If you enjoy what you read here on PopCult, please think about becoming a supporter on my Patreon. I want to grow this blog into something special in 2021. To learn more about the exciting reward tiers that let you decide what we will feature check out my Patreon page.
Last week I talked about nostalgia some, and that made me think about libraries. When I was a kid, going to the library every week was one of my favorite things in the world. I can remember libraries I visited going back to when I was about six or seven years old and even books I checked out and read from those places. I definitely do not to libraries much at all anymore, even before COVID-19. I think with the digital age, I can access books much more quickly. Part of that is thanks in part to my local library adapting to this new world and subscribing to ebook services. Here’s my weekly Spotify playlist first:
When my family lived in Rutherford County, Tennessee, I remember going to the public library and discovering mythology and comic books. Because I was so young, the order of events is muddled, so I’m not sure if I had already been given a comic book before checking out a reprint book at the library. Regardless, I remember bringing home Robin Meets Man-Bat. This was a transferring of a comic book read-aloud on a record to cassette tape format. The story came from a Neal Adams era Batman comic book, I’m guessing from Detective or Batman Family. I was horrified by the grotesque Man-Bat but loved the horror element of the comic.
That allure of horror is probably what drew me to Greek mythology stories in the non-fiction section. Doing a search online, I think my library had the Monsters of Mythology book series, with each volume chronicling the stories surrounding a creature from Greek folklore. I distinctly remember the Medusa book and learning about the Gorgons and the Graeae. The latter stood out to me because of the illustrations showing them sharing their singular eye.
It was this same library where I came across the D’Aulaires’ Book of North Mythology. The D’Aulaires were a husband and wife who wrote and illustrated massive children’s books about facets of folklore and mythology. It was in this book that I learned about Odin, Thor, and the Asgardian pantheon. I first saw the name Loki and learned about the tragedy of Balder. I was horrified by Loki’s children: the wolf Fenrir, the serpent Jörmungandr, and Hel. There’s a gorgeous illustration of Ragnarok in this book that gets across the epic scope of that fabled event. This book was a very formative one for me.
We moved around when I was nine, which meant a new, smaller library but with books I’d never encountered before. On one of those early trips to the Robertson County library, I discovered a Spider-Man book that was amazing. It reprinted Amazing Fantasy #15, Amazing Spider-Man #80, and many villain pin-ups and short features about Spider-Man’s powers. I think there were some text pieces inbetween to give context. I cannot for the life of me find the name of this book online, but I checked it out so many times.
Additionally, there was a Superman book in the adult non-fiction I came across as a kid. I learned the Dewey decimal system enough to know where the books on movies and comics would be. This Superman collection was published around his 50th anniversary in 1988, I’m guessing. It contained a reprint of his first appearance in Action Comics #1. I also remember a reprint of the first appearance of Brainiac, a team-up between Luthor, Toyman, and Prankster, and the first appearance of Mr. Myxzptlk. Because this was a book aimed at adults, there was a lot more text about the character’s publication history, and I ate all that up. This book, along with Richard Donner’s Superman the Movie, is responsible for starting my love of the Man of Steel and building my background knowledge on his mythos.
The third book from this same library that sparked my imagination is yet another title forgotten to the ages. It was a history of the Silver Age era of comics. No reprints but lots of covers were used throughout the book. I was pretty sure at the time this was part of a series, but my library didn’t have the Golden Age or Bronze Age parts. This was likely my first formal introduction to the idea that there was more than Flash and Green Lantern. In the DC Comics section, it detailed the crossovers between the Justice League and the Justice Society. I absolutely loved that, and it really got my imagination going about the possibilities.
I know I certainly can’t recreate these experiences. They were very much the things of childhood, discovery pre-Internet. As much as I absolutely love the internet, it has taken away the kind of exploration and discovery I used to have. That’s okay, though. I have seen kids still filled with the same sense of wonder whether they are online or handling a physical book. My nephew, who is in the first grade, will have his mom Facetime me every few weeks with a question about superheroes. Most recently, he wanted to share with me a story from one of his superhero books about Spider-Man and the Hulk getting combined into one character. Things just become less new with time, so we start to think we’ve lost some spark. We just know more now, so our joy can come from being those who help the kids of today become filled with wonder as they discover what was new to us once upon a time.