Catching Up with Old Friends

 

            I’ve used this analogy before: reading comics can be like catching up with old friends.  My favorite comic book characters have been part of my life since I was 10 or 12 years old.  That’s longer- way longer- than anybody else in my life, except for my immediate family.   The familiarity of these characters is part of their appeal.  It’s the gentle joy and comfort of nostalgia.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like reading about new characters too- as much as I like meeting and making new friends- but they can never match the deep-seated affection I have for the characters I grew up reading. 

            This is one of the reasons why I enjoy re-reading old comics.  I feel the same way about re-watching favorite movies or re-reading cherished novels.  I like to spend time with these “old friends.”  I enjoy revisiting these familiar haunts- these places and worlds that are not my own yet mean so much to me.  So, yeah, I’ll pull my old Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans comics out of the longbox.  I’ll slip Firefly into the DVD player (an adult discovery, yet an old friend nonetheless).  And, yes, I’ll go back and re-read War & Peace or The Stand for the 10th or 12th time.

However, there’s another side to catching up with old friends.  Have you ever arranged to meet for coffee with an old friend only to discover that you don’t have as much in common as you used to?  After the visit, you tell each other that “We have to do this more often”- knowing full well that you won’t.  Comic book collecting can be like that too. 

Except for the most compulsive completists, we’ve all dropped a comic book when it went off the rails or simply no longer held our interest.  I would guess that most of us have tried to return to that same title years later, perhaps with a new creative team or periodic re-launch.  That can be a wonderful blessing.  You rediscover why you appreciated the character, team or concept in the first place and resume collecting the title.  But it can also be disorienting.  The title kept going in the years you weren’t paying attention.  Characters and relationships changed.   It’s not the same.

I’ve seen some fans blame the title or the publisher for that disorienting feeling- as if the comic book and its characters were supposed to hang in stasis until the reader was ready to come back to them.  It’s an unreasonable expectation.  Characters, like old friends, grow and change when you’re not there.  Sometimes, we grow along parallel paths.  We find that our childhood friends still know us best or that our favorite childhood heroes still engage and inspire us.  More often, we realize that we’ve become disconnected and it’s nobody’s fault.  It’s simply the passage of time. 

I’ve thought about this a fair amount over the summer and into the fall as both Marvel and DC embarked on nostalgic crossovers before launching into new volumes of longstanding titles.  Neither Convergence nor Secret Wars held much interest for me.  Sure, I love the old Infinity Inc. or Age of Apocalypse but if I want to spend time with those characters I’ll pull my original issues out of the longbox.  I don’t want to read about watered-down versions that aren’t quite the real thing.  Don’t get me wrong.  I wasn’t upset about the summer crossovers.  I simply skipped them and saved my money to buy trade paperbacks and back issues.

However, I’ve been intrigued by some of the new relaunches.  I’ve sampled a few new DC titles and plan to try a bunch of Marvel books as well.  In some cases, the titles have moved on without me and I no longer feel much of a connection to the characters.  Yet, in other cases, the characters are surprisingly different, while simultaneously and refreshingly familiar.  I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read so far of Conner and Palmiotti’s Starfire and Walker and Reis’s Cyborg.  These aren’t the same characters I grew up with while reading Wolfman and Perez’s New Teen Titans.  But they’ve changed in interesting and delightful ways and I like spending time with them again. 

I expect that I’ll always read a blend of old and new comics.  I enjoy finding and discovering new titles- whether that’s Jay Faerber’s Copperhead or Rick Remender’s Deadly Class.  But I’ll always have a place in my heart for the favorite characters of my youth and I’ll likely check in with for time to time.  Maybe only for a cup of coffee and an insincere promise to “do this more often.”  But maybe we’ll reconnect in ways that are enjoyably exciting yet comfortably familiar.  After all, they’re some of my oldest friends.

 

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Your post brings to mind a Doonesbury Sunday page from a couple of years ago. As I recall, the characters Mike Doonesbury and Zonker Harris were having lunch with the “real life” inspiration for Zonker as he is today.


I agree with everything you said, Chris, but I’ve got to tell you… the first sime I saw that promo version of the new Starfire, I thought she was the Tangent Universe Flash!

Yay Tangent!

I try to take changes in my old friends in stride, as I know that a static character is one that won't continue into the next generation. (And, frankly, every generation deserves "their" versions of beloved characters.) I can't always do it, but I try.

Since I became disabled / retired I have more time to catch up with old friends!  I started reading comic books around 1965...going to Catholic School we got a monthly comic called Treasure Chest!  I had forgotten mostly about these and went looking for some a while back ....I collected a stack from about 1965 thru 1969....some issues I remember reading them when they were brand new!  Some of the covers were great especially the ones concerning space and rocket ships!  I have an older brother who at the time was reading Batman...Superman ...and the Archie comic books!   I was so into this that I would take them to school and instead of doing the reading assignment I would read a comic book!  LOL....I finally got caught and the teacher gave me no quarter and just tore up the comic book...would not let me explain or anything....I think that it was a 1965 Archie?...but after that incident I did not read comic books in class anymore!   Re-reading these books is not disappointing....they are just as exciting today as they were when they were brand new!   Now I cannot say this about some of the TV shows that were my favorite about this same time....one of my favorites was McHale's Navy...recently watching some episodes it is just dumb and way over the top....but I did not see it this way back when I was 10 or so!

Reed Crandall illustrated quite a few items in the 1960s Treasure Chest. His was thus the first artist to make an impression on me with his style.

This article really made me think. I have a literal walk in closet full of "old friends" that I haven't so much as cracked the mylar on in the past six years. They hold a lot of sentimental value. Many are comics my dad bought for me, and read to me, when I was too young to do so myself. Many others remind me of much simpler times in my life. What I find troubling at the moment is that I seemingly have little use for them at this point in my life. I guess it's like the literal friend that was mentioned in the article, the one you found you no longer had anything in common with. I guess the irony here is that the lack of commonality does not inspire a dissolution of the friendship.

.....We all change as we get older....some childhood friends although we do not have much in common anymore....you do not throw out the baby with the bath water!  I like reading my childhood comic books... it reminds of more simple times....times with no problems....it also shows me of all of the progress that has come about....not all of it good!

“I started reading comic books around 1965...going to Catholic School we got a monthly comic called Treasure Chest!”

I remember George Carlin did a routine about Treasure Chest comics. I never read one, but I see them all the time in used books stores (maybe not so much anymore, but I used to).

It’s synchronicity that this topic is bumped up now, because I just over the weekend read Hulk #167-183. #167-168 was the first time I ever got two consecutive issues of a comic book. From that point on I was hooked.

I believe I got to read consecutive issues of US comics before I ever got any as they came out. (Australian publishers often published the stories from different US issues together, and second hand comics were a big part of my early comics reading.) The earliest US ones I can remember getting as they came out (in a local edition with Lee and Kirby reprints in the back) are Fantastic Four #187-#188, but I think I got them in the reverse order. My father regularly bought Look and Learn for me and Tammy for my sister, and I think he brought home consecutive issues of a weekly Disney comic when I was younger. Look & Learn was a weekly children's educational magazine, but it carried "The Trigan Empire" and other comics (sometimes adaptations, sometimes original stories).

I remember "The  Trigan Empire" from those annuals my parents would bring me back from Canada when I was a kid.

The feature usually ran two pages and was in painted colour. It initially appeared in a slick comic called Ranger which was folded into Look and Learn before my time. The Trigans were like Romans with advanced technology. Early on the central character was the Emperor Trigo. Later it was his nephew Janno, a pilot in his air fleet.

The strip's great artist, who handled it for its first decade, was Don Lawrence. During his run there were guest stories by others. A volume in the annual format collecting the opening two stories appeared in 1973 and a larger hardback collection of Lawrence stories in 1978.

The Bear Alley article here (which is illustrated with Oliver Frey and Gerry Wood art from after Lawrence left) mentions "two stories that appeared in Ranger Annual and the text story in the Vulcan Summer Special". The story in Look and Learn Ranger Book for Boys 1968 was done by Ron Embleton. I believe it's the first 8 pages here,(1) although the site offering the pages for sale identifies them as coming from Look and Learn #678-#681. (I don't have those issues. Perhaps they reprinted them.) This page has images from Ranger Book 1967. I don't think the Trigan Empire page is by Lawrence but the image is not quite clear enough for me to be sure.

The strip's original writer was Mike Butterworth, who was a different person to the SF writer Michael Butterworth. It was collected in albums in Europe. The series was finally collected in English recently. I don't recommend the Ken Roscoe/Gerry Wood stories. I thought the strip plunged in quality under them. (The last page at that Bear Alley link is the first page of the first strip of their run. The Trigans were not a spacefaring race under Butterworth.)

There may be someone reading this who's seen the book Space Wars: Fact and Fiction from the 80s, which has painted colour stories about a space cadet called Jason January. Those are from Ranger too. That feature also continued in Look and Learn for a bit, but as a one-pager and in B&W.

(1) The remaining pages comprise a guest story Embleton did during Lawrence's run, and are representative of what the strip was like in the 60s.

Was this set in the 60s? She looks like a go-go dancer.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

Your post brings to mind a Doonesbury Sunday page from a couple of years ago. As I recall, the characters Mike Doonesbury and Zonker Harris were having lunch with the “real life” inspiration for Zonker as he is today.


I agree with everything you said, Chris, but I’ve got to tell you… the first sime I saw that promo version of the new Starfire, I thought she was the Tangent Universe Flash!

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