A friend recently asked me why I had such a fascination with the art of the fantastic. Why not paint landscapes of nature or explore abstract images or any number of other artistic avenues. The question had a somewhat condescending tone to it. He even hinted that he would be willing to represent me if only I would grow as an artist. Here is my answer.
When I was 13 years old I graduated from the eighth grade in a church school ran by fundamentalist. It was the only school I knew and despite my mother’s good intentions the school had utterly failed me in all but the most rudimentary elements of education. I know this because in the last month before my graduation all of my fellow students and myself were required to take an achievement test. The test showed that I had the reading skills of a beginning 3rd grader and my math skills were practically non-existent. Why? Was it because I was mentally deficient or perhaps Attention Deficit Syndrome? Or was it because I had teachers preoccupied by their personal relationships or obsessed with teaching Noah’s Ark or frustrated old biddies with sadistic tendencies who liked to whip young boys with rubber hoses? (I am not bitter.)
Despite my low scores and similar scores of my fellow students we all graduated. What a surprise! That might have been an epitaph on my intellectual pursuits if it had not been that I went to visit my comic-book-collecting cousin that very summer. He had hundreds of comic books, X-men, Hulk, Swamp Thing, Superman, Green Lantern and many more. That was so cool!
Since 1st-grade I had sketched cars, animals, and figures and more then once I was chastised by my teachers for not paying attention in class. I was routinely reprimanded with ruler across the back of my hands for sketching during Bible class, but my sketches were innocent and mundane. I had never seen a comic book and so had never dreamed about comic book artist. Suddenly I was confronted with page after page of bright, wonderfully drawn characters and I became curious about the text that accompanied each panel. I began to read. I fell in love with reading. It was great. The characters were talking to me.
That same summer Star Trek was on the air. I love Star Trek. It was love at first sight. And on the next trip to the comic book store (actually a bookstore that had comics) I asked the owner if he had any Star Trek comics or comics about space. The response was “no, but how about reading a sci-fi novel?” A novel? It seemed impossible to me to read a whole book, but what got me was the art on the cover, a 3 or 4 feet tall alien mouse in a spacesuit with a ray gun, what’s not to love? He and his companions where huddled up against a snow drift on an alien planet. The title: Perry Rhodan. That was the first. I bought it with my lawn mowing money and I devoured it. I was hooked.
I had to have more. We bailed hay in the hot summer sun all day long for a $4.00. Returning to the bookstore I discovered Amazing Stories, wow only .75 cents! And Issac Asimov’s “The End of Eternity”, Arthur C. Clark’s “Childhood’s End” and Frank Herbert’s “Dune”. “Childhoods End” threw me for a loop. Dune, biggest, thickest book on the shelf and I read it. Dune did not have a satisfying enough cover for me but something wonderful was happening to me, I began to see in my head every described scene and I sketched everything that popped onto the screen of my imagination.
And then I discovered Asimov’s science essays. I loved them. Challenging ideas. Ideas that conflicted with my religious up bringing. I wanted more. My curiosity level was off the scale. I read Bertrand Russell’s “ABC’s or Relativity”, Edwin Hubble’s “The Realm of the Nebulae” and Harlow Shapley’s “Beyond the Observatory”. Thanks to comic books I could visualize complex scenarios and understand challenging concepts. I grieved to learn that the stars would one day come to an end and thrilled to comprehend that we were all made of exploded stars.
I read 33 novels, countless comic books, and 4 science books that summer. I scraped enough money together to subscribe to Astronomy magazine, Science News and Amazing Stories. If I was not working, I was spending my money on books and devouring them.
When I returned to school in the Fall to start my freshman year I was once again required to take an Achievement Test. This time the results were so radically different that the teacher thought I had cheated. I took part of a different test with equally mystifying results. My reading score had gone from a 3rd-grade reading level to that of a sophomore in college. My life-long self-education had begun. All because of comic books.
I wish that I could tell you that my progress was one glorious linear ascent into knowledge and reason but sadly I was still a prisoner of the stupefying religious fundamentalism that had so dramatically failed me in my education. The teachers made fun of my drawings and even at one point, in a fit of religious brow beating, coerced me to burn my books. Still the ability to read and the ideas of so many books, authors and glorious artist were in my head to stay.
Science Fiction had opened my mind to fantastic ideas about morality, politics and philosophy. It gave birth to a love in my heart of science and art. It has entertained me and shaped me in a most definite way. It has brought me happiness. It was art of the fantastic that sparked my curiosity and it is that same art that thrills me to this day. It inspires me and it is for that reason that my art is the art of the fantastic because it is my desire to set other young minds on the road to entertainment, reason, and knowledge.