Monday, May 30, 2016

Parenthood: Week 154 – Gene Ha’s Super-Ollie

All parents try to pass on their own interests to their children. Often with father’s it’s sports. For Ollie and I, it’s geek culture. While Ollie probably could not look at any sports logos and tell you what teams they represent, Ollie can pick out The Flash from a group shot of superheroes. He know what color lightsaber Yoda uses and on difficult mornings, Ollie is motivated to get moving with the promise of wearing his Superman cape.

One way that I’ve shared geek culture with Ollie is through periodic visits to our local comic books store, Comix Revolution in Evanston, IL. I love this store and I used to visit it weekly when I was in college. Unlike the stereotypical comic book store, Comix Revolution, is well lit, doesn’t have any weird smells and has a inviting and well thought-out layout.

My comic book reading slowed down after college and now with the financial and the time pressures of parenthood, I rarely buy single issues and probably only by a half dozen trades paperback (collections of single issues) a year. However, I still love this art form.

Every couple months, I’ve take Ollie to Comix Revolution. He loves walking around, playing with the Uglydoll display and trying to name all of the different characters he sees in the store. The people working in the story are always nice to Ollie and never seem worried that he is going to wreck the store or break something.

Last week, I took Ollie there as I figured that we hadn’t been there in a while. I saw a poster on the door about a signing, but it didn’t really register as Ollie rushed into the store ahead of me.

After Ollie went through all of the Uglydolls, he started picking up these superhero piggybanks and asking me to identify each character. I answered each inquiry, slightly sarcastically:
“That’s Iron Man, he made armor but he’s real power is being privileged.”
“That’s Thanos, he has an Infinity Gauntlet, and his girlfriend is a skeleton.”
“That’s Captain America, he’s basically on steroids.”
As I was explaining the characters to Ollie, I heard a voice come out from behind the counter, “I love your explanations.” I looked around to the front of the counter and saw an artist making sketches. He looked up at me, “I’m doing free sketches. Do you think your son would want one?”  Ollie came up to me and asked me to pick him up and as he caught sight of the man drawing a sketch, he was mesmerized. “Ollie, do you want a drawing?” Ollie nodded yes.

The man smiled warmly at Ollie and asked Ollie who was his favorite character. Ollie replied, “Superman” and the artist replied, “well, I’m going to draw you, as Superman.”

Ollie leaned closer to the counter wanting to watch the artist draw. I saw a stack of comics next on the counter and read the name “Gene Ha.” This was the same name on the poster on the door and then all of the sudden it hit me. This was Gene Ha, artist for one of the greatest comics of all time, Top Ten. Right before me, he was working on drawing my son’s face (check out his awesome new book Mae).

As I held Ollie up, I explained what Gene was doing starting with pencils and then adding markers. Trying to hold back from geeking out too much, I asked Gene about some of his work and his experiences. Gene throughout this process was warm and open, looking up at my son every so often with a soft smile as a reference for his drawing.

After Gene was done, he handed the sketch to Ollie and he was delighted. “Who is in the drawing?” I asked, and he Ollie replied proudly “It’s Superman-Ollie!”

I thanked Gene and I grabbed his new book Mae and moved to the other side of the counter to check-out.

It still hadn’t really sunk-in what had just happened but I knew that this was something special so before we left, I went back to Gene, shook his hand and thanked him one more time.

Ollie probably will not remember this experience, but I will never forget it. When people do things that are giving to Ollie, I feel a great depth of gratitude.  Comix Revolution's welcoming atmosphere that the express to Ollie will keep us coming back to his store and Gene Ha’s incredible sketch and his generosity will forever make me a fan of his work.

Comix Revolution and artist like Gene Ha get it. In a fandom filled with negativity, this store and this artist are investing in young fans, and reminding those of us who are not as involved as we used to be, that we are always welcome.

We’re going to frame this sketch and put it up in Ollie’s room as a reminder of the wonder of childhood and that in a world that can be so dark, there are individuals who care enough to make the smallest among us feel like superheroes.

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