I’ve been thinking about posting this topic for a while now. I started actively collecting comic books in 1973 when I acquired two consecutive issues of Incredible Hulk while on a family vacation. But my mom had been buying the occasional comic book for me since I was (near as I can figure) about three years old, humor mostly.¹ I do remember having several Harvey comics when I was very young: Casper, Spooky, Wendy, Little Dot, Little Lotta, Richie Rich. I had a Disney comic or two.² I know I had at least one Pink Panther comic book in the early ‘70s.
But I don’t number any of these among my “first” comics, however. What I’m interested in are the first comics I still have in my collection and would still be willing to read, and indeed, from time to time, still do. Although I later filled many gaps and, by 1973 began buying and trading for backissues, I still remember the comic books I owned first. I know I got them all when they were new on the stands, so, to that end, tomorrow I will begin chronicalling the first 15 (or so) comics that set me on my path for life.
¹I never owned an Archie comic, although I read them at the dentist’s office.
²I recently confirmed that a story I remember quite well about the old “string tied to a wallet” prank was a reprint of a Carl Barks story when it turned up in an edition of The Carl Barks Library.
Good! The more the merrier. Moving on to…
1975: There are two noticeable trends in my buying habits in 1975. First, I was buying very few established series (apart from Hulk and a one-off issue of other titles from time-to-time); second, my Marvel buying far outstripped my DC buying this year. Here is a list of the “new #1s” I bought in 1975 by company.
MARVEL: Giant-Size Invaders #1, Giant-Size X-Men #1, Skull the Slayer #1, Doc Savage #1 (b&w magazine), Champions #1, Inhumans #1, Marvel Chillers #1 (Modred the Mystic; later Tigra), Marvel Presents #1 (Bloodstone), Marvel Adventure #1 (Daredevil reprints), Son of Satan #1, Howard the Duck #1 and Omega the Unknown #1.
DC: 1st Issue Special #2 (I was tricked by the logo), Claw the Unconquered #1, Stalker #1, Sherlock Holmes #1, Super-Team Family #1, Man-Bat #1, Warlord #1 and Kobra #1.
Most of these series (the Marvel ones, anyway) I continued to collect as long as they lasted. I tried keeping up with Claw, Stalker and Kobra, but I missed more issues than I got. Disappointed that Warlord wasn’t really the first issue, I bought only one other issue, #4.
In 1976 my comic book reading began to taper off. I was still reading Hulk and the series I began collecting in 1975, but I had reached the point most boys who read comic books do: I was growing out of the hobby. My interest in comic books and baseball cards covered roughly the same three years of my life. Ten years earlier, my older brother’s interest in baseball cards covered the corresponding three years of his life. My next interest in collectables was to be beer cans.
Remember my plan to continue to buy Marvel Super-Heroes until it “caught up” to Hulk #167? By the time MSH got to issue #56 (reprinting Hulk #102), I had already acquired Hulk #102 through #166 as back issues. Hulk was the first series I “completed.” In ensuing years, I would set about replacing MSH reprints with the original issues of Tales to Astonish. I eventually did collect TTA #60-101 after I got my driver’s license but I’m getting ahead of myself. I never did get any of the original first six issues, but I’m not too worried about it; I now have a hardcover omnibus reprinting #1-6 and #59-101. I love living in the future! Incidentally, MSH never did quite make it what to my original goal had been. It ceased publication with #105 (reprinting #157), just nine issues short.
Something else significant happened to me in 1976. Some local collector sold his entire comic book collection (mostly if not all Marvels, as I recall) to The Armchair Adventurer, the best used bookstore in town. There were lengthy runs of all Marvel’s main titles: Iron Man, Thor, Spider-Man, FF, etc. They were selling them for (I wanna say) either 10¢ or 15¢ apiece. I had paper route money, but even at that bargain price I could afford to buy only a couple of runs. I already had a complete collection of Hulk, so I chose to buy large runs of Avengers and Captain America, issues between #101-200 of each series. I often wonder how different my life might have been if I had chosen Fantastic Four or Spider-Man…? (Probably not too much.) when my mom found out, she hated that I had spent so much of my savings on comic books. (It’s ironic: she was the one who got me interested in comics books in the first place, yet comics became a point of contention throughout my entire childhood.) My only regret was that I couldn’t afford to buy more.
My best friend Bob had a large number of Silver Age comic books that came to him through an older neighbor boy (at that time serving in Viet Nam) via Bob’s sister. I coveted that collection. I eventually bought about 50 issues of Avengers between #9-100 for $35. This seemed pretty expensive at the time, but I never regretted it. (I never told my mom about this purchase.) Avengers and Captain America would become the second two series I’d complete, but there were shaky times on the horizon before that happened.
NEXT: “My Crisis of Faith”
PHASE 3: 1976-1977
My “Crisis of Faith” (as I call it) lasted 15 months, from September 1976 through November 1977. During this time I did not buy any comic books at all. This is the longest time in my life, since I started collecting, that I went entirely cold turkey. Something about myself: I have been atheist since the day I was born. A power ring means more to me than a cross. Comic books have always been my religion, and I consider the different companies to be the major denominations. So when I refer to this period as a “crisis of faith” I am not exaggerating (not much, anyway). To quote Harlan Ellison (from Masters of the Comic Book Art): “Comic books were the training ground for me, in terms of ethics, in terms of the things I learned about courage, good and evil, what heroism was, right and wrong.”
As I mentioned yesterday, most people who read comic books as children do eventually outgrow them. Most people who outgrown them, however, don’t, I think, go back. I have a theory, though, about adults who still read comics, especially superhero comics, and do nothing but complain about them. I think those people truly have outgrown them and should have stopped reading them when they were 12 years old.
NEXT: Phases 4 & 5
Heh. If I had a "pantheon", it would likely include elements from (mostly) DC and Marvel comics, Doctor Who, Star Trek. MST3K, bits of Star Wars, and odds and sods from various kaiju eiga, tokusatsu and manga and anime.
To be clear, I am not advocating a pantheon of any kind, but rather a doctrine; that is, not deities but prophets. For example, one might quote from The Book of the Green Lantern, issue #40, page 8, panel 5: “But from that moment on, evil was loosed on the universe! It swiftly spread from world to world where intelligent creatures lived who had not the gift of immortality like the Oans. Brother killed brother! Hatred and violence grew, flourished! And the Oans, by their super-mentality, knew it had all been caused by Krona’s insatiable ambition!”
Or a “Marvelite” might quote from The Book of the Eternals, issue #1, page 10, panel 5: “It all began with the coming of the Gods to Earth when it was populated only by the beasts of the field! Still, it was the presence of life which drew these cosmic beings to this planet. Their huge space vessel surveyed the land—and descended!”
All things being equal, as far as parables are concerned, I would put my doctrine, (i.e., every comic book ever published) against that of any “real” religion. My belief system, too, has the philosophical advantage of far less bloodshed between “denominations” than between those of most established religions. The debate is freer and more open. I hesitate to equate given publishers with particular religions or denominations, but some similarities can be found.
Here’s a thought for philosophical debate. There was once an X-Men comic book in which the Jewish Kitty Pride tried to ward off Dracula with a cross to no avail. It did not work because she didn’t believe, yet Dracula was stymied by her Star of David. So the question is this: would a comic book fan be able to ward off a vampire with a (replica) power ring if he truly believed in the will power it represented?
In Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot, a priest fails to ward off a vampire with a cross because it is implied that he didn't believe it would work and/or didn't really believe in his religion. A young boy, however, is able to use ordinary objects against the vampire because he does believe they will work. The priest scene from the book was used in the TV miniseries but it wasn't made clear why it didn't work.
PHASE 4: 1978-1981
The last comic book I bought before my “Crisis of Faith” was Hulk #205, and the one that brought me back was Hulk #221. (With the help of “Mike’s Amazing World,” that’s how I know it lasted 15 months, from September 1976 to November 1977.) At that point I decided maybe I wasn’t ready to give up comics entirely. I soon decided to follow my three favorite titles, Avengers, Captain America and Hulk, via subscription. For the next three years, these were the only three comics I was to read.
NEXT: the fifth and final phase of my comic book collecting.
PHASE 5: 1982-Present
By the time my subscriptions ran out, an actual comic book shop had opened in my hometown. I saw an advertisement for it in my high school newspaper. I don’t know how much the owner paid for that ad, but he more than made his money back from me alone over the years. I decided to buy one of everything to accesses the state of the industry while I had been (for the most part) away. Here’s where my memories don’t exactly jibe with the publication dates of the comics I bought. I thought I bought one of every DC and Marvel, but it must have been just Marvels. Also, I must have bought one of most Marvels over the span of a few months. I bought DC comics only in dribs and drabs until Crisis on Infinite Earths.
I remember one day the owner greeted me saying, “We got the new Daredevil in this week!” Never having heard of Frank Miller, I thought to myself, “So what?” The cover of that issue had the formerly happy-go-lucky hero pointing a gun at the reader. The cover blurb said: “No More Mister Nice guy!” Obviously, whoever was in charge of Daredevil didn’t have a good handle on the character.
Another time, I was greeted with, ““We got the new Swamp Thing in this week!” Never having heard of Alan Moore, I thought to myself, “Swamp Thing? Who reads Swamp Thing?” I assumed the shop owner didn’t know anything about comics and was just spouting off ramdon titles at whoever came in.
The first DC series I bought regularly was The New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, but only because I had heard it was like an ersatz Marvel. That was #34 in 1983. I bought my first issues of JLA (Annual #2), Green Lantern (#81) and Flash (#340) in 1984. During this period I also bought every reprint printed on Baxter paper from both of the major companies. I started collecting Batman, Infinity, Inc. and the Legion of Super-Heroes just prior to Crisis. (JLA and LHS would be the first DC series I was to fill.) I didn’t start reading Superman and Action Comics until post-Crisis.
And, of course, I was reading most of the Marvels.
That’s pretty much it. I’ve been buying new comics most Wednesdays ever since.