Introductions

HJ Sagan TreeSometimes I think it’s interesting to chart your life by your interests/obsessions. I suppose for a lot of men my age it starts with dinosaurs or indian tribes or trains, or maybe all three, then branches out into differences depending upon where we grew up, what toys we had, who we played with, etc.

The other day I started thinking about who introduced me to which things that have had a huge and lasting impact upon me, which is perhaps a healthier way to think about all of it.

For instance, my mom introduced me to The Beatles and fantasy fiction, and my father introduced me to sports and gentlemanly behavior. The sports never stuck until I found karate about twelve years ago, but I’ve tried to be gentlemanly. Both had a love of music and reading, and had a wonderfully empathic way to look at the world. Boy, did I love talking story theory with my father. They made sure to introduce me to the playing of musical instruments as well. 

star trek crewMy friend Mike not only gave me my first phone call (at age 4 or 5), in that phone call he made sure I turned on the TV to watch that great show he’d discovered, Star Trek. The original Star Trek is a cornerstone not just in the way I approach story and character, but in the way I think of proper conduct, of trying to do the right thing, all the time. I could probably write an entire post on that subject alone.

My friend Sean showed me role-playing games via Dungeons & Dragons, AND introduced me to Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber. My friend Jon introduced me to tank board games (via Panzer Leader) and Elric (and other Michael Moorcock books). The tank board game seed was planted after just one or two games, and only recently sprouted, because I wanted to recapture the fun I’d had with him. I’ve been a role-playing gamer off and on ever since Sean showed me how to play.

brackett4I could go on and on, of course — about how my sister Allison introduced me to Leigh Brackett, and how my friend Loren gave me a Robert E. Howard book that made me “get” how good he really was, and so on. I won’t bore you with the details of all these names that would mean nothing to you, but I’m going to compile my list, and I’ll try to look at it from time to time.

The long and the short of it is that I wouldn’t be who I am today if not for the input of a whole lot of people. I think it’s a good idea to stop and remember that now and then and try to be a little grateful.

If any of you have standout moments you’d like to share, I’d love to read them.

14 Comments on “Introductions

  1. What a great post!

    My uncle Richard introduced me to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, KISS, and Robert E. Howard (he loaned me “Conan the Adventurer” and “Conan the Usurper”).

    My Dad introduced me to Star Trek, Louis L’Amour, Clint Eastwood, shooting, & teaching.

    My Mom encouraged my art and introduced me to used book stores (that was an exciting discovery for a young kid).

    Channel 4 out of Indianapolis introduced me to George Reeves as Superman.

    My school library introduced me to old, classic Universal Horror Movies via these orange photo books, and to dinosaurs.

    • That sounds like a cool set of relatives.

      I forgot about Superman and Channel 4. I guess that one had a big influence at first, but didn’t stay with me. But I DO remember Cowboy Bob from Channel 4 and his advice: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Such a simple philosophy, but one that’s underappreciated. That one really stuck with me.

  2. I played Panzer Leader before D&D. Kurt Jordan and I bought our D&D books out of the Squadron Hobby Catalog after playing a couple of years of Skirmish Wargaming and especially liking Roman vs Celt historical minis wargames.

    I had that EXACT copy of the Hounds of Skaith and I must have read it 6 times by the time I was 16. Came in 2 huge boxes of sci fi and fantasy given to me for babysitting. Had a bunch of Ace double novels and ton of EE Doc Smith.

    Parallel tracks to be sure. But I think the foundation for being an artist was laid down even earlier. I read comics at 4. I remember seeing two panel juxtaposed together making Reed Richards shoulder looking like a giant balloon and say’ Hmmm…. that doesn’t look right.”. My german grandfather would translate French Tin Tin books for me and I was captivated by the artwork.

    I remember being physically struck by seeing Neal Adam’s Tarzan of the Apes cover. I remember those wonderful DAW yellow spine books. My favorites, Elric, with early Michael Whelan covers. I remember seeing Jack Kirby take over an issue of the Losers after a run by John Severin and going “what the eff?” Severin could make a P-51 mustang look like a P-51 mustang and a garand rifle look like a garand rifle. Jack comes in and all of a sudden, the Nazis look like 5th world rejects hanging around with Kirby-esque energy blasters that would not look out of place in Kamadi.

    But it wasn’t until playing a video game called Cliffhanger. Which it would take a few years to learn, was cribbed from scenes of Castle of Cagliostro staring Lupin the III. Directed by Miyazaki. I went home after firing in about 3 dollars worth of quarters and started my first comic page. At 15, I decided I wanted to be an illustrator.

    Here I be. Great memories. Thanks for shaking that tree.

    • Weren’t those Whelan covers great?

      It was my sister (the same one who got me into Brackett) who introduced me to comics, because she had some great Daredevil, Ghost Rider, Spider-Man, and Avengers comics from the early and mid ’70s. Also some Black Panther and Power-Man and Iron-Fist. Of course, in those days it was so much easier to find comics, because there were racks at every drug store and grocery store. Almost every kid I knew read ’em.

      Those comics inspired me to draw, too, but no matter what, I just couldn’t draw very well. And I had a good friend, Jon Baker, who so clearly had the right stuff, that it seemed pretty clear that no amount of hard work would see me achieve the same level of talent!

  3. My mother collected Tarzan comics and books, and she started me down a path toward adventure early on.

    • That’s cool! My mom wasn’t a Tarzan fan, so far as I know, but she had Bradbury and Heinlein and Farmer on the shelves, along with others, and when I was very young she read The Hobbit to me.

      Of course it was science fiction I loved first — I only turned to fantasy when I ran out of exciting science fiction to read. There was much less of it back when I was a kid, and the lines between it and fantasy were more blurry.

      Funny, I think I would have been surprised to learn that would be a “fantasy” writer rather than a science fiction writer if someone had told that to me when I was a kid. I knew I wanted to be a writer. Of course I also wanted to be a rock musician and a starship captain, so…

  4. The kid in fourth grade (1978-79) who brought the 1978 Brothers Hildebrandt Tolkien calendar to class and told me that the awesome Gollum character depicted therein was in this book called The Hobbit that you could get in the school library. That kid? I owe him just about everything amazing in my life: fantasy/SF fiction, D&D, medieval studies, grad school, my wife, my career, my kids, etc.

    I cannot remember who he was, but thank you, fourth grader.

    • Hah! It’s strange, isn’t it, when you can’t even recall who it was who introduced you to something monumentally life-changing?

      So many of my later monumental events are thanks to my wife. I had a very bland food style preference and she pointed me towards all kinds of ethnic foods that I’ve grown to love. She encouraged me to start karate. It was an out of the blue suggestion — even though I’d always secretly wanted to try it, I’d never mentioned it to her. She’s the one who found both Mighty Max and Batman: The Animated Series, not to mention Avatar: The Last Airbender and Gravity Falls. Those are some of the best cartoon series I’d ever seen, but I wouldn’t have gotten hooked on them if she hadn’t discovered them. Oh — and she’s the one who convinced me to look past the anime/silly veneer of Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood and appreciate the amazing storytelling beneath…

      • I moved about a month after that event, so most of my friends from Endwell Elementary are ciphers to me at this point–what with being 9 at the time and with the trauma of the move.

        The best part is that the kid showed me the calendar, I checked out The Hobbit that afternoon during library time, I nearly missed my bus stop while reading it (only Ellen Gavin from across the street got me to get off the bus in time), and then I finished the book that night with a flashlight while my parents were entertaining downstairs.

  5. It starts with dinosaurs and trains for EVERY man! Giant animals with incredible power and giant machines with incredible power speek deeply to the heart of even 2 year old boys who don’t yet understand anything what they are seeing yet.

    • Man, did I love those dinosaurs! I had a pretty significant collection of dinosaur books when I was a kid!

      I never got into trains, but my son sure did. Oddly enough, he wasn’t into dinosaurs. Maybe it skips generations for us Jones boys.

      Elephants fascinated me, though. They were my favorite animal when I was a little kid and I’m still quite fond of them. I can trace that back to a stuffed elephant toy someone gave me when I was a little boy. I’ve no idea who, now. Mom said I preferred it to all the other toys when I was a baby.

  6. To add a younger perspective. My big moment was the introduction to modern fantasy novels.
    My cousin was really into manga around 2003 and i used to go with him to Barnes and noble to pick out new titles.

    I randomly walked to the fantasy section and spotted a collection of R.A. Salvatore’s “The Cleric Quintet.” I started reading it just because the book was so big. I loved the first two chapters.

    The next two times we went back there i picked up the book and read the first few chapters. Finally my cousin said “will you just buy the damn thing already!” being 13 and having no money i asked my mother for it. After she got over the shock that i was asking for a book, she bought it.

    I spent the next few weeks reading it every night after school. I had never read anything like that before. That was my first exposure to the modern fantasy novel and DnD. I loved every page.

    • Hah! Great story. I love how your cousin understood sooner than you how into it you were.

      Man, those gateway books are wonderful, aren’t they? I don’t know that I’ve ever enjoyed anything I read quite as much as I enjoyed SWORDS AGAINST DEATH and the first CHRONICLES OF AMBER. Those were among the first fantasies I read as a young man, and they were so very different from anything I’d read before that my blind was pretty much blown.

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