We wrap our serialization of Rob Kelly’s “Hey Kids, Comics!” with a story of how three wise men — Stanley Kubrick, Arthur C. Clarke and Jack Kirby — helped make a young Neal Patterson’s Christmas special.
Christmas Eve 1976 — I’ll always remember the Christmas of 1976 as a time of mixed emotions. My parents had entered into a legal separation the summer before, and my brother had gone off to college in Florida soon after. Six and a half years older than I, my brother was my source of wisdom and strength, especially when my parents were at odds with each other.
Now I was left to fend for myself while my parents carried on with their contentious relationship. Also, my mom and I were living alone in the house. It felt scary not to have any grown men around to protect us. To cap the year off, my grandfather’s brother, whom we knew as Uncle Jack, died after a brief illness. We had to bury him on Christmas Eve.
As a form of defense, I had retreated further into the fantasy worlds of comics and science fiction. I was a huge “Star Trek” and “Space: 1999” fan, so I was really excited when MGM re-released “2001:A Space Odyssey” in theatres. Regrettably, I couldn’t make heads or tails out of the story, but I was completely blown away by the special effects and the amazing view of the future, which I hoped I might see as an adult. I soon realized where “Space: 1999” had copped its visual style from.
After seeing the movie, I wanted to get Jack Kirby’s comic adaptation, but for some reason, it was nowhere to be found in the stores I frequented. I read his regular comic, which continued where the movie left off, but I really wanted that treasury-sized adaptation.
My everyday world was pretty gloomy during the months leading up to Christmas Eve, but I had reason to feel hopeful. For one, my brother was home from college, and we both realized how much we missed talking to each other and generally goofing around. My father, whom I suppose was trying to earn points with my mom, had been exhibiting his best behavior during the time of my uncle’s illness, driving Uncle Jack’s wife back and forth to the hospital and running errands for her. He was also providing much needed support to the family during the funeral. My parents were getting along again.
As can be imagined, Christmas Eve that year was chaotic. After the funeral, on one of the coldest days of the year, my mom and I went home while my father and brother tended to Uncle Jack’s wife. We agreed to meet up at the local Big Boy for dinner that evening. While we ate, my mom nuzzled against my dad for warmth in the drafty restaurant. The gesture filled me with happiness. Maybe we could be a whole family again.
Entering into the cold, blustery night, my brother went home with my mom while I decided to stick with Dad for awhile. We stopped off at a mom-and-pop deli/convenience store nearby. While my father was roaming the store, I scanned over their small rack of magazines hoping to find some comics I hadn’t already bought or maybe a new Starlog magazine. I was about to give up hope on their paltry selection when I noticed on the top shelf a copy of the treasury book “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Since it was put out months earlier, I had given up hope of ever finding a copy, but there it was!
As soon as my Dad returned, I went directly into begging mode. I knew this was a dodgy proposition on Christmas Eve, but I was desperate. He gave me the usual excuses about how I was going to get lots of presents tomorrow, but I countered with the fact that this was a collectible and had been off the shelves for awhile already. This was a real find! I guess I tapped into his good behavior mode because he reluctantly agreed to buy it for me.
Back home, I laid out the giant-sized comic on the living room floor and read through it. Kirby’s art seemed so strange blown up like this, but the space sequences were awe-inspiring. I was also able to finally understand the story … sort of. By the time I finished it, my dad was leaving for the night, promising to return for Christmas morning. I went to bed eager to spend Christmas with my family back together.
Of course, nothing stays the same. My brother dropped out of the college in Florida after the spring semester. My parents divorced when I was 16. I’m now about the age my parents were then, with plenty of wear and tear to show for it. But I still have that 2001 comic book, and my memories of that Christmas of hope.
Neal Patterson is a writer living in Baltimore, Maryland. His latest project is a cross-genre thriller series titled Codename: Carla. To find out more, go to Codenamecarla.com.
“1976–A Christmas Odyssey” © 2013 Neal Patterson