Once he mastered the art of reading for himself, Nerdy Kid read all kinds of stuff… whatever he could get his grubby young hands on, really (he was the sort who’d read the sides of cereal boxes at the table if there was nothing else available… which there usually was, leastways at breakfast and lunch, because his parents didn’t seem to mind his reading at the table… although, many moons later, his wife would; but that’s a story for another day).
Anyway, I was digging through Nerdy Kid’s voluminous archives the other day --- but no need to worry about break and enter, or anything sinister like that, because, as you’ve surely guessed by now, Nerdy Kid was, of course, once upon a time (more decades ago than I’d like to admit, so don’t ask), Me. As is usually the case in such situations, I sought something else entirely, and quite serendipitously, came across the comics pictured at the top of this post. Classics Illustrated Junior --- which seems a little backwards, don’t you think? Junior Illustrated Classics seems much more logical, but you can see the title just as well as I can --- numbers 511 and 546. Of course, there weren’t really 546 of these literary gems… the listing inside reveals 75 titles, but I guess it’s more impressive to appear to have waaay more than that, so a little journalistic license seems to have occurred. And look at the price! The princely sum of 15 cents each! Well, it’s a princely sum if you’re ten years old and you get a weekly allowance of 25 cents each Saturday… although a quarter stretched a whole lot further back in the Dark Ages of my childhood. Yep, sure did. My paternal parental unit would bestow unto me my quarter after Saturday lunch, I believe, and I would thereupon hie myself ‘round the long, U-shaped suburban crescent on which we lived to the local drugstore, where 25 cents would get me a comic --- which were usually twelve cents, but the Classics Illustrated Junior ones were a whole three cents more, so it was a bit of a splurge to purchase one --- and some candy. Sweet Tarts, Love Hearts, maybe a little chocolate (even then, the Force/Lure of Chocolate was strong with Nerdy Kid). Then I would return home to read my new treasure whilst consuming my sugary confections. Life was so much simpler then. Even if it was mostly in black and white.
Now, here’s the thing: my comic collection bit the dust decades ago during a misplaced fit of adolescent smug superiority, when I decided comics were literary trash. And given how much collectors will sometimes pay for decades-old comics nowadays, I regret that smug superiority very much, I can tell you. (And several other things, too, but that’s also a tale for another day. Maybe.) So… I’m not really clear why these two comics were spared the axe. It wasn’t accidental, I can assure you: even back then, my young anal-retentive mind simply did not work that way. Nope, there must have been something else at work. So I sat down the other day, temporarily abandoning my search, and gave myself over to these two comics to reacquaint myself with them, to reach out over several decades and the mists of Time and attempt to reconnect with Nerdy Kid. Why did he like these two comics enough to keep them? What was the appeal? I’m quite sure he had several more titles in the series.
Well, that was easy, actually. To start with, you can call them fairy tales if you want, but they were Fantasy genre tales. I would have been intrigued by various elements:
-the clever, anthropomorphic cat in Puss in Boots, totally comfortable talking with humans… and no, this had nothing to do with Antonio Banderas and the glibness we were shown in Shrek. The comic follows the plot as told by the 17th century French author Charles Perrault, one of the fathers of the fairy tale as we know it --- and does it in a mere 28 pages of pictures and text, which is pretty impressive, when you stop to think about it. We’ve got castles, wicked wizards, a scheming feline, a beautiful princess… all the elements for rip-snortin’ good fantasy are there.
-the teeny, tiny elves (probably my first exposure to this literary species, so different from the ones who would later capture my imagination in Tolkien’s works), sneaking into the poverty-stricken shoemaker’s shop and expertly crafting shoes overnight, to the mystified consternation of the shoemaker and his wife the next morning. Something very… precise in the procedure. (Also in 28 pages --- and while I know you can’t plot a curve from only two points, I’m already sensing something of a pattern here.)
Even today, so many revolutions around the sun later, I still feel the pull they would have had on Nerdy Kid’s embryonic imagination, goading him on not only to read stuff like that, but maybe create his own, to write stuff like that.
Yep. That’s why Nerdy Kid saved those comics: to remind himself of Beginnings later on (much later on), so when he was No Longer Very Young, but a little… used up by life… frayed around the edges (rather like those comics) … he would Remember.
And Dream (still).
And he did.