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"Other World 1" © Dez Pain

A Different Reality

“T hey’re not real, Mark. You can’t interact with them. They can’t be your friends.”

I had been hearing this from my parents ever since I was too small to reach the comic book racks down at MacDonald’s newsstand. Every time I began to really enjoy myself, my parents would start in about imaginary worlds not being able to take the place of real-life friends and activities. Every time I was on the verge of complete escape, they would ensnare me within their web of worries. Couldn’t they see they were preventing me from the very thing they claimed to want for me—happiness?

Now I was turning sixteen, and they were on me like never before. “How are you going to get a date for the junior prom if you don’t even speak to any of the girls in your class?”

How could I explain to my mother that none of those girls could ever compare to the magnificence, the classical beauty of Wonder Woman? Why, they didn’t even have the working girl spunk of Lois Lane. Real-life, I knew, would always disappoint. But superheroes—and the values they embodied—were forever. Superman had existed, untouched by time, his morality and basic goodness unaltered, for seventy years now. Why bother with a life as mundane as my mother’s chores, as disheartening as the string of low-end blue collar jobs my father had toiled in for decades, when there were epic adventures to be lived every day within the pages of my mind?

When I announced to my family, in the middle of my birthday celebration, that I intended to become a comic book writer, it was more than my parents could tolerate. After everyone had departed, as I lay sprawled in the corner easy chair, reveling in the latest BATMAN comic, they delivered their ultimatum:

“You will not waste any more of our money on these stupid comic books,” my father said. “You will get a job and you will take up some sport or other activity at school. I don’t care what kind of job or what kind of sport, but you will not waste away around here daydreaming while everyone else is out there living.”

Seeing that I was in tears, my mother tried to comfort me. “It’s just . . . well, look at yourself, Mark. You’re as thin as a scarecrow. It’s the middle of summer and you’re white as a ghost. We just want you to be healthy and happy.”

Anger welled inside me. This seemed to me more unjust than any crime ever committed in Gotham City. But what was there to say? They were my parents and they would never understand.

I had to go away now. Not to some Fortress of Solitude in the arctic, but deeper within the world in my head—a world where heroic deeds were possible because people had the courage to believe in heroes. A world where actions were grand, statements were bold, and tales were epic. The comics would be hidden now—the stories shared with no one. I felt a profound sadness over this decision, but I knew that a part of me would have to remain closed off forever. That was just the way it had to be.

The next year, when I was seventeen, I fell in love with a real-life girl. And another when I was eighteen. And two when I was nineteen. I discovered all on my own what the real world had to offer. Eventually I found someone that I could share all my passions with, and the struggles of my youth faded like the memory of Krypton from Superman’s mind.

I became a comic book writer.

And on the day my first story was published, I smiled with an inward satisfaction as my parents told me how proud they were of my accomplishments.

“I couldn’t have done it without you,” I said.

And as I said it, I saw myself winking at an imaginary reader, just like Clark Kent used to do at the end of every story to let us know that the world we believed in was safe, and would continue on.

Copyright © 2008 by Mark Joseph Kiewlak

“A Different Reality” was first published as an End Piece in ByLine Magazine in January 2001.
It has since appeared in Ascent Aspirations and in Once Upon a Time.

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Mark writes:
The love of escapism I embrace so heartily in “A Different Reality” puts me in mind of what is truly the most wondrous aspect of the comic book world. It isn’t the rapture of soaring among the clouds, the invulnerability of bullets bouncing off one’s chest, the masks which enable some inner transformation from isolated individual to Everyman. It isn’t the powers of the heroes at all, but rather the powers manifest in me—the ability to halt and then reverse the aging process, to time-travel within those yellowed pages back to summer afternoons that lasted an eternity, to winter nights armored in adventure. The wonder is in the collective joy of a billion imaginations set free. That is the fuel which powers any reality.

Mark Joseph Kiewlak’s poetry and fiction have been in print for some fifteen years. In 2008 his work appeared in more than two dozen magazines, including The Bitter Oleander, The Rose & Thorn, AlienSkin, Hardboiled, Slow Trains, The Oracular Tree, Clean Sheets, and many others. He was privileged to have served as judge of the 2007 Wild Violet Fiction Contest. He has also written for DC Comics (FLASH 80-PAGE GIANT #2) and counts among his main inspirations the work of Robert B. Parker, J.M. DeMatteis, Ray Bradbury, Frank Miller, and Anne Rice.


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