Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Question of the Week: What piece of pop culture had the most influence on you?

Everyone who reads this blog is a nerd to some degree, obviously. What kind of nerd and how nerdy is something for you to sort out with your family and your god, so I won’t presume! We’ve all been influenced by popular culture, so my Question this week is: Which piece of popular culture has had the biggest influence on you?

This is a tough question, because we’re so inundated with pop culture, and a lot of it influences us, I would imagine. Is a movie a bigger influence than a television show? Is a book a bigger influence than a game? How hard is it to pinpoint the biggest influence? But we’re here at the blog to answer the tough questions, and so we shall!

For me, coming to true “nerd culture” kind of late in life, it’s difficult. The first television show I watched with any regularity was The Dukes of Hazzard, and that had an influence on me, as I still dig action-adventure stuff with a fair amount of humor, and I still like women in tight, short, cut-off jeans (I mean, duh). In movies, the biggest early influence was probably Raiders of the Lost Ark, which I saw when I was 10. I had seen movies in the theaters before that (including Star Wars, naturally), but Raiders had a bigger influence on the kinds of movies I liked. In music, the first album I bought with my own money was Genesis’s 1983 self-titled album, and that made me a big progressive rock fan. The album itself isn’t that “progressive,” as Genesis was more pop by then, but I liked the album so much that I went back and bought their 1970s work, which is definitely prog-rock. Being a fan of prog led me to Marillion, which remains my favorite band (I just got their new album, and it’s pretty keen), so that was a big influence. One of the early science fiction books I read was Clarke’s Rendezvous with Rama, and Michael Slade’s Headhunter was an early horror book I read, and while I never got into those two genres as much as some people did, those two books had a good-sized influence on the kind of stuff I like.

Obviously, my life has been more influenced by comics than almost any other form of popular culture, even though I didn’t come to comics until relatively late in life. The biggest pop culture influence in my life has to be Batman #426, the first comic I ever bought. As I’ve written before, I was 17 when I bought the issue, which is usually past the time when kids get into comics. I still don’t know why it hooked me, but it did, and I haven’t stopped buying comics ever since (which is a huge storage problem that gets worse all the time, believe you me!). Batman #426 isn’t a particularly excellent comic – it’s fine, and it’s the “Death of Robin” story, so it’s important, but it’s not especially brilliant – but it did it for me. I’ve not only read thousands of comics since the fall of 1988, but I’ve gone to many conventions, worked for the biggest comics website for a while, and met many excellent people involved in comics over the years. It’s pretty clear that of all the pieces of pop culture I’ve consumed in my life, comics are the biggest part, and Batman #426 started it all. Blame Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo!!!!

What’s the biggest pop culture influence in your life? Don’t be shy!


  1. tomfitz1

    BURGAS: I would say that TWIN PEAKS was a pretty good influence on me for all things weird.

    THE UNCANNY X-MEN & THE NEW TEEN TITANS in the early 80’s probably sold me on team books.

    Stephen King books in the late 70’s and early 80’s influenced me on all things horror.

  2. Peter

    That’s a tough question to answer, because there’s obviously so much pop culture that has greatly affected me, but also because it’s hard to measure “influence.” Does there have to be a tangible impact on the course of my life as a result of this seemingly ephemeral pop culture? If so, then the answer may (oddly enough) be a humor book called “Science Made Stupid” by Tom Weller. It was a parody of a science textbook and was absurd but actually pretty comprehensive in its overview of the evolution of the scientific method and our understanding of modern physics – reading it as a kid (along with old Flash comics replete with “Flash Facts” and a bunch of sci-fi novels and nonfiction books) made me really interested in astronomy and physics, and that’s what I got a degree in and where I met a lot of my closest friends. That book certainly changed my life, if in a roundabout way.

    If influence is measured just in my way of thinking about myself or about the world, without requiring any sort of empirical effects, the answer would probably be The Beatles or the first hundred-ish issues of Amazing Spider-Man. Playing music has become an important hobby for me, but when I was really young, I didn’t really care to even listen to music much unless it was the Beatles. My tastes have broadened a lot since then, thankfully, but the Beatles will always be my favorite and I honestly don’t know if I would appreciate music if it wasn’t for my childhood love of their early singles. As for Spider-Man – well, I think that original Ditko/Lee/Romita run was key in establishing my sense of morality (my parents and other authority figures helped, of course, but Peter Parker had a heavy part in shaping my conscience). I like to think that it taught me to do the right thing even when it causes personal inconvenience or even pain – hopefully my actions reflect that principle, even though my track record is far from perfect. Also, even if I had never read a single Spider-Man comic, thr character would have been pretty influential on my life as I’m named after his alter-ego (if you ask my father. My mom maintains I’m mostly just named after the saint…)

  3. Eric van Schaik

    When it comes to music the first album that gave me an AW YEAH vibe was the Judas Priest live album Unleashed in the East. It cemented my love for all things heavy. It made me look for other live albums (BOC-On your feet or on your knees, Kiss Alive I & II and many others) and the need to see bands in concert. I still love going in a venue to enjoy a concert.

    The first movie I had to see more than once was Star Wars. I already liked SF stuff having seen Fantastic Voyage on tv years earlier. It was the reason I bought a video player so I could watch it at home too.

    Asterix and Lucky Luke were the first comics that my parents got for me as a kid. Later on I got some black and white translated US comics but a colored X-Men # 26 started the spark for me although it was in ’87 that I finally started buying US comics with X-Men 225 as the forst of many I grabbed of the shelf.

    In a way you are an influence too for showing me comics that I hadn’t heard off. Thanks Mr. Burgas! If you just had a better taste in music… 😉

  4. Edo Bosnar

    I’m going to go ahead and say Marvel Tales #59 (which reprints a story originally published in Amazing Spider-man #78). It was the first comic book I ever had – I was about 6 years old at the time – and the first time I’d ever seen Spider-man. I had been aware of superheroes before that, mainly Batman and Super Friends (from the ’60s TV show and Saturday morning cartoon watched on the grainy b&w TV our family had at the time), but learning that there’s these readily available booklets full of a color pictures that seemed to jump off of the page was a revelation. I became a comics fan instantly, and my love of comics influenced much of the other pop culture I would go on to consume for the rest of my life.

  5. Justice League of America #30, the second part of the Crime Syndicate story. It blew me away. I’ve been a comics fan ever since.
    Next to that, probably Sherlock Holmes and Alice in Wonderland. They’re embedded deep in the foundations of my mind and pop up in my thoughts in odd ways.

  6. Rantel

    I think the 1996 Disney animated version of the Hunchback of Notre Dame has shaped me more profoundly than any other piece of art I’ve ever experienced. I really think I could draw a straight line from a lot of my moral and philosophical views back to that movie.

  7. Darthratzinger

    What influenced me most would be easy if it was a movie. That would be Star Wars, end of discussion, BUT considering what I´ve spend money and time on it´s comic books. Since I started reading comics before I could read it is close to impossible for me to remember what my first one was. I do know there was a western book about Buffalo Bill where I “read” (i.e. had my sister read me) several issues. But I never revisited that. So it must be a super-hero book. And I do remember that on the day I “graduated” from one kindergarten group to another I read a Superman Taschenbuch (pocketbook, which was probably the most widely published format for DC/Marvel licenses in Germany late70ies/early 80ies) for the first time. The german publishing companies at the time never printed the original issues names or numbers unfortunately which made it a real chore to find the correct order when I started collecting a couple years later. Anyway, the story might have been drawn by Curt Swan but I´m not sure. It was more than one single issue long and featured Superman flying from Metropolis pier into some sort of watersprout/Tornado on the open sea where he was confronted by a giant (?) who proceeded to beat the crap out of him. If any of You know that particular issue, please let me know. I´d really like to read that one again. It will definitely not hold up but I was hooked and from that point on it went all downhill. I have to admit though that Spider-Man (who was my favorite for a long time) or any of the others did not influence my moral code. Since I´m the only one in this forum who likes the Punisher that is probably for the good.
    Actually if it´s about what I´ve spent time with, it also might be music and that is easier to answer and kind of funny. The man with the best taste in music in this forum wrote that his influential album was Judas Priests first live record Unleashed In The East. Well, mine was Judas Priests second live album Priest Live. Erics choice is their best live album but Priest Live was good enough to cement my addiction to loud guitars. And prior to Covid I also loved going to concerts. Not sure how that will play out in the future.

    1. Eric van Schaik

      “The man with the best taste in music in this forum”
      Finally some recognition 😉
      I must say Priest Live is an excellent album, but the Unleashed will always win.

      Last wednesday I saw Metronomy playing in Utrecht and it was as if Corona never happened, which was kind of weird.
      Next week I’ll see Gazpacho and Pure Reason Revolution on wednesday in Breda and on friday and saturday we visit Eindhoven for the Prognosis Festival (Check out the website). Klone, Leprous, Scarlet Stories and Focus will be my highlights. I can’t wait. 🙂
      In may I’ll see someone I think you might have heard of: Michael Schenker.
      Most of these concerts would have happened in ’19 or ’20 if is wasn’t for the pandemic.
      Do you have something coming the coming months?

      1. Darthratzinger

        Good for You concertwise. Outside of work I´ll have to keep socially distancing and wearing a mask inside unfortunately. I´m asthmatic with high blood pressure and my wife is missing 2/3 of her thyroid. Even if I only get a mild case of Covid I can´t financially afford to lose more work after two years of economic inactivity. We might probably have the Rock Im Park-Festival in June here in Nuremberg but I haven´t even looked at the line-up to not get depressed.

        1. Eric van Schaik

          Sorry to hear man. I really hope that life improves for both of you.
          I looked at the line-up and personally I’m not impressed. Maybe that helps. 😉

  8. DarkKnight

    I’ve had a handful of things that have had a major influence on me to this day. The year 1989 had the biggest impact. Tim Burton’s Batman was a triple threat for me. I was 8 years old and completely caught up in the Bat mania. Not only did it make me a Batman fan for life but also a movie and comic book fan. My dad bought me the official movie adaption comic by Denny O’Neil and Jerry Ordway and that started my life long obsession with comics. Another mania during that time was Nintendo mania. I got a N.E.S. for Christmas and have been pretty much playing video games ever since.
    The only other thing I can think of that’s impacted me to this day is Dragonball Z. Around 1996 it started airing on Sunday mornings and I used to wake up early just to watch it. This was my gateway into anime and then manga. A couple years later it would start my interest in overall Japanese culture.

  9. John King

    the hard part here is what is “influence” in this context – for a creative the influence is what shaped their creativity, who they emulate, etc…
    and there are people who have embraced a bit of pop culture to the extent of shaping their lives round it…
    but to the rest of us it is vaguer and often a combination of things

    I think as a child I was inspired by the Gerry Anderson puppet shows such as Thunderbirds, Stingray, Captain Scarlet, Joe 90, Fireball XL5
    At school a maths teacher introduced me to Dungeons and Dragons which led me to reading Michael Moorcock and Robert E Howard, etc.
    Star Wars led me to Marvel comics with Jim Starlin’s Adam Warlock leading me into the Marvel Universe.

    Music-wise I can only think my main influence was BBC Radio 1 as it was in the ’70s and ’80s (before the guy in charge decided that the listeners were too old so drove away the existing audience to focus on bringing younger listeners). Back then they played a variety of pop and rock including oldies

  10. Jazzbo

    Nevermind by Nirvana definitely had the biggest influence on me of any pop culture. It came out early my senior year of high school and heavily shaped/influenced the type of person i was throughout college and my 20s.

    For movies it would have to be Star Wars. Books/comics would be Watchmen. All pretty standard answers I feel like.

  11. Der

    The biggest influence, is videogames. My family got a NES when I was around six years old, or seven maybe. We got a NES with Mario Bros but what I loved at first was the manual. Keep in mind, we didn’t have books in my house. Zero books, only the ones the school gave us. So after a few months my dad got some car manuals and he got a english-spanish dictionary. No one in my house could explain me the contents of the videogame manuals we had(I think there was a Mario Bros manual, and we got Megaman 2 and we had the manual too) so I took the dictionary and started translating, word by word, whatever it was on them.

    I made lots and lots of mistakes, but it helped me learn english. Then more complex videogames like chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy III(or VI, whatever) helped me even more. Now I don’t play that many games but that was a big influence

  12. huoc

    FUTURAMA by Matt Groening. Full stop.
    I have read several hundreds of fantasy and sci-fi books in my teenage years (90’s), I read like 2 books a week. I have been playing video games since the late 80’s when I received my first C=64 (played Wizard of Wor and Kickstarter 2 for several _years_ continuously with friends). I still play an hour each night after the kids go to sleep (not on a C=64, mind you :)). I was a beginner comic collector in the 90’s, owned a couple of hundreds of local comics. I have been a huge cartoon fan in my whole life. I played AD&D with friends every Saturday in McDonald’s for some years. I even created a 50 page volume of Monstrous Compendium for friends, with dinosaur monsters, based on real data available in books, each had their description, habitat, HP, attributes, skills, special attacks, etc.
    Music always played a very important part in my life, since grunge in my teenage years, through prog rock and classical and nowadays jazz, as I am getting older 🙂 and have a better hi-fi system. I believe the music I listen to today is far from pop culture 🙂
    So I was sucked into pop culture in many ways. But, it was clearly Futurama, that totally and irreversibly? pulled me into pop culture. When I saw the first episodes, I bought DVDs, action figures, t-shirts, mugs, posters, wall calendars, Blurays later, etc. everything that had a Fry or Leela figure drawn onto. I immediately started purchasing Futurama comics as well, and was very sad that it was cancelled later. After a couple of months buying just one piece of comic from the US monthly was not enough (I live in Eastern Europe. Shipping fee was at least three times the price of the comic itself!!), I started buying Dark Horse Conan, then Batman, Action, New Avengers… and today I dare not even count the comics I own, suffice it to say that there is a dedicated library room in our house with not a centimeter of empty wall space.
    There is just so much humor and wits in Futurama that cannot be found anywhere else. Take for example the comic, where you had to fold the pages in half to read a different story. Or the issue, which could be read normally, then only the upper left boxes on each page, then only the upper right ones, etc.
    The last episode of the original TV run “The Devil’s Hands Are Idle Playthings” is considered by me the best cartoon episode ever. Season 6 was a sensational comeback. I was very happy to learn some weeks ago that it will be revived again.

  13. Call Me Carlos the Dwarf

    Live Action Film: Star Wars for drama. School of Rock for comedy.

    Animated Film: Lion King for Disney, The Incredibles for Pixar, My Neighbor Totoro for Miyazaki.

    Live Action TV: Buffy the Vampire Slayer for drama, Parks and Rec for comedy.

    Animated TV: Avatar: The Last Airbender for Western drama. The Boondocks for Western comedy. Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood for anime.

    Prose: Once and Future King and Taran Wanderer for fantasy. Speaker for the Dead for Sci-Fi. Pride and Prejudice for comedy. Things Fall Apart for tragedy. Persuasion for romance. A Darkness More than Night for crime. Plus, Their Eyes Were Watching God is Their Eyes Were Watching God.

    Comics: Cyclops is the first character I fell in love with. Ultimate Fantastic Four is the first series I fell in love with. Frank Miller is the first writer I fell in love with. Dave Mazzuchelli is the first artist I fell in love with. Kingdom Come is the first standalone I fell in love with.

    Moore’s Swamp Thing is the greatest run of all time.

  14. Chris Schillig

    Tough question.

    I credit the one-two punch of “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” with introducing me to fantasy/adventure/horror/etc. The size differentials in “Jack” still appeal to me today via Godzilla, Kong, and the rest. And Oz is such a great quest story that it whet my appetite for many others.

    Comics-wise, I had some of the large-size DC editions in the early and mid-’70s, including the reprint of Flash Comics #1 that I read again and again. (What an issue!) But it wasn’t until Marvel Super-Heroes #57 (a reprint of The Incredible Hulk #102) and a soon-after purchase of The Incredible Hulk #199 that my lifelong mania for comics really kicked in.

  15. JHL

    I actually think about this a lot, via a domino effect, it has to be G.I. Joe A Real American Hero. The toy line debuted when I was eight and it rocked my little world. At the time they were not allowed to make TV commercials for toys using animation. (this soon changed) To get around this Hasbro instead made animated G.I. Joe commercials that were ‘officially’ for Marvel’s G.I. Joe comic book. Seeing those I figured the the comics would give me ideas for scenarios to play out with my toys and started bugging my mother to let me get a G.I Joe comic whenever we were out and she was stopping by a convenience store. And those Larry Hama comics were awesome, but sometimes my mother would say yes to letting me buy a comic but they wouldn’t have G.I. Joe so, like any self respecting eight year old who had cajoled their mother into into agreeing to buy them something, I would pick out a different comic (usually Spider-Man). At that point I had been sorted into the lowest level reading group in my class, but within a few months of reading and rereading Marvel comics over and over again I’d been moved to the class’s highest level reading group and I started checking sf and fantasy novels from the adult section of the library. Ended up with an English Lit. Degree from KU and I still read comics most days almost forty years later.

  16. There are lots, including Star Wars, Star Trek, the Legion of Super-Heroes and Doctor Who. But probably the single biggest influence in terms of helping to my predilection for superheros (a life-long interest, it seems) would be watching the Superfriends on Saturday morning TV in the 1970’s. Maybe also repeats of the live-action Batman.

    It’s funny because they certainly had a big impact on me, but I’m never remotely tempted to go back and watch either one today.

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