Thursday, May 3, 2012

What You Should Have Read #58

My original idea for this post was to do it as a comic book script. That fell apart after the splash page.

I don’t remember how I got so into comics. I remember a bunch of little things but not that first thing.

When I was little, I had a subscription to the Electric Company magazine, and there were Spider-Man comics in it. That was probably my first exposure to comics, if not superheroes. I remember watching “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends” and “Super Friends,” but I don’t know if those came before the magazine.

After I got my first library card and was let loose to explore by myself, I remember running across a few hardback collections of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four. These aren’t the awesome hardback collections of today like the various Premiere, Absolute or Omnibus collections the Big Two put out. This was more like and old-school Scholastic release full of hastily thrown together reprints. I read all I could find.

I don’t remember actually owning many comics while I lived in Huntingburg. I had a Star Trek comic, a couple of Transformers issues, and an issue of The Further Adventures of Indiana Jones. That’s it. It wasn’t until I moved to Jasper after third grade that I was sucked into the hobby.

I blame this on a friend I’ve known since daycare. He collected comics, mostly Iron Man and Amazing Spider-Man I think, and I’d go over to his house and read them. His mom bought me my first trade paperback, a collection of the Batman story “A Death in the Family,” and he gave me my first Spider-Man comic, Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #7, because I colored on the cover a bit with a pencil. From there it was just a matter of finding somewhere to buy comics in this little southern Indiana town.

I found Fisher’s Bookstore nestled in a corner of the square around the court house. In a back corner of the store, past the magazines and paperbacks, there was a comic book spinner rack loaded with four-color goodies. When I started really getting into the hobby, DC was still offering a few titles at $.75, but Marvel had moved all of their books to $1.00. A dollar for a comic. Now I’m paying $3.99 for just about everything I read.

I eventually became friendly with the owner and the few employees, and I learned that the new comics always showed up on Mondays. So every Monday I’d either ride my bike over there or my mom would take me, and I’d spend my allowance and lawn mowing money. If I didn’t have quite enough money for all the adventures I wanted, they’d put them in a stack behind the counter, and I’d buy them when I could. If the stack got too large, I could always count on my parents buying it and giving me the comics for birthday or holiday presents.

When I was 15, the weekend after I got my learner’s permit, we took a family vacation to Chicago so I could go to the Chicago Comic Con.  This was over July 4th weekend in 1993. I wanted to go because Todd McFarlane was going to be there, and I was a HUGE fan. So the family took a long weekend and drove up to Chicago, and it was awesome. Well, what I can remember was awesome. I think I was just so taken aback by everything that I couldn’t process or contain what I saw. I remember seeing somebody in a giant Badrock (he was probably still called Bedrock then) costume. I bought a bunch of back issues in the dealer hall. My dad and I waited in line for…a half an hour? an hour?...for Todd to show up. While waiting, Stan Lee casually strolled by us. I had his Marvel Universe Series I trading card with me. I showed it to my dad and explained why I was so excited. Eventually a security guard came out and informed all of us that Mr. McFarlane was getting set up and he brought a few friends with him: fellow Image founders Jim Lee, Erik Larsen, and Rob Liefeld. I ended up getting autographs on Savage Dragon #1, Youngblood #1, Uncanny X-Men #248 (jewel of my collection…until I sold it), WildC.A.T.S #1, Amazing Spider-Man #312, and Spawn #1. The best part of this experience was not meeting McFarlane, though. He was kind of a dick. No, it was meeting Rob Liefeld. I’ll throw all sorts of shit his way for being a hack artist, but I’ll never talk bad about his character because he was crazy nice. After signing my Youngblood comic, he offered to do a quick sketch of Bed/Badrock on a backing board. While doing that, he struck up a conversation with my dad, who didn’t know him from Jackson Pollock and was obviously out of his element. It wasn’t a long conversation because the line behind me WAS long, but Liefeld took the time to connect a bit with a fan and dad rather than just signing a book and moving on to the next kid. It meant a lot to me. I still hate his art, though.

I moved to Tennessee, just north of Nashville, in the late summer of ’94. I found a comic book shop (an actual comic book shop, not a bookstore) within days, and I got a job shortly after that. My first paycheck, somewhere slightly north of $50, was completely blown at The Great Escape. They got most of my money for a few months until something strange happened: I started to lose interest.

At this time I was pretty much a Marvel Zombie. I was getting any and everything having to do with Spider-Man and the X-Men. Spin-offs, limited series, guest appearances…everything. Then the clone crap started happening with Spider-Man, and the X-Men were going through the “Phalanx Covenant.” Titles were no longer self-contained, and to me, reading comics was becoming more work and less fun. So I quit.

My time away lasted roughly two years. I don’t know how I learned about it, but the first issue of Kingdom Come hit the stands. I sought it out and ended up buying the rest of the series. I have absolutely no idea what else I started reading. I got back into Spider-Man with the reboot in ’98. I caught the end of the old guard with “Gathering of the Five” and “Final Chapter,” then I started with the new series. I got back into the X-Men with their reboot in ’01. I stuck with Morrison’s New X-Men, but I quickly gave up on Uncanny X-Men. I got in on the Ultimate universe on the ground floor, and I discovered James Robinson’s Starman in ’99 thanks to Alex Ross doing a series of covers. I followed that guy everywhere. I loved his Earth X trilogy, and I’ve never followed an artist since like I followed him. He and Todd McFarlane, they were my guys. Now I follow writers. Brian Michael Bendis. Warren Ellis. Matt Fraction. Jonathan Hickman.

Two of my favorite periods of my “comic book life” both involve me working in a comic book store. The first time was in college. I was a regular at a little shop in Cookeville, a place that was more of a sports collectibles place than a comic book place. The owner was a nice guy, and his mom usually ran the place. I spent a few months working for them a few hours a week organizing their back stock. I got paid cash, but I don’t think I ever actually saw a dime from them. As I was going through their stock, I’d put aside books I wanted, and they let me have whatever I wanted for half off. So basically I got paid in comics. It was awesome.

A few years later, after I got married but before my first son was born, I worked at the main location of The Great Escape in Nashville. I basically did the same thing, but there was a LOT more stock. I went through and organized the new purchases, I’d restock the new comics, and sometimes help out with the CDs and movies. I got an employee discount, so that was nice, but the store was a lot bigger and a little less personal. Still, it was a fun experience and I met and worked with some great people.

A few months before my son was born, I quit for the second time. This was supposed to be more permanent, though. I actually got rid of my entire collection. The autographs. My Starman collection. My Earth X limited edition hardcover with slipcase signed by Alex Ross. For a bit I did some trading and bartering, getting into trade paperbacks and hardcover collections (it’s how I met Derek Fridolfs), but I ended up getting rid of those, too. With a baby on the way, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to afford this hobby, and I would no longer have the time or the space to devote to it. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, but it was worth it. The little money that I got through eBay sales helped. Not a lot, but a bit.

A few years ago I started up again. I’m sloooooooooowly building my collection back up. It’s fun to be doing this again, though, and now my oldest son has shown an interest. Right now he’s more interested in Pokemon than comic books, but I’ll him a few issues here and there, and he’ll pour over them. I’ve given him a Marvel Universe Encyclopedia that he’s been reading, and he loves watching “Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” and “Ultimate Spider-Man” on Disney XD.

I’m currently reading:

  • The Amazing Spider-Man
  • The Avengers
  • The Avengers vs. the X-Men
  • Brilliant
  • Locke & Key: Clockworks
  • The New Avengers
  • Secret (I’m going to give this a few issues)
  • Shade
  • Ultimate Spider-Man
  • Uncanny X-Force (on the bubble)
  • Wolverine and the X-Men
  • X-Factor

I’m planning on picking up Earth 2 when it starts, and I’ve got high hopes for it. I’ve loved everything James Robinson has done when he’s been allowed to work on DC’s Golden Age characters. I’m probably going to drop the Avengers stuff when Bendis leaves the books. I’m going to use the extra dinero to get a bit more invested in books that I’ve been following but not regularly buying (Invincible Iron Man, Fantastic Four, Journey into Mystery) while continuing to rebuild my back issue collection. I’ve heard awesome things about Scott Snyder’s Batman, so I plan on checking that out, too.

I love this hobby, and I’m thrilled that (at least one of) my kids are showing an interest. I hope that my love will come through in the posts, in both positive and negative reactions to comics and what’s happening in the industry.

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