The American Blonde: The Girl Who Loved Spider-Man
|Spidey's first appearance, drawn and co created|
by Steve Ditko
When I was five, Dad and I took a trip to the Jiffy Check and bought comic books. He read them enthusiastically as a little boy and now I would. His favorite titles included Superman and Batman. I still remember that moment, he stooped down, me in his arms, his large hands flipping through the comic rack. "PJ, this is a great one, it's Batman....Oh, here's Wonder Woman, you will love her...." Needless to say we went home with several titles including Harvey's Casper and Disney's Scamp, but my eye was caught by the men in tights and women in leotards!
How I loved my ritual, racing to the store to beat the other kids to purchase the latest titles. First I read D.C., I became a fan of the Amazon Princess, The Justice League of America, Green Lantern, Teen Titans and The Legion of Super Heroes! Then I discovered Marvel! At first glance, it might seem generational that Dad's favorite was Superman, and during my childhood, cartoons and the Electric Company introduced The Fantastic Four and Spider-Man that "make mine Marvel"! But that was not the reason.
|A Pulitzer Prize winner|
Years later, when my former partner, foreign correspondent, Charles Laurence, interviewed another Alabama girl, Diane McWhorter for The Daily Telegraph of London. He gave me her Pulitzer Prize nonfiction , "Carry Me Home" and helped me connect the dots, only then would I understand the extent of the consequence for being my Father's daughter. This revelation, allowed many childhood events to fall in place and confirmed what I always knew.
|Governor George Wallace|
My Dad was (is) "A Damn Yankee!" Let me define the term. A Damn Yankee; is a Northerner, who marries a Southerner and STAYS! But it didn't end there. Daddy was a man of steel, not only worked in the Steel Industry but he became a grievance officer for the United Steel Workers of America Union, in Bull Connor's Birmingham and George Wallace's Alabama. The Dixiecrats ran a tight ship, unlike my Father, an eternal optimist who idolized JFK and his brother Robert. The Old Southern Boy's Club elite, didn't take too kindly to a smart charismatic young Yankee who had too much to say about equality in the work place.
My early childhood was a dark night, especially once a month, when Dad attended the Union meeting. Often he came home, roughed up by police, who purposely tried to break the USWs Union and the solidarity they held with the Civil Rights Movement. Countless of times blue lights pulled into our drive way. Daddy acted like it was nothing but a few bruises, and often commented, "You should see the other guy!"
|My Daughter, Dad and me, photo by Charles Laurence|
"The police were suppose to be good guys?" My little girl mind tried comprehending and the only way I could rationalize, I knew my Daddy was a good guy too, was through the eyes of a Spider-Man fan. It didn't end there, we were the target of rumors, claiming my Dad was African American, sharing in his large lips, I was bullied at school, called names and suffered physical abuse from class mates, teachers joined in to ridicule me. Even in church a group of members tried unsuccessfully to black ball my family, because we dared to socialize with minorities and speak with an open mind.
I was a child who didn't understand why some people hated others for the color of their skin.
|Dad in center, heading the|
Halloween Carnival committee
I credit Spider-Man, X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, The Avengers for helping me weather the storms of my childhood. The reason was simple, these marvelous mutants were also misunderstood, labeled "bad guys" in their stories by the police and news papers. But in fact, they were the good guys fighting to save mankind from erroneous evil! Stan made his super heroes easier to relate to, by giving them ordinary problems. Not righteous indignation but human flaws that weren't uncommon in my own life. I knew one day the truth would be known, we were a family of super heroes! I even made myself a costume out of my Mom's old velvet robe.
In third grade I finally made friends, became the only girl in a group of comic book nerds, Owen, Adam, Doug, Hugh and Lee. My collection expanded to other titles, Thor (I could trade one Thor for three comics from Doug) Man-Thing was the environmentalist, Owen's favorite (he hated D.C.) he introduced me to Conan The Barbarian, Red Sonja (The She-Devil with a Sword!) and Vampirella. I wasn't an average little girl, I was brave. No boy would or could save me, I wouldn't let 'em.
|Owen's fave, MAN-THING|
Things got a whole lot better in the South, especially in The Heart of Dixie. My parents became community organizers; my Mom raised the funds to build our elementary school gym, brought theater and art to public schools. My Dad brainstormed our town's annual Halloween Carnival, that kept kids off the street, my favorite event of the year. Dad would oversee and build most of the games (he grew up working with his Dad, a contractor and studied drafting). My parents earned respect and became embraced by the community. The Damn Yankee didn't go back, but became an "Honorary Southerner".
I often observe prejudice is a product of fear, tribal or human weakness, especially when survival instincts, "fight or flight" kicks in. I've seen it first hand, even in New York City, after 911. Where tolerance and diversity is high but social and economical climates can instantly change and hate can live just beneath the surface. It takes visionaries to cross barriers, help folks relate and dismantle the ugly beast.
|Todd McFarlane's best seller|
|Stan Lee and me 2012|
I've met Stan Lee on several occasions and got to know Jack "King" Kirby in his later years. I repeat my broken record of adoration and how their super heroes inspired me not to give up, use my super powers for good, "With great power comes great responsibility".
The Spider-Man franchise is huge, the recent release I'm relieved to say, stays true to the origin of Peter Parker as well does The Avengers and Captain America movies. And no matter where I travel it never fails, even in developing countries, I always spy a Spidey T shirt. I ask myself , how many other children in seemingly impossible circumstance find inspiration from Stan and a handful of amazing artists? Stan Lee is 89 and there's no sign he is retiring, in fact he's launching other projects with his company, POW Entertainment, that I'm sure will continue to convert even more generations into True Believers, "EXCELSIOR!" Nuff said.