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Growing Up Geek: Brian Heater

Brian Heater

That's me above, on the left. I'm Robin, reaping all of the benefits of fighting supervillians on the mean streets of Gotham, without the whole thing about watching my parents brutally murdered by a mob boss. All things considered, life was pretty good, growing up in the East Bay in the '80s, save for the fact that my cousin was somehow promoted to the role of Batman – most likely because he was visiting from afar (and maybe brought his own costume up from Southern California). And then there's the whole holding hands thing -- I can pretty much guarantee that ended the moment the photographer parent put the camera down. I mean, Arkham Asylum isn't going to patrol itself.

Despite early photographic evidence to the contrary -- and a few select themed birthday parties -- I was never really a DC Comics kid growing up. I'd chalk a fair amount of that up to the fact that, so far as these photo albums indicate, I didn't arrive on a rocketship from an exploding homeland, and was never independently wealthy, as the poor tailoring job on the Robin suit can attest.

Spider-man and the X-Men, however -- they were angsty adolescents. When they weren't too busy being bitten by radioactive arachnids and scaling walls and the like, they had regular teen problems. They had pop quizzes and girl problems, and having not quite discovered the sinister cloud of punk rock hanging over Gilman Street in nearby Berkley, CA, I had them, paneled and stapled and bagged and boarded.

It's probably a testament to the relative ease of growing up in Northern California that the biggest disappointment of my youth was almost certainly the fact that my dormant mutant abilities failed to manifest themselves in time for my Bar Mitzvah.

But my own sequential art interests can be traced back even further -- and thankfully there exists no photographic evidence, but I think it's safe to say that Popeye was my first obsession. At three years old I developed an unhealthy attachment to a VHS of the Robert Altman movie. I can't really explain it -- perhaps an early manifestation of my soon to be realized interest in avant garde film? Or, more likely, I was just a weird kid who liked weird things. And certainly my mother didn't help to curb such bizarre behavior by drawing anchor tattoos on my skinny forearms with a pencil out of her makeup bag.

To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure what's going on here – I can tell you this much, however, in spite of the ancient-looking cars surrounding me, I was not, in fact, alive during the 70s. The 80s were, however, a fairly crazy time in their own right, all orange capes and green hats and light sabers, and by the time they were over, I had amassed a fairly impressive collection of Star Wars action figures before the decade wrapped, including somehow managing to score a Luke Skywalker in Storm Trooper uniform for some absurdly low price at a flea market.

The Star Wars thing happily took a backseat to girls and school and rock and roll for a good chunk of my teen years, only to rear its ugly head like so many hapless Gungans in the late '90s with the release of the The Phantom Menace. Yes, there was camping out involved, and I do remember attempting to convince a math teacher that Episode I was a superior movie to Shakespeare in Love -- a sentiment I stand by to this day, even after coming to grips with the fact that the first Star Wars prequel was, in fact, a dismal thing.

This is a good one. I'm Mario, with a weird combination Hitler mustache and hobo beard -- I'd clearly been hitting the magic mushrooms too hard. Or maybe it's just that you shouldn't let your mom put on your Mario makeup for you. Moms are well intentioned, but let's be honest, they don't know from Nintendo. I don't suppose there's anything too novel about my professing my love for the NES and Super NES -- saying you loved Nintendo in the 80s and early 90s is a bit like saying you're really into the internet in 2011. Some things are just sort of understood.

In those days I managed to avoid the exotic mystique of the Neo Geos and Sega CDs, though I did have a brief, misguided flirtation with the Genesis in early '90s. To this day, however, I remain adamant that the SNES is the greatest console of all time, though I'm likely just a touch biased, after so many nights falling asleep in front of the flicker of Secret of Mana and a Link to the Past.

I was a bit of a late bloomer on the computer front, strangely enough -- though through no fault of my own. My parents were a strange sort of selective luddite, not averse to certain amenities like TV, CD players, and indoor plumbing, but somehow anti-personal computer. I, meanwhile, entertained fantasies of game development through the most analog means imaginable: pencils and sketchbook after sketchbook.

When they finally brought one into the house expressly for word processing purposes, the machine -- an already-ancient Macintosh Classic -- was well beyond its expiration date. It wasn't much, but it did foster a devotion to Apple products early on, when there was still something of an underdog appeal to the then-struggling company. The old beast was finally replaced by a Performa tower, on which I taught myself some web coding, and, eventually, a G3 tower, the first computer I ever owned myself, with a monitor the size of a city block.

Who you gonna call? Not me -- I'll be too incapacitated by the white hairspray currently dripping into my eyes. Of course I'm Egon here, the nerdiest of all Ghostbusters. I also had an affinity for Donatello in the Ninja Turtle world. These facts should not be regarded as a coincidence. My early musical obsessions took on a similar shape -- Buddy Holly as small child and then They Might Be Giants, then Weezer, and Elvis Costello. The fact that I never mastered the guitar despite years of lessons can probably be chalked up to my cursed 20 / 20 vision.

Here's one of me with a real-life comic book superhero, taken on our trip to visit Harvey Pekar in Cleveland Heights for his 70th birthday, all part of my gig moonlighting as a comics journalist while working at tech publications during the day -- the nerdiest secret life, ever. Man, it feels good to finally get that weight off my shoulders.

Which brings us right up to this week. Not much to say about this one that wasn't said on this week's Engadget Show. I will say though, that I've always considered having a career that would make your 13-year-old self jealous is a pretty solid goal for life. So I submit to me the above picture with They Might Be Giants. Pretty good, right?

Brian Heater is an Associate Editor at Engadget. On Twitter he is @bheater, where he talks about technology sometimes.

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