You and Your Kid Stuff

Jimski and Spider-Man in 1979When I was four years old, I met Spider-Man.

Because I was young and didn’t really follow the news yet, I don’t know exactly how Spidey’s adventures led him to Six Flags Over Mid-America in the summer of 1979. I do know that this was long before the days when the center of the park was renamed “DC Comics Plaza,” and that Spidey would probably get a much different reception today at the home of Batman: The Ride. I also know that the only reason my family was out in that day’s torrential downpour was that I knew Spider-Man was going to be standing around at Six Flags that day, and I had dragged everyone across town to meet him by sheer force of will and maybe, possibly a negligible amount of whining.

A picture of our epic encounter survives to this day. To show my kinship with the wall-crawler, I struck a pose that was supposed to say, “Watch out, evildoers! Badasses at work!” When I look at that pose now, it says something much more along the lines of, “Well, I never. I shall buy my scones elsewhere, sir. Good day!” Still, the sight of the two of us would have struck something into the hearts of evildoers, if there had been any around. The worst we faced at the time was a slightly shifty-looking carnie running the Scrambler.

Even before I knew they existed, I loved superhero comics. I could barely even read for most of the seventies, but comics saturated pop culture then almost as much as they do now, although adaptation was rarely kind to them. Johnny Storm was disappeared like a Soviet dissident from the Fantastic Four cartoon, and the Thing’s solo cartoon… well, if you’re not familiar, in the name of your education you need to stop everything right now and look at this happening.

The year the picture above was taken, I had never loved anything as much as I loved The Incredible Hulk on Friday nights. I watched the pilot episode on Netflix the other night, and no child of any age would stand for this program now. The show was on in perhaps our dopiest decade as a nation, and surrounded by shows like The Love Boat and The Dukes of Hazzard, Bill Bixby turning into Lou Ferrigno with a pompom on his head wasn’t even the silliest thing most people had seen on TV that evening. Still, the first time he ever hulked out, David Banner’s first act of rage and power was to very, very angrily change a flat tire. His greatest foe was the budget. For the sake of my childhood memories, I believe I shall be deleting the rest of the series from the queue.

I think of that four year old whenever I find myself becoming disillusioned with the Wednesday ritual. I’ll look at the number on my shop’s cash register or the unread stack of periodicals on the coffee table and think, Should I really have the same interests I had when I was in preschool? Should books that were once designed to appeal to preschoolers now be designed to appeal to thirty year olds? Are we all doing this wrong? Is this not ridiculous?

That’s a very narrow way of looking at it, of course. When you get right down to it, in fact, most of what adults do for fun started out as something they liked when they were four, whether it was baseball or gaming or fishing or watching Muppets cavort around. Hell, there are people who decided on a career before they could spell it. More power to them; I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

Father and daughter read comicsFour-year-old me would not be able to wrap his head around all the amazing ways 2012 caters to his interests. The slight goofiness of Lynda Carter and Adam West has given way to serious-as-a-heart-attack Thor movies and a Batman trilogy that is not even suitable for children. Sometimes I’ll watch my kids in my office playing with my action figures (everything you need to know about our culture can be summed up in the question, “Daddy, can I play with your action figures?”) and think about how I had to make my own Iceman by covering a G.I. Joe in Wite-Out. We were lucky to get a half dozen measly Secret Wars guys, and today my daughter has Captain Britain and Moon Knight facing off against the Hobgoblin and Rocket Raccoon. These kids don’t know how good they’ve got it.

And that’s fine.

I love having the same interests as a four year old when that four year old is my daughter. When I was growing up, my parents were openly befuddled about comics. My poor dad… all he wanted in his life was for me to give a crap about baseball, and I just could not pull it off. Today, my kids’ fascination with superheroes is the foundation for a bonding experience the ballpark never managed to provide. I’m sure the day is coming when my daughter’s interests will change– the Barbies have already made their appearance, and soccer practice will be here before you know it– but as long as this moment lasts, I’m going to bask in it. Nothing could be cooler.



  1. I think about this nearly everytime I see an action figure I love on the store rack. Hell, sometimes I even think “Jeez…if I had this years ago when I had my old action figures and my TMNT Technodrome, then I could’ve REALLY done some shit!”

    But I think that you really nailed it when you said that everyone’s interests really start when they’re kids, whether it’s comics or football. Regardless of what the hobby is, it’s great when you can find the thing in life that give you unadulterated happiness…just as long as it’s legal and stuff.

  2. fantastic article Jim.

    One of my most vivid memories involves the hulk tv show : )

    You have to wonder though, how sad will it be the day your own children outgrow your interest? I like to think though, that by giving them such a rich and creative foundation, that eventually, even if they stray, they’ll find their way back .

    and you’re right, nothing could be cooler.

  3. I feel no qualms about having interests that some might find juvenile. It keeps me sane, reminds me that life is supposed to fun, and that, despite how hard I try, I should never take myself too seriously.

    I try to avoid rewatching a lot of the cartoons from when I was a kid. Most of them suck righteously with the lone exception being Batman: The Animated Series, which I’ve been watching with my new born. The earlier, the better I say.

  4. i LOVED the Hulk Tv show as a very small child. My parents told me i used to laugh with all kinds of joy every time Lou Ferrigno changed into the Hulk….it kinda scared them for a bit.

    i still have AT LEAST a casual interest in the things i was into as a kid. Really those years help shape who you are. I don’t recall the study, but i had read that musical/cultural tastes are usually formed for life in the early teen years and possibly earlier. I’m sure there are exceptions to the rule, but for the most part the influence is strong.

    With toys and stuff, if i ever find myself at a Target or the section of the grocery store with toys, i’m always taking a peak at the hotwheels cars and current action figure that are out. I’ll never buy one, but just interested in seeing whats out there…and then mumbling under my breath how i wish they had that when i was a kid.

    • I remember watching that when I was like 3 and it would scare the shit out of me whenever Banner would change into the Hulk, that part where his eyes turn green, horrific haha

    • i got scarred shitless by the “news ticker” on the local news broadcast intro, (ran out of the room screaming and crying) but the Hulk made me laugh hysterically. My parents must have thought they had a baby serial killer on their hands. =p

  5. No one ever says this about lifelong sports fans. How many ADORABLE pictures are there of guys as kids in full uniform who are still wearing authentic ($100) jerseys as adults?

  6. Nice article Jimski! Comics have definitely grown up with it’s audience in the last 30 years, but I often wonder if it grew up in the wrong direction. I read and enjoy as many super-hero books as the next iFanbase member, and I appreciate that they’re written at a sophistication level that appeals to me, but I can’t help but wonder how your average Super-Hero Squad loving first grader makes the jump to Bendis’ Avengers?

    I used to substitute teach in elementary schools, and every time I saw an Iron Man backpack (and it was often), I couldn’t help but think how anyone under the age of 16 (and many over 16) wouldn’t be bored to tears by Fraction and Larocca’s book.

    I realize part of it is just our culture’s focus on youth in general — can you imagine any of our parents joining intramural Kickball or Dodgeball teams in their 30s? — but I’m slowly warming to the opinion that most super-heroes should be written for 5th graders. If they can reach the fifth graders and still tell stories that appeal to adults, I’m totally game, but I think I’d be more than willing to give up “my” superheroes if it meant a younger generation could discover them like I did.

    • i have nephews in grade school who are OBSESSED with Spiderman…toys, games, cartoons…everything except comic books. They find the comics kinda boring and don’t think its authentic for how they know the character “he’s not the real spiderman from the cartoons”. yeah thats almost an exact quote.

      i’m with you about superheroes (in their main books) being written “down” to a younger demographic. I had that same problem with a lot of superheroes recently. So dark and adult themed, its kinda getting tired. i would have never liked any of these books as a kid. Even GI Joe is jumping that realism shark a bit too much for my nostalgia to handle.

  7. If by “the other night” you mean “last night”, then I think I tried watching the Incredible Hulk pilot at the exact same time you did. Weird!

    But yes, I don’t need to watch any more episodes. My internet-addled brain mostly can’t handle the pace. He saved that kid from the lake for like 20-30 minutes.

  8. comics, video games, sports and cartoons are some of the only good things about my childhood. my connection to those things remind me of what its like to be a kid. i believe that’s what helps me to be such an excellent parent. one day an excellent grandparent

  9. Parents and kids sharing a hobby is always great. It was my mom who shared her love of reading with me. My father, with his love of the NFL’s Lions, had to wait until my brother got married before he had anyone who could competently talk to him about football.

    Also, Owly is great. Can’t wait to share that myself some day.

  10. There’s a Kahlil Gibran poem I read a long time ago that had this wonderful line:

    Yet what I loved as a child I love now,
    and what I love now I will love to the end of my days,
    For love is all I have,
    and none shall take it from me.

  11. There is nothing wrong with it. This is why my 2 year old son can look at me and say, “Daddy, play Batmans with me?” and know I’ll come running. Honestly, it’s moments like that, playing with your kids and seeing their faces shine, that reminds you even on the worst of days that there is good in the world.

    • Bonding with your child in ANYWAY fosters great loving memories. Whether its playing action figures, watching Star wars, reading archies(my daughters fav) or even playing a board game(I have great memories playing Connect 4 with my mom).
      Cherish these moments while they are young, time flies!

  12. I love comics and cartoons like most of us here, and while I’m not really into action figures (and can’t bring myself to throw down the serious $$ for statues) I do LOVE Lego sets, especially Star Wars Legos. I loved Legos as a kid, and even today I see them as really cool buildable models. I think most adults see Legos as “kid stuff” until they get to play, and then I can’t think of a single adult who won’t enjoy them given the chance. Plus I love that you can complete a set, take it apart and build it again next year or whenever you feel like it.

  13. Another great article! As a parent to a (soon to be) two year old daughter, this hits home for me. When she shows an interest in something that myself or my wife love, it gives us a special kind of joy. My daughter is currently obsessed with harry potter, and asks to see the movie every night. it is one of my wife’s favorite things, so it’s a source of happiness in our house. Especially because we didn’t push it on her, she came to love it on her own, which makes it even cooler.

  14. I wasn’t huge into superheroes or comics when I was a kid (outside of watching the stuff that came on on Saturday mornings–but that was definitely not limited to Batman and X-Men, though I liked those), but I love knowing that when I have kids, they’ll be set for life as far as cartoons, comics, and toys go! Glad to hear that my hopes are founded.

  15. @ Jim-You know it goes both ways right? I’ve spent many an afternoon having tea parties with EVERY stuffed animal in the house eating make believe cupcakes!!
    As kids get older you just find new things to bond over. My 9 yr daughter and I have discovered the joys of Betty and Veronica, The Wizard of OZ( masterfully done by Skottie Young), Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Teen Titans(Cartoon).
    Taking part in common interests just leads to great memories and special moments.

  16. If I’m ever not young at heart anymore, I might as well be dead.

  17. I disagree almost completely.

    If you wince and feel a pang of guilt every time you take your weekly comics up to the cash register–then that’s actually your conscious, your brain, and what’s left of your willpower urging you to make a bit of a change in your life. Rather than taking the hint and buying a few less superhero comics, the alternative is to continually indulge in entertainment beyond all reason, even though a genuine part of you is obviously telling you to tone it down a bit.

    And the existence of rabid sports fans isn’t some sort of blanket justification for each of us to buy $50-$100 worth of comics a week. That’s like saying “It’s okay for me to abuse my prescription medication…because there are heroin addicts out there and I’m probably not as bad as them.” The real issue here is addiction to entertainment. Different people are addicted to different sorts of entertainment. This is a societal “issue” that most people would say verges on being a “problem”.

    But I don’t think it’s an either/or question. It’s not like we either have to either completely turn our backs on all entertainment, including our memories of what we liked as a kid…or else indulge in entertainment all the more. The argument that this article seems to be making runs along the lines of “I liked Spider-Man as a kid. I have fond memories of that. Therefore it would be perfectly, irreproachably fantastic for me to spend thousands of dollars on Spider-Man comics, well into my 30s now, no matter what. Because not indulging in so much entertainment would mean ‘turning my back on my childhood’.” That’s a ridiculous argument, but it seems only a slight exaggeration of the underlying basis found not only in this article but in “fandom” in general.

    We can all just be more moderate. Problem solved. Just buy fewer comics. Do more serious things with your friends and family–things that don’t revolve around mass-marketed copyrighted characters and fiction.

    But I’m sorry to say that it seems like there’s a group delusion here, the way a lot of you guys seem to think that “things will be just fine” no matter how much people dose themselves with entertainment. It’s like a group of addicts justifying each other’s behavior, even though a lot of the people involved clearly have some legitimate guilt about the portions of their lives and their brains that they’ve devoted to media and entertainment. Because…I guarantee you that running headlong into fantasies, without much capacity for restraint or courageous self-criticism, is not healthy on a personal or a societal level.

    • I think you’ve missed the point of the article. Jim’s not suggesting that we binge on entertainment. He’s saying that people shouldn’t feel guilt over participating in something we liked as a kid, and in some cases we should embrace it because it may create a bonding experience with our kids. Nobody’s endorsing escapism to the degree you’re talking about.

    • Good article! As I was reading it, I thought finally, finally, finally we have something here that nobody could possibly dispute. Looks like I was wrong.


  18. I rewatched a lot of the Hulk show, I think around the time the Norton Hulk movie came out. I can’t argue that the silly parts weren’t just that, but I loved the show, even now. I loved watching the Hulk do things when I was a kid, but as an adult I really enjoy watching Bill Bixby be a fantastic actor, even with such ridiculous stories. I guess the same is true of comics, I love the added perspective being an adult gives me when I read the same issues I did as a kid. Of course, comics today don’t really compare (which I think is a shame), but in another 20 years I’ll probably reread Walking Dead (for instance) and appreciate it that much more. Great article! Oh, btw I have a picture of Spider-Man and I somewhere, but I’ll have to ask my mom what the circumstances were and where it is, I was too young then to remember it now. I forgot about it until I saw your pic up top 🙂