Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Life in Four Colors (Part Thirty-Three)

Everyone has childhood friends, but by the time I was in the 7th grade, my circle of friends began to change. I had my school friends--those with whom I hung out at school, swapped stories, shared in-jokes, commiserated over homework assignments... you know, all the usual junior high school things that kids do. For me, that group of friends included Greg Carter, Jamie Cook, Ken Barton, and Pam Astin--one of the few girls in school with whom I felt comfortable. You'll notice there's an alphabetical theme here--and there's good reason for that.

Most junior high school teachers sat students in alphabetical order. As a result, the students who sat around me, last-name-beginning-with-B, would be the A, B & C last-name students. So I got to know Greg and Jamie and Ken and Pam very well. We also shared many of the same classes, which meant that we spent most of our day together.

When I wasn't at school, however, I spent most of my time with Gary Steele. Our comics-buddy friendship had grown stronger at the same time that my friendships with Phil Patterson and John Ball had begun to wane. Gary and I gradually settled into a routine: every weekend, we would spent Friday night at either my house or Gary's house, and then on Saturday we were at the other's house. We would occasionally mix things up by spending the night at Gary's grandmother's house--she lived at the corner of Conn Street and Burnett Ferry Road, just a short walk away from my house, and she was more than willing to dote over two young boys who loved her stories, her color television, and her seemingly-bottomless baskets of french fries, made from fresh cut potatoes at our request.

When I discovered fanzines, Gary was as interested in them as I was. Both of us began perusing the fanzines we saw, writing our own comic book reviews and short stories--and more importantly, both of began to talk about publishing our own fanzine. We knew that there were both ditto machines and mimeographs at school, and we learned how to use them. We even bought color ditto masters at a local office supply store so that we could prepare our own multi-color artwork for reproduction.  Every now and then, we'd find a teacher who would give in to the pleadings of two junior high boys and run off a few copies on the school ditto machine--or even better, give us access to the machine so that we could run off our own copies.

Our material was crude and juvenile--but of course, we were twelve years old at the time. It would be a few more years before we'd begin doing fanzines for anyone other than our school friends to see.

So if Gary and I got along so well, then why didn't we hang out at school? The structure of junior high scheduling had a lot to do with that. I was in advanced classes, and Gary was in general level classes. I never really understood why; I talked to Gary a great deal, and I never believed that I was smarter than he was. But school scheduling was very rigid: once you were slotted into advanced classes, you had an entire schedule built around those classes, and your electives were shoehorned in afterwards. It seemed that when I had an elective class period available, Gary was in one of his core classes. So we rarely saw each other during school hours, outside of lunch periods, assemblies, and pep rallies.

As for my school friends--well, I really enjoyed the company of Greg and Jamie and Ken and Pam, but I rarely saw them outside of school because they didn't really share my core interests in comic books, pulp/adventure/science fiction, monster movies, model kits, and James Bond. There were times when I paid a visit to the homes of each of those friends, usually for some school-related project, but even at the age of twelve, comics in particular had become important enough to me that I chose to spend most of my out-of-school time with Gary, who shared those interests. In some ways, I regret now that I let my developing interests so dominate my life that I didn't pursue those friendships more fervently; to this day, I have fond memories of those friends.

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