A View from Atlas Park: Time to Put Away Childish Things?

I’ve recently dealt with an issue that every so often raises its head and looks you straight in the eye. You can’t avoid it (well, unless you’re very lucky or living an unexamined life) and it is something that should be considered simply as a sign that you are growing up. It’s this: have I outgrown what I used to enjoy?

I’m at the stage in my life where I’m a long way past being a teenager and diving head first into many stages of “adulthood”. I got married at the end of March. My full-time job requires me to be in bed by 10.30pm. I don’t go out to parties that much any more and often get depressed by what I see if I do – my younger friends still go hard (which I can’t because I have to get up in the morning) while my older friends sit around and talk about when THEY used to party hard (which is a sad, sad conversation; nostalgia being a sign of impending death or something like it). I’m also in the process of doing a lot of expensive, adult things that are Very Important. It’s said that “With great power comes great responsbility”, but what comes with great responsibility? I’m not completely sure, but I can tell you that credit card debt is right up there.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about what I enjoy doing and how it’s changed. The big difference is I no longer have the time to waste lots of it in any one activity. I used to get a big thrill out of pen’n’paper roleplaying (Location: Geekville. Population: Me). Now, while I don’t mind it, I don’t get the same joy. I enjoy the social aspect of it still, but spending 8+ hours in a game just doesn’t cut it. Computer games are still great, but no longer can I devote myself to long stretches in front of the monitor to complete RPGs – my Beloved gets annoyed if I rush home from work and then disappear on the computer until bedtime (and Annoyed Beloved’s are the worst kind). Also, since I typically play a game until its finished and it takes longer for me to finish it, I buy fewer games. I’m not happy with the situation, but until I become independently wealthy (god knows how) it’s the way it’s going to stay.

This also ties into comics. Every time I tell someone (or they find out) I read comics, they get a little smile on their face. I know why they are smiling – they are mentally pulling out the stereotype of ‘Comic Reader’ out of the box and internally giggling at what it looks like. It’s not a pretty picture. Past a certain point, people who read comics are seen as socially pitiful, inept at life and possibly with something-wrong-going-on-upstairs. Trying to explain that no, you only read the good / though-provoking / imaginative / mature comics doesn’t help either as most people only think of comics in terms of beefy men hitting each other.

Which doesn’t necessarily bother me – I just snipe at their hobbies until they leave me alone about the comics thing. But it does seem to indicate that at some point comics are something to move on from, at least in society’s eyes. The question is, for me at least, when and at what point this occurs.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll stop reading comics when I stop enjoying them and there is still a lot to enjoy out there. Although expensive when compared against books for the same time spent reading them, comics offer so much more to me than just words on paper. In fifteen or so minutes I can cover the latest serial story contained in the pages of a comic. Often these stories are world-spanning and contain some pretty wild concepts. For pure escapism, I’m yet to find another paper media that contains the pure adventure or power that comics can. I’m not just talking about superheroes here – try reading Judd Winick’s Pedro & Me without getting a little misty-eyed.

Even so, I know my tastes have changed. I tend to buy less of the single-issue comics, focusing instead on TPB’s and graphic novels. These collections offer more value for money, give me a full story arc to consume at my leisure and are also easier to store on my bookshelf. Single issues, while still enjoyable, get devoured at such a rate that they are almost too expensive to buy frequently. At the moment I’m still holding on and buying the monthly issues, but the time will come where I only buy the collections.

This is just one side of my life, but I find my hobbies to be very important to me. They tend to be the preferred way I would spend my time – a life of comic reading and computer game playing sounds pretty good to me. But times (and people) change. The demands on my time are different to what they have been and seem to be increasing. My tastes have also changed. But I’m happy to say that, at this point, I’m not ready to trade in superheroes and fantastic worlds for financial newspapers and a tweed jacket. I hope that I will never feel the urge to put away the ‘childish’ things that excite and interest me just because I’m older than I once was. Having considered it, I don’t think there is much worse than giving up something you enjoy just because other people think you should.

Besides, where else are you going to see people singlehandedly saving the world? On “Sixty Minutes”? I don’t think so!

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