Over my first cup of coffee on Saturday morning, my seven-year-old son Ethan informed me that he is starting his own business. Normally he asks me for waffles, so I was curious.
Ethan pulled out his first custom comic book titled Zombie Attack! Bright red lettering on the cover was only the start of this miniature gore-fest. Subsequent panels showed the bloody battle between the zombies, created predictably when the army spilled toxic waste over a graveyard, and the townspeople who lived nearby with an unending supply of machetes and power tools to fight them. “But there is only one gun, Mom, because I know you don’t like guns,” he said.
Listening to his enthusiastic narration and looking at the death and destruction on the pages, I could feel my lips pursing in disapproval. I imagined him delivering this comic to his client (another boy in his second grade class), and the subsequent call I would get from two angry parents. My own mother’s voice echoed in my head, saying, “Are you going to let him do this? Everyone will think that something is wrong with him!”
This was the same voice that chastised me for reading Stephen King novels. My favorite was Salem’s Lot, the story of a vampire moving into a small town and taking it over. When I was 12, we lived in a small town and had a creepy old man who lived down the street, so I was hooked. “What if Mr. Johnson was a vampire?” I asked my mom. “How would we protect ourselves - hiding in the house, driving out of town, or tracking down the vampire?”
My mom never enjoyed playing these “what if” games. She asked me not to read these books at all. But if I insisted on it, she said I couldn’t take them outside the house. The only “what if” my mom was concerned with was this: What if the neighbors saw me and wondered what kind of mom lets her daughter read these books?
Listening to my son’s excitement that morning, I took a big sip of my coffee and made a decision. He had created a comic book empire, after all. I took Zombie Attack! from him and asked, “What if the zombies were really space aliens…?”