Time and how we measure it is a tricky thing. I often ask myself, “When did such and such happen?” and I almost always think, “A few years ago”. No matter how long ago the event actually was that is usually my first thought. At least for things from the last 10 years or so.

The standard associations for remembering time are easier in our youth. They are our grade levels. I can remember when things happened by what grade I was in when they happened. Grade level is a constant measurement of time that we all experience and makes for an easy reference point. All the way up through college I can figure out when things happened by remembering if I was a sophomore or a senior. Easy system.

After school things get a little more shapeless. Time takes on a new meaning that isn’t broken down into semesters or quarters. “One long endless summer job” I overheard a student say as he expressed his fear of what life would be like after graduation.

Jobs are another way people mark time but they aren’t as reliable. Some people have many jobs and some few. I think the fewer jobs one has the harder it is to mark time by them. After five or ten years at a job it all blurs together. If you change jobs every few years that may offer a better stick to measure against but jobs suffer from another problem. People generally don’t like them. Maybe people who have great jobs that are fulfilling and pay well remember every moment of them but most people I know don’t want to think about their job when they are not there. Often the last thing a person wants to think about is their job; therefore making a lousy marker for time.

I think it is children who give people back their standard associations with time. After someone has kids their thinking about their lives usually breaks down into two parts: before they had kids and after they had kids. This is not only because having children is a huge change in one’s life and a parent has a whole new person to be responsible for but because a parent gets his or her time markers back. Gone is the amorphous relationship of, “When did that take place?” and back is the relationship of “That happened when little Timmy was two”. A child’s age and then grade level are the new markers.

Grade levels change at the same time for all children and this is why I think they eventually take over as time markers from a child’s age. The first think I think is, “My senior year of High School” and the second is 1983-1984. All children are the same “age” as someone in the same grade despite being six months older or younger.

What brought this whole time thing up was that I went back and read some old comics. They were from the series “Mage: The Hero Discovered”. I remember when I first bought the series back in 1988 or so because I was in my senior year of college. Then, many years later, its sequel “Mage: The Hero Defined” came out. I wondered to myself, “When did the second Mage series come out?” and then I thought, “A few years ago”. So I looked it up. It was published from 1998-1999. Seven years ago? Where did time go? I was fine with the first volume being seventeen years ago because I had a marker for it and understood its place in time. Since I have no time marker for the sequel it disturbs me that seven years ago and three years ago mean about the same thing to me.

Comic books seem to emphasize my lack of time markers. Movies don’t. If I look up what year some movie came out, lets say Jurassic Park 2 (1997 I just looked it up), it never disturbs me when I see the date. TV shows can get me a little nostalgic, maybe because style on TV changes so often, but it never disturbs me when I look up what year a show came out.

The periodic nature of comic books could be an answer. They come out on a regular schedule; usually monthly or bi-monthly (there is Planetary time, a joke for all the comic book fans out there). They also come out all year round unlike a TV show which has a season with reruns thrown in too. Comics can be steady like a ticking clock.

Comics are also objects. They are dated and you can grab every issue of Spider-Man from 1977-1978 and watch time go by as you handle each issue. A comic from 1953 existed in 1953 and is older than a lot of us. Time is an integral part of comic books and whenever I look at one to see when it came out I hold time in my hand. That’s a tricky thing.