I don’t know for how long I read comic books before I realized they were my thing. I’d read Richie Rich, Casper, Archie and the gang, and, of course, superhero comics. By the time October, 1978, rolled around I had already been a huge fan of the superhero television series that had aired or were airing at that time, including Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, and the Incredible Hulk. So, it was a natural step to read the comics that these characters came from. And so, one chilly October night (I believe–all I remember was it was dark out in the evening and cold), I discovered my hobby of the next 30 years, and the thing that would inspire me to become a writer.
But first, gentle reader, let’s take a brief step backward in time to explain how I got to that store in the middle of Nowhere, Washington (aka Mattawa), and bought my first comic books (but I promise to keep it brief*). Earlier that year my parents had divorced and my Mom moved us to Mattawa (I’m not even sure why she went there other than to get as far away from Lewiston, ID, as she could). At some point, she began seeing this guy whose name I have forgotten, but not his contribution to my comic book hobby (hold on, it’s coming!). On this cold, October evening, he took me with him to the local store, I think to get some milk and cigarettes for Mom. While he got stuff and talked it up with the locals, I happened to spot the magazine rack and, if memory serves, a bunch of comics on the bottom. I knelt and began looking through the selection. I am surprised now how many comics were there–this was a town of less than 1000 and was the only store in town at that time. I’m sure Mr. Guy told me it was time to go or something. In fact, I have a faint memory of him encouraging me to pick some comics out. And so I did. As I went over to the counter, I do remember him volunteering to pay for them. I refused. He was nice and all, but he was just this guy my Mom was seeing, i.e., he wasn’t my dad. When we got home and my mother found out I wasted money on comic books (my mother never used that word, but she was a practical lady and we didn’t have much money, so buying comic books must have seemed an egregious error on my part), again I was surprised when Mr. Guy came to my defense. I don’t know what happened next because I went in my room and began reading.
The Amazing Spider-Man #187 (Dec. 1978): I’m sure I would have read this one first: it has Spider-Man AND Captain America on the cover! This is actually the only comic of the original three that I purchased that I still have (the other two I have since bought copies of, and paid a lot more than $.35 let me tell you!). Having reread this, I am amazed at how good it is. There’s some really good art in here from Jim Starlin and Bob McCloud. There are quite a few panels that Starlin plays around with size and “camera” angle, as well as allowing one panel’s contents to “bleed” into another. This is something I would actually only come to appreciate much later, but perhaps I felt intuitively that this was a really dynamic book. I also realize now that this was my first exposure to that old comic chestnut: the hero-vs-hero fight, and I remember thinking what a jerk Captain America was, but Marv Wolfman did a good job at focusing on Cap and why he had to act like that toward the ol’ Webhead. Finally, this was my first exposure that I could recall where a comic book taught me something. This issue informed me about the bubonic plague years before I learned about it in school. This would be the first of many such lessons. In fact, I should write the book All I Ever Learned I Learned from Comic Books. :)
Marvel Tales #98 (Dec. 1978): If you don’t know, this is actually a reprint comic of The Amazing Spider-Man #121. This is where I fell in love with the character of Gwen Stacy. Too bad she’s the one who gets killed at the end (SPOILER!)! This story was great in that Spidey fights the Green Goblin and, to ratchet up the melodrama, you see that Spider-Man himself is responsible for killing Gwen (I will never forget that panel on page 27 and that little “SNAP!” sound effect). The Gil Kane art isn’t all that (especially in comparison to Starlin’s work)–it’s not bad, but not “cool”. And to an almost 10-year-old, a villain who throws pumpkin bombs and is responsible for killing the hero’s girlfriend is bad-ass, and thus my love of the Green Goblin began. The last panel in this comic made me want to read the next issue to see if Spider-Man would make good on his promise to kill the Goblin. It finally dawned on me that comics were a serialized (and if it was a Marvel Comic, a bit soap opera-y) work. I went back to that store to look for that next issue but never found it (in fact, I only recently found a copy of that next issue, and let me tell you, 30 years of anticipation ended with a wee bit of disappointment. But such is the comic collector’s life.).
The Avengers #177 (Nov. 1978): I got this one for one simple reason: all those unconscious and possibly dead heroes on the cover. And who was the guy pounding on Hawkeye’s chest? Open this baby up and you get the Marvel Universe in two-page miniature. Plus you get the Guardians of the Galaxy (the GotG became favorites of mine for years after this issue). I’ll give it to writer Jim Shooter: he really made you feel bad for the guy that only wanted to take over the universe and killed anyone who would dare get in his way or harm his beloved. In fact, the death toll in this one issue was phenomenal and awesome. This was also my first exposure to the Power Cosmic!, that word reversal thing that Marvel would do to make their prose seem . . . more.
That was it: I was hooked. It would be some months before I discovered an honest to goodness comic book shop and then it was on like Donkey Kong! I haven’t stopped buying or loving comics ever since. And despite the fact that my first three comics were Marvel, I ended up becoming a DC guy and still am (look at my pull list to see).
Well, that’s it. Thanks for indulging me in my stroll down memory lane. I’m not sure which comic, character, or storyline I’ll focus on next, but I’m looking forward to it. In the meantime, when did you first realize you loved comics and why? What was the first comic or comics you bought?
* You can read an essay I wrote about post-modernism and comics that also reiterates my comic book origin story here.