My Comic Book DNA, Part I: A Childhood Writ in French

To celebrate Geek Week and because I had a lot of fun writing about how I got into role-playing games and how my hobby evolved a couple years ago (all parts linked in this post), I decided to do the same with the comics hobby. How did I get into it? How did my tastes change? Why is it still part of my life? I'm thinking it'll be in three parts, at a rate of one a week. I hope these recollections (hopefully not too corrupted by time) will be entertaining, but I want to hear about your experiences with the comic book hobby too. You can use the comments section, or write on your own space somewhere (be sure to give us a link!). It's always interesting to see how fellow fans got into something you're interested in, compare notes and so forth. So without further ado...

A Family Affair
I must have been four years old or so, though since I could read from a very young age (3 and a half apparently), it's possible it's even sooner, but let's not quibble about a matter of months. I had an uncle who collected Tintin and Asterix and who would let me peruse his collection when we went over (which was rare). My parents may have seen an opportunity there to feed my reading, but the way I see it, comics were an easy gift idea for a boy of my ilk, and family members saw fit to get me one or more books on birthdays, Christmases or simple outings where I'd been good. You should understand these weren't American comic books. These were hardbound European bande dessinées in the original French - Tintin, Asterix, les Schtroumpfs, Lucky Luke, Les 4 As, Achilles Talon, to name the principal ones. My father had collected and read American comics when he was a kid (this would be the 50s and maybe early 60s, and his mother threw them all out of course; he also ordered out for and used Charles Atlas' regimen from the back of all those comics, but that's a whole other story), but I was a French Canadian child, so French (actually Belgian) comics were really the way to go (though I do remember a coverless copy of Micronauts #3 in my house for a while, who knows how it got there).

The beauty of those Euro-comics is that I still have them all sitting on a shelf. Some are pretty dog-eared or taped-up, but they're generally in good condition despite dozens (yes dozens) of moves over the years. My very first was Tintin's Coke en Stock, a story that comes late in the series, has pretty adult themes (slavery) and is full of returning characters I'd of course never met. My first Asterix, Les Lauriers de César, features similarly opaque continuity. I didn't seem to matter to my young self. In any case, I would soon get to enlarge my collection and discover the full story. My parents soon divorced and at the tender and book-hungry age of six, I was shuffled off to live with my mom and siblings in my parents' home province (goodbye Quebec, hello New Brunswick). It's there that my grandmother would swing us by Woolworth's every Sunday after church and get me a Tintin, Asterix or what have you. They were like less than 7$ back then, if you can imagine.

By the time I was eight, we were learning English in school as a second language, and I was supplementing my reading with the English-language comic books my aunt would bring 'round every time she came to town. Whole bundles of Archie and Harvey comics, stacks two feet high of Archie, Richie Rich, Hot Stuff and Casper, as she regenerated her bathroom readers. It was her husband, since disappeared after convincing her he was an alien who would one day return to his home planet (no really, and she had her doubts because her two brothers had done the same to her all her life; turns out he joined a children's theater troupe... close!), who I remember first sitting with me and reading/translating those American funny books. Years later, I would score an English degree. It's all got to start somewhere, kids! Unlike the bandes dessinées, I had to throw those comics out during a move to make room for my growing superhero comics collection (but I'm getting ahead of myself).

Jumbo Superheroes

My first real taste of superheroes was in French. A Quebec publisher called Éditions Héritage would pump out black and white translated versions of Marvel and DC Comics with just the most awful lettering, usually two issues to a comic. L'Étonnant Spider-Man, Capitaine America, stuff like that. I still have a few. But the ones I most cherished were big trades that collected 6 to 8 issues of random stuff. Labeled "ComicOrama en français JUMBO des Super-Héros", any single trade might include the Flash right next to Thor, and then the Phantom, with House of Mystery-type inventory stories in between them. Only the covers were reproduced in color, and I remember ripping them out and sticking them to my wall. I wish I still had these Jumbos, but they would hardly be intact, would they. I have vivid memories of the stories they contained: Mirror Master's giant hand reaches for the Flash! Thor vs. aliens that control time and turn people into ash or the never-born. The Fantastic Four vs. Salem's Seven!

And yet, it wouldn't be until I was 12 (or 1983) that I would purchase, read, and go bananas for my first full-color, English-language, superhero comic. Shall we stop there and keep it a surprise?

In Part II: Buying Comics... IN SPACE! (I'll explain next week.) In the meantime, please, feel free to describe your own earliest experiences with the comics medium. I can't wait to hear them!

13 comments:

JDJarvis said...

Tin-Tin, Asterix the Gaul, Richie Rich and Batman... looks like my comics would have in 1975 (well they'd all be in English).

Siskoid said...

You're not far off since I started reading in 1975. This post covers '75 (maybe '74) to '82, I'd say.

SallyP said...

Woohoo! Asterix! My very first exposure to comics was Asterix, at the dentist's office, at the tender age of six.

Lentil said...

Pretty sure the first comics I ever read were free ones given out at school - "Superman says don't do drugs!"*, that sort of thing. Plus some occasional Donald Duck and Richie Rich.
But the first comics I found on my own (in middle school) were Milk and Cheese. Which led to other Evan Dorkin comics, which led to Sarah Dyer and Action Girl (still one of my favorite titles ever.) I bought them through the mail, usually by mailing someone a stamp in return for which I got a photocopied 'catalog' of comics and indie CDs and cassette tapes. There was a comic store near me, but it had almost no indie titles. Or at least almost no indie titles that weren't porn. I did buy Animaniacs comics there, though. And some DC once in a while. I started reading Vertigo titles in high school. And then in college, mostly back to indie comics, starting with Chainsaw Vigilante and then The Tick. (Not the usual order, of course, but Zander Cannon attended my college so they sold Chainsaw Vigilante at the college bookstore.)

I tried to read some Asterix when I lived in Amsterdam, but I think I was too old by then to jump in out of order and not care that I didn't understand what was going on. I have some Asterix pez dispensers around here somewhere, though...

*not necessarily a real comic title

Siskoid said...

Oh wow, starting more or less with indie comics. That can't be a common experience!

jdh417 said...

I'm an Archie fan. If you'd ever want to write about your experiences and thoughts about the eternal teenager sometime, I'd like to read them.

Siskoid said...

Despite his role in my learning English, I have to confess it was Richie Rich who was my favorite. He was certainly closer to my age than Archie was. Consequently, I'm not sure I have much of an opinion about Master Andrews, not an original or particularly positive one anyway.

There is this one story though... Maybe I'll write something. For you.

jdh417 said...

Thanks.

And I forgot to mention my early comics experience. I had some Tom & Jerry comics that I loved and ended up losing because I left them up in a tree overnight during a storm.

Toby'c said...

Tintin and Asterix were how I started as well, though I've only really been buying comics (trade paperbacks only) since 2009 - started with a Dragon Ball book from a local used video game shop, followed by a variety of other manga (Mahou Sensei Negima's my favourite). I've also collected a fair few superhero comics, mostly stuff I've previously seen adapted - Watchmen, the Death and Return of Superman arc, Knightfall, Iron Man: Extremis, etc.

Siskoid said...

jdh: Haha sad.

Toby: I'm am always (happily) surprised to find people in the English-speaking world who started out with French classics (translated all over the world, but still). It's a very common experience for French speakers, many of whom don't continue with the hobby when they're older, but I'm glad to see these great masters of the comic form aren't forgotten elsewhere.

Guy said...

47 y.o. and still have all may Heritage Capitaine America...

Siskoid said...

Cool! I do still have the stand-alone Héritage comics I ever had, which is few, and were gotten later, possibly as hand-me-downs. J'ai l'Étonnant Spider-Man avec le Hobgoblin qui le déchire en deux, pis un Capitaine America et les Vengeurs dont la couverture est verte. Surement d'autres, mais je me souviens de ceux-là.

Siskoid said...

Snell just published a Tales from the Quarter Bin about one of those Heritage Comics!

LINK IT UP

 

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