Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Geek Memories: Discovering the History of Comics!

I'm pretty sure my interest in comic book history was spurred on by first, early exposure to DC's 80-Page Giants, and then even more so by the 100-Page Super-Spectaculars. These books reprinted older comics stories, and the Super-Specs especially would often have information in them about some of the characters and stories reprinted. For Marvel's part, there wasn't so much on the older stuff... sure, there would be reprints of the Silver Age stories in their various titles I feature here in "Cover Redux," but there was no historical context to them at all (this wouldn't really happen in Marvel books until Roy Thomas' Invaders book, and to a lesser extent in the Giant-Size titles).

What really sparked my interest in comics history more than anything else was seeing ads for Steranko's History of Comics. Just the collage covers of both volumes, with all kids of heroes flying, leaping, running, and so forth all over the place piqued my interest greatly!

So, you'd think that the first time I saw those volumes in the store, I would've snapped them up, right?

Wrong. Oh, I wanted them... badly... but I didn't have the money for them, and I couldn't talk my mom into buying them for me (they must've appeared expensive back in those days when 20 cents or a quarter got you a comic, or 50 cents for a Super-Spec). I saw them on sale brand-new one time, and one time only, at a store called Gov-Mart Bazaar, which no longer exists so far as I'm aware of. This store was like a Kmart on steroids, or at least it seemed that way to me at the time, sprawling over a huge building. The book department was right next to the in-store restaurant (something you really don't see incorporated in a store much any more... the norm these days it to shove it into a corner, whereas Gov-Mart and at the time Kmart had them in the middle of things). I saw those covers and recognized them immediately, even from the back, when we were in the restaurant getting a drink or snack, and begged mom for them, to no avail.

Finally, the day came when I could start to fill my brain with comics history. Going to the Tacoma Mall, I'd always check the bookstores for books about comics, and page through them as much as I could, but I still didn't have the money for them... until one birthday, when I got some birthday money. It probably was only about $20 or so, but it was enough. We were heading up to Seattle to visit some relatives, and I talked my parents into stopping at the mall so I could buy a few books about comics (I couldn't have been any older than 12 or 13 at the time). My purchases were The Great Comic-Book Heroes by Jules Feiffer, and All in Color For a Dime, edited by Don Thompson and Dick Lupoff. I swear, I read both of those books cover to cover on that trip, and would continue to read them cover-to-cover for years to come.

As time passed, my copy of AICFAD lost the front cover, and a few interior pages as well, and I probably just threw it away during one of those foolish periods when I lost interest in comic books (or pretended to, anyway). TGCBH was given to my brother Jeff, and I don't know what happened to that copy.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. One day, I happened to wander into the Book King (another of those glorious stores that doesn't exist any more, it was part of the outside block of stores at the Fred Meyer on 19th and Stevens in Tacoma) and found my first copy of The Rocket's Blast Comic-Collector, which of course I'd seen advertised in the comics themselves. This would've been about 1976, because the book cover-featured King Kong (which had a remake coming out about that time). They also had an issue with a Blue Beetle cover, which I also snapped up. Reading these were even more of a revelation, because those first two books I mentioned couldn't possibly cover all of comics history... Don Rosa's "Information, Please" (I think that was the title, I could be misremembering) provided filling for some holes in my knowledge, as did some of the other articles and columns. From that point on, when I could track down an RBCC issue, I did (sadly, during one of those recurring periods when I have to sell stuff because of being between jobs, those went). I also was a faithful reader of The Comic Reader, although that didn't really have much of the history of comics in each issue.

Once I was an adult, especially while I was in the Navy (when I had pretty much nothing but spending money), I was unstoppable. The very first comic book shop I went to when I was in school in Indianapolis had the Steranko books, and I snapped them up immediately. I probably bought all of the Ron Goulart-penned books as they came out.

It didn't ever seem to stop from that point. I wanted to know more and more about the history of this four-color medium. It was Twomorrows that really kept feeding that desire as I discovered their magazines, such as The Jack Kirby Collector, Alter Ego, and Comic Book Artist, among others. At some point, I got lucky and was able to freelance for them transcribing interviews, and I'd get to hear about all kinds of great stories before they got into print (as well as a few that got edited out). While the money wasn't great, actually hearing the stories from the people who lived them was amazing.

These days, it's easy to forget sometimes how there was a period when information about comics history wasn't very accessible... pretty much until Steranko's books, it was hidden away in low print run fanzines that I certainly didn't have access to at the time. These days, not only are there books covering the history of the medium, there are books covering the specific histories of different publishers, characters, and even the individual creators. It's an amazing time to be a comic book fan, even if the current product doesn't seem to reflect that. I'm sure that my interest in the history of comics will continue to remain, and I'll be feeding that every chance I get!

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