In what now only seems like an alternate reality, I can recall the heady days of high school in the late 1980s, skipping late morning classes with friends, stealing away in whoever had a car on that particular day, and spending an hour our two down at the local billiards haunt.
It wasn’t our haunt. No, we were just temporary visitors in the local, certain-kind-of-leisure, hangout for any blue-collar adult who may have had an early – or late – shift of work that day.
Gold Tip Billiards on the south side of Dundas Steet, just west of Dixie Road in the Mississauga suburb of classic rock-turning-toward-alternative music city of Toronto. You may have seen the marquee, briefly, during the opening montage of The Kids in the Hall comedy television series. You may have driven past the place. You may have even been inside.
To a sixteen-year-old high school kid, Gold Tip smelled of cigarette smoke and back-alley crime. The excitement was an intoxicating rite of passage.
Past the assuredly gangland motorcycles parked menacingly outside, the establishment was split between billiard tables in the back of the long room and arcade games, hungry for quarters, in the front. It was an easy way to separate the interests between the twentieth century’s men, matured by life’s hard experiences, and its about-to-learn naïve Gen-X kids: Snooker and Boston, Frogger and Tron.
But somewhere in-between those two solitudes, a common platform was found in the tabletop amusement games of pinball.
Maybe it was the KISS-branded heavy metal rock, Flash Gordon sci-fi pulp and the taboo of goth-sexy Elvira displayed prominently across game backdrops. Maybe it was the bright lights, ear-worm sounds and the quest for the elusive high score tantalizingly displayed next to a mysterious nickname made up of only three letters. The silver ball bridged generations. It was an entertaining skill game that everyone could like – and Gold Tip Billiards was replete with them all.
Pumping in quarters, hoping for free plays, honing one’s paddle talents, and placing dollar bets on games against friends and frenemies – amongst all that excitement, what pinball wizard would have given any thought to the sordid and storied history behind the silver ball? Today sees that release of that tale!
Written and illustrated by Jon Chad (Leo Geo, Science Comics) and published by First Second, Pinball: A Graphic History of the Silver Ball is a non-fiction hardcover graphic novel that traces the history, technological and cultural evolution of the game. It’s a story that skillfully bumps and bangs, jumps and weaves, flips and spins through the Court of King Louis XIV, the immigrant experience of early twentieth century America, the post-war boom and bust, the decades of pinball prohibition in America due to its alleged ties with organized crime and the corruption of youth, and launches itself all the way up through the era of my Gold Tip Billiards experience and the modern day, revealing why the game still matters in our all-encompassing digital age.
Pinball: A Graphic History of the Silver Ball is a fascinating take on a single game that has entertained and electrified everyone from peasants to royalty, blue collar workers to hardcore gamers over centuries of humanity’s contributions to pop culture.
Make the run not your local comic book shop or bookstore and place your hard-earned quarters on the counter for Pinball: A Graphic History of the Silver Ball today!