Monday, September 12, 2016

Early Comic Book Experiences!


Been way too long since I wrote one of these, hasn't it? So today, I'm going to write about my early days with comic books.

I honestly have no idea what the first comic book I read was... I cannot recall any part of my childhood that comic books weren't a part of! There are a few stories of my introduction to reading I've been told, although I've no memory of them, so let me make an early digression.

My mom has always told me that I started to learn when I was two years old, although there are two different parts of the story. This part takes place when my family lived in Laramie, WY (a place I am so glad I didn't grow up in!). Apparently, I was somewhat self-taught, believe it or not! It seems when my mom would take me with her grocery shopping (I'm not sure what my sister Sandy, who would've been an infant at the time, was doing... if she was along as well or if she was being babysat while we shopped), I would often point at specific products and name them. The specific example my mom gave was "Campbell's Soup." I would do this every trip, but mom always assumed that I was just recognizing the colorful packaging... until one day, she thought she'd put it to the test.

We came home from grocery shopping one day, and she decided to write the words down of the products I was recognizing, and apparently, I was able to read them!

Concurrent with this, more or less, was that my Uncle Gary lived nearby us, and would often do things with us (Uncle Gary was my favorite uncle, and it eventually came out that he was gay, something his siblings always had a hard time accepting, referring to his partner as his "good friend," which is ridiculous to me, but they're of a different generation... but I digress again). The story goes that as we would drive around, Gary would read aloud the billboards we drove past (there were many more of them than there are these days), and apparently I would start to read along with him.

Geiger Elementary is in for a change
One of the last pictures of the original Geiger Elementary, it has been torn
down and an all-new school built in its place with the same name.
Flash forward a few years to Kindergarten, Geiger Elementary in Tacoma, WA... I was already reading well enough by that point that when we'd get a new issue of My Weekly Reader in class, the teacher would have me read one of the articles out loud to the rest of the class. I do remember this!

I also remember at the time that my best friend was Curt Phair (I hope I've spelled his first and last names correctly, I haven't seen him since about fourth grade). Curt was black, something that didn't really matter to me at all. He was my friend, and his skin color didn't matter. Now, let's put things in context... I was born in November of 1962, so by the time 1969 came around, Curt and I were friends, and the Falcon made his debut in Captain America. Until then, the only other black super-hero was the Black Panther, who hadn't been making quite as many appearances in the comics yet (I believe he was active in The Avengers, but I guess I wasn't reading Marvel's team book by then). I must have been reading Captain America, because I remember Curt and I playing Cap and the Falcon in a small patch of woods near our houses, with me throwing a cardboard disc for a shield.

...or was it this one?
Was this my first issue of JLA...
I had to have been reading Superman and/or Action Comics by then, and probably Justice League of America as well. The earliest issue I can recall reading of JLA off the stands was either issue #93 (a Giant issue) or issue #95, with "The Private War of Johnny Dune." Where the confusion lies is that every spring, the 6th grade class at Geiger would have their annual "Junk Sale" in the basement of the school, selling stuff to raise money for camp, and I bought a LOT of comic books from them, one of which may have been the giant issue. I had recalled #95 as having a Pied Piper-type of character, and that's the best match.

My first exposure to the JSA!
I definitely know that the first several issues of JLA I owned were issues #100-102, where the annual JLA/JSA team-up also included the Seven Soldiers of Victory. I don't believe I'd encountered DC's multiple earths before, but thanks to the set-up of the story, I was able to figure it out easily, and had no problem as other earths were added. This issue was picked up as part of a group of comics I was able to buy to bring along on one of my family's annual road trips to North and South Dakota to visit relatives, and I read that thing until it fell apart!

Cap and the Falcon preventing the Grey
Gargoyle from stealing Element X (I think)
from SHIELD!
Despite knowing about the Falcon, the earliest issue of Captain America I specifically remember reading was issue #141, where Cap and the Falcon teamed up to fight the Grey Gargoyle. This was part of a group of comics that were given to my parents from a neighbor who worked for Flying Tiger Airlines, who collected them when they were left behind on a flight. I honestly don't know if I ever read the rest of the story, to be honest!

Another comic in that bunch was Action Comics #396, which was part of a two-part imaginary story in which the future world doesn't seem to need a Superman, and he's lost his powers anyway, reduced to begging in disguise from a wheelchair. It literally took me decades to find out what happened in the next issue, despite my mom running me to every place in Tacoma that sold comic books trying to find the next issue (which had probably already come and gone by that point).

A very bizarre, but cool, issue!
Well, it probably wasn't that long ago, because I do remember picking up issue #399, a really bizarre comic where Superman's brought into the future as a history class lesson, along with famous people from other eras, where he discovers that he's a clone of the original Superman, who'd died, and he's not even the first clone! This was (spoiler alert!) an alternate Earth he was drawn to, where history went on a different path from ours, something he figured out after being returned home.

From there, my comics reading seems to have exploded... I picked up DC's Legion of Super-Heroes #1, which reprinted previous stories from Adventure Comics, and that led me to picking up other reprint comics as well as all-new stuff when I had any extra money to spend. I also picked up older comics at the sixth graders' junk sale, as well as at the yard sales and garage sales my mom would take my siblings and I to pretty much every weekend.

Thanks to the reprint titles, I started to get interested in learning about the history of comics, especially wanting to get Steranko's History of Comics, which I could never talk my mom into buying (I finally rectified that in about 1983 at a comic shop in Indianapolis). And of course, I've written before (I'm sure) about how I took my birthday money one year and bought All in Color for a Dime and The Great Comic-Book Heroes, and that just fed the flames of my comics... well, you could really call it an addiction, couldn't you?