All the Bears You’ve Never Seen by Paul Tobin
Some of my earliest memories are of books. I grew up in Iowa, and my grandmother Steinberg was an obsessive garage sale attendee. It wasn’t unusual for her to go to several garage sales in one week, or even one day. As a result, her farmhouse, and the surrounding outbuildings, were stuffed full of various objects, and during my family’s frequent visits I would, of course, explore.
More, I would dig for treasure.
I was a kid, of course, so my expectations for what might be found in those buildings, or tucked away in the rooms of her house where there was sometimes barely a walkway, were… optimistic.
Could there be pirate treasure? Of course there could! How about ancient suits of armor? Quite possibly, yes. How about swords and skeletons and a secret doorway to another world? All very feasible. In fact… likely.
Unfortunately, I never found any of these things (I admit I still feel like I just didn’t look in the right place) but what I did find was books. Endless books and comics. Because my grandmother wasn’t all that discriminating (she just liked to buy, and buy) the range of books and comics was vast. Science textbooks. Richie Rich comics. Romance novels. Horror comics. If it was a novel, or a comic… it was all waiting to be found in those treasure rooms.
I was most pleased when finding any comics or novels having to do with adventure, or mystery. Opening a box and finding a Hardy Boys novel I hadn’t read was a moment of pure exhilaration, and it was even better when it was a Nancy Drew novel, because I thought she was smarter than the boys. An Uncle Scrooge comic discovered in a stack was a similar moment of celebration, because Uncle Scrooge was always off on the strangest and most fantastical of journeys.
It is without a doubt that the young me began to form his first stories, stories of his own, when searching for those treasures or when curled up with his finds, eating Hostess fruit pies and drinking a Mountain Dew, full of sugar from my snacks and full of shiver from the horror comics I was reading. The first story I can ever remember telling was a story about a boy who, when riding in a car, kept thinking he saw a bear in the same place, day after day, in the ditch along the road. His parents, in the story, do not believe him. But then one day they are driving along that road and suddenly the boy is yanked out of the car by forces unknown, and his parents stop the car only to find their son lifeless in the ditch, with a bear claw in his chest. It is… not a meticulously plotted achievement, here, of course, but it’s the first story I can remember telling, likely borne from a conversation I had with my grandfather, who was talking about being observant.
“I’m very observant,” I’d told him.
“Have you ever seen a bear in the woods?” he asked, speaking to a boy who spent MUCH of his time exploring the forests of Iowa.
“Of course not,” I told him. “There are no bears in the woods, here. And if there were, I would see them, of course.”
“Really?” he asked. “Why are you so confident about bears you’ve never seen? How would you ever know if you missed one?”
It was a question that haunted me. What’s out there? What am I missing? What mysteries haven’t I solved? What mysteries have I missed entirely? These questions later evolved into a love for science, of which there is much in the Genius Factor series. Of course, I’ve taken liberties with the science. VAST liberties, in some cases. But each of Nate’s inventions are still tethered to reality. And they are still tethered, however loosely, to a boy in a farmhouse in Iowa, a boy in the 1970s who was endlessly finishing the comics and novels he’d discovered, and endlessly searching for more, hoping that the next stack would reveal the rarest and most wonderful of novels (I was certain I’d find first editions of Frankenstein, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea) and endlessly believing that the next glimpse of metal would not turn out, like so many times before, to be a hubcap, but rather a chest plate for King Arthur’s armor, or possibly Excalibur itself, which I would prove myself worthy by pulling not from a stone… but a stack a Disney comics.
Paul Tobin lives in Portland, Oregon, and is the Eisner-award-winning author of a multitude of comics for such publishers as Marvel, Dark Horse, DC Comics, Top Shelf, Fantagraphics, as well as the novel Prepare to Die!, which earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Most recently, Paul and his wife, artist Colleen Coover, won the Eisner Award for their ongoing series Bandette, which also placed on YALSA’s 2014 “Best Graphic Novels for Teens” list.
Paul is one of the two head writers for the Angry Birds comics, and is also writing episodes for the upcoming season of Angry Birds cartoon shorts. (He further rounds out his domination of iPhone games by writing the Plants vs. Zombies comics.) His other current projects include the Adventure Time: Flip Side series, combining the worlds of Prometheus/Aliens/Predator in conjunction with Dark Horse Comics/Ridley Scott, and continuing work on his award-winning horror series Colder, which is up for a Bram Stoker award. Visit him online at www.paultobin.net or on Twitter at @PaulTobin.