My Comic Book DNA, Part II: Buying Comics... IN SPACE!

Continuing my epic exploration of my own contact with the comics hobby, we rejoin the story when I'm around 11 or 12, way back in 1983. As Part I will attest, I'd mostly been reading comics in French at that point, either in translation or, for the most part, in original Franco-Belgian bandes dessinées. In fact, before reaching the age of 14, I'd read all such books in my local library - Spirou, Gaston Lagaffe, Les Tuniques Bleues, Natasha, Buck Danny, Boule et Bill, Iznogoud, EVERYTHING whether adventure strips or humor. If I didn't have it at home, it CAME home for a week. I devoured the things. And when I was done, I found a small section of English-language translations of Tintin and Asterix (all new puns!) and read THAT.

I was at an age when an English-language comic would do just as well as a French album (as they called them), and at a fraction of the price, so when I started getting a small allowance, it seemed much more reasonable to buy a 75¢ comic (Canadian) than a 7$ Asterix or Jumbo reprint book, or even those 1.25$ Mad Magazines (cheap) I liked so much. The first comic I remember buying was DC Comics Presents #59 and it rocked my world, and over the next few months would regularly buy DCP, which had Superman team up with such strange characters as OMAC, Kamandi and the Demon (coincidentally all Kirby characters). I was no doubt drawn to DC at first because I knew the characters from the Super-Friends cartoon show.

Marvel Zombification
But it's not until my first summer in Texas as part of a shared custody arrangement, a few months later, that I would lay my hands on a Marvel title. That comic was Uncanny X-Men #153, and I found it in a 2-for-1 plastic bag (with a lackluster Hulk reprint) at the local Wal-Mart. They were the only two comics I had with me all summer, and that issue specifically - and this is a story I've told before - was used variably as a bedtime story, as a play starring our stuffed animals, and as an audio tape where I did all the voices (I'm sure my Kitty Pryde was abominable). It was all I had and it had to LAST. So when I came home to northwestern New Brunswick, I just had to check out what these mutants were up to when they weren't telling each other fairy tales. Of course, those 2-for-1 bags held issues from a couple years back, so Uncanny was already at #175 (again, a book I've written about, you can see how influential these early comics were). I had to seek it out too. For some reason, the drug store where I would get Mad and those old Jumbos had its spinner rack in a completely different section. I remember buying three comics on that specific rack: the aforementioned X-Men (leading to that book becoming the largest consecutively collected comic in my history), a confounding issue of All-Star Squadron (I didn't know what Earth-2 was and couldn't understand why Batman was driving THAT car), and the second issue of Marvel Universe NOT-Deluxe's Book of the Dead.

My God, It's Full of Stars!
And that was an important purchase because it was the culmination of what I was looking for in a comic or comic universe. I didn't collect comics so much as I collected CHARACTERS. I wanted to know who they all were, and gravitated to team books where there were more of them - I really do have far fewer solo books from those days - and the handy encyclopedias that sprang up in the mid-80s, i.e. Marvel Universe and Who's Who. I was in Junior High now and completely hooked. The school was downtown, which meant we would all head for stores, arcades (it was a thing back then) and other hang-outs when lunch was over, and at 75¢ (83¢ with tax), basically the change from my food expenditure, I could get a comic a day. And at that price, I could afford to try things. I probably would not have fallen in love with Alpha Flight or Peter Porker Spider-Ham or Rom Spaceknight if not for those stray lunch issues.

As I got older, I started looking out for new points of sale, out of the way convenience stores where they might carry some comic the mall's book store didn't - Suicide Squad was only ever sold at a store where they kept the comics on the BACK of a support pillar, for example - and made my rounds more than once a week. Once for the new comics, and sometimes a little more to get a random issue of something I didn't habitually pick up, just to chase the blues away. Other people ate their emotions, I projected them on newsprint. And the names of those stores! I don't know if the moon landing was this huge thing in Edmundston NB or what, but they had names like Tabagie [smoke shop] Astral and Apollo News (with spaceships and planets on the outside sign). What magical place names to get your comics from! (And therein lies the tale of this post's title.)

As usual, I'd love to hear about your teenage experience with comics, becoming a collector, and what pulled you deeper into these imaginary worlds. Comments section at the ready!

In Part III: The College Experience


Toby'c said...

My comic reading during high school was limited to a few daily newspaper strips and the occasional Simpsons comic or Mad magazine at my library. The day I really started collecting was about a week shy of my 20th birthday, so... I'll save it for next week.

Peder said...

It's interesting, I started reading comic books about the same time as you did. My first was Uncanny X-Men 197 but I quickly went back and found a bunch of the older ones. Branched out into other Marvel titles. Like so many others, I burned out in the early 90's.
I'm curious, what moved you from Marvel to DC?

Siskoid said...

I read books from both houses. In my teen years, I was reading Legion of Super-Heroes, New Teen Titans, and after the Crisis, all the Superman books. It was probably half and half by the time I left for college.

A more complete conversion would come, but that's Part III's story (no spoilers!).

Siskoid said...

All-Star Squadron, Secret Origins, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, Captain Atom, Fury of Firestorm, the JLI family of books, Suicide Squad, Power of the Atom, Starman (Will Payton), Manhunter... just remembering more of the DC stuff I was reading in the 80s.

And basically, if it was available at newsstands (no comic book shop), I probably had an issue or more.

jdh417 said...

No easy comic book store access for me either. I road around on my bike hitting up convenience store racks all over my side of town looking for various titles. It made a bit of an adventure out of collecting. Mostly Marvels. I think I started with the X-Men with the issue preceding your first.

I also did an amateur audio version of a comic book, Phil Foglio's illustrated Myth Adventures.

Austin Gorton said...

Those old Handbooks were instrumental in pulling me further into comics as well. I didn't discover them until after I'd started reading some stuff (mainly X-books) regularly (lured to comics themselves from baseball cards via the Marvel Universe trading cards), but once I did, it was like a whole world (or, indeed, a universe) had opened up to me.

It was tough to find a lot of those old stories back then, but the Handbooks were a perfectly acceptable substitute at the time, and were a perfect combination of the raw stats I liked in baseball cards and the more fleshed out narratives I loved in comics.

Siskoid said...

Yeah, I think I even have a full run of Marvel Saga, which was just a retelling of Silver Age Marvel Comics in text form with illustrative panels.

Austin Gorton said...

Ah, yeah, I have that too - I particularly enjoyed the way they'd sneak in flashback/retcon panels from more current issues that fit in around the Silver Age stuff.


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