How To Steal Comics
When I was a teenager I had a special costume. It didn’t fly, shoot repulsor rays, or make me look like a condom stuffed with walnuts when I put it on. No. It was simply a green army jacket which I bought from my local ‘Disposals’ store for thirty bucks. The true beauty of it, though, was that it had a double lining: a removable one. This, among other things, enabled me to provide a spare blanket to someone when we inevitably crashed at a house and, more importantly, it helped me steal comics.
Having moved twelve and a half thousand miles to a new country with my parents, straight into three years of constant beatings, harassment, and bullying, comics had become my lifeline. It was within them that my twelve-year-old self felt whole. There was nowhere else that felt as comfortable or as welcoming as the comic book world, and they offered me refuge from the harsh realities of my life. We arrived with nothing; no money, no prospects, we just had a hope that a fresh start would offer opportunity. We were dirt poor, unable to indulge in the most basic of luxuries, so I stole.
I figured out that I could slide a comic book in between the linings of my jacket and walk out without it being noticeable in the least. Then I discovered that I could slide many comics between the lining of my jacket at any given time and it still wasn’t noticeable. The jacket was so sturdy that it could even stand up to being searched, as happened more than once and the comics would still not be detected. It was a miracle jacket. It became my accomplice.
To be clear, I never felt good about stealing. It was not something I enjoyed, and being raised with a fully developed conscience—and an acute, almost Catholic sense of guilt—I was aware of my wrongdoing. But I did it anyway.
I was an addict; completely hooked and not just on the comics themselves. I did not collect them for collections sake, but for the feeling they created in me: calm, joyous, excited, stimulated feelings of greater things, of wider landscapes and a way out of my own problems. For heroes had problems too; yet, they still chose to be heroes, and they did it in a four-color world of infinite variety. I wanted to live in that world; I genuinely believed that one day I could and that was enough. It held the shadows at bay.
Inevitably, I got caught. The jig was up. I was forced to give up my addiction and return to my life filled with drug-addled brothers, drunken mothers, absent fathers and constant struggle. I would drag myself to school for the daily grind of beatings and insults before riding the two hours home on my bike to a world devoid of color.
No, no, I’m not trying to write a country song here, don’t look so worried. Yet, I am saying that the comic book, in all its simplified interpretations of the world and the human condition, with all its pomp and preposterous plotting, with its lack of reality and logic at times, was enough. It was enough to break through and hold back the real world—even if just for a while. It was enough to save me.
I don’t want to think about what might have been if I hadn’t had that lifeline. Even when I no longer had access to comics, I carried them with me: their ideals, their joy, their endless belief in something better. I still return to that place regularly. I’m a little too embarrassed at the prospect of being arrested for stealing comics at 41, so my shoplifting days are over. Yet, I still appreciate that whenever things get a little too much in the world, whenever life is bearing down a little too hard, I can still escape. The second I open those pages, the second I step into that world, I am transported. There is no better place. I could not love the medium more for what it has done for me, for what it has given. It continues to give. Long may it reign.