From the editor's desk: Growing up with comics
August 22, 2019 | 8:29 AM
by Charles Lavery

When Universal Studios opened its massive theme park, Islands of Adventure, back in 1998, I was one of 300 invited guests who travelled there ahead of the official opening to see this latest and greatest example of everything Americana had to offer the world.

Famous actors rubbed shoulders with media stars and comic characters were wrought larger than life. There was a Hulk rollercoaster and a Spiderman ride that cost $8m to build — and that was just one of hundreds of multi-million-dollar escapes from reality on display.

I got off the Spiderman ride as the actor Michael Douglas got on. I had to ask who Shania Twain was, as she had yet to break through in the UK but was huge Stateside. Oprah was there, Spielberg, and a glittering cast of VIPs and their families enjoying a week-long sneak peek ahead of the park’s official opening.

At one point, a real-life Spiderman, dangling from an actual helicopter, swung low over an artificial lake as a 100ft tall Incredible Hulk waded through the water towards us. It was spectacular.

Peter Parker’s alter ego, Spidey, was first drawn by Stan Lee — or first published at least — in 1962. The Incredible Hulk smashed his way into our consciousness via Dr David Banner in the same year and was also brought to life by Lee.

I think it’s safe to say they are here to stay. Our movie screens are still offering them up, but they were born in comic books, same as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman et al.

I think it’s also safe to say that comic book characters have touched all of our lives, in some way or other. Who hasn’t described someone as a “Superman” or even a “Hulk” or “Wonder Woman”?

Quentin Tarantino, no less, drew inspiration from comic books and has been busy recreating some of the wackier plot lines for his latest big screen offerings.

I recall sitting for hours inside my local library (note to anyone under 30: a place where books could be borrowed and returned upon reading) leafing through the latest Asterix & Obelix, with Getafix the druid and Cacofonix the terrible musician. I remember pocket sized Commando comics we would share among friends and Victor, with its tales of derring-do.

This adoration of all things comic book and visual actually helped me in my English language, writing and creativity. It gave me a new way to look at the world and a method of dealing with classwork and exams.

I still visualise tasks and stories, to this day. Comics sparked something in me at a young age and guided me towards reading and writing.

At the end of that Island of Adventure theme park trip, we were all given goodie bags. Inside was a collector’s edition Marvel Spiderman comic #1 with a limited-edition metal pin badge.

I kept it, unopened and sealed, and it is one of only a few trinkets to travel the world with me. I had visions of it being worth a great deal of money someday, until the fateful day when my son found it, and, upon seeing his all-time hero Spiderman swinging through the air on the cover, ripped it open, taking the front page clean off the comic, in all his excitement.

My only consolation is the hope that it kick-started his imagination, in the same way comics ignited mine, decades before.

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