I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce myself. I’m Burn Rourk, resident of the third-world country known as Louisiana. I’m a full-time graphic artist and a life-long collector of toys and comic books, as well as an action figure customizer. Yes, I’m a geek. Much like you, I suspect.
How did I turn out this way?
I was born to parents who met on a blind date. He was on the judicial board for his college, and wore ties to school in the midst of the hippie era. She sang with a band called the Wild Childs. Their friends set them up as a joke. The date ended poorly. They later bumped into each other at a store and talked about their friends’ cruel prank. They decided to get them back by going out on a second date. Somehow, this time, things went splendidly. A wedding and four years later, I arrived. The year was 1974. I was the first of four children, and the only boy.
My infant mind was shaped by television, most notably Sesame Street, Mister Roger’s Neighborhood, and Dark Shadows. My mom would bring my dad’s sock drawer into the living room (I think she invented the ball pool), and I’d sit in it, surrounded by multi-colored, balled-up socks. (It was the 70’s.)
My first toys were the Mego collection, fueled by a growing obsession of the Superfriends and the Batman TV series. I had a big, red suitcase filled with DC and Marvel figures. That suitcase disappeared during the move between our trailer and our first house. My dad probably chunked it, but he never fessed up. (Didn’t he see the Bat-symbol my mom painted on the front?!)
My second toy obsession was Star Wars. I was getting the toys before I even saw the movie. My mom wanted to bring me, but my grandmother had seen it and told her it was “scary”. After a short stint of depriving me of the greatest film of all time, my mom asked what was so scary about it. My grandmother said that Darth Vader’s breathing reminded her of an obscene caller that used to give her trouble. Needless to say, I saw Star Wars right away after that.
Flash Fact: the very first thing I ever saved my money for was a 12” scale R2-D2. Between chore money, and whore money from dishing out hugs and kisses to my grandparents, I saved a whopping $10. I was amazed by the “secret plans” that you could hide in the compartment in his back. The first floppy disk?!
Flash Fact: It was around this time that I started customizing figures. After school, I would sometimes get dumped off at my dad’s office. My only company was his grumpy secretary. She had the full arsenal of Liquid Paper colors in her desk; white, pastel pink, pastel yellow, and pastel green. out of sheer boredom, I created my own characters and began writing stories about them. And at the time, the fact that these spacefaring badass explorers wore pastel uniforms was perfectly appropriate under the circumstances.
It was around the “Power of the Force” rebranding that I lost interest in Star Wars and got caught up with G.I. Joe and Transformers. Damn, that was a good time to be alive. It was also here that I started collecting my first comic book on a monthly basis. My first issue of G.I. Joe was the one where Cobra Commander and Destro were going to take their masks off. Of course they were wearing goofy disguises, but still, I was hooked.
It was the summer between the 9th and 10th grade when my next door neighbor’s son was moving to Florida. He asked if I’d like a box of old comic books. I said, “Sure.” It turned out to be two huge boxes of comics! They were an even mix of DC and Marvel, from between the late 70’s and early-to-mid ’80’s. I spent my summer reading every comic book he gave me. Certain characters appealed to me right away. It wasn’t long before I realized I was more DC than Marvel, but I still read them all. I was nearly done with my stash when it finally occurred to me that these books were still in publication, and I needed to find out what was happening to these characters RIGHT NOW.
I made an epic journey across town on my bike to K&B, a local drug store that still had a spinner rack. I felt like a time traveler taking a glimpse at the future. Robin was dead?! Justice League… International? Green Lantern was a red-headed asshole now? I grabbed as many books as I could afford (I was mowing lawns at this point in my life and was thoroughly loaded) and brought them home. K&B was my sole comic source until I found a booth called “Paper Heroes” at a local flea market. That booth later opened a store. That store has had seven owners between that flea market booth and today, but I have remained a constant fixture. Wednesdays practically became events. I’d bring my stack of comics to a different restaurant on my lunch break, usually a buffet. If I was going to treat myself to a fine dining experience only once a week, it was gonna be on Wednesday. Friends, family, and even employers know better than to f*** with my Wednesday.
Somewhere in that span of time, I outgrew toys. (I never gave up on comic books.) I began to paint little lead miniatures. The customizing bug bit me yet again, and I started painting them into different characters, using snippets of my dad’s business cards to make little capes and whatnot.
Let’s jump to college! Most of my free time was spent partying and drinking. I had a couple of roommates and a rent house across the street from a graveyard. I was an art major, and I somehow managed to make my comic book habit work for me in the form of inspiration. It was the 90’s. Death of Superman. The Sandman. The dawn of Vertigo. I actually read Doom Patrol before anyone gave a crap about Grant Morrison.
A few more years passed. I was putting my college education to good use as an advertising director. I was engaged. I was all grown up now! Right? Of course I was. So why did I have that issue of Wizard Magazine folded open to the page of brand new Star Wars figures? And why did I keep it on the passenger seat of my truck? And why did I look at it when I was sitting at red lights? The first wave hit my local Wal-Mart (with the exception of “monkey Leia”) and I bought them all in one fell swoop. I thought that was all there would be; just a set of figures celebrating the 20th anniversary. Before wave 2 even happened, I had already customized a Stormtrooper into Boba Fett.
Flash Fact: The first website I ever visited was SirSteve’s Guide to Star Wars Toys. I was at my friend Jason’s house. He was showing me the internet for the first time, and that was the site that popped up first. I went and bought a WebTV kit, and eventually got my first Mac. I SirSteve’s became a regular haunt for me. I even flew to St. Louis for a gathering of the regulars from the forum. We met almost annually at different cons, and a couple of the Star Wars Celebrations in Indy. (Later I’ll tell the story about the time I met Bill “Porkins” Hootkins, a full story in itself.)
(I’m jumping over quite a bit here. There was some real-life stuff that included two divorces and a move to Florida and back that I might decide to waste your time with in a future entry.)
Here I am, turning 40 this year. And I’m very happy with the way I turned out. Much like you, I suspect.