Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Misty water-colored memories, of ...

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
- F. Scott Fitzgerald

I came across a blog entry somewhere that escapes me now that had some discussion of the first comic you remember buying/reading/having – really the first comic that stuck in your head that you physically had in front of you at one point. It’s an interesting exercise in walking down memory lane, and it took me about 2 seconds to come up with my answer. I split it into the first comic I remember digging to the point where I realized just how great comics can be, and the first super hero book I loved. As is the case, my first favorite comic was not a superhero book. While I recall sometime in the early to mid 80’s a box of Archie digests making their way home from the flea market in Joliet to my room (Montana Charlie’s Flea Market – right down the road from Old Chicago, which still stood amongst the growing parking lot weeds at that time), I do remember a few comics before that time. I distinctly remember buying $.60 Archie books at T&B foods on 63rd and Hamlin. T&B was a dump even in those days, when the majority of the neighborhood looked infinitely nicer than it does today. But, it was a convenience store that had comics on a spinner rack and I could walk to it and Chicago was generally much dirtier back then anyway and what difference did I know anyway? Driving up to Prentice, WI for vacation around this time with my grandmother yielded a Whitman grab bag of comics from a gas station along the way. I think for $.60 you got 3 random Whitman books. The 2 you could see where Bugs Bunny books, but as it turns out the middle book was Grimm’s Ghost Stories #59. I liked the Bugs comics just fine, but the revelation that horror comics existed was pretty impressive. That was the comic for me. I really loved that comic, read it many times, and my eyes were truly open as to what the medium could be at that young age of 8. I loved reading horror stories so the existence of horror comics really put me over the edge. I recently thumbed through that exact copy and remembered the stories perfectly, even though they now seem pretty bad -- I now know and deeply love the golden era of 1950’s EC comics: Tales From the Crypt/The Haunt of Fear/ Vault of Horror/Crime SuspenStories/Shock SuspenStories. I was a cheap plot/story date back then, but ‘ol Grimm still is a treat and I couldn’t see ever getting rid of it. It’s a milestone it seems. I have since tracked down a few other issues in the run but they just don’t have the charm of the green cover with the frightened sailors.

Within a short time after that a friend Dan gave me his previous year’s subscription to Amazing Spider Man (#’s 227-238). He had read them many times and just passed them on as read and therefore useless. God bless him, wherever he is these days (last seen in Oak Lawn about 17 years ago…). What a prince. I read them all many times and was just in love with Spidey and the whole superhero world. I loved the idea of the cliffhanger, the deceptive/lying cover, and the ubiquitous splash page. I still have those exact, crumpled, stained copies in my collection. The book that stood out the most was easily #238 – the first appearance of the Hobgoblin (yeah, Dan gave me the comic with the Tattoos already used and gone). It took me about 3 more years to track down #239 and finish that storyline at one of the comic shops I soon regularly haunted. Within a few years I was buying Spidey and X books monthly, including all the McFarlane and Larson books as they hit the stands, but I still favor that year run on Spidey by pencilers and writers that still are unknown to me (I can’t say I’ve ever looked them up). #238 is still an expensive back issues to buy and it would be nice to have one that doesn’t look like a car ran over it and also has the temporary tattoos, but I’ve never been able to bring myself to replace my collection’s copy. It is simply worth too much.

By the end of high school I had become a fiercely DC superhero only customer and grew to love the EC books the most, but Grimm #59 and Amazing #238 still tower over them in their own way.


Scott said...

Wow, this is a great idea for a blog entry. I think I teared up a little. *sniff-sniff*

It made me think about the first comic that I read that had a big impact on me. It's hard to say because I started reading a lot of toy-themed crap like the Transformers and Madballs (yes, they had their own comic). I wasn't ever much of a superhero fan either. There was this book that my brother used to collect called Stark Future (My brother eventually sold them at a flea market, but Chris scored some for me on e-bay). It was a poorly drawn Sci-fi series, but I thought it was cool, bacause it was so violent and there was some sex in it (Which lead to a friend of mine nick-naming it "Stark Naked").

Going further back my mom once bought me one of those comic three packs at Aldi. It was three marvel books: a spiderman featuring that lizard-themed villan whose name escapes me now, a Cloak & Dagger, and a New Mutants during Secret Wars II. The New Mutants one was my favorite. Again, it was amazingly violent. Basically the Beyonder shows up at Xavier's school and kills off all of the student mutants. It was so dramatic. I read it over and over again.

Other than that, I read a lot of Groo the Wanderer. Akira was another of my favorites.

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

I had a lot of comics bought on Maxwell Street bundled in twine, given to me in similar fashion by my late Uncle George, who worked for Streets & San, or on various family excursions to the Illinois City That Time Forgot...Streator. The first comic whose entire contents I recall with clarity was a Dell GHOST STORIES, bought at the one place that sold comics in Streator, a drive-in, truck stop deal called Sefarczek's, with the first story being the one with that big long yellow arm and claw that snaked through tenement windows and ate kids at night. Finding it years later at a comic con out in Rosemont, I was surprised I even recalled one victim in a panel playing with a toy airplane before he got sucked to the depths. The second story was about this orphaned waif who kept getting shunted to new families after the old ones were murdered by whatever emerged from a strange door the aforementioned waif dreamt of. Think Rod Serling scripting an early episode of The Brady Bunch. The last story was some Puritanical pony with red eyes deal. Its the first two, especially that sewer limb story, that kick ass. What's the first COVER you can remember? I wish there was a way to post photos to your page, Chris. Maybe I'll follow up and post it soon on my own site, as I did find the comic, STRANGE MYSTERIES#5, long after I started making myself believe that the book never truly existed, that my memory was an amalgam of images. I'd have to look, but I think ACG put the book out circa 1964.

Chris said...

Dell became Whitman, and Ghost Stories became Grimm's Ghost Stories...
Uhhh, Wayne? do we have to heard sheep now?

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

I think we herd sheep (and only that) right after the Narnia rap in the 3rd issue (double-sized!) of INFINTE BROKEBACK.