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CSBG Archive

The Bad Old Days

Reading about all the news out of San Diego, it amazes me all over again how it’s okay to be a superhero fan today. For crying out loud, as I write this Julie is watching Comic-Con television coverage in the other room.

It sure didn’t used to be that way. Once upon a time, it could get you beaten up.

Thinking about that reminded me of the first time I ever met a real-life superhero. In the sixth grade. It happened like this.

*

I never needed the X-Men explained to me. I completely understood the concept of mutation. I was a book nerd that was born to a jock and a cheerleader.

I got picked on, harassed, and occasionally beaten up for it. A lot. But the worst part was, when the bullying started for me in the second grade, my own mother and father dismissed it with the clear indication that they thought I had it coming. Every time I tried to talk to them about it their advice was always some variation on, “Well, do you have to be so weird? Couldn’t you try to fit in more?”

Of course I had tried. (What an idiot question. Had they never MET a school-age child?)

But fitting in would have meant being good at sports– which would have meant, well, having a whole different set of reflexes. Actually, it would have meant having a whole different body. And that ship had sailed.

Moreover, reading and books were the only thing I had that brought me any joy. Classwork was the only place I was ever allowed to feel successful at anything. The library was the only place at school I felt comfortable. At least there I could get away for a while… and Mrs. Hunter, the librarian, was a thoughtful, gracious southern lady who always had time to talk about books or suggest one I might like.

Here are two of Mrs. Hunter's suggestions from those days, and regular readers will know that they made quite the impression on youthful me. Today we have a pretty fair collection of Three Investigators hardcovers here in the home library, but somehow GREEN GHOST has eluded us. Didn't even see it at the Antiquarian Book Fair.

So, yeah, giving up my ‘bookworm’ ways wasn’t happening either.

Far and away, though, the most despised thing about my ‘weirdness,’ as far as I could tell, was reading comics. My mother hated that I loved them so much. (I documented that already in this space, here.) She would let me spend my money on them, but it was always with reluctance; she would try to divert me with other suggestions first, and then would come the exasperated sigh and the head-shaking about how they were so trashy. “Trashy” was kind of Mom’s bête noire, and the idea that other people might think that of us was something that kept her awake at night.

Of course, I was not to be diverted. I suspect if you are here reading articles on CBR, you probably already know how hard it is to divert us fans from the comics we want.

I didn't actually have anything AGAINST balsa-wood airplanes, but the idea that one would somehow, in my eyes, outrank the Justice League fighting SORCERY and DEMONS is laughable on its face.

But the battles over comics at home were nothing compared to the hell that would rain down on a kid who owned up to liking superheroes at school, back in the late sixties or thereabouts.

See, here’s the key difference between now and then. Today, if you bring up Batman or the Joker to non-comics people, they’re likely to reply with something about Christian Bale or Heath Ledger. Maybe some will mention one of the animated series, or how Nicholson’s Joker was better than Ledger’s. (Of course, if you are here on CBR reading this, you know that Mark Hamill’s was better than both.) But I digress. My point is, today you’d just get conversation.

But from 1969 to at least 1985, you would almost certainly get this response–

“Oh, yeah. Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na– BATMAN!” Then snorts and guffaws.

Seriously. It was inevitable. A conditioned reflex.

I love this show-- the first season, anyway-- but especially in its later years, there was a lot that was snort-worthy... and the ACTUAL comics looked like this then, so it made it even harder for us comics kids to defend the idea of loving superhero stories. The defense of loving them IRONICALLY had not occurred to me, and anyway, no third-grader would have bought it.

You may have noticed that comics fans of a certain age– pretty much anyone who came to superheroes before the mid-1980s– have almost a pathological hatred of superheroes that are Not Serious. I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure you can trace a lot of this to people jeering at them about the Adam West Batman.

And his brethren. There were a lot of silly, not-serious superheroes between 1966 and 1970 on television.

Television superheroes from the Adam West era: Mr. Terrific, the Mighty Heroes, and Captain Nice.

Why not? Batman was a hit. Hits get imitated. For about a year and a half there, we were inundated with silly slapstick super-people. Now, some of these were pretty good– The Mighty Heroes was a great show and I’d be all over a legitimate DVD set of that series– but they also provided great fodder for people to sneer at the whole IDEA of comic-book superheroes. The content was secondary; after sixteen months of Batmania, the damage was done. The public perception had cemented in place. To most people, Adam West’s version was what superheroes were.

And once it got out that I liked that stuff… well, that was it. Only once did I make this mistake, but once was enough.

I had brought a comic with me to school, in the third grade. I’m not sure why I’d brought it– I mean, I kind of knew which way the cultural winds were blowing, even then– but I probably just wanted to read it. (I vaguely remember that the teacher had suggested to bring along extra reading if we finished early, or something. And I always finished early in the third grade; it wasn’t until midway through high school that I learned to be a slacker.)

I don’t remember the reason for bringing it, but I remember the comic. Vividly. It was Superboy #165.

Now, this is a great comic. But try to put yourself into the mind of a sneering 9-year-old sociopath and look at all the playground bully triggers there, especially in 1970. SuperBOY, not SuperMAN. And he is shown crying, kissing, lolling around on the floor... I might as well have been carrying a big sign saying PLEASE KICK MY ASS.

When I pulled it out for extra reading time, though, the teacher had frowned and said, “Superboy is not appropriate,” and that quickly, my life at school took a nosedive. That’s all it took– the damage was done. A ripple of giggles and sniggering went around the room. Superboy. NOT APPROPRIATE. Hee hee hee!

At recess I knew better than to try and socialize. I’d already been a jock piñata for the last year or so, for the great crime of being good at books and bad at football. Now Inappropriate Superboy had assured that I would be their favorite one for the remainder of elementary school. Unless we moved away… ideally, by going into Witness Protection.

So I’d found a remote area of the playground, back by the trees, with the vague idea of hiding out. I had the comic with me, thinking, well, I wouldn’t get told to put it away at recess and I could at least read the thing and salvage that much. (Despite the day’s earlier public shaming, I still loved reading about Superboy.)

But a posse of my usual tormentors showed up — about six of them appearing out of nowhere all around me, like ninjas. “Tell us about Superboy, Hatcher.”

Today I’d be able to snap off a one-liner like, Superboy? He’s busy screwing your sister, because he’s invulnerable to the VD she gave everyone else. But at the age of nine, all I could stutter was, “Well, he’s– it’s when Superman was a boy.”

“NOT APPROPRIATE!” they chorused, and went into paroxysms of laughter.

Then Andy, the largest of them, said, “Let me see it,” and grabbed the comic out of my hands.

Instantly it was a game of keep-away. I tried lunging for it and got shoved to the ground. Then for me it was about not crying, not saying anything, not giving them any more ammo to work with… just somehow take it, outlast them before the tears came.

Andy leaned down where I was sprawled and thrust the Superboy forward. “Here.”

I grabbed for it and Andy yanked it away. The cover tore.

“Aww,” Andy sneered, and dropped it in the dirt.

I lay there, glaring, everything I had put into NOT CRYING, though I desperately wanted to. I could feel it welling up, choking in my throat.

I was literally saved by the bell… the one signaling the end of recess. Andy and the others, still laughing, started back towards the school.

I put my torn comic back in my bag and got up and brushed myself off. At that point, nothing short of time travel could have saved me at school.

One comic. Out in the open. That’s all it took, back then.

*

I settled into a sort of furtive, fugitive existence, my books and I. I had the school grounds mapped out in my head as SAFE and NOT-SAFE… if I stayed by the steps with my library book, I was in clear view of the teacher on playground duty; if I waited in the classroom at the end of the day as long as possible and then bolted straight out to the school bus, I had a pretty fair chance of getting through unscathed. Take the back stairs at the end of the hall to the cafeteria, not the front. And so on. Workarounds.

From the third grade to the sixth, I lived in a constant state of terror at school. It wasn’t that I was scared and shaking all the time… but I was always tense, always ready. I knew that at any moment, from any direction, Andy and his crew of other big jock kids might materialize and amuse themselves by shoving me, grabbing my book away and tossing it back and forth to one another, or just dropping it on the ground and grinding it beneath a foot. Sometimes the shoving turned into hitting.

The worst thing about it, though, was that I didn’t have anyone to confide in, because my parents had taught me that somehow, my “weirdness” meant that I had it coming. I’d come home with torn clothes or a damaged library book we had to pay for or– this was the worst– broken glasses, which were expensive. And Dad would grunt in disappointment that I somehow wasn’t tough enough to dispense a beatdown, and my mother would anxiously inquire what I’d done to make them mad.

I learned from them that there was no point in telling an adult because nothing would be done except I’d be told to just fit in better, be more athletic and popular. You know, like I was somehow able to just do that. So I hunkered down with my books as best I could and tried to block it out. You get to where you just learn to live with it.

So what changed?

Towards the end of my sixth grade year, Andy thought of a new trick. He would come up to me at random moments during the day– recess, lunch, P.E., in the hallway– and deliver a whipcrack slap to the face.

It wasn’t like getting hit with a fist, but it hurt, and it often knocked my glasses askew. I had a terror of them getting broken (actually broken again, because bullies are hard on horn-rims and I’d already gone through a few) because I’d get in trouble at home for “not taking care of my glasses.”

And it was humiliating. What delighted Andy about this new diversion so much was that this clearly implied I wasn’t even man enough to rate a fist. Just a slap.

A kid I knew named David witnessed this once– I guess you’d call him a friend, we didn’t hang out anywhere outside of school, but we could have a conversation without him jeering or trying to shove me. We were on the front steps waiting for the school bus to take us home and Andy brushed by and grinned, “Hey, Superboy.” Slap. Then he waited to see if I’d say anything, but I just shook my head and Andy went on to the bus, looking disappointed.

David said, “Dude, why do you let him do that?”

I stared blankly. What could I possibly do?

David said, “Seriously. I’d nark him out. Tell the principal.”

We were outside, about to get on the bus. I saw our principal, Mr. Pokarney, standing by one of the other buses– the one I rode had yet to arrive– and I was ready to try anything. I ran up to Mr. Pokarney and blurted, “Andy N___ has been picking on me for years and now he’s hitting me in the face, can you make him stop?”

I was almost crying but not. I must have looked ragged and desperate and crazy. Mr. Pokarney, who was a grim-looking, hatchet-faced man with a very scary voice, knelt down and took me by the shoulders. I thought Oh shit I’ve had it. Now I’m really in trouble.

He said, “Andy is hitting you?”

I nodded.

Mr. Pokarney looked at me for a moment. Then he said, “Greg, I will get to the bottom of this. It’s the end of the school day now but tomorrow morning you will come to my office and we will talk about it.”

I went home, wondering. I didn’t think I was in trouble, exactly, but usually that’s what it meant when Mr. Pokarney swore to a kid that he was getting to the bottom of something. It was hard to tell with Mr. Pokarney because he wasn’t exactly a friendly, approachable guy. My memories of him are that he was a great, gray monument of a man. His head looked a little like one of those stone heads on Easter Island but with black hair on top slicked into place with Brylcreem, and silver thickly-framed spectacles parked across his nose, looking more like a windshield for his eyes than actual glasses. You could tell he cared about all of us kids, but it was in a patriarchal, no-nonsense kind of way.

The idea that he had actually meant Andy was in trouble? I didn’t dare hope. To have it just end? Could Mr. Pokarney do that? In Sunday School I had prayed to God about it and begged Him to stop it and HE hadn’t. I figured that meant nobody could.

The next morning– first thing– I was called to the principal’s office. There was a murmur of giggles in the classroom, because that always meant you were In Trouble. I went, not at all sure I wasn’t.

In the office, Mr. Pokarney’s voice was tough and gritty like it always was but it was lower, and he looked me right in the eye. The first thing out of his mouth was, “I am sorry. We didn’t know. We should have. How long has this been going on? With Andy.”

For a second I could only stare in utter disbelief. He was taking me seriously. More, he was on my side.

Unless you were one of those kids that got picked on in grade school– picked on daily, mercilessly, for years– I don’t think I can adequately put across in words what that simple fact meant to me. The single most powerful adult in my grade school knew, knew the second I’d told him, that what Andy and his crowd were doing to me had nothing to do with weirdness or comics or being a brainiac or any of that stuff. No, he just knew what was happening to me was wrong. Wrong was wrong and that was all. And by God he was going to fix it. Mr. Pokarney was looking at the situation the way Steve Rogers would have, and at that moment he had his jaw set as firmly as any Kirby Captain America drawing I’d ever seen.

Swear to God, this is the face Mr. Pokarney was making. And his jaw looked JUST LIKE THAT. At least, to my eleven-year-old's eyes.

I sat for an hour while Mr. Pokarney asked me questions. He asked for details. He grilled me the way a cop grills a witness. He wanted everything. We took it all the way back to the Superboy incident, even, and bless him, he did not say a word about inappropriate.

When we were done he apologized to me again. Profusely. It almost weirded me out, because Mr. Pokarney was a big scary guy and he was acting like he wanted me to forgive him.

Then he sent me back to class and told me that it would be stopped. He said it like Eliot Ness vowing to get Capone. That time, I believed him.

And it did stop. It stopped that day.

As I got back to class, Andy was called down to the office.

To this day I don’t know what happened, except Mom told me years later that according to the call she got later that morning, Andy had confessed almost immediately, and then completely broken down. Mr. Pokarney had reduced Andy, the terror of my existence, to a sobbing mess. I have no idea what Andy’s parents said when they were called, but I know that they must have been. For her part, Mom always expressed shock and surprise that I’d let it get so out of control, that I had never explained it to her… conveniently forgetting all the times I’d tried to and been brushed off. (Note, even after the principal of the entire school had called to walk her through it, Mom still found a way to make it about me being weird, and somehow my own fault. That particular dynamic between us never changed, not to her dying day.)

But all that comes from piecing together secondhand stuff from other accounts years later. What I know happened is this.

That morning, after his session with Mr. Pokarney, Andy slunk back into class and whispered an apology to me.

“Hatcher… I’m… uh… I’m sorry. About all the stuff I did. Really.” He whispered it because it was class and we weren’t supposed to be talking, but he couldn’t stand to wait. Andy was a beaten man and he was genuinely sorry.

Here’s the really weird thing. I could tell Andy was broken. Mr. Pokarney had destroyed that kid. He was slumped and shaken. This was for real. At that moment I owned Andy. I could have taken my revenge any way I wanted.

But I didn’t want to.

Honestly? He looked so small, so repentant, so… crushed, that I kind of pitied him. It was enough. Suddenly, I was satisfied.

So I said okay, and when he didn’t leave I made some kind of dumb joke, trying to get him to laugh. It got a weak smile.

And from then on we were okay.

I didn’t have the words to explain it then, and I’m not sure I do now. But I think it was something like this.

It’s a comic book cliché, I know. But sometimes clichés are true. I hadn’t wanted revenge. I wanted justice. Even after all those years of pushing and humiliation and torment… All I wanted from Andy was the honest acknowledgement of wrongdoing. That what had been done to me was not supposed to happen.

And Andy… I think he had been expecting the same from me that I’d gotten from him. When I let him off the hook, he was so grateful that it morphed into some kind of new respect. I still don’t know why I did that. It certainly wasn’t because of my innate goodness, or anything like that. In my adult life there have been many times I’ve been nasty to people I was angry with, sometimes nastier even than Andy ever was to me. But that day… I couldn’t do it.

Mr. Pokarney was my hero from that day forward because he made all that happen. He took one look at me and knew I had been wronged. One look. After years of me trying to EXPLAIN it to my actual parents. What’s more, he fixed it in less than twenty-four hours– to the point where the bully didn’t just stop bullying but HE knew it was wrong, too.

I was eleven. To an eleven-year-old, how is that not superheroic? Mr. Pokarney didn’t even have powers. Well, except for his scary voice.

*

When I see news items about teen suicide, or even about school shootings, I always flash back to my days in grade school and how I would wish Andy was dead, or sometimes I would wish I was dead, and think that if I’d had a gun then, quite possibly one of us would have been. The desperate wish to somehow make it stop, the frustration when it never does… sometimes no price feels too high if it means putting an end to it. It never surprises me that occasionally kids break under that pressure. Because it’s really that bad.

Today the word’s out on bullying, and many– but not all, not even most– schools have a zero-tolerance policy in place. Too often, it’s dismissed as an inevitable part of growing up, some kind of rite of passage that everyone goes through, and just not that big a deal; even though there’s mountains of evidence that it does terrible damage to kids and there’s an actual death toll directly tied to the phenomenon. Nevertheless, there’s still the shrug, the kids-will-be-kids response. It persists into adulthood, even– how many times have you heard someone dismiss horrible behavior on the internet, even stuff like threatening violence or rape, with the comment that that’s just the way it is on the net? Sissies who can’t take that kind of thing just need to get over it.

As much as I appreciate what Dan Savage and various other celebrities are trying to do with their “It Gets Better” campaign, I have a huge problem with it. At its core it feels to me like just a new variation of look, it happens, get over it.

I always think, You know, the message “It Gets Better” would not have done me a bit of good when I was dodging bullies every day, for years, with no end in sight. Wait till I’m out of high school and it will get better? Really? What was I going to do for the decade before that? If it’s so wrong and horrible and damaging, if your whole push is that this should not be happening, why aren’t you putting a stop to it right now? Shine a light on parents and educators and youth workers that think it’s okay. Make them know that it’s not. Not ever.

If Mr. Pokarney had taken the attitude that the “It Gets Better” people have, that you just have to wait it out like bad weather, there’s a good chance I’d be dead now, another teen-suicide statistic. He didn’t. He dealt with the problem at hand, while it was actually happening. And I have never forgotten the example he set.

Like I was saying to someone on this very site the other day, no, you can’t clean up the whole world. But by God you can make sure that at least your corner of it is free of bullies and creeps. You have to start somewhere, or it never will change at all.

*

Andy and I were never friends, but we were friendly from that point onward. I was still a book nerd and he was still a star athlete, so our paths didn’t cross much. But if we ran across one another we’d say hi, and sometimes in high school he’d pull over and give me a lift in his car if he saw me walking.

To my knowledge he never picked on another kid again. Whatever Mr. Pokarney had said to him, it had stuck. Sometimes, in later years, I thought about asking Andy about it but our peace felt fragile to me; I think it was based on my not taking the chance to humiliate him when I’d had it. Bringing it up to him, even years after the fact, felt like it would be some sort of unspoken treaty violation.

Today, I’m fifty years old, a teacher at a local middle school, and I take a quiet pride in the fact that my classes are safe places for all the comics and book nerds who want to make their own stories. Sometimes a bully tries to get away with something and he gets taken down HARD with what my wife calls the Scary Teacher Voice. I’m not done till that kid knows bullying is wrong. Because that’s my job.

The last time I had an incident in class, early in the fall of 2010, Niko and Ciana were jeering at Connor and it was getting mean. I kept the two of them after class and gave them The Talk.

It went something like this: “Look. I don’t care what you think of your classmates. I don’t insist that you like everyone. I know you’re not all going to hold hands and sing Kumbayah. But you will by God be civil and polite when you are in my classroom or you’ll be out of here so fast you leave a smoke trail. If I ever hear anything like what I heard today about Connor again from either of you, you’re both gone. And your parents will be hearing from me about what shallow and judgmental and self-centered little brats you apparently are when you think someone doesn’t measure up to your precious standards of coolness. Understand this — your ideas about what’s cool are never going to matter to anyone over the age of twelve. EVER. So you might as well stop trying to inflict them on kids who have never done anything to you. It’s a waste of your time. And if you ever waste my time with this crap again, I will make sure you regret it. FOR YEARS. Do we understand each other? Did I use small enough words?”

Terrified nods.

“Because if it ever happens again, that means you’re lying to me now. And that will make me twice as mad, and I’m pretty mad now.”

Emphatic, terrified nods. They understood.

“All right. Get out.”

Connor’s crime, by the way? He has a bad stutter. He was way more gracious to them than they deserved.

And that was the last of it. Ciana eventually left Cartooning, but Niko stayed and completely mended his ways.

Now, it’s not a big thing that I scared a couple of eleven-year-olds into behaving themselves. But what made me smile about it, a year later, was when I was telling the kids to clean up our classroom and added, “Seriously, now, if I get scolded again about you guys leaving your trash on the table, so help me, I will come down on you like the Hammer of God.”

I was kidding, of course. Well, mostly. But Niko, a few feet away, said, “Yeah, man, I’ve seen the Hammer of God. It’s no fun.”

I smiled because I knew it wasn’t really the Hammer of God. No, I was channeling my childhood hero… Mr. Pokarney. The lesson had stuck. For both Niko and me.

See you next week.

79 Comments

Matt Halteman

July 20, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Thank you, Mr. Hatcher. This was the best and most inspiring thing that I have read in quite some time.

Great post, Greg. I agree that it is easier to be a comicbook “nerd” these days but just because comic characters are more mainstream it doesn’t mean that they’re considered cool. It’s cool to have seen the Avengers movie but reading the comic, while more socially acceptable than it was when you were a kid, is still seen as nerdy or dorky. I see this on a regular basis at the high school where I teach. An example that springs to mind is overhearing a conversation where a student pointed out that it was Thanos at the end of the Avengers film. When he was asked how he knew, he confessed to have read the comics, and was laughed at. Maybe it’s because it’s uncool to be knowledgable and smart?

Thanks again for sharing your experiences (also, I’m totally stealing your bullying speech the next time I have to bring down the hammer of God.)

Excellent, excellent story. As a fellow middle school teacher, I am right there with you. Won’t happen on my watch. Not ever.

Coincidentally, Superboy #165 is the reason I learned to read. I was reading the reprint of the Krypto story from Adventure #210 when Krypto leaves Earth, and I asked my mom why he was leaving. She encouraged me to read it to find out why. I had a mission!

Great piece, Greg. I shed actual tears reading this.

Wow. That is an awesome post. Words fail me. Thank you.

Tim Rifenburg

July 20, 2012 at 2:15 pm

I think the lines between nerd and the school “outcast” have broken down quite a bit since i was in school. What I notice now is that there are segmented groups in school that are fans of certain things. (The twilight lovers, Avengers fans, video gamers, etc..). Most of the kids I know through my comic club (which is basically a geek hang out that encompasses different groups) are respectful of each others interests. In my day you were tagged if you read certain books or had interests outside of everyone else but now those walls are easier to get over. Not gone entirely but crumbled enough to have those interested in other things to be accepted in a way that they were not in the past.

I hope you get to find the Mystery of the Green Ghost hard back at some point. It was one of my favorites of the 3 Investigator books. My favorite was the Secret of Skull Island. I find those books hold up pretty well (at least the early 10 or so). I know I rarely see them except at booths where the prices are ridiculously high. I know i read the school copies to tatters when I was a kid.

“You may have noticed that comics fans of a certain age– pretty much anyone who came to superheroes before the mid-1980s– have almost a pathological hatred of superheroes that are Not Serious. I can’t prove it, but I’m pretty sure you can trace a lot of this to people jeering at them about the Adam West Batman.”

Max Allan Collins thinks the same way.

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2011/12/15/the-abandoned-an-forsaked-catwoman-was-a-prostitute/

http://goodcomics.comicbookresources.com/2011/10/30/scary-afternoons/

In Amazing Heroes#119 in 1987, Max Allan Collins had an interview. He said the following about how he wrote for DC:

“I’m afraid what I’m running smack up into is the old Batman TV show controversy: the old business about, Gee that was a TV show that made fun of Batman and made fun of comic books, so we have to show people that Batman and comic books are serious and they’re adult and accordingly all the fun goes out of it. There was a reason why that TV show was played for laughs and that is when you put actual human beings in those costumes [yes, the Robin outfit exactly matched what Burt Ward wore, pixie shoes, shaved legs, golden cape, etc.] and act out those stories, it looks stupid. They betray their juvenile roots. It can’t be done straight”. (Further to what Collins said, I will note that quite a few episodes of the Adam West show did adapt 1965 published issues of Detective Comics., particularly in the first season)

To verify what Collins wrote, I refer you to Yuku poster Count Karnstein:

Evidently Dozier did not, in fact, have any special lAs the poster Count Karnstein pointed out, those traditional comic books:
http://monsterkidclassichorrorforum.yuku.com/search/topic/topic/14587
“had giant pennies and stuffed dinosaurs, was wearing caveman, zebra, and rainbow costumes, teamed up with Bat-Mite, split in two, melded with Superman, fought a living #2 pencil, drowned in giant gravy boats and menaced by giant sized water pistols, tennis rackets, and all sorts of insane absurdities long before the Batman movie or tv show were released….Dozier was bringing the characters to the screen in the manner in which they had been portrayed in the comics. Was there ever a silly, absurd, ridiculous Green Hornet comic book? If so, it’s escaped my attention for the better part of 40 years. Did we ever see a Caveman Green Hornet or a Green Hornet in a rainbox/zebra/dayglo red suit? Did we ever see Green Hornet being drowned in a giant gravy boat or being chased by aliens and dinosaurs? Was there ever an Ace the Green Hornet Dog? How about a Hornet-Mite?

No? I didn’t think so. There’s your answer. It’s literally that simple. Dozier was taking characters and putting them on the screen. Green Hornet was always played straight and serious in the comics/strips/radio, so he was done that way for tv. Batman was as absurd, silly, goofy, and ridiculous as anything else that has ever appeared in comics, and so that’s how he appeared on-screen”.

Dozier did not seem to have special love for the Green Hornet:

Then I digested all of those books [Detective Comics and Batman issues]. At first, I thought they were crazy. I really thought they were crazy, if they were going to try to put this on television………………I did try not to copy it, but I tried to duplicate it with ‘Green Hornet.’ How are you going to be serious about a guy who runs a newspaper in the daytime and goes out at night and hunts criminals? How can you be funny with it? It just fell in the middle. It was neither serious nor funny.”

http://tothebatpoles.blogspot.com/2011/09/bat-beginnings-first-season.html

Of course, we now have previously adult or more sober properties such as Dragnet done as silly children’s films with untypical foes in silly outifts (cf. Dragnet 1987 film, with men dressed as goats).

See, here’s the key difference between now and then. Today, if you bring up Batman or the Joker to non-comics people, they’re likely to reply with something about Christian Bale or Heath Ledger. Maybe some will mention one of the animated series, or how Nicholson’s Joker was better than Ledger’s. (Of course, if you are here on CBR reading this, you know that Mark Hamill’s was better than both.) But I digress. My point is, today you’d just get conversation.

But from 1969 to at least 1985, you would almost certainly get this response–

“Oh, yeah. Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na– BATMAN!” Then snorts and guffaws.

Seriously. It was inevitable. A conditioned reflex.

Adam’s West influence has not completely passed. That show still remains on cable. In fact, Warner Bros. Consumer Products announced:

http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118055126.html?cmpid=RSS%7CNews%7CLatestNews

Ditto what Anthony Strand said. Beautifully written.

I should note that Adam West played the role deadpan. He did not play him as a moron or a boozing lecher who pinched women’s buttocks.

This may be the best piece you’ve ever written, Greg. Unforgettable.

that was beautiful. i am a comic book nerd and remember being bullied by older kids who thought comics were for “babys”.One Day for show and tell in the first grade i brought in an issue of Gi-Joe:A Real American Hero to show everybody and one of the bullies waited for me to go to the lockers to put my stuff away and he reached into my book bag,grapped the comic and ripped it up.I told the princepal he called the kid’s parents and told them that they would have to replace the comic.Mr.Foy was a great princepal for the nerds in north collins and he took care of us.

Just wanted to say that this was a fantastic article and that I have so much respect for teachers who don’t tolerate bullying in their classrooms due to my own personal experiences.

Most of my bullying took place in PE in middle school. Being a bit overweight, it was like the teachers just didn’t seem to give a crap. It seemed like “Oh, he’s just the fat kid.” Needless to say they didn’t do anything and it persisted until high school when I just had enough and dropped the weight.

Excellent post, Greg, and it’s nice to know other people have gone through what I did in school. I was born much later than you, in 1986, but I still was treated as an outside because of my love of comic books. I was bullied, sure, but I also experienced something else that might have been worse – I was INVISIBLE. I had a small group of friends, and we just kept to ourselves because the people who didn’t like us would beat us up, and the people who DIDN’T hate us didn’t know we existed.

It’s funny, though, seeing bullies from school on Facebook years later excited about seeing Batman or Spider-Man or whatever other superhero movie is coming out. In a way I feel like I won – I endured years of bullying, getting beat up, and even being absolutely ignored, but in the end the bully ended up taking MY side and liking superheroes.

Anyone who’s been bullied can relate to this. Very well-written, and Mr. Pokarney sounds like a hero. I’m so glad you’re continuing his legacy by helping kids who are bullied today.

I had a teacher who did something similar for me in grade seven. I’d borne the abuse from a particular group of kids all year because the “don’t snitch” mantra was very strong (in retrospect, it was obviously a powerful tool for abusers and bullies to get away with it). But finally one day in shop class I couldn’t take it anymore, and walked up to the teacher, the only one who’d ever seemed sympathetic to me. I pleaded with him to make it stop, and he took one boy out in the hall and closed the door. I don’t know what he said to him, but for the remaining two weeks of the school year nobody bullied me, and the following year I was placed in a different class than my tormentors. I am INCREDIBLY grateful for that. For teachers (and principals) who care, you really do make a difference.

[...] Hatcher has written a gut-wrenching piece of his history in an article he posted today. He talks about the way it used to be: to enjoy reading, to enjoy comics, was to [...]

Thank you so much for writing this. I wish I’d known a man like your principal. Someone who showed the bullies that what they were doing was wrong — not just punishing outward actions, but actually showing that the actions themselves were wrong. In some ways, I am jealous that you got to have that hero.

And that you now get to be that hero? Wow. Keep it up, man. Keep it up.

I was lucky. Very lucky.

I was born in 1958. My Dad liked comic books. He loved Tarzan and John Carter.

I have no memory of a life without comics and sci-fi.

I was 6’5″ 200 lbs. by the time I was in tenth grade.

I protected my geek/nerd/fanboy brothers, even though we didn’t have a name to call ourselves then.

I had many fights over nonsense like this.

Worth it. Totally worth it.

Wow. Excellent article. My eyes are a little watery now for some reason. I had the same problems in school and it didn’t help that I was a fat kid. I had no one come to my defense like your Mr. Pokarney. What did they tell me to do? Fight back. That would stop it. Just fight back. Not only did the logic of that baffle me completely, I was terrified of the concept of getting into a fight with someone. This was a really great story. Thanks for posting it.

Greg, I’ve read your stuff and this site for years, but never felt compelled to comment before this post. Thank you. Thank you for your honesty, thank you for opening up to strangers on the Internet, thank you for just a wonderful heartfelt piece of your life. Thank you.

It’s funny, not hah hah funny, but funny strange, because I spent my fair share of years getting seriously bullied, just like the rest of us. Getting smacked around by some oversized asshole with an attitude and an inferiority complex to work out, happened on an almost daily basis from 1972 until around 1978. But oddly, I don’t recall anyone EVER giving me a moments trouble about reading comics.

I have heard all these stories from people over the years who had people hassle them for reading a comic on a bus or in public whatever, even getting hit for reading, but somehow over all the years, it never happened to me once. And I read them in public, at school, even in front of girls. But somehow I never had anyone ever say a bad word to me about them. Which I can see is very much the exception.

Now like I said, I got smacked around for all sorts of other reasons, but somehow I lucked out with this one.

After hearing Greg’s story though, I just count my blessings that I had a mother who had been a serious comic reader as a kid and who was always really supportive of my collecting. It can’t be easy growing up with parents who treat you like an alien.

Excellent piece. I was lucky enough that I had no trouble dealing physically with anyone who tried to bully me, but as someone who possessed many bully-tempting traits– smart, wore glasses, read a lot, and liked comics openly and unashamed– there always seemed to be another thickheaded jock or redneck mouth breather who thought I’d be an easy mark for their crap. I wasn’t, and none of them ever got away with it, but it still made things pretty tedious.
By the time I was in high school, however, the boom of the ’90s was in full swing, and suddenly a lot more people were interested in comics. (Some of them were interested in them only as “collectibles,” but still…) The upshot is that former wannabe bullies would ask me to recommend titles to them, and even buy the comics I made myself. The cultural acceptance of comics wasn’t at the level it is now, but it was leaps and bounds better than it had been even a few years earlier.

Like Rick above, I was never bullied for comic-book reading – I went to a small, rural parochial school and up to about the fourth grade most of the boys in my class read comics at least occasionally. What really resonates with me is the lack of understanding from your parents, i.e., not being able to confide in them (As Rick so precisely and concisely defined it: “growing up with parents who treat you like an alien”). That was the story of my childhood, and adolescence for that matter.
By the way, you managed to uncover yet another facet of our shared cultural past for me: until today, I had never heard of Mr. Terrific, Captain Nice or the Mighty Heroes…

Great post, though of course the comic book connection is pretty strange for me…around here it was pretty much given that pretty much all the kids did read comics, and not reading any might be more ground for picking…some of the teachers or parents might not have been too fond of it, but then again, I know of a study in pedagogy about comic book culture being part of children’s rebellion against authority figures…

But bullying for a variety of reasons exists of course, and I couldn’t agree more with your points on that.

Just amazing.

I don’t have anything else to add about your post that hasn’t already been said, but I couldn’t not add my compliments.

Wow.

This was a great story and a beautiful piece of writing, Greg. Thank you for sharing. I always look forward to your column on here.

Thank christ somebody else who read the 3 investigators.

As a victim of bullying (bookish nerd at school, with a body brace at the time) and the father of a daughter just starting out on her educational journey now, I found this to be a very powerful piece. Thank you.

A very touching and wonderful story, Greg. You told it well. Thank you.

–B

I guess since I started reading comics after ’85 I don’t really know much about getting picked on for reading them. I do remember people getting in to fights about nerdy things, but these were fights over Magic cards. The fights were actually because of disputed ownerships of certain cards. And then there were Pokemon cards. I think it just became a different time.

That’s not to say that bullying didn’t exist then. I never really got beat up, though. I was just off the radar. I went to high school with a bunch of rich kids and that was a traumatic experience outside of any sort of physical abuse (at 6’2″ I towered over 99% of the school).

Fantastic article, Greg. I’ve heard many stories like it over the years, and lived through a similar one. It was nice to finally hear the part of the story about Mr. Pokarney, though.

Just want to join the chorus in saying what a great read this was.

nice post greg. no doubt Conor just like you when you finaly told Mr. Pokemey what andy was doing and he stepped up. Conor was happy to have you step up to his aide love the drop the hammer of god joke

Jake Earlewine

July 21, 2012 at 4:20 pm

Great column, Greg! I hope it was therapeutic to share your story. Your mother’s belittling you and dismissing your attempts to communicate about the bullying — dismissing your feelings — are very likely just the tip of the iceberg of abuse in your family of origin. If you need to really heal from parental dysfunction, seek out an Adult Child of Alcoholics group in your area. (It doesn’t matter if your parents never touched alchohol; forgive the name of the group. It’s really for children of bad parenting.) Like Alcoholics Anonymous, ACA is a 12-step group, but unlike AA, ACA gets to the roots of your dysfunction, whether your drug of choice is alcohol, drugs, sex abuse, over-spending, over-eating, etc.

I, too, was bullied in school. I’d like to share the turning point, which was in eighth grade. There were three guys who bullied me every day, took my lunch money, pushed me around, insulted me, etc. I remember reaching my breaking point one day. I’d simply had enough of their abuse, and fought back. It happened so quickly I didn’t have time to even think about it or even DECIDE to fight back. I just exploded. As if there were gamma rays coursing through me! I just turned around and started punching all three of them. I didn’t care if I lived or died at that point — I just knew their treatment was going to end once and for all. Greg, I beat the hell out of all three of them. I couldn’t even feel their blows punching back at me. I took their ring-leader, grabbed his head and slammed it up against the wall three or four times and I hope to this day I gave him a concussion. And I left with them sprawled out on the floor wondering what hit them.

The next time I saw them, they all waved at me and kept a respectful distance. From then on, instead of taunts and jeers, what came out of their mouths were statements like “Don’t fuck with that white boy! He crazy!’ or “He cool, man, don’t mess wift him!” Kicking their asses gave me a jolt of self-esteem that has stayed with me my entire life. Nobody bullies me any more. I will not tolerate it.

A few years later, in high school, a huge drugged-out man tried to rob me as I came out of a convenience store. I had a Nehi Grape Soda in my right hand, and when the dude grabbed my left hand (which contained a bag of 12-cent comics purchased off the spinner rack) I hauled off and slammed the guy over the head with the Nehi soda bottle and knocked the sonovabitch on the ground. Then I ran like hell and never looked back!

THIS! Thank you. My parents weren’t jocks, they were cool kids. But it was pretty much the same. “Why don’t you try harder to fit in?” Well why didn’t I think of that? I’ll stop having asthma, grow taller and larger, and get a whole new personality! I have to go now, I think I have something in my eyes. Probably allergies or something.

Nice. Very nice. Wish I’d had teachers like you and Mr. Pokarney when I was in school.

Thanks Greg, it’s so important to bust the myth that it’s wrong to tell a teacher – that’s what lets bullies get away with it.

I haven’t heard a recounting like this of childhood pain in forever. It’s a testament to how affected you were by it that you can recount it with such clarity. The mark it left.

I think your comments regarding the It Gets Better campaign were interesting as well, tho you might be missing some of the intent in them, specifically geared to showing successful people in the LGBQT community who persevered beyond the hell they suffered through, not just surviving, but becoming popular and successful adults. One of the few times using celebrities in such a campaign doesn’t feel like just another chance for them to expand brand and get in front of the cameras.

Regardless, you’re a credit to your professions, teacher & comics journalist.

Greg, such a wonderful account of your school days with comics. I know it had to be very therapeutic for you. Fortunately, my mom and dad were okay with my collecting and reading comics and everything that went along with it back then, Sci-Fi, monsters, newspaper comics. I can’t remember being bullied for reading comics back then, but I was sure pushed around and made fun at for a being “a nerd”. It all really boils down to being the same thing, eh?

Pretty much why I’m not going to my 20 year High School reunion this weekend. Not worth it for me. Plus airfare.

Great piece – brought back memories. Also, The Mystery of the Green Ghost was my favorite book in the Library – I’ve been looking for a copy myself for years.

Wow…thank you for writing this article. I too am 50 years old and went through variations of the same themes. Ultimately it resulted in low self-esteem, isolation and shame at a hobby I love. Thank you again for sharing your story.

Matthew Allen

July 24, 2012 at 7:04 am

Greg – Thank you for sharing your stories. I am so glad there is someone like you, with your experiences working as a teacher in a middle school. I was just like you and the memories from then I’d just as soon forget, forever. However, now I have a nine year old son and he is just like his father. He gets the right advice from me that I never received on how to stand up to these insecure little monsters. I have vowed that he will never have to live in fear while at school and that I will always have his back.

Great piece Greg. Thanks very much for sharing with us all.

I was blessed with going through what was, admittedly, probably the absolute golden age for being a nerd in school. I was predominantly in school for the nineties (Started first grade in like ’90, graduated in ’02). I actually got into comics via the kids at school, because they were the big thing at the time (I started at eight when the X-Men and Batman cartoons were big and just after the Jim Lee era of the comics, so kids were eating them up).

I got a lot of crap in elementary school. A whole lot, but nothing that even approaches the crap generations before me had to deal with. In retrospect, a lot of it was because I let it happen and I was one of those kids who obviously would (Blood in the water, if you will). I was never the smartest or entirely least athletic kids (Though I definitely was markedly nonathletic and smart, but never the furthest along in that department, but I certainly tried my hand at organized sports at least).

I was lucky to have a dad who gave me one of those ill-advised, but potentially fantastic lessons: don’t take crap, but never take it too far. I got into a lot of fist fights in middle school. It got other kids off my backside and kept things from going too far.

I escalated through counter-culture as I aged, hanging out with the other counter culture types in High School. My time in High School was actually what I’d call about the best time to have ever been a nerd in High School. Popular movies of the time were things like Lord of the Rings, the new Star Wars movies and X-Men/Spider-Man. By that point in “High School History,” counter culture had gotten big enough that the nerds were on par with the jocks and such, so I was never lacking in friends who had my back. Oh, there was sniping and bullying, but frankly, there were always enough people on the “bullied” side to act as both support group and people to have your back should someone get on you.

Of course, from everything I know, a lot of that progress was lost with the advent of social media and the ability of bullies to essentially follow you home to harass you. But I’m glad to know that I grew up in an era where I never once had to compromise my interests to fit in.

As a person who went through Grades 4-13 in our local “Gifted” program (everyone in the class had an IQ at least 140 and up) AND was a comic book fan/nerd on top it, in the late 70′s-late 80′s, this story was all too familiar, and I got it double. Actually triple because of horrendously bad eyesight which made most sports impossible.

Even though things are better in some ways these days, I still face a certain degree of “why aren’t you more normal, fit in more, etc.”especially from family.

This article is one of the most inspiring things I’ve read in a long time and brought tears to my eyes. You’ve shown there is hope we can eliminate this pox known as bullying someday.

Thank you.

Echoing everyone else: Thank you for sharing Greg. This was really well written and moving. It makes me happy see other people not only rising up from a difficult time but inspiring others to be better. In my opinion that is the only way the world/human race is going to survive.

I know exactly where you’re coming from, and found it quite moving. Thank you for sharing.

A beautiful piece. You completely captured my life up through high school when I grew up, defended reading the first Tarzan novel for English class and read the Dr. Strange Sisneg arc to the newspaper staff as proof that comics could deal with big issues.

In the early 80′s (8th grade for me), I was an open comic book reader and was best friends with the cool jock, who also happened to be a great artist. So even though I was a nerd, I wasn’t an outcast. However, that didn’t protect me from the other jerks. One of them one day decided to have a go at me during lunch while I was reading a comic. It happened to be an X-men comic, probably something from the Dark Phoenix saga. Around that time, a comic store, (Boulder comics maybe?) started regularly putting out price guide ads for comics. As my response to whatever the bully’s insult was, I told him, “You know comics are worth lots of money, right?” That sort of stopped him in his tracks and I showed him how that X-men comic was worth five or six bucks at the time. My finger moved down to X-men 94 which at the time was worth a whopping $60! “I HAVE this comic.” He was amazed. Bell rang and that was that.

Next day at lunch, the same kid came over to me, but this time, he pulled out a stack of comics from his book bag. “Can you tell me how much these are worth?”

To this day, I have never been more smug in my victory. He HAD these comics all along and was just truly looking for an excuse to be a bully. But I had pivoted him from wanting to beat me up, to being his ‘investment advisor’. As smug as I was inside, I didn’t let it show. I helpfully went through his stack and showed him which ones (of those that were represented in the price guide ad) had any value. It took all I had not to comment on the plethora of Archie and Richie Rich comics in the stack.

But like Greg, I took the high road and never turned it on the bully. From that day on, while we weren’t friends, we were friendly. Never had another incident with him. And we’re Facebook friends today.

From comics, I learned how to take the high road. At least the comics I read back then. Do comics today inspire kids to take the high road? Or is REVENGE the approved, modeled response?

Genuinely, genuinely brilliant.

Bravo Greg.

David Steveson

July 24, 2012 at 7:33 am

Fantastic column. Knocked it out of the park!

Great written piece, thank you. I am your age, and have totally been there and been sneered at for liking comic books. So I became a closet comic-book fan for many years. Somehow I developed a way of having a sort of double identity about things I liked. Yes, these agressive behaviours leave indelibile marks on sensitive kids. Again, thank you for sharing.

I grew up about the same time, and while I wasn’t exactly bullied, my family moved about every 2-3 years due to my father being very good at what he did. As a result it was extremely hard to make long-lasting friends, and there was always the stigma of being “the new kid”. I ended up keeping to myself except for the few times I found other SF-comics fans.

When I was 6 or so, I lived for the days when my mother gave me a quarter and I could go down to the grocery store and buy either 2 12-cent comics or (sigh) a 25-cent, 80-page giant. A few years later a neighbor made her sons sell a huge batch of Marvels–FF, Cap, Avengers–at the cut-rate price of 2 for a nickel. I showed up with three bucks and cleaned them out.

Of course, being Depression-era, my mother firmly believed that “funny books” weren’t worth keeping and so whenever we moved, I had to either sell mine (2 for a nickel!) or she’d toss them. When I discovered Overstreet I was tempted to smack her repeatedly with it. There were also times when there wasn’t a decent outlet that sold comics available, so it was a hit-and-miss proposition for me until ’78, when I discovered a comic book shop in Chicago and never looked back.

I’ve gotten the “oh, a geek” bit quite a few times, but hey, I married a geek, we have a geek gamer daughter, and at this point in life they can go to hell if they don’t like it. Plus–and this amuses me to no end–my darling daughter went with me to Avengers and fell madly in love with it (especially Hawkeye). Lo and behold last weekend she proudly displayed the latest issue of Avengers Assemble #5, and her best friend is devouring Journey into Mystery.

I’m so proud. :)

Great article.Totally know what your saying. At 36 years of age i remember comics being very not cool,especially in High school.Me and the 2 or 3 other ppl that were into comics would trade comics in the back of class like we were making some kind of illegal drug or weapons deal!! I even remember being picked on for being into Nintendo!! Nintendo ppl!! Now my LCS has a Nintendo set up in it and ppl play it and talk about how crazy all the old games were.
I think that’s part of the reason that ppl being snarky and cynical about comics nowadays gets to me so much. And i don’t want to sound like old man Simpson but this is really a golden age of comics. Great stories,cartoon shows,comic book related clothing-its even at Target!Hows that for mainstream!!- and movies!! Next time you want to hate on the GL movie just think,it could be worse you could have had the Trial of the incredible Hulk or Howard the duck!!

Wow. That was really something. Like Edo said, the most resonant part was the reaction from your parents. However, as you stated, they were the popular, athletic types. They didn’t understand because they had never been through it. Heck, there’s a certain class of jock in many schools that are just kind of oblivious to things like bullying going on. They don’t even seem to know it’s their own friends that are doing it. They’re at the top of the heap and everything in school just looks kind of hunky-dory. That’s probably the experience they were coming from. The whole idea that people were messing with you and that you didn’t do anything wrong seems to have completely baffled them.

This was a well done and excellent piece. The sincerity of it is inspirational. You’ve really done a credit to your hero by channeling him to put an end to a child’s torment. Absolutely commendable to the highest degree.

This hit close to home. As a kid I always had low self esteem and was shy and nerdy and was picked on because I sounded gay (because I am). But high school was by far the worst for me. I was picked on by a bully (though never beat up, just tormented) for sounding and looking different. He was 1 year older, and in the basic classes, so we never had similar classes. That went on for years with loud rude comments in the hallways and on the bus.

Once I hit grade 11 and 12, I got a part time job (great for the self esteem and getting over being shy) and found friends that were gay or that I had a lot in commen with (thank you drama club kids!) and finally felt accepted. I became the funny sarcastic guy (initially the sarcasm was a self defense mechanism but now I’m just funny). I became this person with self esteem, not as shy, and was well liked.

One thing I will disagree with Peter on is that the “It Gets Better” campaign. Tthough not perfect, the campaign is quite true. Being a gay teen, or a bullied teen, is terrible especially in grade/high school but it does get better. Life got a whole lot better by the time I hit University and I never got picked on since. We all know that most bullying will not stop, even with teacher/principal interferance, and these kids need to know that high school is only 4 years and that the rest of your life will be a whole lot more fun than those 4 years of hell.

My 2 cents.

Dimensional Traveler

July 24, 2012 at 8:58 am

Great article! I thought it was going to stop with the ‘superheroes are campy and stupid’ bit, but evolved into a good editorial on bullying. Seems some parts of your childhood were mine as well. Cheers!

Superb piece, Greg. This was beautifully and honestly written and truly touching and moving, thank you for being so open about your experiences. Can definitely relate as I’ve been both a target (never successfully) and the bully in my childhood. I was never targeted for my love of comics though. I suppose it’s because I was blessed enough to spend my primary education years during the time where if you didn’t read some comic in the boom of the 90s YOU were the weird kid. Any kid who wasn’t inside for Batman: TAS, X-Men, Spidey, etc. and didn’t have the latest Toy Biz figures was the odd man out. I was raised in a military family and was always bouncing around from city to city, state to state. I was a slim (still am a slim man), quite, bespectacled, kid who enjoyed reading just as much if not more as I did athletics. Now because of some of those things older, bigger alpha types thought…”easy mark” what they didn’t know is while my family encouraged my intellectual pursuits my father and mother made it clear that I was to be NOBODY’s doormat and if I didn’t stand for myself I’d face worse from them when I got home. Normally I could back a whole group down with a single look and return to my reading, play, whatever I was doing at that moment. However, there were occasions when I was forced to physically settle an issue. When these cases occurred I’d go into full on Wolverine berserker rages and usually only had to do this once. Because the aftermath of them was enough to send a message to an entire school that I was NOT the one to trifle with. Ironically the time when I should’ve had the most trouble from bullies I had absolutely none. My highschool had a bad gang problem and while all kinds of things like guys getting jumped, bullied, and even shot occurred not once did the bangers ever cross that line with me. They tried my mettle of course, but never once came even close to rolling up on me to bust a move (upon graduation) learned that nobody bothered me because my eyes just had that crazy, feral quality to them (fair enough looking back). Also my high school had a pretty diverse set of cliques and I was a kid that was pretty much able to float in and out among them all at will. I could’ve kicked it with the popular kids A LOT more but, well, found them boring, shallow, and rather pathetic. Because I this I definitely stayed closer to the “geek/outcast” spectrum. I’d kick it with the skaters, the punks, the D&D kids, the comic geeks, trekkies,& Star Wars obsessed. And I’d always have a blast. I didn’t catch flack for reading comics in my life until I went to college. Honestly, the worst of it was from my best friends/roommates/brothers (they’re all that and so much more to me). And even then it’s good natured and in fun. The worst I’ll get is them screwing with the order of my issues/trades to see if I’ll notice or reading my issues aloud in ridiculously hilarious character voices or them giving that “really, man?” look when I buy action figures (which they also love rearranging into to wildly inappropriate poses). So yeah, all things considered I’ve had it easy, but I definitely have seen people get hell from others for the same things I do/enjoy. And I’ve done my best to put my foot down and say “Back off, NOW…” to those who’d dare to target them. Cheesy as it may sound, that’s what the Cyclops, Spider-Man, and Batman taught me to do.

I would always try to fight my bullies then I would get in trouble for it. They would throw stuff I would throw it right back I would get in their face, I would talk back then the school would think I was bullying them.

Such a beautiful and touching story. :)

Great story. I’m 51 and have been a comic fan for over 40 years. In school, I was fortunate to avoid ridicule by keeping the lowest possible profile, as if nursing a secret shame. As an artistic child, I attractive positive attention in middle school, not by drawing superheroes, but by creating violent Conan-like imagery that the cool kids seemed to like and the other covert geeks understood like a secret handshake, and thus was born an underground society (of roughly 3). When I went to art school in 1979, it was joyously liberating to discover that about half of my fellow students were into comics, or sci-fi, or Frazetta, or something related. When Tim Burton’s Batman became a phenomenom, it became clear that people like us weren’t freaks, we were just ahead of our time

I don’t recall being bullied specifically for liking comic books. Possibly because at the time I grew up there was a lot more of it on TV. Hulk, Spidey, Shazam/ Isis Wonder Woman plus Christopher Reeve Superman and Star Wars. There was one teacher who flat didnt understand and my life miserable for a couple years though. One thing that I think helped is that I liked both the Superfriends and the Dallas Cowboys and could talk about both of them.
As to the Batman TV show specifically? A lot of fans I know couldn’t stand it and more or less took comics much too seriously because of it. (Not talking about Frank Miller or Alan Moore here but the average Marvel comic.) The thing that changed that was Justice League International. The first issue of that is still one of my all time favorite comics because it was one of the few times Batman and the original Captain Marvel were on the same cover. Batman while I was growing up though? I still remember talking to my friends about whether the Batmobile could outrun the General Lee. Somewhat surpises me that DC never did a Dukes comic to try to do that race.

I occasionally lurk here, and have never bothered to post anything. I was blessed, to never have to encounter bullies, but words can’t express how moving this article is, to me. Thank you for sharing.

That is exactly what it was like.

There has been a lot of talk about how it’s cool to be a geek now, and how we don’t get bullied anymore, but here’s the part nobody else is saying: It’s still happening. But now the bullies like the Avengers and X-Men and Batman movies, so they give the comic book nerds a pass. But the other nerds, the ones who like calculus or the Renaissance Faire or classical music or any other oddball thing that makes them different, they are still taking crap from the thugs, and their parents are still saying “what did you do to make them mad?” or “why can’t you try to fit in better?”

Thank you for setting that particular record straight, and for calling on the authority figures to do their jobs just like Mr. Pokarney (and Mr. Hammond in my case) did. And God bless those scary hard-ass teachers who were really big-hearted heroes.

I just want to echo everyone else and say thanks for sharing, Greg. Your story was touching

I spent most of middle school (at least until the second half of 8th grade when I finally made some friends with whom I’m still friends today and made high school much, much more enjoyable) being relentless bullied and picked on for being the quintessential nerd: liked to read, sucked at sports, small for my age, into comics. I spent most evening of sixth grade begging my mom to not make me go back, and while she was never what I’d call unsympathetic to my plight, I don’t think she every fully grasped how bad it was for me, nor had any idea what she could do about it besides offer the usual “it’ll get better” platitudes. And even if they weren’t able to fix my problems for me, I’ll always be grateful to my parents for never playing the “it’s not them, it’s you” card on their goony son.

I was born in ’81, and came of age right before things started to tip in the nerds’ favor. In sixth grade, there was one day that I dared to bring a Star Wars novel to school (I was almost finished with it, knew I would have time to read it in class, and just couldn’t wait til I got home), but to keep myself safe, I made sure to take it out of my bookbag under the table, and placed it inside another book. Not because the teacher cared, but to make sure that if anyone was going to make fun of me for reading, it would be for reading a school-required book and not a Star Wars book.

By contrast, by the time of my senior of high school, I had no issue camping out for Phantom Menace tickets with a group of friends, and felt no need to hide that fact from anyone. In the course of those six years, a lot had changed, and what had been nerdy was slowly becoming, if not cool, then enjoyed by many.

It’s a less serious issue by far, but I also agree with you about superhero fans of a certain age having a visceral reaction to non-serious adaptations of super heroes. Even at my age, I grew up in the spectre of the Adam West show, and it took me a long time to realize that, in terms of superhero stories “serious” doesn’t automatically mean “good”, and that you can have fun with superheroes without mocking them. It’s a hangup I think affects many of us.

I’ll keep my eye out for a Mystery of the Green Ghost in hardcover for you. I have a copy myself, but I’m not parting with it. :)

A nice, poignant and touching piece.
Thanks for sharing.

I’ve written on my early, formative collecting years as well, and it’s amazing how the wellspring of old emotions, recollections, hurts and bitter/sweet memories come rushing to the forefront.

While a “nerd” in school, I was outcast more because of my innate nature as a loner than due to my love for comics.
Fortunately, I possessed a fairly athletic physique and had the capacity (especially in high school) to rise to the top of the geek ladder (in elementary school as the lead in the chorus or due to my other musical or artistic abilities… and in junior/senior high as the lead in plays & musicals, on the school newspaper & yearbook staff, lead drummer in band, orchestra, jazz band, etc…).
Still, I still stood outside of the “it” crowd – due to an inner separateness that prevented me from joining in fully.

But before high school, in elementary, this inner-individuality led to many instances of being looked upon as a freak. (Of course, many years later, it was expressed to me that people WANTED me to cross over to the “in” crowd, but I just never did so). Bullying was not as bad as Greg’s tale here.
And frankly, I doubt that I ever let it get that far had it ever started.
Sure, most of the time, you just quietly turn away and hope not to get your ass kicked, but the few times that a physical altercation did arise, I didn’t just take it.

Of course, that never translated to my being fully accepted.
There was still that inner weirdness and separateness that people just reacted to with a sense of fear and hatred.
Hell… I’m STILL that way.

But COMICS – while not a love until I was about 12 – weren’t a problem as much with some as in Greg’s time.
I grew up in the 1970′s (graduating HS in 1985) and while comics were seen as a reason to be picked on by some intolerant kids, others either didn’t care enough to express any opinion (unless pressed to do so, and then it was almost always negative).

My parents loathed that I bought and read the things. I had to actually smuggle them into the house in varying and ever complicated ways.

But comics were always on the periphery of everyone’s consciousness. Perhaps that’s what gave me more of a pass. In 4th or 5th grade, for our annual “Field Day” (think Olympics for kids, with different teacher’s classes being the varying countries), the “bully” class (all the bigger kids seem to have been in that class) they had as their mascot “Meyerhoff’s Marvels” (Meyerhoff was the teacher). And their banner was a bunch of Marvel superheroes drawn by a few of the kids (copied from one of their comics).

That was the thing… there were OTHERS who liked comics!
Eventually, we all found each other and the comic kids became friends.
And we came from different levels of acceptability in terms of social standing.
One was a near-total outcast, One was a fairly well respected kid who still walked the line of unacceptability, another was a jock, and then there was me – walking the fine line betwixt all possible realities.

Maybe it was the fact that I was an artist and could draw these characters which led the haters to think that maybe I was OK. “Hey! Look at this wicked drawing! This kid is alright.”

But still, I saw the effect that Greg speaks of, and wasn’t always granted a free pass.
Perhaps luckily for me, I didn’t really discover comics until I was past the age of 10.
That might have saved me.
Before then, I read voraciously of other books and was quiet and nerdy (but mostly due to my quiet separateness), and only had 2 or 3 actual fights.

Oddly enough, for SOME reason, even though we are more aware of this bullying effect and are more tolerant of the types of geek culture today, the bullying seems to have RAMPED UP with kids today.
I work with school children and see it.

But, there’s also another trend on the upswing… that of the understanding, sympathizing child. The one who really doesn’t tolerate that the outcast kid is being picked on and will stand up for them, or befriend them because being yourself is cool.

I hope THAT trend continues.
I hope that EVERY outcast finds a friend like that.
Or better yet… I hope that sooner than later, they’ll understand that there ARE no outcasts.
We are all ourselves.
And THAT is cool!

Oh, by the way, Greg… I think I have a hardcover copy of Green Ghost with that exact cover.
Now I gotta dig it up (I had packed up my books for a move and didn’t unpack them all).

~P~

Thank you. :)

Thank you for taking the time to tell your story. As all who read it must have been hard pressed to keep away the tears, we can only imagine how hard it was for you to keep yours away recalling all of this.

This article and subsequent comments made the back of the hairs on my neck stand up. Lots of parallels to my own life.

Bullied badly after moving home aged 10 – although never for reading comics, despite the fact that reading and collecting them was definitely stigmatised in the 70s. Mother critical and unaccepting of my comic hobby. Still is, nearly forty years later. Maybe I could understand this if I turned out bad, unreliable, etc. but I didn’t.

As a young adult I learned not to take girls home. They saw the comics and I saw their expression change, and not in a good way. Basically, if I wanted a girlfriend, then I had to keep this pasttime quiet. Can’t imagine that has changed much. I used to be fond of saying that alcoholism is more acceptable than comic collecting as it is largely seen as an adult problem. The important word in that statement being “adult”.

Now I’m a primary (elementary) school teacher and I do the Hammer of God thing, too. Hate that I have to do it. But I hate bullying more.

“Today, I’m fifty years old, a teacher at a local middle school, and I take a quiet pride in the fact that my classes are safe places for all the comics and book nerds who want to make their own stories.”

I bet you make it safe for all the students and wouldn’t let a kid who reads comics bully a kid who plays sports either (seriously, I knew a girl in high school who had almost as few friends as I did and she *competed in track and field*)!

“As a young adult I learned not to take girls home. They saw the comics and I saw their expression change, and not in a good way. Basically, if I wanted a girlfriend, then I had to keep this pasttime quiet. Can’t imagine that has changed much.”

Can’t imagine that some women read comics for a pastime ourselves?

I was in to comics and never played sports and never got messed with at school (37 years old). I remember having a few issues with some kids here and there but that was not due to my comcic book stuff, and I made sure they knew they were in for a fight if they messed with me. Things have changed a bit since when you were growing up. There were two types of kids who got made fun of in school, those that looked odd but were quiet, and those that tried to “fit in” by trying their hand at being humorous. I always felt bad for the kids who were quiet and got abused, but I never shed a tear for the smart kids who got reamed for trying to be funny but failed badly. I also had a comic book friend who eventually got into footbal in highschool.

I do feel bad that your folks were part of the problem. If you tried some of your Hammer stuff in Jersey I think you may be out of a job though.

Thank you, Greg. Thank you for sharing your story and Lilly’s. We love the way you walk!

This article took an unexpected turn, going from being a fun nostalgic piece to something that deeply touched my heart.

Looks like there are a number of us who could relate to what was written. Same for me— fat, nerdy kid in elementary school, though I slimmed down at 11— only then to be picked on for being too smart and for being a good kid who never got into trouble. By high school, thankfully, I had shed the bullying problem and gotten great new friends, and life has only gotten better since. I thought I had long ago exorcised those bullying demons, but reading this article brought it back. Like many others here, I was in tears reading it, remembering (thanks to your vivid and honest writing) what it felt like way back then— for me, in the late 1970s/early 1980s.

You did an excellent job at highlighting some of the issues with bullying; and showed clearly how one responsible, caring adult can make a huge difference.

I am so thankful to see the anti-bullying program in place in my kids’ school. The school system here has made a real effort to stigmatize bullying. I keep in constant communication with my kids, and do my best to find out if they are being bullied or being a bully. Neither will be tolerated.

Great piece, Mr. Hatcher!

As a stutterer, that last part of your story brought me to tears. Too often while growing up I was told by MY parents..”Well. stop stuttering.” As if I could. The bullying was terrible. I was not allowed to speak to my youngest sister until she had developed speech of her own because my parents didnt understand that I couldnt pass it on. Noone in my school ever stood up for me. THANK YOU for doing it for someone else. THANK YOU for showing those two girls that everyone matters.

What a wonderful, well-written, heartfelt blog post. Thank you so much for writing and sharing it.

Great piece. Thank you for writing it.

A really interesting piece, and not the least of reasons that I’m a middle school teacher (albeit in Japan). All the same, I appreciate the “It gets better” campaign. As much as we want to put the fear of God into these impotent bullies, we can’t depend on every independent adult in America (or the world) to do that job, and in that case, the choir of adults they’ve gathered will have to do the job.

I’d rather see a single adult stand up in each school and do the job instead though.

“As a stutterer, that last part of your story brought me to tears. Too often while growing up I was told by MY parents..’Well. stop stuttering.’ As if I could. The bullying was terrible. I was not allowed to speak to my youngest sister until she had developed speech of her own because my parents didnt understand that I couldnt pass it on…”

Oh no, that’s terrible! :( Shame on your parents!

I hope that whenever they go out shopping and hear a Lady Gaga song like “Poker Face” in the background they feel embarrassed too that they bullied their son for sounding like a famous singer…

The late musician Scatman John had a stutter IRL (unlike Lady Gaga) and sounded even better:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cnQCk0u49w
http://www.disaboom.com/music/the-stutter-and-the-scat-a-look-at-the-world-of-scatman-john-larkin

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