So earlier this week I posted how my love of sports accidentally got me interested in science but what got me interested in DNA? Easy, comic books. No I'm not joking either. Growing up I loved sports but I was also a bit of a comic book nerd. My two dreams going up were to hit a home run in little league baseball (mission accomplished) and to become a comic book writer (mission not so accomplished as of yet). Why a comic book writer? Easy, I can't draw for shit but I was drawn to the way the authors could use a sparse amount of words, panels, and the visual effect to somehow richly develop characters and convey a powerful story of the human condition.
Yeah yeah, fan boy, we get it you love comic books, but how does this relate to you giving a rat's doodoo maker about DNA. Once again, easy, the X-Men. Now coming up I read most of the great comic book cannons: Alan Moore's Watchmen and From Hell, Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, and Frank Miller's Sin City. But X-Men was the first comic book that I ever laid eyes and hands upon in the old drugstore in town when my dad took me to the counter to get a sandwich and a soda. Now this may sound archaic to many but yes in fact many drugstores and stores had lunch counters in them and they could make a jam out Lime Rickey.
So the premise of the X-Men were a group of initially humans that were "mutants" who had special powers. Initially I was enamored by their special powers and how they coped with being different from everyone else. This is what struck a chord with me as I was really the only brown kid amongst a see of white and black. I was short, skinny, had a funny last name, and looking for a place to fit. Due to my early onset of myopia and constant requirement of glasses during my primary education years, I was initially drawn to the character of Cyclops.
He was bound to wear glasses forever but he had a cool power where he could in a less than polite manner fuck some stuff up with energy beams that were emitted from his eyes. I was fascinated with his mutant powers and was jealous how come I couldn't do that. Why didn't laser beams shoot out of my eyes when I took off my glasses?
Simple dummy: its fiction and you aren't a mutant. But I didn't know that, so I had to figure out what a mutant was so I consulted my all knowing oracle of knowledge, my grandmother's Funk & Wagnall's encyclopedia set. Now I couldn't find mutant in that volume but I found the term mutation, spawning further searches for genetics, DNA, Mendel, and reproduction. But this wasn't enough for me, I made my dad take me to the local library where I was able to get my grubby little hands on a dogeared copy of James Watson's The Double Helix, which piqued my interest in DNA.
From their I would go on to grab a biology textbook and learn about Avery, MacLeod, and McCarty providing evidence for DNA as the hereditary material in the cell, Meselson and Stahl showing semi-conservative replication, and how this young upstart Kary Mullis's PCR process would revolutionize biology.
So while I may never become a comic book writer, I'm eternally grateful for my childhood indulgence that lead me down the path that would eventually make me a scientist.