Friday, July 13, 2012

The Library of Dreams

When I was in college I worked part-time in the music library, a very low-paying hourly gig which required very few hours per week, but kept me in beer and laundry money well enough. It was also an undemanding job, mostly checking things in and out (and even back in those primitive mid-90’s days, the barcode reader at the circulation desk meant that a trained monkey could have done it), re-shelving the returns, and maybe occasionally helping a fellow student find something or operating the listening equipment. But there were entire one-hour, even two-hour shifts where I never saw a sole and thus had no duties to fulfill; I was being paid just to be present, in case someone needed me, and if no one did, I still got paid. (Alert readers may detect certain similarities in that regard to my present place of employment.)

So in theory it was a great job to have because I could sit behind the circulation desk and catch up on my reading for other classes and whatnot, although I admit I probably spent more shifts playing Minesweeper than studying, and I further confess that there were a handful of early Saturday morning shifts where I laid my head on the desk and simply tried to ignore the queasy sensation of my body repairing the self-inflicted damage it had sustained on Friday night. In other words, aside from technically not being allowed to leave the desk while I was on the clock, it wasn’t much different from downtime back at my dorm room.

I had a co-worker, scheduled for the shift after mine one semester, who made a habit of showing up very early for her shift, like in the middle of mine. She would come into the library (which, as a specialty library within the music department building was really just one large room) and sit at one of the study tables and read, and then when my shift was over I would come out from behind the desk and she would move from her table to the desk, and I’d be off and she was on. I never quite got why she did that; if I were going to read for a period of time which widely overlapped a shift at the library, I still wouldn’t want to spend any more time in a silent, windowless room than absolutely necessary. If I didn’t want to interrupt my reading once I got really into it with the quick cross-campus walk from dorm to music building, I might walk over first and then sit on a bench outside until it was time to begin my shift. But, different strokes, I suppose. It’s rare that someone makes me look less compulsively bookish by comparison, but there you go.

One distinct memory I have of this girl was a day when she sat down and pulled out a few comic books to read. That at least piqued my curiosity enough to try to figure out what exact title she was reading, by squinting hard across the room at her. She noticed and correctly interpreted my expression and showed me the cover and said “It’s The Sandman, do you read it?” in a reverent tone that left no doubt as to her devotion to the series.

And the thing was, at that point in my life, not only did I not read The Sandman, I was totally, absolutely convinced it was not my cup of tea. What little I knew about it was that it was decidedly not a superhero comic, and in fact about as far away as you could get from Spider-Man and Green Lantern while still making use of little square pictures with words in them. And, as all weirdos have done since time immemorial, I immediately realized that I was a nerd and my co-worker was a nerd, but she was a lowlier nerd than I, because I read comics that were part of the major American tradition in the medium, while she read comics that were twee and artsy and lame.

All I can say in my defense is that I was 19 or 20 at the time.

The Sandman as an ongoing comics series ended not too long after that. Fortunately for me, only about 3 years later I was living with a roommate who owned reprint collections of every single issue, which was key because The Sandman was really the first major American comic to tell a complete but significantly long story. There had been series running for fifty or sixty years and hundreds and hundreds of issues, with eternal status quos and no real resolution; there had been mini-series that ran four or six or twelve issues of fast-burning glory. But The Sandman had a plan from the beginning and took 75 issues (the monthly output of a little over six years) to reveal in its entirety. I read my roommate’s copies and belatedly discovered that The Sandman was genius. (Note: this was probably the one and only positive side-effect of that particular roommate.)

The Boss IS back!

The deeper I got into The Sandman’s mind-blowing concoction of monomyth and metafiction, the more often I thought of my former co-worker (or that specific memory, since I didn’t know her as an actual person, and can’t even recall her name) and realized that I had in fact been lowlier than her, closed off to something I could not have been more wrong about. The thought has recurred to me now and then, when I’ve read other comics and novels and whatnot by The Sandman’s creator, Neil Gaiman. I should have been a diehard fan of his from the start, but I wasn’t, and lots of other people got to the party before I did. I like to think I’m a bit humbler now than I was 17 or 18 years ago, and that one particular bit of pop culture revelation is no small part of that.

I haven’t gone into too many hardcore geek-out posts since Whedon Week, but of course I’m still aware of the pop culture happenings of the moment, as always. So I was notified fairly early on today that, at the massive San Diego Comic Con going on right now, an announcement has been made that Gaiman is going to write a new Sandman prequel to be published inside the next year. That, of course, is news of no small delight to my geeky heart (and I imagine it will be regarded as very cool by my wife, as well, especially when I tell her that the artwork is going to be done by the same guy who illustrated Promethea, I mean, COME ON) but once again it’s also a moment to be thankful that I eventually got over myself and my prejudices about lame, artsy comics in the first place enough to notice new Sandman news at all.

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