Growing up as a geek meant that I had a wide variety of interests to satisfy. My Sega Genesis made sure that my gaming needs were met, Toonami fed my hunger for anime and my cousin’s long-boxes provided me with an archive of Marvel comics dating back to the 70’s. Saturday morning cartoons and the occasional impromptu science experiment filled the gaps.
But there was one area where I had no expertise – manga. The concept of “Japanese comic books” hadn’t even entered into my limited worldview, thanks to its absence at the local hobby and bookstores of the time. I was blissfully ignorant, and would have continued being oblivious to one of the cornerstones of otaku culture were it not for my family’s annual summer trip to Montreal.
It was one of those “community bonding” things we did every year. Since we always visited during the jazz festival, Montreal became this weird Disneyland to nine year old me, with lots of music, happy people and, most of all, Smarties. For those not in the know: they’re basically M&M’s, but better in every single way. I would munch through three boxes of these things per trip, happy to weather the ensuing stomachache.
Knowing I wouldn’t shut up until I got my first box, my parents would make a local convenience store one of our first stops. Usually, we’d just grab a few boxes, head for the checkout and then make our way to the hotel. But this trip, I found myself distracted by something unexpected in the magazine section – Dragonball Z.
This was at the peak of my Dragonball fandom, so I practically teleported over to flip through the pages. My younger self was geeking out. A Dragonball comic book? No, the Dragonball comic book. Only problem? It was in French. Still, I asked my parents to buy me some of the volumes and they agreed on one condition – I could only get two.
Even then, I knew the proper solution to this puzzle and picked up the very first volume of Dragonball and volume 20 of Dragonball Z (which featured Gohan’s defeat of Cell) – the beginning and end of the saga…until Buu, who I thankfully didn’t know about at the time.
Minutes later, I was in the hotel room, scarfing down Smarties and using my two years of elementary-level French to try and translate what little I could of the manga. It would take years before I would come to understand why I was suddenly hooked on these two books. Part of it was the novelty – I was holding one of my favorite fight scenes in my hand – but a bigger part of it was the action. It was that sense of speed and movement within panels that shonen has perfected. I discovered an entirely new approach to sequential art and all I wanted was more.
Unfortunately, it would be years before local bookstores started stocking manga, and even more before technology allowed for titles to be distributed through the internet. My descent into manga had to be put on hold, but that desire to discover more never went away.
Those two chapters of Dragonball sit in the same place on my bookshelf. My French skills have disappeared, but I still remember every line from those books. Without them, I would have missed out on some great and thought-provoking entertainment. Would I have stumbled across manga later? Maybe. But I wouldn’t have carried the same excitement for it that I do today.
So, I thank that Canadian convenience store. It provided me with endless supplies of the best candy-coated chocolate treat, and it played an integral part in making me into a well-rounded geek.