By: JD DeHart
For many readers, a “first initiation” into a meaningful literacy experience is built on personal interest and relevance. When I was in the first grade, I desperately wanted to stay in school long enough to wear my Halloween costume to class. I don’t even remember now what the costume was. By a few days before Halloween, I had grown so ill that I no longer felt like going to school – but I did anyway because I did not want to be sick; I tried not to even let my parents know I was sick. Now, looking back, it seems that I would at least remember what the costume was that I so desperately wanted to show off.
Just before Halloween, I was so sick that I no longer felt like getting up and doing anything, much less dressing up and going to school. I remember laying on the floor board in the back seat of my parent’s car, not wanting to move. When I finally did go to the doctor, it was discovered that I had double pneumonia, and I was hospitalized.
Now, this isn’t some Tiny Tim story of a sick child. This is the story of how my parents purchased my first comic books for me. I remember laying in the hospital bed, reading. The book was Batman Annual #12 by Mike Baron and Robert Greenberger. The cover depicts the hero carrying a lantern, searching through undergrowth outside a large manse. I remember the story of a beast man being hunted, and the view down the hillside from the estate depicted on the cover.
Why is this a big deal? The next year, Warner Brothers released the Batman motion picture, starring Michael Keaton. This, along with Masters of the Universe, would become one of the most memorable movie experiences for me in my early life. It also led to merchandising and, central to that merchandise, was the comic book. It was not long before I was an avid comic book reader, and also branched out into the novelized versions of these films, and stories based on the same characters.
What became a foundation for me in comic books led to other books later on, and they were not always the ones I found in school. The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Island of the Blue Dolphins, sorry to say, did not do much for me. I read novelized versions of popular films, as well as magazine articles about the films themselves. I read magazines about upcoming comic books, and then purchased the comic books and read them.
Would I have had the skill set to read To Kill A Mockingbird in ninth grade, or The Outsiders in eighth grade, and enjoy them as much as I did? Possibly so, possibly not. Regardless of the polemic, the skills were there, at least in nascent form, and I my concepts of print and vocabulary were imbedded.
Incidentally, Batman is not the only literary hero in this story. James Finn Garner, author of Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, got some air play on Comedy Central when I was in middle school. His books series did a lot of work in adding to my lexicon. Using his sarcastic and polysyllabic style, I won a writing contest in the eighth grade, an event that meant a great deal to me, having never won anything before.
Of course, there is also the story of my parents as heroes here. They read to me, purchased books for me, indulged my slow turning of the comic book carousels at the drug store when we had to pick up prescriptions. They took me to the movies, and to the page.