Up in the tree, dreaming of comics

Kids do weird stuff. They all do things that seem kind of, well, wacky when you become a boring adult dealing with bills and retirement funds and insurance payments. 

Following up on the release this week of my fiftieth humble little comic book, Amoeba Adventures #30, I kept thinking about a weird habit I had from the age of about age 12 to 15. I was a confused pre-teenager and well, I was kind of a nerd. 

And so many afternoons after school, I’d climb up a tree in the backyard of our family home and perch on a patio cover built up there, and then I’d imagine comic books. 

I created an entire imaginary universe of comics in my head – like many comics nerds do. “The Galaxy Comics Universe” (which I played around with on and off with my old friend Chris) was a Marvel Comics photocopy which included a sprawling cosmos of spandex-clad warriors like The Arachnoid, Robotron, Manipulator, El Jaguar and The Dark Avenger. I’d imagine all kinds of adventures for these heroes, who were mostly thinly-veiled rip-offs of existing Marvel and DC comics. 

I’d sit up there in that tree in my parents’ backyard and dream of heroes for hours. 

But I wouldn’t just dream – I’d scribble and sketch, too. I drew bunches of covers for these imagined adventures (but never an actual story, which was kind of weird). And even nerdier, I wrote up Stan Lee-styled hype-filled solicitations for these imaginary comic books, embarrassingly detailed PR in the style of Marvel Age and the like for stories that didn’t exist. 

There’s no obsession quite like that of the 13-year-old. 

I wrote these solicitations for the “Galaxy Comics Universe” for a while there – and I’ve still got them all today, geek über-texts that I bound up along with my awful drawings of the era into little volumes years ago. They are truly absurd treasures to look at now – at one point I got so deluded I started pretending real comics creators like Walt Simonson and Frank Miller were working on my comics. All in all, I wrote hundreds of pages of summaries of comics that didn’t exist – is it any wonder I’m still a comics obsessive decades on? 

But I loved the thrill of imagining a universe, derivative as it surely was, and even as I’m an old man now with what’s left of my hair increasingly grey, that buzzy kick of creation sticks with me. As I get older and the real world seems to get worse, I’m more and more convinced that art keeps us alive. 

I strip-mined those old Galaxy Comics notes and sketches for ideas when, a few years later, I actually started DRAWING comics stories of my own with the first Prometheus the Protoplasm story in 1986.

I became a small press publisher in the early 1990s and hundreds of people actually read some goofy stories I wrote and drew. I took inspiration from some of those characters I dreamt up while sitting in the tree in the backyard and turned them into Amoeba Adventures characters – Dawn Star, Agnus Dei, Manipulator, Macabre and more all came from there. 

The dreams became real, or as real as stories do. Years on, I’m not a kid any more and I spent way, way too many years ignoring the thrilling charge that drawing a comic of your own creates. But I came back to comics in the age of Covid and have to admit, the years melt away a bit when it’s you, a pencil and a blank piece of paper, making up heroes. 

There’s a part of me that never left that tree, there in that backyard of a house I haven’t lived in for 30 years. 

Author: nik dirga

I'm an American journalist who has lived in New Zealand for more than a decade now.

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