At the risk of dating myself, I’m a Jurassic nerd. My fandom and fantasy escape started pre-internet, in the days of news-stand comics, flea market scavenging and UHF viewing of obscure space operas and import cartoons. The Saturday morning lineups for the three networks was a big deal for a kid. That’s right, the THREE NETWORKS, in days before FOX added to “the big four” or The CW existed even on a drawing board in the time before time. There was CBS, ABC, and NBC. As far as major networks go, that’s literally it. Any other channel you were lucky enough to get, wasn’t guaranteed in the slightest, and may or may not work that particular day (or unless you can position those rabbit ears just right). Making your own custom aluminum foil construction to attach to your antenna to give you a slightly-less-fuzzy reception for the kung-fu feature or monster movie of the day was a long-standing preoccupation. Again, there were only slightly-less-fuzzy picture quality shows, nothing was clear unless it was from a station you happened to live within a few miles of, and those never had the really cool stuff like Tranzor Z or Pinocchio in Outer Space. Having grown up swinging a licensed replica Captain Caveman club with sound effects and watching every Hanna Barbera cartoon I had a vested interest every Saturday morning in which team won the Laff-a-lympics as long as it was finished in time to switch channels to the Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour. Priorities, man!
I grew up watching Space Giants, Spectra-Man and Ultraman long before the Power Rangers ever suited up, and every day after school was a race home to catch as much as possible of that day’s episode of Star Blazers. I read the Silver Age JLA/Justice Society coverless on the reading rack at my local barber shop along with some Carl Bark’s Duck comics featuring Magica De Spell. I remember the original Deathlok series telling the horrors of the futuristic wasteland that was the year 1999!
My prized possession was an authentic Lucasfilm Han Solo blaster pistol which boasted four different sounds that I learned could actually achieve up to twelve by careful manipulation of the pressure placed on the sound button beneath the trigger. This device was overused to the torment of my family to the point that my older brother threw it into our family well the year we had to dig it up to make repairs to the water supply coming into our house. I found its remnants 20 years later upon making new repairs to the pump beside the house.
Growing up on a large acreage tract of land with a farming family, trust me that I crawled the hundreds of acres of woods around our family land pretending the entire time to be a member of an away team from the starship orbiting the planet overhead, wearing whatever patched together uniform I could manage while using a flea market phaser to battle hordes of imaginary alien life forms. New kids met while traveling were quietly regarded by me as aliens to be investigated to see if they were hostile or friendly life forms before sharing my love of things nerdish in nature.
Before the days of Amazon and Internet searches and even pre-VHS days, your bread and butter as a geeky little kid looking for anything to fuel your imagination was newsstands, used book stores, flea markets and yard sales. We used to call them “digs”, as if we were on an archaeological expedition to uncover artifacts or another world or era, which in retrospect we absolutely were. Twelve-cent Man Bat comics. Flash Gordon helmets. Star Trek badges or plastic tri-corders. These were the treasures that could keep you going through the long NC summer doldrums. Thankfully my dad had a voracious appetite for fresh reading material so while he looked through every obscure spot he could for Slocum westerns and cheap Sci-Fi novels or Walt Disney Comics, I was prowling underfoot searching the stacks for anything fantasy, sci-fi or comic related i could get my hands on. Compared to today’s merchandise, the stuff we had was frankly quite terrible by comparison but you wouldn’t have known that to see the 9-year-old me out playing rocket ship or using the back stoop as a teleporter pad beaming myself to such exotic locales as our back yard or the roof of the addition to the basement apartment which played the part of the bridge of the Klingon warship many times over.
This odd behavior didn’t escape the notice of the kids around me. School days frequently led to ridicule for wasting time sketching representations of the Argo instead of playing Little League. I had far more interest in wave motion gun mechanics and warp drives than baseballs and well, most things really. School bullies frequently found this an easy target. The well-read, red headed kid that had comic books in his locker wasn’t quite the cool factor that geeks enjoy today and I took my share of lumps and insults for being different. A day when one of the jerks of the classroom ripped one of my comics in half at lunch period still stands out in my mind to this day. It was a sixty-cent Incredible Hulk comic and I’m still a little pissed about it to this day. Eventually it tapered off as kids got older and matured and I learned how to push back when need be.
At 16 years of age I started traveling to different cities and discovered the world of conventions which opened up a whole new world to me for camaraderie and new digging fields for a vastly expanded world of new prizes to be unearthed. The paychecks from my part time job were blown through at these events at a reckless rate but I didn’t care. I only wish I had more to spend so my haul leaving the gates could have been even bigger.
HeroesCon in Charlotte, NC was one of my first conventions I ever attended, and it was heaven for a geeky nerd teenager to say the least. Cosplay back before we really even had the term, booth after booth of cool comic books, toys, shirts with my favorite characters from the fantasy worlds I loved, and gadgets and trinkets galore! Better than that was actually meeting the creators behind all the cool stuff I was interested in and learning how frequently our experiences were similar and how often our tastes coincided. Looking back now it’s no surprise that I found common ground with the people that had influenced me and whose worlds I spent so much time dreaming in, but back then it was like being given access to the promised land and finding out you belonged there. Which as any nerd of a certain age can tell you, finding anywhere to belong was one of the greatest discoveries of all! I still love conventions to this day for that very same reason and you can frequently catch me either attending or appearing at them professionally.
I’d like to think it was those days of imagination and learning not just to be different and survive as someone outside the fold, but also to hold on to that spark of wonder at looking at the world not as it was, but as it could be, that shaped me into the creator I am today.
Simply put, even after all these years, I’m nerd and proud!
-Torch Baldwin (Founder: Single Cell Productions)