The Making of a Geek Part Four: Man, You Come Right Out Of A Comic Book

My first comic was a DC Star Trek comic my mother bought for me when I had the chicken pox in 1986. It was the first issue in a two-parter, or the second in a three-parter, but anyway it was confusing and I remember not liking it. I liked some of the ads (probably for TSR games) but it didn’t endure the comic book medium to me in any way. Between 1986 and 1989, the only comics I had were various Star Trek comics, purchased only when I was sick, and Archie Double Digests.

Archie Comics!

Oh, man, did I love the wacky 60s and 70s Archie stories. I had a grip of new Double Digests (I bought them because they were the best value for the money), but also stacks of older digests picked up at flea markets and garage sales. I had enough to start identifying whether or not I’d like a story based on the art alone, knowing the artists and writers. Dan DeCarlo, Bob Montana, Samm Schwatrz, Al Hartley (more on him later); as just a kid, I had Serious Opinions about how wrote and who drew these characters. I was invested.

There were religion Archie comics, too; Spire Publishing had Al Hartley draw them, since he was born-again and aranged a license to do Christian Archie comics. They did a total of 19, of which I had about 15. They cost more than I wanted to pay, but since this was the time of the Great Religious Outpouring in my family I just had my folks pay for them. Not having ads was a plus, it was more pages of comics, but I missed them. In a way, a comic without ads felt fake, phony. Like it was self-published.

Wolverine and Nightcrawler, Too

Picking up Archie digests at the grocery store led to buying Spider-Man Comics Magazine #12, a digest-size issue which reprinted Amazing Spider-Man Annual #9, which was itself a reprint of Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #2, “The Goblin Lives!”. The digest featured an Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe-style entry for the Green Goblin, and I was hooked. Giving up Archie for a while, I switched to Marvel Tales: Featuring Spider-Man. I read Classic X-Men, the reprint series that started with Giant Sized X-Men #1, and featuring some added panels and new filler stories by Chris Claremont. These didn’t have ads, and cost a lot more; my gripes about the lack of advertising making comics fake vanished. Classic X-Men lead to reading Alpha Flight. I picked up Amazing Spider-Man, featuring cool new artist Todd McFarlane.

I focused on Marvel Comics, because my brother was also getting into the comics craze, and he was buying Superman and Batman. This was the beginning of Batman hysteria, coming up on the release of Tim Burton’s Batman. It was also the Superman “Exile” story-line, where Superman leaves Earth, is captured on Warworld and becomes a gladiator, setting up one of my favorite comic panes of all time. It also introduced the Eradicator, which came into more prominence in the Death of Superman story-line; but that was after I abandoned comics, so we won’t talk about that now.

Rotting Our Brains Out

Friends would come over just to sit on our deck (if it was warm) or in the living room (if it wasn’t) with whatever comics they had purchased that week, and we’d sit quietly and read, and then swap comics and go back to reading. Occasionally we’d trade. Sometimes there’d be some weirdo black-and-white indie comic in the mix. Something like Puzzle Man or Jigsaw Man, which was super-campy and featured solving crimes by Puzzle Man throwing his ear into a bag of money the crooks had stolen, so he could hear where they were going. But Marvel and DC ruled the roost, both for current purchases and 70s/early 80s used magazines filling in gaps.

I stopped collecting comics in 1991 or so, only picking up used issues of Spider-Man here and there if the covers grabbed me. Most of my collection I sold off before college, to help pay for books (most of my gaming collection from that time was also sacrificed on the alter of Expensive Textbooks). And so it was stay for years, with me picking up a trade paperback here, the odd issue there. It wasn’t until I was married, and found myself moving my wife’s quite extensive longbox collection, that I started really reading comics again. But that’s a tale for another time.