Sunday, July 09, 2006

Confessions of a closet comics junkie, part 1

When I was nine, I saw a classified ad about "comics for sale." The address was in the same apartment development, so I went over to check this out. I was thinking this would be a cheap way to feed my addiction. Not so.

At the time the price of a new comic was 12 cents. This kid (with his dad, natch) pulls out a couple of titles from a box where they were stored and starts quote prices in the range of five and ten bucks. My eyes glazed. I realized I had come to the wrong place.

The plastic bags should have been a dead giveaway.

I'm not a collector. I don't have file cabinets full of originals encased in archival sleeves. Collectors are interested in the object: the original magazine.

For me it's about the content: the drawings, the stories. I'm not a purist, anthologies and reprints are just fine - better in some ways than originals, since I've always liked to pore over the pages, re-reading the balloons, studying the drawings. Brittle newsprint in plastic bags does not lend itself to handling.

I started reading comics when I started to read. The first comic book I can remember owning was a Superman title (I'd be lying if I said I could remember which one it was). I'd been sick and my parents bought it for me - probably because I loved watching the old Superman TV show.

Though my tastes tended towards the eclectic, Superman was always my favorite. Enough has already been written about the whole young boy fantasy of the wimpish geek who is secretly all-powerful. I'll vouch for that interpretation. There was also the sci-fi aspect of his origins that drew me in: visitor from another planet. Who among us hasn't looked around and thought, surely I'm not from here.

My cousins, growing up in east Texas, didn't have superhero comics - at least not until they were much older. Instead they had these ostensibly harmless Harvey comics. Looking back on them, one has to wonder though: Hot Stuff the Little Devil, Casper the Friendly Ghost, and Wendy the Good Little Witch - calming childhood fears or sugar-coating the occult?

Batman was another early fav. During the days I read him, he was in thick with Gotham's law enforcement, though he was, from the beginning, a vigilante, and a borderline psychopath at that. Unlike Superman, whose Strange Powers and Abilities came from being an alien (what would Homeland Security make of him these days?), Batman/Bruce Wayne's "power" came from deep psychological scars and having a shitload of money.

Would you or I be able to afford mortgage on the Bat Cave?

When I was around nine, someone introduced me to the Marvel comics family - Fantastic Four, Spiderman, X-Men and the like. At the time they impressed me as a bunch of whiners. I read Spiderman and thought to myself, instead of pissing and moaning about his troubled teenage existance, Peter Parker just needed to kick his tormentors' asses. Christ, you didn't see Bruce Wayne whining and he saw his parents gunned down in cold blood. Plus he didn't even have superpowers.

When I was around 10, I discovered MAD magazine - about the time I joined Boy Scouts. Reading MAD no doubt contributed to the deep cynicism with which I viewed the American Virtues held by the Scouts.

My superhero comic book days were fading by the time I entered high school. Superman was replaced by Gilbert Shelton's Wonder Warthog and other late 60's underground comix. MAD lost out to the much hipper National Lampoon.

Next: Part 2, in which I rediscover the sins of my youth.

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