Thursday, 17 November 2011

Words of Wisdom From Comic Books

There is a type of mythological prowess that I associate with characters in comic books. Fiddlers Green/Gilbert in the Kindly Ones, the Siamese in A Dream Of A Thousand Cats, Nny in Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Harley Quinn in Batman, Wallace in Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life, Jet in Tank Girl. At some point in time words these illustrated friends whispered to me have stuck. A line, a phrase, a comment- from the perils of their printed lives I bring you Words of Wisdom From Comic Books.
As a teen I loved the film of The Crow, it was by way of this film that I discovered graphic novels and a whole lotta great bands. The tale of Eric and Shelley Draven, as told by James O'Barr was so personal and intimate that it won me over to the comic book in a way that Archie and Jughead never seemed able to.

The format of the stories with intricate drawn images, handwritten text, insightful prose and wild ideas was so delicious it felt like magic. That sparkly sensory immersion got deeper when I played the movie soundtrack- through which I fell in love with bands like the Cure, and Nine Inch Nails. It was via movie soundtracks that I started listening to the music behind films and seeking out great bands that way. I started going to concerts and in the 13 years since then I have seen many of the bands on those soundtracks. I've been known to sell belongings and go without groceries in order to afford tickets to certain shows. This magic music hunt has been a really important part of my life- an enduring want to see every one of my favourite bands live. 
Like a really great drum beat draws the listener into a song, the ideas behind the stories - big concepts dealt with in black ink- are what elevates great graphic novels above lesser literary fare. One of the 'big themes' dealt with in The Crow was the punishment or reward that actions bring and how sometimes the initial act doesn’t match up to the result- a wedding day ending in a murder, a little girls wish for a normal childhood being granted by way of a resurrected crow-man et-al. You don’t always get what you want, but so long as you beleive in magic there is always a chance you'll get to make the wrong things right. Bad things happen to good people, but it can’t rain all the time.
"People once believed, that when someone dies, a crow carries their soul to the land of the dead. But sometimes, something so bad happens, that a terrible sadness is carried with it and the soul can't rest. Then sometimes, just sometimes the crow could bring that soul back to put the wrong things right." 
For my first quote in my Words of Wisdom From Comic Books series I've picked a line said by Eric Draven* in the film- in the comic characters have different names and the story is slightly different. Eric, brought back from the dead to avenge his murder and that of his love, takes a moment to heal Darla (a mother) of her morphine addiction and remind her of her parental responsibilities. He states "Mother is the name for God on the lips and hearts of all children".  
It’s a great scene, but the real reason it stuck with me is because a family friend overheard the quote, and proceeded to lecture me about the profane content of the film. He advised me that I was committing blasphemy to allow such words to be said, and much debate about the quote, the film, and my ability to be a decent human being in spite of my sinful ways ensued. At the time I defended the quote on the basis that:
  • I was really into the film and didn’t want to hear anyone badmouth it- especially a scene where the main character uses his powers for good (as in curing an addict), 
  • I might have done some mildly naughty things in my life but I didn’t believe I deserved to go to hell for them,
  • I might be the only one, but I really want to beleive in magic and eternal love,  and
  • I felt that the intention of the quote was not to imply that there is no God, or that humans can be as powerful as God. Rather I interpreted the quote as being used like a homily- drawing parallels between the concept of God as the ultimate role model, and the power parents have over their child's lives as immediate and constant role models.

In other words, children learn many social skills through emulation and imitation, and accordingly parents should act in the best way to help guide their child into a positive future. As far as I can see, a child is born without any knowledge of the concept of God, that this understanding is gained through study, song, stories and debate. As such, even children who never read a bible learn about how to get along in the world. In this instance Darla's addiction was standing in the way of her ability to be that good role model and Eric acted to make Darla re-prioritise .

Now that I'm a mum I'm starting to think about this quote more and more. Hunter relies on me to sustain his life. He knows no religion, no rules- not yet at least. What he knows is hunger and satiation, tiredness and rest, learning and play: all of these needs are catered to with the nurture and protection my parenting, and that of my husband, provides.

But what about those times when my needs and wants clash with the needs of my baby? When money I'm saving for his future is at odds with the money I want to spend on myself? When he needs care but part of me would prefer to see a band? After all that’s why Darla was hanging out with the drug pushers in the first place, right? In the pull between what she'd like and what her daughter needed, her addiction had been coming first. For Darla's daughter, God was very much absent. For me, the push and pull of music and parenthood was always going to be a spot for worry. I mean, I really love music and have gone to extremes in the past to experience it- how can I reconcile this with the responsibilities of parenthood? How will I cope constantly missing out on the real fun?

"A building gets torched. All that is left is ashes. I used to think that it is true about everything - family, friends, feelings - but now I know that sometimes if love proves real, and two people are meant to be together, nothing can keep them apart."

What I didn’t realise as a teenager first watching this film was that the drug-free Darla left that seedy hotel room a winner in many ways- clean of addiction she can now focus on how amazingly uplifting it is to care for a child. But it isn't as flat and boring as that, because babies are actually heaps of fun. I thought seeing bands create music was modern magic, and yet it's just smoke and mirrors compared to the real magic that happens when your own child stares into your eyes, smiling. It turns out parenting isn't so much about "constant boring responsibility and missing out on cool stuff" as it is about discovering real magic- from a growing belly in which you can feel a tumble of arms and legs, to the power and majesty of birth, to the feeling of infinite love upon meeting your little one for the first time, to the constant awe and joy of seeing your little one grow and develop. The awe that Darla sought in her morphine haze, and the spine chilling moments I found in music: These things are nought compared to the real magic of being God a mother.

I want to be a good role model more than I want to get out and party. When I do party, I don't feel it like I used to. The fun I had at clubs and pubs is nothing compared to the delight of chillin' with my little man. The bitterness I tasted about missing out on bands I want to see (like The Flaming Lips, Death In Vegas and Portishead at this weekends Harvest Festival) has turned sweet as I've discovered a magic trick, a way to have everything I want. I will spend my night dancing with my son to the CD's that made me love the bands in the first place. My Harvest Festival will be undertaken in air conditioned comfort, the music mixed perfectly, no queues, no drunken louts, no smoke machines. Just real magic and eternal love- love of the tunes as I dance in the living room, love for my baby as he giggles at being spun around in a dance twirl, love for my husband burning in my chest as he joins my son and I and moshes on the rug. Modern magic.

Here he is dancing like no one is watching...

Maybe when Hunter grows up he'll turn to God or drugs for reassurance that world ain't so bad a place, but I think he'll have learnt by then that you can also find magic and solace in music and comic books.

*This is actually a famous quote by William Makepeace Thackeray. Thackeray was an Indian born English novelist- perhaps you have read Vanity Fair? It's number 19 on the Guardian's Top 100 Works of Fiction Of All Time if you're into classics.  At one stage Thackeray was considered as fine a writer as Dickens and Wordsworth- both of whom town planners payed homage to in this section of the map of Norman Park, my old neighbourhood.

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