I was in San Francisco, walking through an art museum. The tour was coming to an end, and I was headed back to congregate with the rest of the group. With my eyes trained to the ground and my head in the clouds, I was startled when a voice abruptly interrupted me.
“Do you even know who that is?” I started, and looked over. A sandy-haired balding man gestured lazily at me. He was in a suit with a tag reading “SECURITY GUARD” pinned crookedly to his lapel. A coil of plastic wound its way into his ear like a snake.
“Wha-” I began, indignantly.
“On your shirt,” he interrupted me. “Do you even know who that is? Or do you just wear it? No kids these days actually read the things,” he nudged the guard beside him. “Who’s on your shirt?”
I was wearing my favorite shirt, a sweater with Wolverine on the front– in bold yellow and blue on a red background, with “SNIKT” in proud letters across the bottom. I wore it when I knew it was going to be the best day ever, I wore it when I knew I would be taking lots of pictures of myself. I loved wrapping my arms around myself; hugging Wolverine to my chest and imagining adamantium strength leeching into me.
“I– what?” I finally asked. Who was this man?? Why was he stopping me from going about my business with impertinent questions? Just who did he think he was?!
“Ach,” the security guard flapped his hand and nudged his companion again. “Nobody reads the comics anymore. Why d’ya wear that shirt? What’s ‘is name?” he pointed again. He looked me up and down with a sneer, taking in my hair, skipping my eyes, and lingering a little too long at my breasts.
“L-Logan, of course,” I stuttered. “Logan…” my racing heart pushed too much blood into my brain, I couldn’t think. Couldn’t say that Logan born James Howlett, became Weapon X, and re-created himself as The Wolverine. Couldn’t explain that as a samurai he sometimes went as Patch, to be incognito. Instead, I stared, flabbergasted at this middle-aged portly deadbeat who thought he could tell me what I could wear. “His name is Logan,” I said again. “The Wolverine.”
I don’t remember what he said after that, nor what I responded in turn. Something snappish and adroit, I hope. That awful conversation festers in my mind, even still.
For the first time, I realized that comics were something I had to prove myself in. Comics weren’t just something I could enjoy, curl up with and read to set down and go on with my life. No, because I was a girl– because I happened to have two X chromosomes– I had to prove, convince to others that I was a “true” fan. It wasn’t enough that I owned movies, wore the merch– without at least seventy years worth of knowledge and and a Y in my DNA, I was just faking it to gain attention.
My miserable summer job was in full swing, counting the thousands of dollars an amusement park made while making a measly seven dollars for doing it. Flipping green paperbacks from one thumb to another, I made small talk with my co-worker.
His name was Jacob. With carrot-colored hair to match his angry acne, and a sparse beard that straggled its way up to his temples, he was like any other 28 year old working a minimum wage job. Nice enough, until you got to know him.
“I just saw Captain America: Civil War,” he told me.
“Cool,” I said. “I can’t wait to see that one.” I imitated a growly announcers voice. “In theaters, this summer.”
“Yeah,” his eyes behind his glasses slanted at me. “I think the arc in that one is cool. The Marvel universe is really expanding.” And so prattled on.
“Oh yeah,” I lifted one shoulder in indifference. “The movies are cool. What I’m really sad about is that Hugh Jackman will be playing his last as Wolverine in the Old Man Logan coming out.” I pouted.
His orange eyebrows shot up. “Yeah? And what did you think of the samurai arc?” I know a challenge when I see one.
So I started on my love of Wolverine. And Beta Ray Bill, and Thor– but Jacob caught all my discrepancies. Called me out on every mistake I made, gleefully reminding me that if I were a “true” fan, I’d know these things.
Comics could not be a casual thing for me. If I were going to embrace comics– their art, the dialogue, the incredible journeys– I would have to know everything.
It wasn’t enough that I could carry on a conversation about these comics- I had to know more than him. After all, one tiny slip-up and I wasn’t a “true fan.” Just some girl who wanted to look cool.
Otherwise I was just doing it to make boys interested in me.
“This is my daughter!” my mom said to her classroom. 23 expectant 11 year olds looked to me like I was something in a zoo: “Teacherus Dottirus, rarely seen in the wild. Do not approach.” I put my broadest phony grin and waved like I wasn’t daunted. The class went around and introduced themselves, one by one. I lost track of who was who somewhere between Carlos and Kaylee.
“Does anyone have any questions for her?” My mom put her palms together and raised her eyebrows at the class, then at me.
“What high school do you go to?” asked a boy with brown skin and curly hair.
“I’ve graduated,” I told him. “From Olympus High.”
“Oh,” he said, “that’s where my brother goes.” He lost interest and began animatedly pinching his neighbor, who shoved him over.
More questions were asked and answered, all mundane, all predictable. “All right, last question,” my mom said. “Yes, you, Kaylee.”
Kaylee had been doodling with sparkly gel pens, but now she stood up to speak with me.
“Is that a boy’s shirt?” her head was tilted, large brown eyes and scraggly hair drowning in her big pink coat. I sucked in a breath.
I was wearing a loose cotton tee that was just a little too big. They didn’t have it in my size, and men’s extra small was too big for me. It had Wolverine on it in all his spandex glory.
What should I say to that? “Sure, it’s a boy’s cut– but just because it has no darts doesn’t mean I can’t wear it?” or, “Yes, it was marketed towards boys, but gender is really just a social construct to ensure gendered marketing and mark-ups are overlooked in favor of being beautiful?” How could I explain to this little girl the rough journey I had been on over my appearance, my care in the seventh and eighth grade to avoid looking too ‘boyish?’
“It’s my shirt,” I finally said. That was the truest I could come up with and still be kind. Not a lie, but also not the well of rage that had come with years of being told to look girly.
“You gotta look cute if you want to go out with boys,” a giggly voice in my head tells me, one that I still haven’t been able to silence. “But be careful–” warns another. “Boys will be boys– don’t reveal too much. Or it’s your fault if you get hurt. Your clothing is an invitation.”
Mom recognized that I was overwhelmed. “It’s her shirt,” she said. “She wears it all the time.”
Comic books are filled with hourglass-shaped women that are only on the page for brief moments– eye candy for the middle-aged male demographic that doesn’t have to compare themselves to the unrealistic females. I read them anyway. I’m engrossed in the raw storytelling of these broken characters, who have been around for seventy years and show no signs of stopping. Antiheroes are still the most compelling characters, and Wolverine is the best of them all.
I am still coming to grips with the disparaging comments I get. It irritates me to know that I really can’t “prove” myself– and am getting better at reminding myself that I don’t need to. I can read comic books for me. Because I enjoy them, because they enthrall me, because I have come to love the characters. Comics don’t require any justification.
And a big “SNIKT” to anyone who thinks it does.