Back in August of 1994, I can remember standing in front of a carousel of comic books in our neighborhood grocery store, debating whether or not to purchase X-Men 33. I had long since lost my heart to Rogue of the X-Men due to the awesomeness of the 1990s X-Men the Animated Series, even going so far as to pause our VCR at certain frames so I could sketch them. Nonetheless, I was daunted by the prospect of purchasing my first comic because I knew my collector’s spirit would be committing to a lifelong monetary investment (which likely made XTAS one of Marvel’s more lucrative investments). I actually left the store that day empty-handed but for the next seven days was haunted by the idea that all copies of the issue would be bought. As you might have guessed, I did return to purchase the issue, breathing a huge sigh of relief to find several copies still available.
If you’re one of the young women lucky enough to be a teenager in today’s world where “geek” doesn’t necessarily equate to “social pariah,” you might be surprised by the fact that my love of comic books didn’t exactly make me Ms. Popularity. Eager to find another girl I could “geek out” with and not feel like an aberration of nature, I decided to write to Jennifer, the author of one of the letters published at the end of X-Men 33. (This was before the Internet exposed the dangers of information sharing, and comic book companies still published the full addresses of their fans; I imagine that this resulted in many young women receiving unsolicited letters from incarcerated persons which is why this is no longer standard practice.)
Here’s the excerpt from her original letter that piqued my interest:
What can I say? X-men #30 was marvelous, spectacular, and awesome!!! I’ve only recently become a comics collector, and this issue is definitely a great issue to have started with! The reason I started collecting X-men was because this book has women! I’m not saying that women are totally overlooked in today’s society but, in your books, women are some of the main characters!
I loved when Rogue flew up and caught the bouquet, and I thought it was great when Jean telekinetically lifted Professor X up and danced with him in the air! It’s wonderful that Jean and Scott finally got married – even though Scott seems like such a papa’s boy to me (and his father died such a long time ago).
To my mind, Jennifer of the as-yet-undisclosed-last-name obviously had several things going for her:
- Like me, she only recently started collecting comic books.
- Like me, she appreciated the strong heroines portrayed in Marvel’s comics.
- She mentioned Rogue (turns out, Jean was her favorite character which was initially a disappointment, but worked out when she was willing to sell me both Rogue and Gambit’s first appearances).
- She liked exclamation points. A LOT!!!
I knew right away that the two of us were bound to get along fabulously, if only I could convince her to write me back. I attempted to do so with the following letter (provided here only in the interest of full disclosure):
May 16, 1995
Hello! You don’t know me, but I saw your letter in X-men #33 and decided to write to you. I hope I don’t annoy you too much! If I don’t, I’m lookin’ for someone to start a penpalship with, so maybe you could write me back or something.
I guess I should tell you my name and stuff, huh? Okay, my name is Loni, and I’m gonna be starting high school next year. I’m thirteen and have been collecting comic books for about a year now. My first book was X-men #33, but I was hesitant to write to you. I like to draw, write, listen to music, and of course collect comics. My two favorite characters are Gambit and Rogue.
Okay, I hope that’s enough to get started with. I know you’ve probably received tons of letters from other people already, and I’m sorry for not writing to you earlier, but I would be appreciative if you would try to write me back. Bye!
Fortunately for me, Jennifer did write me back, and thus began a four year long penpalship that not only helped me define who I was but helped me to accept my differences from my peers as not making me any less a person. Without Jennifer’s support, I would likely not be the woman I am today, and it was only having met her earlier this month that made me realize it. You see, not only did Jennifer and I compare notes on the current happenings in X-Men, but we gossiped about all the other things that were going on in our lives, namely school and BOYS. Despite my incompetence when it came to dealing with members of the opposite sex, I was boy crazy in high school. I found a type-written copy of a letter I sent her during the first week of my new high school where I mentioned a total of four different prospective boys (none of which turned out to be nearly as prospective as I had originally hoped). There was something really special about our friendship in that it provided me a safe place where I could be myself, geek and all, and not worry about being judged.
So when I spied on Jennifer’s blog that she was planning a trip to Salt Lake City to celebrate a friend’s 30th birthday, I was both completely stoked and admittedly, a little bit intimidated. You see, despite the fact that our penpalship slaked during college (due to school commitments and a sad inability to afford neither postage nor comics), I have enjoyed following Jennifer’s exploits virtually, friending her on Facebook and communicating with her through instant message when I could. I could tell by the photos and status messages that she posted that she was even more gregarious and fun-loving than I could ever aspire to be. She seemed to be surrounded by girlfriends while, at the same time, I felt fortunate to have even one or two close female friends. So when it came time to meet her for the first time, I seriously debated going home to change into something more club-appropriate than my boring work fare. I also went to dinner with my husband beforehand so I could have a glass of wine I was so nervous!
Thankfully, despite her obviously outgoing and instantly lovable personality, Jennifer turned out to be completely down-to-earth, and, as it happens, we get along as fabulously in person as we once did on paper. Even though we were only able to hang out for a few hours, by the end of the evening, I was reminded of how close I had felt to her as a teenager who was so fortunate to have found a kindred spirit. It was an amazing opportunity for me and has inspired in me a renewed interest in maintaining our friendship over the coming years. Love you, Jenn!
Jennifer shared her take on our comic-inspired friendship and subsequent face-to-face meeting over on her blog.