I missed the whole vampire thing in popular culture – at first, I’d see students come through my classes that were as obsessed with the “children of the night” motif as former students had been with centaurs ten years earlier and as was the case with the centaurs, I gave the subject short shrift. Even though I work quite a bit in the fantasy and science fiction genre I am adamant that students learn the basics before tackling more complicated projects.
However, the TV series ANGEL blind-sided me. I was hooked from the first with the complex character interactions, the believable way the show dealt with “grown-up stuff” like atonement, addiction, dysfunctional family issues…even the in-jokes and humor. I wasn’t the only geezer the show appealed to either; one of the reasons it was canceled rather precipitously at the end of five years was precisely because geezers were tuning in. ‘Angel’ scored well with the Nielsen ratings but it skewed “old” to my demographic . The network wanted was something to pull in teens and young adults so away it went.
The nature of vampirism is explained a little differently in ANGEL. Instead of the individual turning “eevvviiillll” (said in a spooky voice) when turned into a vampire, in this series when you are turned a demon from another dimension comes and takes up residence inside your body. They have access to all your knowledge and memories – but they aren’t “you” any more. Your soul is gone. It makes it all both less and more scary at the same time for me.
One theme ANGEL came back to time and again was the nature of true joy. That caught my attention because I am at the point of my life where I wonder if there is such a thing. I get very jaded at lectures or sermons about the contrast between the types of life-styles that bring you transient happiness vs. long-term joy and how it is better to wait for joy. The only long-term emotion I have had in my life has been clinical depression – not because I have been “bad” or lack a positive mental attitude – but because my brain doesn’t make enough of the right kind of chemicals. In the same way a starving man dreams of a steak, I fantasize about what true joy must be like.
Angel is a vampire with a soul – he was cursed with getting his soul back after murdering a band of gypsies so punishment he would live forever realizing what truly horrible things he had done as ‘Angelus” (the name he went by as a 100% bad-guy vampire). Right off that made me sit up because as I have written before in this blog I have a freakishly sharp memory which means I keenly remember any and all unkind things I have ever done to anyone else. I can understand the exquisite hell Angel lives with.
Most of the time. There are a couple of times when Angel’s soul leaves his body and the totality of Angelus takes over completely – and it ain’t pretty. The first time it happened was when he was with Buffy (yes the Vampire Slayer). During one “interlude” Angel was so overcome with his love for Buffy that he experienced a moment of “pure joy” – which caused his soul to be released to go back to heaven. Angel becomes Angelus for the rest of the season and he is just viciously wicked and cruel. The series almost lost me at that point in fact.
But once again I sat up. A true moment of joy. I thought about it hard, wondering if I had ever had a moment of unqualified true joy – that didn’t blow up in my face afterwards. I have had lots of happiness in my life but it has always been very transitory. I love sitting with my grandson Jayden on my lap while I read – but when he has to go it isn’t long before that mental dump-truck of distress starts backing over my brain. If I could ascertain the existence of a moment of true joy in my life, then there was the possibility of more, so I started combing through old letters, journals and artwork – and just sat and thought a lot.
I found three.
1. Discovering comics coincided with discovering that I was different from my friends in terms of artistic talent. Artistic talent usually doesn’t manifest itself until age 11and I was right on schedule. When I discovered Batman, the Composite Superman and the Crime Syndicate from Earth 3 in the summer of 1964 my first reaction was to try “to make more” though at first it was because there was precious little in the way of licensed items available to buy. Toys weren’t the huge industry they are now, living in Anchorage, Alaska meant that we were at the end of a very long logistical pipeline – and as we were still recovering from the Good Friday Earthquake (second worst recorded quake at 9.2 on the Richter scale) three months earlier most cargo space coming in from Outside was devoted to more practical items.
Undeterred I went to work. Using every trick I could think of I drew my own adventures. I used carbon paper (too messy), I used the window as a light table to trace ( too indistinct) so finally I broke down and just drew Batman…and it wasn’t half bad.
Toys were a little harder. I had a set of “Ring-Hand Soldiers” – plastic army men that were molded without helmets, weapons, packs or belts. They sold with accessories that would snap into the hands, which were molded closed in a ring-shaped grip. This arrangement left their uniforms with limited detail allowing me to paint superhero costumes on them.
…which was great until I got to Batman. How was I going to get those ears on his cowl? I thought about just painting the hood without the ears – and I even though about just not having a Batman – but it just broke my heart to leave my favorite out of the set.
I don’t know what exactly happened next but I did notice that the enamel model paint that I was using made my fingers sticky when it would drip. Then I looked over at the sheet of paper I was using for a drop-cloth and the light-bulb went on. I snipped out a small strip of paper with two bat-ears space out along the top, then painted it with blue enamel. Next I took my working figure and painted blue enamel around his head, then took the strip of paper and wrapped it around the head (paint side in) and adjusted the fit until the ear’s lined up. I painted the outside of the ears, then added another coat of blue when I worked up the Batman uniform on the whole figure…when the two coats of blue paint on the ears dried it was as durable as the rest of the figure. I’d made my Batman.
I still remember that moment, sitting back in the sun coming through the door of our living room in the house on the corner of McRae Road and Barbara Drive in deepest, darkest Spenard. I had my Batman figure, but that wasn’t the real thrill in much the same way that the sunlight wasn’t what was making the warmth and light I was enclosed in. I closed my eyes and for a minute I had that true moment of joy (and the launch of my creative career) when I realized that I could make any toy – anything I wanted.