I’ve been doing some thinking about how important early influences are on people, and how simply having a different set of inputs into your developing brain can radically change who you are, what you believe in and what you goals you set as a measure of success for when you are an adult.

Who were your biggest influences when you were growing up? For some people it’s family members, or musicians, or politicians or athletes. Mine were complete strangers a world away working in fields that I thought I would never be allowed to join.

Dave Sim

Dave Sim is a Canadian comic book artist most well known for creating, writing, drawing and self-publishing Cerebus for 300 issues over 26 years.

To say Dave Sim is the biggest influence in my young life would be a severe understatement. The scope and craft in his groundbreaking masterwork was a major achievement in the world of comics and he opened my eyes to the power and potential of the medium. Complex storylines, hidden Easter eggs, a cohesive story only possible when an entire run of a comic is written by one creator, heck even the way he did word balloons really changed the world of how comics are read and created. Further, he was one of the main instigators of the the comic creators bill of rights, which directly lead to creator owned comics becoming the standard and not just an aberration.

It was kind of a big deal. He was a big deal to me.

More than the talent displayed in the comic, he taught me the fundamentals of life and business that I use every day. Things like how important it is to maintain control of your work or how you don’t need a fleet of middle men to handle the ‘business side of things’. Moreover, he instilled in me a deep seated work ethic. He taught me to discard distractions, create something every day and never EVER miss a deadline. I applied that both in my comics work and in my fledging journalism career. I know for a fact that if not for the lessons he taught me I would have never amounted to anything.

Cerebus was a huge constant in my life for the better part of two decades. I don’t mind admitting that most of it went way over my head on the first or second or even third time I pulled an all-night complete read through, but I learned a bit more every time I tried. Cerebus was always there for me through crappy relationships or living dirt poor or being alone and it was the high point of the month.

Sim’s conversion to religion and its head-on collision with the Cerebus comic saw me losing interest in reading it and, subsequently, my interest in him as an artist and unknowing mentor. By then I had grown up, gotten married (which I’m sure he would have disapproved of anyway) and basically sorted myself out. I stopped reading it at issue 275, 25 issues short of the finale that I had been looking forward to reading since I was 15. Yeah, I was kind of surprised I let myself let it go by too.

Julian Rignall

Julian Rignall is a video game journalist that worked initially in the UK before moving to the US. One of his many career highlights is being one of the founding and longest-serving writers of the legendary Zzap! 64 magazine.

Let me tell you something about my home town. It is a God forsaken backwater that is stuck in the stone age. It’s mostly an industrial / manufacturing area and for a fat lazy kid who just wanted to play computer games and read comic books (like me) it was a scary place to grow up in.

When I was 13, I had no idea what I wanted to do when I became a grown up. If you wanted to make comics you had to live in New York and hang out with other comic artists, so that was obviously out. They didn’t have computers in my school so the idea of being a programmer or something just never occurred to me. So that left me with the jobs available in my local area. These jobs were all basically being a boilermaker or a house painter or a brick layer. These options scared the crap out of me.

Shortly after getting my own Commodore 64 (the first of many) I was reading my first issue of Zzap! 64 and really, really digging everything Julian Rignall was writing about these games. I’d read the occasional copy of the mag beforehand at school – the C64 was the gaming system of choice and the magazine was passed around a lot during lunch breaks. It become obviously pretty quickly to me that Rignall wrote exactly how I felt about the games I had played and I came to rely on his opinion before making that next big purchase at the games store. He really got what made you excited to be into computer games and what’s brill and what’s naff.

Then, like a bolt of lightning, I made a realization while I was reading a review of Apollo 18 of all things.

Reviewing video games is a job. It’s an actual job I can go do.

The concept of doing a job that didn’t require me to be outside doing actual, you know, work blew my entire freakin’ mind. It was the concept of being a knowledge worker. Something that my hometown still do this day finds weird and not really right. But man oh man, the idea of being a video game reviewer just excited me too much to bother worrying about the practicalities of it all. And it was something that I pursued relentlessly until it actually came together a decade later. And from there I had all sorts of amazing adventures and ended up getting into design and PR for even more crazy adventures and achievments.

All the while I was trying to just emulate how Rignall wrote…maybe it shows. I used the word Superlative a lot in my early stuff. At any rate, I owe pretty much my entire video game industry career to that guy. That’s a lot to be thankful for.

Jeff Minter

Jeff Minter is a video game programmer, designer and all round zarjaz dude who isn’t afriad to show the world what his passions are. He’s made a lot of great games including Space Giraffe, Sheep In Space and Attack of the Mutant Camels. Yeah, there’s lots of animals in his games and that’s no accident. He loves animals, lives on a big farm with a heap of them and shares them with the world via his work.

Minter, like Sim, was a huge influence on me growing up because he did his own thing and made a viable business around it. He wrote and published his own games and they were all unique. He introduced to me the concept of finding what makes you different and instead of shying away from it, embracing it and making it your trademark. I think of Minter and I think of shoot ‘em ups, fluffy animals and the integration of psychedelia into gameplay. Hopefully when you think of me you think of Commodore 64, chocolate milk and my love of all things Alyson Hannigan. It’s good to have those things to help identify yourself.

He also introduced me to a lot of great things that I would never have discovered otherwise. Things like how great it was to listen to Pink Floyd while watching computer generated light shows on your TV, the power and glory of Eugene Jarvis and this weird thing from Japan called Super Mario Brothers. All those things had a huge impact on me and changed the way I saw the world afterward.

For a lot of people they don’t get the chance to ever say thank you to people like these. I mean, it’s not like they were up the road or even knew who I was, right?

I met Sim once at a local comic store appearance in the mid ‘90s. I gave him some of the mini comics I had made (which were terrible, looking back, but hey), I said nice things about his work, he thanked me for coming out and signed my books. Afterwards I saw him again outside the store having a smoke and I got the chance to go all fanboy on him again. That was pretty damn cool.

I’ve exchanged a couple of friendly messages with Rignall over Twitter over the last few months, and he’s always been cordial and kind to his fans. I’m sure he’s tired of people pestering him about the good old days, though. 🙂

I met Minter at E3 2000. He was demonstrating Tempest 3000 on the Nuon system and I got the chance to talk to him about the good old days and thank him for everything he’s done. I even offered to buy him a drink to start trying to make up for all the games of his I had to pirate back in the day. Then many years later he sent me an email thanking him for a review I wrote of Space Giraffe saying it made his week to see it. That was a huge, huge deal to me.

Thanks again, you three. You were there for me when nobody else was and showed me the world that was out there while I was stuck alone in the suburbs. You saved me from being a boilermaker…whatever the hell that is.

So…who were yours? Did you ever get a chance to let them know what they meant to you?