Saturday, July 11, 2015

I Like T-Shirts And I Cannot Lie

Karen: Hello, my name is Karen, and I have a t-shirt problem. OK, maybe not a problem. But I have to admit, I have acquired a lot of t-shirts. And by a lot, I mean way, way too many. 

Karen: I began wearing t-shirts at a very early age, as the photo below demonstrates (hey, it's Peanuts, so it's comic-related and demonstrates good taste). Now back in those days, t-shirts were not nearly as ubiquitous as they are now. They were still more occasional wear, and selection was fairly limited. You might see t-shirts for a few tremendously popular comics characters -like the Peanuts gang, or Batman, who was huge after his TV show -but by the time of this photo, circa 1970, pickings were still limited, especially for a little kid.
Your host circa 1970

Karen: But in a few years, t-shirts had expanded on the scene, and by the time I was 10 or 11, I was thrilled to have several t-shirts featuring Marvel characters, which I had ordered from advertisements in the comics. Exhibit A shows me around 11 years old on a couch with my grandparents and brother (I'm pretty sure my brother has just said something goofy, based on our expressions). I'm wearing a shirt with the cover of Incredible Hulk # 152 (and  as a bonus, a Planet of the Apes rifle is resting on my lap -ah, the 70s).  Soon I would also have a sweatshirt with the original Star Trek cast standing in the transporter room, and when Star Wars hit, well, I had to have a t-shirt, and there were tons of them to choose from.  I got one with Luke Skywalker and C-3PO. It was so cheaply made the applique began peeling off after the first wash.

Karen: The love of t-shirts continued on. Heck, in my old job, working  as a research scientist in a wet lab, t-shirts were almost expected attire. But things began to change several years ago. Around about the time I hit forty, I started to feel that perhaps it was not proper for a woman my age to wear t-shirts any more. Perhaps that was for the kids. So I got rid of many of my shirts, gave some away, used others only for night shirts. I had to be an adult, I told myself. I had to dress respectably.

Karen: Well, that didn't last too long. I dress respectably at work now, but as soon as I am away from there, the t-shirts come out! I just love them too much.
Exhibit A

Karen: There is so much variety now - I really can get a shirt for almost any comic, movie, tv show -anything I can think of. It is mind-boggling. I think that is the reason they are so popular (that, and they are just so comfortable). The t-shirt is a medium of expression -it tells people what you like and/or what you think in a passive way, but sometimes solicits a response from others. When I was younger that response was often negative -"Star Trek is stupid" - but today I am often complemented on my shirts, even when I am not in a geek-populated area, and I've had people ask me where I got my shirts. Yes, things have changed.

Karen: I have looked through my shirts and decided to name (and show) a few favorites. I've sort of broken my "collection" (Ye Gods, not another collection) down into categories. So there are the comics shirts, the monster shirts, the Star Trek shirts, the Star Wars shirts, the Disney shirts, the sports shirts, the music shirts, the sci-fi shirts, and finally, the Bruce Lee shirts. There's some miscellaneous ones in there too but not really of interest to this blog.

Karen: One of my favorites is one I picked up a couple years ago at Rob Zombie's Halloweentown in Burbank, and have shown it here before -it's the Captain Kirk vs. the Gorn shirt. It's just an awesome shirt, designed so well, like a classic boxing poster. However, in this picture, I have achieved some sort of cosmic balance by wearing the shirt to Vasquez Rocks in southern California, where the actual Star Trek episode "Arena" was filmed! This is the very spot where the Gorn heaved a (styrofoam) boulder at an outmatched Kirk, although the captain ultimately used his chemistry skills to create a cannon to shoot diamonds at the Gorn and defeat the big lizard. Unfortunately we did not find any diamonds lying around, but we did get to tour the place, and the ladies volunteering at the park were delighted -"you're Trekkies!" -and they told us a bunch of stories about the actor who played the Gorn (Bobby Clark), who sometimes does signings at the park.
At Vasquez Rocks, 2015

Karen: Bruce Lee has always been an icon of mine, and I found the Bruce Lee store through the Facebook page run by his daughter. They have a lot of great t-shirts there, although they are a bit pricey. But I really wanted to have a nice shirt with Bruce, so last year I ordered one. I have since purchased two more...
Bruce and Dr. Funk!

Karen: I want to share some representative shirts that I think the BAB crew will like. First up, this Planet of the Apes design from the Famous Monsters online store. The artist, Jason Edmiston, is very talented and a super-nice guy. I met him this year at Monsterpalooza and bought a Planet of the Apes print from him and spoke with him for a bit about his art and his process. You should check out his site -he has a lot of great stuff!

Karen: This Star Wars Tee was from the 2007 San Diego Comic Con and so is somewhat rare. I don't wear it too much now because it is starting to fade, but what a cool shirt. Illustration by Adam Hughes.

Karen: Probably my favorite Marvel shirt. All-new, all-different X-Men. Classic Dave Cockrum illustration. I can't recall if I got this at target or from an online store like Superhero Stuff or Stylin Online. But a great look, one that I've had several people comment on.

Karen: Most of my Disney shirts are from the parks, but this one was a special order. For a limited time a few years ago, they had this Hatbox Ghost shirt available online. Now that the spook is back in the Haunted Mansion, I am sure there's a ton of merchandise for him, but at the time, it was pretty rare!

Karen: Finally, this one is an oldie but a goodie. It seems like everyone digs it, from the old farts to the youngsters. When I first got it, I thought it seemed a bit odd, with the slightly off-center positioning and all, but I think that makes it more dynamic. But really, it's just because the Creature is eternally cool.

Karen: I'd love to hear your thoughts on the role of the t-shirt in pop culture, as a tool for self-expression, or just some of your own favorite t-shirts!

POST-SCRIPT: We got a great follow-up to this post from our pal Humanbelly. We post it here a bit late but hope that all of you will enjoy it, nonetheless. Take it away, HB:

HB: My first superhero t-shirt.  Or its remains, to be more precise.

There was a big, rather crumbling warehouse clothing "outlet" store in nearby Elkhart, IN when I was a kid, and apart from TONS of irregular designer jeans, they also were set up to do cut-rate iron-on t-shirt transfers.  This was in the early/mid 70's, just as that craze was kind of coming into vogue for adolescents and young teens (at least, small-town, mid-western young teens) as a personal fashion-statement option.  They had Spidey, Cap, and the Hulk available.   Got Cap for Bryan and Spidey for his little brother while I was there.  I made the mistake of choosing appropriately colored shirts for each (blue for Cap, Red for Spidey), rather than white.  And if you look at this image, you can see that the design(s) assumed the white of your average t-shirt would take care of any necessary white in the image.   I had to use fabric paint on the other two to make them look even remotely correct... 

But I loved this shirt to DEATH, regardless.  It was really big on me when I got it at (probably) 13 years old-- and I may have not fully given up on it until high school.  Man, those transfers never laundered well-- and the thing shrank after the first wash (my Mom wasn't so careful about cold-water items-- she shrank everything).  I think I may have used it as an off-beat track/X-Country shirt once the sleeves came off.  It ended up in the rag bag more than once. . . ended up in the bottom of a memorabilia trunk for several years. . . and is now safely stapled to the wall as part of the Hulk Corner in the comic book room downstairs.

The image is one that, for some reason, has had enduring popularity-- Hulk #123, with the Leader and the, heh, Murder Module.  

I had a couple of those ubiquitous poly/silk paisley disco shirts that were all the rage in the late 70's.  One of them was purple and orange, so this is the shirt I would wear underneath, with the silk shirt unbuttoned to just above navel-height.  (And the T was plumb ragged and faded at that point, make no mistake.)

I have no idea how anyone dated me during that period.  The list of Well-He's-Kinda-Cute-In-Spite-Of's must have been absurdly long.   Or perhaps I just posed no threat whatsoever... 


Anonymous said...

Yeah Karen nothing represents geek culture quite like a good t-shirt. It's the unofficial uniform of fanboys and fangirls the world over, whether it's Star Wars, Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, Marvel, DC or any other fanbase you can think of.

I have a lot of tees, but none which portray any of my favourite things. My personal style has always been more functional than form. I'm one of those guys who looks square (normal?) on the outside, but behind that exterior beats the heart of a devoted fanboy!

- Mike 'down with turtlenecks' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Redartz said...

Some great shirts there, Karen! That Famous Monsters tee is a beauty...

Tee-shirts really have exploded into popularity in recent decades. They depict just about anything and everything; advertisements, political commentary, pop culture, and phrases that can't be repeated in polite company! And obviously the wearer of the shirt gets attention; we see those occasional stories in the news about some unfortunate kid being sent home from school due to the tee shirt they are sporting. Sometimes these shirts almost become an exercise in first amendment rights!

Personally speaking, my tees are pretty uncontroversial. My favorite is one from Disney World Orlando: it depicts the skeleton of a Stegosaurus, the kicker here is that the skeleton is done with stitching rather than print, so the bones are three-dimensional. That shirt has held up for 15 years now; a long way from the 120 or so million years for the Steggy but it's a good start...

One other favorite is a tee depicting Mr. Incredible that family gave me for Father's day some years ago. Aside from the personal meaning, the shirt highlights my favorite Pixar film (and one of my all-time favorite films, period)!

Martinex1 said...

I really like the Creature one. On Edmiston's site, there is a great picture of the Creature in a bubble bath.

Your Hulk shirt reminded me how in the 70s we got iron on decals for t shirts in our Sunday newspaper. We had of course the Cubs, and Sox, and Snoopy...but then one day I got the Hulk in a packet of loose leaf paper. Wore that shirt constantly.

My young son had a Sonic the Hedgehog shirt that he wore every day possible. We washed it until it was nearly see through.

Humanbelly said...

Truly a FIRST-RATE post, Karen-- great subject to idly and enjoyably muse away upon-!

Some random thoughts:

90% of the time, wearing a t-shirt (or, depending on the season, a t-shirt over a thermal long-sleeve undershirt) is a given as part of my work-day attire (building scenery & such). And the majority of those are super-hero related. But those shirts are almost exclusively ones that have lived out their "nice" life, and have been moved from the "presentable in public with the family" drawer to the "okay if splattered with paint or catches fire drawer". And there is just a touch of melancholy when I have to face facts on a beloved item and move it from the former to the latter.

Although they last longer and provide for MUCH cooler image effects, I simply cannot stand the polyester or cotton/poly blend t-shirts that tend to make up most of the cheap-but-cool offerings of Target, Kohl's, Five-and-Below and such. I often receive them as small (and believe me, thoughtful and much-appreciated) gifts, but boy--- I can only take that clammy, scratchy feel of poly against my skin for about an hour before I have to rip it off my back. This, of course, can introduce a bit of an awkward atmosphere into the middle of a staff meeting, say. . . ("So if we shift the program a week later, we'll be able to-- HB, what are you--? Oh. . .my. . . god. . . ")

There have indeed been a number of free-speech cases in schools in recent years about students wearing t-shirts that the school administration deemed inappropriate/unacceptable, which led to some manner of disciplinary action against the student(s). Non-gang-related stuff-- and usually only lightly political if at all-- like supporting gay rights, or abstinence, or in some cases school-specific issues. I think it never fails to make a heavy-handed administration look utterly foolish.

I've mentioned it before, but it is GREAT to pick up HBGirl at her high school and to see SO MANY kids wearing some sort of superhero t-shirt! And possibly more girls than boys,to be honest. I think that a) BIG BANG THEORY has done an awful lot toward mainstreaming that nerd-chic, and b) bright colors and simple-but-interesting chest icons are unfailingly eye-catching. And they make the shirt itself a terrific accessory underneath a wide array of outfits.

Black t-shirts are ubiquitous, but Sweet Baby Zeus, how can ANYONE stand to wear one on a hot, sunny, humid day?? Try mowin' the yard in August in an XXL heavy cotton black Hulk tee-!

HB (for whom lack of focus never means lack of commentary--)

Humanbelly said...

Oh! And one of my initial thoughts--:

Karen, I of course now covet that Hulk #152 shirt beyond any rational degree.
"How did she get that??"
"That wasn't even commercially available when she was that age!"

Trimpe/Severin cover, too.

Man, you were the LUCKIEST girl ever!


ColinBray said...

Great topic. Like Karen I have have measured my life in least until recent years.

My comic shirts have included:

1987 - x2 different Watchmen designs, favourite being the nuclear blast/x-ray skeletons shirt

1988 - Swamp Thing

1995(ish) - Japanese Joker design

1997(ish) - Incredible Hulk

Punky T-Shirts

1986 - No More Censorship Dead Kennedys T-shirt (picked up as a freebie from the Alternative Tentacles London office)

1987 - Butthole Surfers 'Another Man's Sac' T-shirt

1988 - Sink (UK hardcore) band T-shirt

1988 - Slayer 'Reign In Hell' tour T-shirt

1988 - Corrosion of Conformity hoodie. OK, not a T-shirt...

1988 - The Stupids (more UK hardcore) baseball cap. OK, not a T-shirt either but I loved that cap...

1989 - Jailcell Recipes (yet more UK hardcore) band T-shirt

1994 - Girls Against Boys T-shirt

Since my 40th birthday I've generally applied the rule that as men get older they look better when they dress smarter. But you know, around the house I still wear the Dead Kennedy's shirt even though almost all the print has gone and it's utterly mis-shapen. It's part of who I am.

I think the other factor is that as geeky merchandise has gone mainstream I'm less interested in it. I used to love the idea that t-shirts communicated our secret interests to the select few. Elitist perhaps, but it used to be a very pleasing thing to strike up a conversation with a random stranger holding interests as underground as yours.

Edo Bosnar said...

Wonderful post, Karen. And I love every single one of those photographs, and especially the one with the awesome Arena t-shirt (I still want that one!) at the very scene of that epic battle.
What you said about comfort gets to the heart of it for me: by far the highest percentage of clothing items I own are t-shirts, because they are simply the most comfortable thing to wear, bare none. However, about half of my t-shirts now are plain, solid-color white, black, gray, etc. with nothing on them. Among my favorites now are a few novelty Ts my nephew bought for me a few years ago: one that has a stylized chicken head and CTRL ALT CHICKEN on it, and another with a picture of a squirrel holding a stick and a caption reading "Protect Your Nuts" (juvenile, yes, but it often elicits smiles and comments even here in Croatia).

Back in elementary school, I had several T-shirts with super-heroes on them, and my Spider-man and Thing Ts were my very favorites. I also had a Luke Skywalker shirt when I was a big Star Wars fan. When I was in high school and college, I was kind of like Colin, in that most of my T-shirts had bands on them - my favorites were a black one that had the image from the Meet the Beatles album cover, and a Jimi Hendrix shirt. Also, after I went to my first Dead concert, I wore tie-dye t-shirts quite often...

ColinBray said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Strangely, I don't have a lot of geeky shirts. When I was a kid I had a lot of "funny" shirts (like "Blame It On Me Everyone Else Does" and the ubiquitous "I'm With Stupid").

Mike Wilson

The Prowler said...

Strangely, I can make any t-shirt geeky. It's a gift. More a curse, a bane really, an ever present thorn in my side.........

I remember in '82 going to see The Stones on their Farewell Tour of America.....I think it was their first one?

(Well she picked me up in the morning
And she paid all my tickets
Yeah she screamed in the car
And threw me out in the thicket
Well I never would've dreamed
That her heart was so wicked
Oh but I keep coming back
Cause it's so hard to kick it)

JJ said...

I have a t-shirt sickness. I own far beyond what anyone would consider a reasonable amount. I tend to go for simple designs. Nothing turns me off more than an overly elaborate Ed Hardy sort of t-shirt. I have mostly music shirts bought at concerts, my favorite are by both Rush and the Allman Brothers Band. I don't go in for comics or movie shirts much although I do have a fantastic Iron Man shirt that features art by John Romita Jr. and Bob Layton. I'd give my eye teeth for that Dave Cockrum X-Men shirt you have, Karen. That's a beauty. -JJ

david_b said...

LOVE great, hip teeshirts.., but soooo agreed with the poly-cotton cheap crap at Target and other outlets.

Beautiful shirt designs, especially the classic Marvel, POTA, SW, Trek, Batman items, but once I see that blend, I never waste the money.

It's either 100% Cotton or forget it. Black shirts are just fine. I'm actually looking for a cool hip one to wear under my Eddie Bauer travel suitcoat for Seattle. You HAVE to have something hip and cool, geekwise, like perhaps a guitar or calculus calculations.

Great column, Karen.

david_b said...

LOVE great, hip teeshirts.., but soooo agreed with the poly-cotton cheap crap at Target and other outlets.

Beautiful shirt designs, especially the classic Marvel, POTA, SW, Trek, Batman items, but once I see that blend, I never waste the money.

It's either 100% Cotton or forget it. Black shirts are just fine. I'm actually looking for a cool hip one to wear under my Eddie Bauer travel suitcoat for Seattle. You HAVE to have something hip and cool, geekwise, like perhaps a guitar or calculus calculations.

Great column, Karen.

Dr. Oyola said...

Never been much of an illustrated t-shirt guy. I had some Star Wars and Spider-Man ones as a kid, but in adulthood I am a little more buttoned up.

I do have a "WWPCD?" t-shirt - which is the most obscure X-Men related t-shirt there is. WWPCD = "What Would Peter Corbeau Do?"

I also have a Charlotte's Web t-shirt with the classic cover illustration that my wife got me for X-Mas b/c it was one of my favorite books as a kid and I was even in a band in the 90s called "Zuckerman's Famous Pig"

I have a "STOP WARS" t-shirt in the style of the STAR WARS logo - to show people my political position (proceeds went to fund anti-war movements during the Bush II years)

And I have a funny t-shirt a friend made that depicts two wanna-be hipster kids of the early 60s (one in black beret) that reads "Indie Comics are Way Cooler"

I am much more into concert/band tees - not that I have many.

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