tinkerbell, masks, cats, etc.

    Another possibility for the ‘dislike’ of things we consider childish is parents saying things like “Big boys use the potty and do not throw toys.” Parents use the idea that ‘good kids’ grow out of things and actions as we grow.

    Just ideas…..

  2. Peter says:

    What is the difference between enjoying video games vs. sports as a child and as an adult? What about chess? Where do you draw the line?

    Also, what’s the difference between reading books and comic books as a child and as an adult? Why is there a distinction between the two just because one has pictures? There are a lot of low-brow books out there (I’m looking at you Fabio).

    Just a few thoughts off the top of my head, and yes, I have “outgrown” comics and baseball cards but you’ll have my Xbox controller when you pry it from my blah, blah, you get the drift.

  3. FMF says:

    For some thoughts on men/comic books/heroes/etc., you might want to check out the book “Wild at Heart” from the library. Reading it helped my wife understand why our son wanted to buy and play with a toy gun.

    Also, knowing you I’m sure you intended this, but if not I thought I’d point out that both the “through a glassy, darkly” and “put childish ways behind me” wording/thoughts are in 1 Corinthians 13:11-12 (aka, the “love chapter”.)

  4. Jason says:

    Hmmm. I was thinking about why kids play with stuff like comics, dolls, etc. I think it’s a combination of factors (no particular order here). 1) They’re bored and need something to do. 2) Their basic needs are provided for so they don’t have to slave in a sweatshop. 3) To learn about something and develop skill/develop self esteem 4) To find meaning in their lives (by identifying with superheroes, etc).
    I suspect adults play for the same reasons. I think most of us have most of these reasons to play, though there are other ways to meet those needs besides play. Play is a way to meet the needs without taking too many risks. Whether that’s healthy or not depends on your view of life’s purpose, and the balance between them.

  5. Amy Jo says:

    These are really great questions JD. I don’t consider *playing* with or enjoying objects that we enjoyed in our youth as childish. A lot of what we do in childhood is practice for what we do as adults, and how many adults do you know who wouldn’t benefit from a little imaginative play now and then? It can be liberating to knock down some of the walls we’ve built as adults by spending a few minutes here and there doing something childlike. For example, I consider myself a rather piss-poor drawer, but I am having a hell of a time with crayons lately. I can scratch my creative itch without having to be perfect or even good, and I can’t tell you how nice that feels.

    That said, I think it does become a problem when adults spend hours on end playing video games, or whatever it is, heck, even watching sports, at the expense of other aspects of their lives. It seems to become less about play and enjoyment and more about escapism or self-soothing.

  6. Michael says:

    I don’t see this as child/adult interests. It is about time. Reading comic books and playing video games is not “productive” use of time to many spouses :-). Reading other types of books, watching educational programming, and hobbies that produce something (gardening) is a “productive” use of time to those same spouses. It is hard to find a balance that allows for unproductive playtime for those of us who need it and measured productivity for those who need that. Laura (my wife) enjoys and can feel refreshed after canning 100+ jars of peaches. I need that same amount of time to do nothing (watch stupid TV, read silly stuff, or even eat those same peaches) to feel refreshed but have “nothing” to tangibly show for it. My argument is always that I will be more productive when I feel more refreshed.

    Now back to my two year backlog of projects on the list…

  7. mimi says:

    As a general statement, the men I’ve dated and the men I’m friends with who play video games as adults and read/collect comic books are more childish in subtle ways and that they use these two things to revert back to child-like behavior in a not-so-cute way. (It doesn’t mean they are bad guys — I dated one for 9 years! — but it does mean it’s something that the man should explore.) I also think there’s often something destructive and childish in how and when the men revert to video games and comic books. Of the men I know, their video game use tends to skyrocket when they are in a slump or procrastinating. For example, my ex-boyfriend would revert to video games instead of doing his job search. The video game playing either started a depressive cycle or helped fuel a depressive cycle, which I think is way more common than most men want to admit. I see comic books used in an unhealthy way as well, particularly in terms of men overspending on them or collecting them with negative tinges of how collecting can function. Additionally, men uniquely revert to negative childlike behaviors around these two things, particularly in terms of zoning out the outside world (this is why I hate walking through an arcade), hanging out in all-male groups (not necessarily bad, but it can get weird at times), etc.

  8. nyx says:

    hey I agree, why should you give up something because of age? Okay I admit I’ve given up playing with barbies and stuffed animals, but it seems that adults replace them with other toys like digital cameras, kindles, makeup, clothes, expensive heels, etc.

    I still like reading Nancy Drew and Sweet Valley Twins books, and I’m 27. My bf is 30 and still plays video games. In fact he actually introduced me to games, I think people should do what they want and what makes them happy. Its not hurting anyone if I like to read Sweet Valley novels, or if someone collects dolls. 😀

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