I was born in the year of Superman. In 1978 Richard Donner released the first Superman Movie, and made the world believe that a man could fly. I also was raised in the age of Star Wars, and learned (**SPOILER**) that Princess Leia was Luke Skywalker’s sister while sitting in a movie theater eating popcorn and drinking a Pepsi. I lived in a time of awesome…
In the early 1980’s my father would talk to me about Conan: The Barbarian, Thor of Asgard, and Chuck Norris. Together, we watched Rocky Balboa, Mr. T (Clubber Lang), Russian boxer Ivan Drago (at the height of the Cold War), and Rambo defend America in Vietnam to save prisoners of war. I was even fortunate enough to watch Hulk Hogan defeat Andre the Giant!
My brother and I used to save up our quarters and take them to the pizza place next to the grocery store where mom shopped to play Double Dragon. I have not played in years, but last time I played (2004 perhaps) I was STILL able to beat the game with only 1 quarter after mastering the “elbow” technique and exploiting poor AI programming.
We did not own a Nintendo in my home back then (didn’t get one until the 1990’s), but we did have a friend that owned one at the time. Our ONLY goal in life was to be the first kids in town to complete Metroid and the Legend of Zelda.
When that finally happened, we were treated to a second quest that was MUCH more challenging. Yes, today we have the internet and can watch YouTube videos or read a step-by-step walkthrough on-line, but in 1987, EVERYTHING was unknown and/or mysterious. The only way to “WIN” was good old fashion trial and error. You had to make it work and find a way…
Back then (1984-1988) I would visit my uncle, who had an extensive collection of model rockets, lego sets, and comic books. He would later attend UCLA before serving in the U.S. Navy as an Officer in the Nuclear Operations/Propulsion field. I learned that a lot of comic nerds are quite intelligent.
Outside of my father talking to me about Conan and Thor, my uncle’s comic book collection was my first real exposure to comics. I distinctly remember reading about Iron Man, Captain America, and The Vision; though I cannot tell you what issues exactly.
I didn’t REALLY start to get BIG into collecting comics until the 1990’s. My mom would go grocery shopping in the next town (we lived in a small town in the Louisiana bayou, about 30 minutes outside of New Orleans), and while she would shop, I would read Wizard Magazine in the magazine isle. I read about what was going on in the comic book industry at the time, and learned about two new publishers; VALIANT and IMAGE. At the time I could not easily afford (or find) VALIANT books (some costs as much as $10 if you can believe it!), but I payed attention with a high level of interest. VALIANT books apparently were in-demand, and always listed in Wizard’s Top Ten. Fans were always submitting fan-art with VALIANT characters, so I became somewhat familiar with them. Around 1992 I was able to grab a copy of Superman #75 and sneak it into mom’s grocery cart, which pretty much made it the first comic (that I can remember) I actually bought.
While the story was interesting and made national headlines at the time, unfortunately, I had missed the emotional build-up of the previous issues which led to the Death of Superman. I was aware on an intellectual level perhaps of the significance, but was not connected to it beyond the obvious novelty at the time; however, it was this issue that motivated me to investigate deeper into the world of comics. I had seen a Local Comic Shop (LCS) situated behind a piano store about 10 miles outside of town, and in 1993, was able to convince my dad to take my brother and I one day to check it out. When we got there and walked inside, there were (as expected) hundreds of books everywhere. There were die-cut cover, hologram covers, gold covers, and glow-in-the dark covers. There were long-boxes upon long-boxes.
There were a few covers that visually jumped out at me:
I already knew about Magnus Robot Fighter #12, Unity #0 and Rai #0 from Wizard. They were out of my price-range at the time (I think Rai #0 was selling for $25), but I wanted to “know” about the VALIANT UNIVERSE. I wanted to know the stories, and about the characters. I bought SMOTA #16 and Harbinger #17, which were my first VALIANT books I was able to obtain. I focused as best I could on Harbinger, and was able to read most everything Harbinger from Unity until Harbinger #25 was released. At the time, Harbinger #0 (Pink) and Harbinger #1 were “Holy Grails” that were FAR BEYOND my reach, and I did not get the chance to read them for nearly another 10-15 years after they were released.
But I had my bike, and would make the 10 mile trip often. It was good exercise for a young teenager, and it made each issue I was able to get (no matter how historically insignificant industry-wise) feel rewarding. Then I would ride to Tae Kwon Do class, practice forms, and fight with as many opponents and as often as possible. It was the early-mid 1990’s, and @$$-kicking was in style! However, when I first watched real fights in competition, it was disappointing as they were NOTHING like what I had seen in the movies or in video games.
Well, THAT simply would not work for me…
By 1994 I was in really good shape (after riding a bike 10 miles several times a week to get comics and practice martial arts), and I had a flare for the dramatic. I entered a local karate tournament and did EVERYTHING POSSIBLE to make those fights over the top! It really is a shame that iPhones had not yet been invented, because those fights would have done quite well on YouTube for their entertainment value alone! At one point I did a spinning foot-sweep, and even a “dragon punch” in actual competition! Ridiculous? Yes. But I had an (admittedly idealistic) obligation (in my mind) to make fiction REAL! I believed that people needed to see these techniques in real life, and no kidding, I legitimately won the 1994 USKA Louisiana State Championships for my age division (both in Kata and Kumite)! Lol!
A few people in high school told me about another kid who claimed to be the best martial artist, and it was only a matter of time before a DEATH MATCH had to occur! He was INCREDIBLE, and we actually agreed to meet after school in the center of the school to battle! Completely idiotic in every sense of the word, it was like a no-$h!t old-school Kung Fu movie where two men battled to determine the superior style! Of course, the fight lasted only a few minutes until we were separated by the school athletic director, but we agreed to meet again. I rode my bike nearly 30 miles and met him at his house, where we beat the crap out of each other (no pads; 120% go go go go)! We became good friends, and decided to dominate the high school martial arts scene. It was insane! Completely impractical and wild in every possible way, but we would simply smash opponents with flash and style comparable to a video game!
Eventually, I began to focus on girls and high school sports, and slowly forgot about martial arts. I almost forgot about comics too! It was all about academics, girls, and sports.
As many know, the mid-late 1990’s were ROUGH years in the comic book industry. But honestly I was not overly aware, as I was focused on finishing high school and starting college. After winning our district and regional championships for Track & Field, I went on to run in college as a NCAA athlete. My career as a college athlete was short, however. I had incorrectly trained for the increased level of training and competition at that level, and began to have constant injuries. Eventually, I made the decision to pull-out, and I transferred to Louisiana State University (LSU) to study psychology.
At LSU, my room literally looked like a Local Comic Shop! My walls were lined with VALIANT, and when people would come to my parties they often would look at my wall and say things like “Dude! I used to read Archer & Armstrong when I was a kid! Lol!”
By 1999, I was married (yes, to a Chinese woman who actually looks like Chun Li from Street Fighter 2…), and by 2000 we had our first daughter together. I joined the U.S. Navy, and began a long career that would take me all over the world. I deployed in support of Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, and brought a laptop with me. At night when things were calm (sometime) I would read comics electronically. I read every issue of G.I. Joe EVER produced, and finally caught up on all the VALIANT I had missed. It gave me something to take my mind of things, and made for a much more enjoyable time.
There is no substitute for print though,When I returned home, I began collecting once again. I had not forgotten about the things that I had wanted as a kid, and began slowly acquiring VALIANT book little by little.
Sometime around 2011 to 2012, I learned that VALIANT was returning, and stood ready once again. Only this time I would do it right. I would have the full VALIANT experience that was not possible in the 1990’s.
At the time VALIANT re-launched, I was serving on diplomatic status in Thailand. There were no Local Comic Shops, but there WAS ValiantFans.Com and the good members on that forum were able to help me get what I needed. My collection grew significantly, as did my collection of original art! I often would communicate with Dan Moler (AKA SonicDan: sonicdan.com) for specific artwork, pages, or covers I was looking to buy.
Today, I have an extensive collection of original artwork, and always look for innovative ways to proudly display the outstanding work that the VALIANT artists such as Mico Suayan, Lewis LaRosa, Cary Nord, Clayton Henry, and Pere Pérez produce. Everyone makes a choice as to the art they hang on their walls, and likewise I have made mine. It matters to me, holds a personal value to me, and each is one of a kind. My only regret is that there is simply to much amazing art out there, from an equal number of incredibly talented artists, than I could ever hope to obtain. It’s also quite expensive, lol!
As for the comics themselves, I traded VALIANT CEO Dinesh Shamdasani my last NON-VALIANT comics a while back for a few key VALIANT books missing from my collection, and now ONLY have VALIANT in my collection. It is not that I do not appreciate Superman, Batman, or the Avengers (I certainly do very much enjoy and appreciate them and others), but for collecting and reading there is only so much that any one person with a family and career can stay on top of, and I have made the choice to focus on VALIANT.
At at a point now where I’m fairly happy with VALIANT, and like to share that feeling. This is why I write for VALIANT CENTRAL, and participate in the VALIANT community on a regular basis. Living overseas on military assignment, I’m limited in what can be done. I would love to attend conventions and help with setting up, promoting, and everything in-between. In many ways I could imagine working in the comic book industry eventually, though that might be some years away.
My children know who Archer is, and that the Geomancer’s name was Kay. They know that Harada is complicated in that he is both good and evil from various perspectives, and that it is similar in life. Things are not always as black and white as we might like.
I’ve watched them complete Legend of Zelda games on the Wii and on hand-held systems, and it is enjoyable to share a connection with them about how that feels. I like that they have the chance to attend conventions in costume from time to time, and to camp out and see movies on opening night.
Nerdy? Perhaps. But we are what we are, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I was, after all, born in the year of Superman.
In the world of comic books, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of collectors that make me look like an amateur. Many might have a single book that’s value surpasses the value of my entire collection. It is all relative though, as we each collect what we like; what we enjoy. For me, I enjoy the rich and unique universe of VALIANT.