This post is in response to share stories related to a recent Comic Book Kid post from a friend. Similar to him, my story starts after a hazy trip through time… back to a time they called the 70’s. The decade was fraught with instability as a nation was still reeling in the aftermath of Viet Nam, Richard Nixon gave way to Gerald Ford who gave way to Jimmy Carter, and the most heinous crime was perpetrated upon the world – rock & roll relented to disco. Dark days indeed.
Amidst these troubling times, what was an ailing boy from a tiny town in West Central Illinois to do to escape such a harsh reality? Read comic books. While I don’t recall the specific ailment that had me bed-ridden, (it might have been a hernia, it might have been chicken pox, it might have been disco nausea), but I recall that I had to be off my feet and away from other kids. It was the onset of summer and I wasn’t allowed to play outside (because that’s what you did then), so a day or so before I was to be sequestered, my mom took me to Clark Drug Store and I was allowed to buy something to help pass the time. I’m betting my mom thought I would pick out a toy of some kind, but something far more interesting caught my attention.
There, standing in a rotating metal rack, were all these brightly colored pages depicting a woman in what I thought at the time was a crimson swimsuit and a man in green, gold, and red. The Avengers! I immediately grabbed a handful of different books and placed them on the counter. That was the summer I became hooked on titles like The Avengers (and all the individual member’s books), Spider-Man, The Defenders, Fantastic Four, The X-Men, etc. I was a hardcore Marvel fan, but curiously, DC titles didn’t do a thing for me. As that summer progressed, I eagerly awaited the day when I could return to pick up the next issue to all the titles. Something in each story clawed at me and left me dying to know what would happen next. Drug store indeed. From that moment on, my weekly allowance, birthday money, and anything I could earn helping out the family business went to purchase more comics.
As my appetite for new comic adventures grew, so did my frustration with Clark Drug. I quickly learned that their distribution was spotty at best and often they wouldn’t get a shipment or would get only a few issues and that left gaps in the stories. I would often miss key events that left me confused and empty. Yes, empty. From a young age, it was always the story and not the flashy powers or dazzling colors that drew me in. These were larger-than-life characters dealing with larger-than-life issues or at least that’s how it seemed to my young mind. No more gaps would be tolerated, so I had to find another source. Enter Dave’s Books & Cards.
Rather than a limited rack or two of comics, here I found shelves upon shelves of my printed prizes. As months passed, my desire for new adventures forced me towards the (then dreaded) DC stacks. They were dreaded at that time because the stories seemed inauthentic or insincere. They just weren’t as relatable to me as the Marvel stories. Eventually, either the stories became more interesting or I had enough good reading material between the two publishers that it didn’t matter. Life was good, my stacks were growing and everything was coming up superhero.
I was consumed with the superhero ideal so much so that one year I begged my mom to make me a special costume for Halloween. You have to remember that at this time, no one produced superhero costumes so, if you wanted to portray your heroic idol, you had to make the costume. That’s just what mom did. With some long underwear, blue Converse tennis shoes, Rit blue dye, some spare scraps of cloth, and I think a trash can lid, I was Captain America. I’m fairly certain my mom still has a picture from that Halloween. I honestly don’t recall why I picked Captain America since he wasn’t my favorite character. Perhaps his costume was just the easiest to make out of all the others.
As time wore on, my comic sources all eventually went the same way – one died off, but a new one eventually took its place. I kept adding to the collection and even went so far as to repurpose an old knife display case that my grandpa didn’t want anymore into my comic book showcase. Each month, I’d swap out the five or six titles that I thought were so exemplary that they just had to be put on display under glass. It was at that time my grandpa asked what I planned to do with all the comics and I realized just what a collection I had on my hands. I then wrote down each title I had and how much I spent and totalled it up. This was all before comic book databases or price guides or anything else similar. I had enough to pay for some college, but that was an unacceptable thought. I thought if I kept collecting, by the time I was ready to retire, it would be sufficient to support me. Such pie-eyed optimism.
Eventually, I was carting around cases upon cases of painstakingly boarded and bagged comics. No matter how many locations I moved to, the comics came with me. I found great new friends (Chuck, Jason, Janos to name a few) in each place who appreciated comics as I did and didn’t ask why I spent so much time & money on them. They understood the merits. They understood their value. Unfortunately, I grew overly concerned with their value. Each reading was less and less about the story and more about being sure I didn’t ruin the book’s value if I accidentally bent the spine too much or creased it. When the 90’s arrived with their multiple covers for the same story, issue #0’s, misprints, etc., I couldn’t afford to continue.
To this day, I attribute my sense of the heroic ideal, doing the right thing, sticking up for the little guy, and generally always trying to be the best person I can be to comics.