Help Me Find My Daughter a Comic Book to Love

This morning, Ella stood over my shoulder as I scrolled through a typical post I like to read: 10 Awkwardly Similar Marvel/DC Characters. As I scrolled through the slides, she kept asking me about various characters. A snippet of our conversation:

E: “Wait. Who’s the green guy with Hawkeye?”

Me: “That’s Green Arrow.”

E: “Who’s the red bendy man next to the blue bendy man?”

Me: “The red one is Elastic Man and the blue is Mr. Fantastic.”

E: “And they’re just stretchy?”

Me: “Among other things. But essentially, yes.”

E: “Why does Thanos have jewelry but the other two [Darkseid and Apocalypse] don’t?”

Me: “Because Thanos is the Mad Titan. He’s obsessed with jewelry that can kill.”

E: “Hold on–who are those two guys???”

Me: “Aquaman and Namor.”

E: “How are they different?”

Me: “They’re not.”

And on it went. When I reached the end of the slide show, Ella sighed and looked at me for a minute. She sat in my lap and put her arms around her neck, which is her sign that she wants to ask me about something she wants but she’s uncertain how I’ll answer.

“Daddy?” she asked.

“Yes, Ella?”

“If they ever make Guardians of the Galaxy into a comic, could I read it, or would it have bad words in it too?”

I explained that Guardians was already a comic, and that yes, the bad words were still in there too. She pouted for a moment, then looked at me.

“Can I read Batman comics?”

I explained that Batman was a bit too grown up for her, and when she pressed me as to how, I tried explaining that comics have come a long way. That they tell grown up and mature stories now, stories that often involve violence and crime and the ugly side of life, and she’s not quite ready to indulge in that type of material.

“Daddy,” she said, “I thought comics were for kids.”

I explained that, yes, once upon a time comics were for kids, and there are still outstanding titles for children her age to read. I mentioned Galaxy Man [written by my friend, Ashton Adams] and Hero Cats, both produced locally by Kyle Puttkammer.

She sighed. “But why aren’t the superheroes written for kids?”

I paused. She had me there. My daughter has grown up with me being excited over Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, and The Avengers. She was so excited when I announced that was working as an extra on Ant-Man. We’ve watched the kids shows based around all of those characters, and she loves getting lost in the stories, loves watching the characters interact and grow and learn. And whenever she asks how I know so much about all of them, I always tell her it’s because I read comics when I was a kid.

So now she wants to read comics as a kid.

And as her father, I’m struggling to say yes. Not because I don’t love comics, but because I simply don’t know if any of the titles I grew up loving as a kid would be kid-friendly in this day and age.

[And before you start, I’m well aware most of those titles weren’t “kid-friendly” when I was a kid. But you have to admit, we’ve made a BIG leap forward in themes and content since the 80s and 90s.]

It’s been a dog’s age since I was in a comic store. So, like all modern-day parents do, I’m turning to the Internet for help.

Are there any current titles featuring the mainstream superheroes that are safe for kids to read?

I want to hand my daughter–and my son–a comic book and introduce them to the joyous marriage that is word and panel combined. I want to see them get lost in the imaginative worlds that so shaped me. But I’m not ready for them to read about the Joker wearing his own severed face, or Tony Stark going back on the booze and becoming a mean S.O.B.

So help me out, Internet. Help me find a comic book for my daughter to love.

When Books Get Tiring

No, I'm not above posting a cute cat picture as a way to draw traffic.

I’m a reader. Love to read. Love to read so much that I currently have a stack of books on my office floor that is approximately 5 feet in height. Love to read so much that almost all of the wall space in my office is filled with bookshelves, and those bookshelves are crammed full of books–on the shelves, on top of the shelves, books on top of other books. So please know that what I’m about to write comes from a place of deep love.

I’m bored with books.

Not all books, mind you, just the ones I’ve been reading lately. Admittedly, my scope has been narrow–as a youth pastor, I’ve been reading a lot of Christian books lately in an effort to improve myself as a pastor. I’ve read or re-read everything from Desiring God to Crazy Love to Mad Church Disease to Transformational Churches to Influencing Like Jesus, and I have to say:


Now, this is a generalization. One of the things that I love about books is that each one, no matter how boring, has the capacity to surprise you with a sudden turn-of-phrase, or a burst of insight, or a brilliantly delivered line. The books I mentioned above are no exception; each have their moments. But as a whole, the Christian stuff that I’ve been reading (most of which calls the reader earnestly to live a full, vibrant life for God) is flat. Dull. Lifeless.

I can’t put my finger on it, but if I had to offer a thought as to why these books bore, I would have to say it’s due to the fact that too many of us Christians are concerned with how to live life than with actually going out and living it, and the books we read reflect that. It’s the Age of Insecurity–are you a good enough person? Do you know enough? Do you love enough? Do you give enough? If so, how do you manage it? If not, what keeps you from living your best life now? (©Joel Osteen) In the end, you’d think that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are paranoia, depression, repression, fear, conceit, and self-loathing.

I mean, by comparison, Woody Allen’s neuroses are small.

Of course, no one is forcing me to read these books. There’s not a gun to my head. But lots of people are buying these books and using them for guidance on how to live life better. People are obviously dissatisfied with the direction/trajectory of their lives, and they’re seeking answers. This is good. That they’re seeking them from books that make you want to end your life rather than finish reading them is a problem.

Let me be clear. I have no problem with people writing books. I want to write books. I want to publish books. I think books are a vital contribution to the world, and one of the best gifts given to humanity. I think that the authors of the books I mentioned are deserving of credit for what they’ve written because their books have helped many people.

But we have reached a place where the words written on the page do not suffice for the ache, the lack, in a person’s daily life. There’s only so much we can learn by proxy; at some point we must get out and live life. And in living life, share it with other people. There’s a crackling to that kind of living; an energy and a pulse that can’t be found anywhere else, not even in the world’s best prose.

Perhaps the issue isn’t with the books as much as it is with the reader, and in this case that’s me. Maybe it’s my time to get out and live a fuller life, do a better job of becoming the person I want to be instead of reading about how to become that person. The tools are at my avail; I don’t need anything more than what I already have. I just have to make myself do it. I have to choose to live.

And by living, here’s hoping I bring life back to the pages I hold so dear.

Insomniac’s Internet Report

Welcome back, Dave. Hal has upgraded to wifi and is waiting to show you some new tricks...

I couldn’t sleep last night, a fact you might have guessed given the blog’s suddenly new appearance (Side Note: can I help it if WordPress finally produced a free theme almost exactly like I’ve been wanting? I saw this last night and got giddy). To pass the time, and to prevent my insomnia from infecting my beloved wife, I opted to hit the couch with the old laptop and see what the internet has to offer once the midnight oil is lit.

The quick summation: Jack Squat.

In a world of supposedly 24-hour information, I just so happened to pick the world’s most boring 24-hours in which to be wide awake. Baseball is on a break until the All-Star sham starts, the NFL and NBA are both locked out and moving at pace that makes glaciers seem impatient, and Facebook offers no one with whom to banter once the clock strikes one in the morning. CNN’s lead story was about Prince William and Duchess Kate wearing cowboy gear to commemorate their historic opening of the Calgary Stampeded (Brits in boots and bolos – there’s some stunning reading!), and the folks at Fox weren’t much better (I think it was all about nine ways to bring Casey Anthony to justice, “Old West” style).

Even TMZ was DOA, and I couldn’t even bring myself to Google the words “Perez Hilton”, just out of fear that my computer would catch a digital STD. I tried reading some online books, but without the tactile sensation of a page to turn, Wuthering Heights is even more dreadful than previously imagined. I tried to keep up with Twitter, but even their feed was pathetically slow – two tweets in twenty minutes…it’s like all of the smart alecks in the world fell into a coma at the exact same time.

Hulu was hopeless (I just can’t bring myself to watch anything other than Law & Order from NBC) and YouTube gets boring after the 254,302 video of some poor father being “accidentally” hit in the groin. I tried reading some of the classier content aggregators but all I got was aggravation.

So in the end I turned on a small lamp, grabbed a Raymond Chandler story collection, and read some tales about my favorite fictional detective of all time, Philip Marlowe. My brain slowed down, I got to read some great writing, and eventually I was able to close my eyes and drift off to sleep…for ten minutes. I woke up to the sounds of my wife making coffee and my daughter flitting around the house, upset because daddy was taking up the whole couch and she wanted her seat.

Now, I’m too tired to really post anything insightful or truly hilarious, my head kind of hurts, and I have the vague sensation of needing to keel over at any moment. I can already hear my bed calling my name.

Unless aliens land or Casey Anthony suddenly elopes with OJ, I doubt there’ll be anything happening online tonight that I’ll really want to be part of. And even if aliens land, that can wait til morning.

OJ and Casey…well, who cares?

Emily Dickinson Is Overrated (Or, How to Break Up With Your Book)

Let me just say, this post isn’t going to make a lick of sense. Not a bit. If there are two sober thoughts in all of these lines, I’ll eat your hat.

And it has nothing to do with the fact that I’m on Benadryl right now.

I’ve been teaching vacation bible school this week at my church, which is new for me. Normally, I’m the idiot that stands in front of the kids and jumps up and down hollering like a maniac, trying to get them into the groove of the VBS day. This year, I’m in a classroom with 15 four and five year-olds, trying to figure out how to teach the bible at their level.

It’s been interesting.

My copy of the Treasury doesn't have the snazzy dust jacket.

So this afternoon, after I got done teaching and writing my massive t0-do list for our mission trip next week, I decided to feed my malnourished brain and pulled out the Treasury of American Poetry. I let the book just fall open. It landed on Emily Dickinson.

Now, I’ve been a fan of Ms. Dickinson for years, particularly of her poem, “Because I could not stop for Death.” Morbid, I know, but it’s a powerful little compaction of verse. I re-read that poem today, along with everything else they had in the Treasury. And the rest of her stuff left me thinking:

It’s no wonder she hid these in a trunk.

That’s a mean-spirited barb just for shock and laughs; I don’t mean to suggest that she had no talent. Only an untalented hack would suggest that.  I read and re-read at least thirty of her poems, and other than “Death” and “I’m Nobody! Who are you? Are you Nobody, too?” not a single one spoke to me.

And the thought occurred to me that perhaps in my previous readings of her work I overestimated her value to me.

Of course, the thought also occurred to me that perhaps I’m just not in a Dickinson phase right now, and I shouldn’t beat her up for not being right for this season of life.

I think both trains of thought are true, and here’s why: I sincerely believe that there are some authors and books that speak to you in certain seasons. Like that time you went through your Melville phase and told everyone to call you Ishmael. Or your Aunt Frieda who spent an entire summer reading Jackie Collins as if it were the bible. Or your crazy Uncle Ramone who spent an entire year trying to retrace Marlowe’s steps in The Big Sleep. There are just certain genres or styles or characters or writers who come into your life at the exact right time and make a big impression on you during that season.

Emily Dickinson was one of those writers for me. She spoke to me at a time when her terse style and playfully dire tone were what my soul craved. And then today I read her and she’s got nothing for me.


I shut the volume of poetry after reading a couple more poems by Edgar Lee Masters (I only met him today, and safe to say, we probably won’t meet again) and I shelved it next to The Complete Pelican Shakespeare (and no, that has nothing to do with nautical bards…).

The Treasury’s little blue binding smiled at me, Emily ensconced safely inside. It was like meeting an ex at a class reunion (or in my case, reading a Facebook post from one of the girls I secretly crushed on in high school): Wow, I dodged a bullet there.

That’s the best way to break up with a book, really. To gently close its cover and place it somewhere not out of sight but certainly out of your consciousness. Collected poems and other romantic ditties are easy to break up with because they are usually seasonal reads for most of us. I don’t give a second thought to my copy of Walden or Leaves of Grass or that strange little volume of Keats I got at a Goodwill store because the pages for “Ode on a Grecian Urn” were the only pages that didn’t have stains on them. They sit on my shelves, little pieces of my past, little samples of my DNA, and if I think of them, it’s usually with warmth and little else.

But there are some books that won’t allow you to do that. Infinite Jest is the king of them. That massive paperback stares at me like a deranged child molester slowly filing his way through the prison bars. One day soon, we’ll have to tangle and it won’t be pretty. Second would be Lolita. A close third would be Finnegan’s Wake. These are books that you don’t really break up with as much as you simply go on the lam and hope to God they never find you.

In this way, books are a lot like people. Some we hold near and dear to our bosom, others we hold at a close distance with great fondness but no need for connection. And still others we hide in certain corners, only to be flirted with when we are sure we’re ready, when we’ve got our A-game together and there will be no innocent bloodshed. All of them shape us, define us, tell us things about ourselves that we might not otherwise know (or ever think to learn); all of them are precious in some way.

I can’t think of a great ending for this post (like I said, two coherent thoughts and I’ll eat your hat – the one with the feathers that even British Royalty wouldn’t be caught dead wearing) so I’ll just leave it here:

What books have you broken up with recently? And which book is sitting on your shelf, biding it’s time?

How Lewis Grizzard Changed My Life

I was filing out an application for a men’s mentoring program today (it’s with the C.S. Lewis Institute here in Atlanta), and among the many questions I had to answer was this:

20. What book, other than the Bible, has had the greatest impact on your life? Explain why.

It took me a while to think of it, but once I settled on my answer, I was amazed at just how much that one little book changed the trajectory of my future. This is not spiritual, at least not on the surface, but the book that most changed my life was Lewis Grizzard’s Elvis is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself.

I first read the book when I was in the sixth grade. My mother bought it as a pleasure read, but never quite got around to it. Something about the yellow paperback’s cover, a picture of Grizzard with a thermometer in his mouth and ice pack on his head, struck me as fascinating, and I quietly snuck the book out of my mom’s room and read it in one afternoon. I remember that I laughed at all of the jokes – even though this was an adult book with adult humor, everything resonated with me. It was the first glimpse of a truth about me: that I identified better with the generation ahead of me than I did with my own peers. My sensibilities, sense of humor, interests, observations, politics, and manners were more Baby Boomer than Gen X and I felt the same thing I felt when I stayed inside to listen to my parents and grandparents talk while the other kids went to play: that I was at home.

I loved the language, the irreverence, the risky-but-not-overt humor that everyone knew wasn’t like Mama’s but wouldn’t make Mama blush if she heard it; I loved the way that Grizzard was able to tell me about his plain life and make me interested. I had never read non-fiction before that (unless you count the Bible and my school books), and I had always assumed that non-fiction was boring. This opened up my eyes to the truth about story—narrative is the ebb and flow of all life, not just the stuff creative people make up. Grizzard’s book showed me that the average person is the central character in his or her own story while simultaneously being a major and/or minor character in countless other stories.

But I suppose what really makes this book most transformational in my life is the sheer fact that it made me want to write like Grizzard. I became a huge fan of his column in the AJC, and when it came time to select a career, and the college that would help prepare me for it, I followed in Lewis’ footsteps and chose the University of Georgia, majoring in Journalism. I gave up on that dream after my freshman year, but Lewis Grizzard’s book was so central to my choice that I never bothered considering any other school. It was UGA all the way.

I still find myself writing in the Grizzard tradition. I enjoy writing fiction, but I find that most of the time I connect best with people when I write in that columnist, everyman-observer, Southern boy style. I’ve found that I can write about anything that I want and be funny, serious, emotive, or all of the above within a single piece and people identify with it and embrace it. If I could have a career writing essays or columns that deal with my life as a parent or pastor or husband or Southern gentleman, I would be among the happiest men in the world, and I think in part it comes back to my salvation: I want to know that my life contributed something to the lives of others. My life – not what other people might expect from me, but who I am inside, no filters for public consumption.

I could go on, but in ways I couldn’t articulate, Elvis is Dead and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself was the awakening of the man I wanted to become, the man I am still striving to be. It remains a book that I read on a regular basis, even though some of the jokes aren’t as funny anymore; I can see in Grizzard a spiritual emptiness that leads to bitterness that I never noticed before, and it makes me sad for him, even as I determine to go in the opposite direction. But the book still reminds me of the stirring inside me to tell stories, to write well, to connect with people in a way that earns me an audience and the privilege to write about what I see is funny or true or meaningful or important about life. And it compels me to continue working toward the goal of being a published author, no matter how stacked the odds are against me. It is part of my purpose, I suppose, and Lewis Grizzard helped me find it.