I believe it was comic books that pointed me down the road to crime. Specifically, Batman and Superman comics. Almost from the first.I identified with the villains in the stories. For one thing, the heros were such maroons. After all. it you were bullet-proof, could fly, and were strong enough to KO a locomotive, would you have a secret identity? As a nerd or a wimp? Of course not. You would handle it the same way I would: brag about it. Having worn glasses from the age of five, I would never bother to conceal my X-ray vision behind horn rims. you may rest assured. No, I'd have been out on the street corner with it, "Hey baby, you really lookin' good". Or, "That's a swell brassiere you're wearin' today, Mary Lou, new ain't it?" The blackmail possibilities inherent in knowing which of my teachers wore green underwear on Thursday made my young head spin.
I'll bet Bruce Wayne wore green underwear on Thursday, not to mention that little sissy who lived with him. And dumb? Batman and Robin were so slow that the bad guys had to deliberately leave clues and hints. otherwise it would take them so long to figure out the plot that the comic book would have to have been as thick as the Louisville Phone Book
to contain a single story, and would have probably cost five bucks. The Joker would never have got caught, had he not made it easy for them. I always wished that The Joker had his own comic book, in which he tried really hard and always got away with it. Eventually the people of Gotham City would have caught on and elected the Joker Mayor, then run Batman and his catamite out of town. The Joker was obviously a popular fellow, since he was always surrounded by loyal henchmen. They must have liked him because his crimes never paid off, whereas Batman, aside from Robin, was only close to Alfred the butler, a hired flunky.
Thus was my ambition established. I would become a brilliant master criminal, recruit a horde of loyal thugs, wear interesting costumes, and become rich and famous. I was sure of my success, as I had been told that there was no real Superman, he had only been made up, likewise Batman and Robin, not that I was worried about them, anyway.
That was pretty much the way things were with me, until that fateful day I leafed through the college catalog. I had always known that comic books were drawn by artists, of course. I drew comic books myself, however, no one ever paid me to do it. To the contrary, it sometimes got me into trouble, as I often drew comics about my school-teachers. Crime definitely had the edge on comic art, as far as I was concerned. (My experience since that time has confirmed those early observations).
That college catalog revealed to me that there were areas of art besides drawing comic books. Areas which promised high paying jobs in the design field. That was news to me, as I had always thought that ads and books were designed by the machines that printed them (Experience has also taught me that this is only true for Swiss graphics).
You may imagine my dilemma, faced with an entirely new career possibility, when I had been complacently looking forward to the comfortable life of an outlaw. I must admit, though that certain worries about the criminal life had crept into my consciousness, the result of a summer stint as a busboy. Would I have to pay Social Security on the thugs? I knew I would have to pay them, as even the most loyal of henchmen has to eat and pay the rent, but would I have to furnish their costumes as well? My Mom has always been great with a sewing machine, so I wasn't worried about my costume: but I was reasonably sure that she would balk at stitching up two dozen, even though henchmen's costumes are generally simpler in cut and ornament.
In the end I suppose it was my schoolboy's lack of self-confidence that led me down the safer path of Commercial Art, (although I did take a class in acetyline welding, and still practice locksmithing in my spare time, just in case). My decision was based upon an observation I made while comparing the two fields. As far as I could tell,. there was only one difference between the two career choices: unsuccessful criminals go to prison, unsuccessful commercial artists go to Philadelphia.
There you have my story, for what it's worth. I only hope that those in the law enforcement and judicial fields will learn from my example. and spare the public from that rising tide of criminality which is overwhelming our civilization Your Honor, when an intelligent young lad appears before you- one who shows all the signs of being on the road to a life of crime; please, Your Honor, don't send the boy to reform school. Ship the little bastard off to art school. We'll all be a lot better off, I assure you.
Jim Wilson (C) 1985
This article originally appeared in Medium Condensed.