A Brief Recap:
In the first installment of this series I posed the question: Should we as comic buyers follow creators or characters when making our purchasing choices? I want to provide a fairly comprehensive examination of this issue – I can be a wordy bitch – but do it through the prism of my own personal comic collecting journey. And, in the end, I will have a definite side of the argument upon which I fall.
So, let’s begin.
I came to comics rather late – born in 1972, I was 12 when I finally discovered and began collecting comics. My parents are both teachers and I don’t imagine they thought too highly of the “throwaway juvenilia.” A few years later though, my mother was happy to think I was spending money on Green Lantern and Spider-Man rather than Boone’s Farm and Seagram’s Wine Coolers (both of these ideas obviously caught up in the personal, and unfounded, biases of my mother, but I digress).
This didn’t mean that I was unaware of superheroes. I’d watched the Super Friends cartoons, taken naps so I could stay up late and watch the live-action Spider-Man series from the 70s, and was aware of the Incredible Hulk television show, though I think the only time I saw Lou Ferrigno in full costume at that point would have been when he was a guest on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.
So, I was fully aware of these colorful characters from Marvel and DC comics, though I did not realize that they had come from comic books, at least as best I can remember.
But, I had a younger cousin who collected comics. He was heavy into Marvel, and he was lucky to be getting Marvel comics during their new “golden age” of the early 80s. He was a big X-Men fan – and had many of the early Marc Silvestri issues, plus the first issues from Jim Lee – I distinctly remember seeing the “Frog” cover from Walt Simonson’s seminal run on Thor, and I was enamored with my cousin’s Fantastic Four collection, all-John Byrne, all the time.
But I was daunted, despite reading many of the comics in my cousin’s collection, by the high issue numbers. Already, even before getting into the hobby, I was thinking about continuity and the fact that there was so much history I had missed that might prohibit me from fully enjoying new issues – foolish, yes, but a very real problem at the time.
But, there was only so long I could go on reading my cousin’s books before starting my own collection to have at my disposal whenever I wanted. And, eventually, I walked downtown to the local bookstore and bought my first comics books, beginning what has become a lifelong hobby.
I began with books that did not have any cumbersome histories.
Like most kids who pick up comic books for the first time, I gravitated toward those books that included characters with which I already had a familiarity. It’s only natural. Having witnessed their exploits on television or picked up the Halloween costume because it just looked cool, one would naturally be attracted to a comic with the same characters. And, for me, the G.I. Joe cartoon and A-Team television show were where it was at.
And though I read these voraciously, I don’t believe I had any real idea – or, more accurately, did not consider – that there were people writing and drawing these comics. Certainly, I didn’t believe these came “out of nowhere,” but I was looking to the characters, or the art, to make my choices. I wanted something that looked cool or looked familiar – Star Wars comics, anyone? Hell, yeah!
My collecting grew. I very quickly entered the Marvel universe proper with Secret Wars #4
Who could resist that cover? And the story inside was equally awesome (to my uninitiated sensibilities).
This led to me dipping my toe into the DC universe and overlooking the weighty history inherent with my favorite superhero of all-time (thanks to my enjoyment of the Challenge of the Super Friends), the Flash, as drawn by the incomparable Carmine Infantino.
And, at that point, all bets were off.
At twelve years old, I did not yet have the experience or the maturity to be able to make reading choices based upon the artistic value of these comics. It was all too new for me to be able to distinguish what was good from what was bad, or sub-par if you like. I was immersed in a miasma of 4-color spandex that bombarded my senses while speaking to my love of fantasy and science fiction.
I. Was. Hooked.
How does this relate to readers today?:
Things have changed a lot over the course of the past thirty years in comic publishing. Comic books are not as readily available to children, with the dramatic scaling back of newsstand distribution and the growth of the graphic novel in bookstores. Slowly, comics are becoming available online, but is a kid going to choose that over the latest World of Warcraft?
Which leads to another truth, the fact that there is so much more competition for a child’s attention now – Netflix, 500+ channels, the internet – and this has a lot to do with the lower sales numbers all of the comic companies are experiencing.
But still, children today find their gateway to comics through other mediums, similar to the manner in which I discovered the Flash through the Super Friends cartoon. With cartoons like Batman: the Brave & the Bold or the Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Justice League underwear, kids’ water bottles, Green Lantern shirts at Hot Topic, Halloween costumes, coloring books, and myriad other pieces of merchandise, along with the plethora of comic book movies hitting the multiplexes, it’s inevitable that kids will be exposed to these heroes and will be excited by their larger-than-life exploits. And some will seek out the comics that birthed these heroes. And the cycle will begin for them as it did for me.
The Next Step:
But eventually, we come to realize that there are actual people behind the creation of these books we love.
And we will look at that in the next installment. (that’s called a teaser; hopefully it works)