05 October 2009

Springfield: My Nice Little Town

I'm taking a bit of a detour from comics tonight to touch on something a little closer to home. And to do just that, I needed to find the answer to a bit of trivia. So I asked around. Raley didn't have a clue. My cousin didn't, either. Tell me, do you know how many towns or cities in the United States are named Springfield?
If Rand McNally is to be believed, the answer's thirty-four. [One source I found quibbled there's actually thirty-five Springfield's in the country, the plus-one belonging to a ghost town somewhere in North Dakota.]
I'm blogging to you live from Springfield #25 in Oregon. #25 lies just across the Willamette River from Eugene, the state's third-largest city. [Eugene's also the place my fascination with comics began, way back before I even entered first grade. Mom used to buy me the big Treasury Editions that Marvel and DC Comics published in the mid-1970's. But lest I digress, that story will keep for another blog.] If you're really curious about the lay of the land, I've got a map you'll love here.
Portland's the regional Metropolis, less than a hundred miles away on Interstate 5. Whenever I get one of my cravings to immerse myself in civilization, up the road I go, pedal to the metal. It's very safe to say the highlights of my stay here in Oregon have been those trips to Portland. The city's cool and green, rivers and bridges all about, and it's a comic town. Dark Horse Comics and Bluewater Productions call Portland home. So does Brian Michael Bendis and Rick Remender.
To its credit, Eugene does have two comic books shops. Springfield, unfortunately, doesn't have any. But the little town I call #25 does have: 73,465 neighborly folks, a really big Wal-Mart that's always open, and as of this weekend, a Fall rainy season making an early comeback.
Although I'd never been to #25, the town seemed strangely familiar to me from the moment I stepped off the train from San Francisco. I was experiencing firsthand the immense power of popular culture. From my subsequent adventures on the internet Googling Springfield, I got at least a snapshot of how that power's reach.
Popular Culture has a very long arm, of course, and I can't say I was shocked in the least by what I found. Dismayed, yes, but not shocked. I learned that if Americans are able to tell you anything about Springfield (and most can), it's that a family with the last name Simpson live there. Although things varied a little between the forums I Googled, the majority of the twenty-something posters really believed that the Simpson's town of Springfield, which was either founded in 1987 when the characters first appeared on the Tracy Ullman Show or in 1989 when The Simpsons debuted, literally exists.
The discussions weren't debating Springfield's existence; rather, the forum members I found were thoughtfully presenting their own rationales as to which of the real world Springfield's was also the place where Bart went skateboarding and Lisa went to school. The top two contenders seemed to be the Springfield's of Massachusetts and Illinois, with Illinois the most popular choice. That kind of made me shudder. If it weren't for my list with thirty-four names on it, I probably would've picked Illinois, too. For a rounded education on Homer's hometown geography, go here.
Okay, I'm kidding. I was a college freshman when The Simpsons became a staple of my Sunday nights, old enough to understand the subtle differences between animation and reality. It certainly seems like those lines have been blurred in the last twenty years, though.
I'm a lucky guy. While most of Generation Y only thinks 'Simpsons' when they hear Springfield, I'm happy to say that I do not. That word only makes one thing pop into my head: GI JOE.
Several publishers have made the rounds publishing GI JOE comic books, but none of them have come close to Marvel Comics' GI JOE: A Real American Hero by Larry Hama and Mike Vosburg. Marvel launched the series to correspond with the 1982 debut of Hasbro's toy line, and I was instantly sold on both.
GI JOE was hands-down my favorite and I read each issue ten times if I read them once, and Issue #10 (1983) probably got read twelve at least. The story, "A Nice Little Town Like Ours," introduced COBRA's most sinister base to JOE fans everywhere -- a Stepford suburbia of a town with a very dark secret, and its name was Springfield.
Hama also hinted that the Springfield of Issue #10's storyline may not be the only one in the country prone to a nasty snake infestation. Even after all this time, I still think that idea is more than awesome.
I haven't gone out looking for any COBRA agents since I made my temporary home #25, though I'm sure I'll have plenty of time to search before I get back to the Bay. I did manage to pull some photos out from the old album, however. If you'd like to drop by for a visit, I'm sure I can find a day or two to show you the sights.

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