Saturday, February 16, 2013

Valentine's Week: Aftermath

All this week, Erik spent his time trying to keep what he thought was the real spirit of Valentine's Day alive, by devoting his attentions to reasons why such a saccharine, hollow holiday should exist, just to have it crushed by the movie Barb Wire.  It has now been revealed to him the truth, that even the greatest romances can fail, that no love truly lasts forever, and the sooner the holiday ceases to exist, the better off we all are.


You know, the funny thing is, originally I hadn't planned on doing a movie review to end the week.  I was just suddenly so inspired to end with something big that I pushed aside my original idea and got myself dragged down.  But, my eyes have finally been opened, and I understand why so many other people I know dismiss Valentine's Day for the commercialized festival of triteness it has become.

Originally, I wanted to talk about Amelia Rules.

I was first turned on to this book when I picked up a copy of a free issue at "Free Comic Book Day" some years ago.  I was amused by the story of a young girl who moves out to the suburbs from New York City after her parents get divorced (proving once again that no love is forever), and her adventures joining a group of kids in a "superhero club" and dealing with school, family, and the pressures of growing up.

The author/artist, Jimmy Gownley, created an extremely interesting book, both in storytelling and in art approach.  Stories told dealing with flashbacks to when adults were younger are done in the art styles of "classic" comics, whether it's in the style of Peanuts when they're small children to the classic "Archie" style of cartooning for their teenage years.  It shows a remarkable ability to adapt his style, and for that I really can't commend Mr. Gownley enough.

I think, though, that what this book does best is handle topics that adults are never comfortable discussing with children and approach the matter in an intelligent, responsible way.  Early on the stories are mostly madcap hijinks, with Amelia joining her friends' top secret "superhero club," their battle with a "ninja club" a few blocks away, and even the hijacking of a mall Santa to find out if Santa Claus is really real.

But suddenly you realize the book is dealing with very real problems for children.  Early issues deal with bullies, divorce, teasing and cliques.  In the Christmas issue, Amelia realizes that while she's playing up her parents' divorce for extra presents from both sides, one of her best friends' families is so poor they can't afford any presents.  Another issue involves a good friend of hers getting real sick due to a ventricular septal defect, and what it means to someone young to know somebody who's "fragile."  One storyline involves a "truth or dare" incident that leads to Amelia being rushed to the hospital. 

But the key "adult" storyline is what happens to a child when their parent is called to war.

A storyline that begins with Amelia being asked to her first dance pivots quickly as she and the other children have to deal with one of their best friends' fathers being called to duty in Iraq for a year.  It breaks down just how long that year could be for a child, where every clock tick without a parent around feels like it stretches out forever.

So, what would any of this have to do with Valentine's Day?  There are multiple young, blossoming relationships in the book, some of which pan out (for now), and others of which crash and burn pretty quickly.  There's a continuous crush held by Rhonda, one of her friends, for Reggie, the leader of their "club."  There's a story where Amelia's mother goes on a date for the first time after her divorce.  There's even a few allusions to her aunt Tanner's previous relationship with a man that ended "terribly" and pretty much ended her music career for a while.

For me, though, the best "Valentine's Day" moment comes early in one of the trades, when the characters are trying to figure out how to write a basic card for someone they know.  Amelia and Rhonda are both attempting to write a card for Reggie (Amelia trying to figure out how to say something nice while hiding it behind "when I'm with you, I don't want to barf as often as I might've, while Rhonda keeps having to push her frustrations about a one-sided relationship down), while Reggie is trying to find ways to rhyme "major smoochies" to Tanner.

The story ends, once all three give up in frustration, with the fourth of their quartet, a boy who only goes by the name "Pajamaman" delivering simple, homemade cards that read "On Valentine's Day and all year through, it's really nice being friends with you."

Okay, that is pretty sweet.

And, you know, for all of the drama that happens, the book never takes a jaded view towards anything.  It reminds us constantly about how important it is to have friends and how important it is for friends to be there for each other.  It keeps an optimistic look on crushes and how even if the first one doesn't pan out, you can't let it keep you from keeping your eyes open and being willing to take chances and risk being hurt again.

It even manages to do well convincing a child that just because her parents weren't able to work things out, it doesn't mean they've stopped caring about her or each other, and that just because something ends doesn't mean it has to end poorly.

So, maybe there is something to a holiday that celebrates relationships.  After all, when you're young, you don't just write cards to the person you want to sneak a kiss to in elementary school, it's a day where you nurture and try to connect to everyone.  You write a card to your teacher, your parents, your grandparents, a babysitter, a neighbor, anybody who you have a connection to that you value.

Perhaps, in this world where fame is more important than anything else and people are constantly debating what it means to be a "family" or be "in love," it's important to remember these lessons people are trying to teach us when we're young, and important to hold onto these lessons, not just for ourselves, but so we can pass them on and make sure others learn them as well.

There's a quote I love towards the end of one of the books:  "Our story is destined to be a grand one!  Hidden right in plain sight!  But it's going to be quite risky.  After all, everything good in life usually is!  It's not just about the adventure, though, it's about all the choices you make, how they affect other people.  Some of whom aren't even born yet!  And who may never know just how lucky they are that we came before them."

...y'know, maybe I'll go get myself some half-price nougats.  Or a cake pop.  Things seem to be looking up.

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