My Life as a Comics Reader

Unlike many comics readers, I didn’t really “grow up” reading comics. I slouched towards comics-reading, moving at it in disconnected fits and starts. Here’s the story of how I became a comics reader, told via the medium of a list of the important titles in that journey.

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #11 (Marvel)
DC’s Super Stars of Space #6 (DC)
Star Trek, unknown issue (Gold Key)

These are the first comics I remember owning. They are all from the mid-to-late seventies. The Spider-Man one I remember picking up off a newsstand while on a family vacation in Florida. The cover looked cool. The Space one is still a huge favorite of mine. And the Star Trek one concerned a race of godlike beings that had looked over this other planet for millennia but were now abandoning it or something. I read these books over and over until they frayed and yet I didn’t really pick up any others. I don’t know why that is.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (Marvel)

The first regular series I bought from start to finish, more or less. I bought it the old-fashioned way: riding my bike up to Time Saver and grabbing it off the spinning rack there. I missed a couple issues here and there, but I loved it and again read and re-read them. I still have these. My favorite storyline was, of course, the battle with the Beta Beasts! I actually got less interested when people like the Champions and the Fantastic Four showed up. They kind of cheapened the whole thing for me, if you can believe that. In a world with a stretchy guy and a guy on fire, a giant lizard just wasn’t as special. But I think the best issue in terms of quality beyond monster-on-monster violence was the one where Godzilla hits Las Vegas.

Star Wars (Marvel)

Of course I have to mention this. I bought the movie adaptations, of course. Several times. I bought the giant-sized editions of them as well (how come nobody does that anymore?) But I never went much past the adaptations. I loved the first part of the Han Solo story with Jaxxon and Hedji the Spiner, but I never got the second part of it. I don’t know why. I loved Star Wars, couldn’t get enough Star Wars, but I never really bought or read the original comics. Of course, I grabbed the Dark Horse reprints of them recently, and loved them now for being everything the regular Dark Horse Star Wars comics aren’t: fun, exciting, in the spirit of the original movie. But at the time they didn’t grab me.

That was pretty much it for a long time, although I did pick up and enjoy Gold Key digests of The Twilight Zone, Ripley’s Believe it or Not, and all that other jazz. I also got hold of some Richie Rich digests and enjoyed those. But neither was something I actively sought out…if they wandered into my hands, I read them.

In the early 80s I went to work for a used book/comic store called The Book End. It was there that I first really started getting into comics. There were two in particular that I really enjoyed:

The New Teen Titans (DC)
Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew! (DC)

I really got into both of these titles. They both made me appreciate what comics could be all about. I enjoyed the writing, the humanity and humor of both, and the artwork of Perez and Shaw!. These were the ones I grabbed regularly, got excited about when new issues came out. Because of these, I started picking up other titles as well: Justice League of America, Firestorm, and Green Lantern were the notable ones. This wasn’t a bad time to be buying comics, really. Camelot 3000 came out at this time, which I totally enjoyed, and titles such as Omega Men were experimenting with new kinds of paper that made the artwork really shine. IT was during this time that I really cemented myself as falling in on the DC side of things; I just couldn’t get into much of any of Marvel’s offerings. My friend and co-worker, Allen Ulrich, tried to get me to pick up the X-Men, and I tried, but it just didn’t take. There was this seemingly crushing amount of backstory, none of the characters really interested me, and then, as now, I really disliked Byrne’s art.

Jon Sable, Freelance (First)

Notable because this was the first “alternative publisher” comic I ever regularly bought. Also notable because it wasn’t really based on superheroes or the fantastic or such. It’s probably the direct precursor to my buying habits today.

This phase lasted until, in this order, I started driving and started dating. With both those events, my comic buying ended.

I didn’t touch a comic book again, really, until I went to LSU in 1989. My friend Jody loaned me Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns and I totally dug on them. But the title he showed me that really stuck was:

Sandman (DC)

(You knew it was coming.) Let me tell you how much Sandman hooked me. During this time I had a job driving for Pizza Hut, which was next door to Comic Book Emporium. On Thursday nights I would stick my head in the door and, on sight, the manager would tell me whether or not a new Sandman issue was in. I was, I guess, that pizza driver that only bought Sandman.

Eventually I started to pick up other titles to pass the time between Sandman issues. I tried to get into Batman at this point (like everyone else; the movie had just come out) but the only title I could get into (and that only briefly) was the new Legends of the Dark Knight, since it had self-contained stories. I got caught up in the speculation frenzy, the Image hype, and bought a lot of crap I now wish I’d never bothered with. Among all this short-lived dross were some notable gems, such as:

Doom Patrol (DC)

Not only was this way different from most of the other stuff I was getting, it was the first comic that made me consider following a creator around from book to book. Grant Morrison’s style was so unusual I purposely looked out for things he was writing, such as the Kid Eternity miniseries. It was during this phase that I started getting the X-Men again, and would do so for a couple of years until I finally just said “screw it” and ditched every single X-title.

This is the phase that I’m still in, though there was a brief moment there a few years ago when I stated that, once The Invisibles ended, I would probably stop buying comics altogether. That didn’t happen, but it does show that there just wasn’t a whole lot out there that really interested me (largely because of the crappy quality of my local comic book store – by this time I was in Illinois.) Obviously I no longer feel that way.

There are a lot of books since then that I now consider favorites. Hellboy, Starman, Astro City, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Queen and Country, and so forth. You pretty much know them by now. The only other thing I can think of to add to this list as notable would be:

Planetes (Tokyopop)

The book that broke the manga barrier for me. While I haven’t joined the ranks of the “manga will save comics” crowd, this is the book that made me realize there were some gems in there worth sifting through for.

I’m sure there’s something I’m overlooking, but those are the books that really stand out and chart how I got to the point where I am now. I didn’t exactly grow up reading about a lot of the iconic comic book characters, which might explain why there’s little about them that interests me to this day. On the other hand, when I do read some Superman or Fantastic Four, it’s pretty much always gonna be the older stuff. A lot of modern superhero books from the “big two” publishers I wouldn’t read on a salary. (Digression: I’ve noticed a lot of comics bloggers who talk about such books don’t seem to enjoy them so much as tolerate them. Is this really the case?)

There’s not really a unifying theme here. I did the mainstream thing, did the superhero thing, did the speculation thing; until recently I largely bobbed along with the current except when I did weird, unpredictable things like not buying the Star Wars comic. I guess it’s pretty obvious that until recently, I never really took comics reading that seriously, merely dabbling instead of being a true believer. Hell, for all I know, that still applies. I like reading comics. I like buying comics. I like hearing about new comics coming out that I might be interested. I like talking about comics. I don’t particularly care about the comics industry as an industry. The are creators I like and follow, but I don’t need to read interviews with them or get in their heads. I couldn’t care less about movies based on comics. So I guess I’m still just sitting on the surface, naively enjoying comics for their own sake instead of immersing myself in the culture.

So there’s my comics DNA. Maybe it ‘splains something about me.

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