Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Comic Book Guy

Renovation work is proceeding well, although I'm a little tired of spreading patching plaster. I'm DEFINITELY ready to move on to something new! Luckily, my mom is showing up tomorrow to help with some electrical work (moving the existing hallway light and adding a new one over the stairs) and then working on stripping the beadboard wall. I'll be glad to have more light over the dim stairs; right now I'm patching in...well, it's not total darkness, but it's close.

Anyway. Since Miss Tessmacher is temporarily gone, I've been reading through my backlog of comic books, and I remembered that there had been some comments a few posts ago about my comics obsession. I thought I'd take a break from photos of the renovation stuff and vamp on comics for awhile.

I got into comic book collecting around the same time I got into Kiss: say, the mid-1970s. This was a GREAT time for both things, as they each had an important fantasy element that really appealed to this boy nearing 10. The 70s was a great time to start collecting comics, because not only were the racks at the local drugstore FILLED with cool titles to read (there really weren't a whole lot of "specialty shops" that dealt only with comics...at least not in my little corner of Auburn), but Silver Age books were popping up at garage sales all over the place.

First things first: comics are generally broken into a few more-or-less well-defined eras. First was the Golden Age, nominally begun with the first appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1, followed closely by Batman's start in Detective Comics #27. DC ("Detective Comics"...get it?) ruled the comic-book world during this time, but Timely (the forerunner of Marvel) and a host of others played well too. Following this era was the Silver Age, a resurgence of superheroes following a long dry period during the late 40s and most of the 50s. Lots of folks look to the first appearance of the modern Flash (Showcase #4) in 1956 as the start of the Silver Age, but there's also a strong argument to be made for Fantastic Four #1 (Marvel's first superhero team) in 1961. The Bronze Age followed, with some folks saying it began right in 1970. Others point to the price-raise to 15¢ a little into the 70s, while OTHERS point to the drug issues of both Spider-Man and Green Arrow as the beginning. Whatever. Finally we have the Modern Age, but this is as problematic for comics as it is for everything else: simply, we're too close to it to really know how to make a definitive breaking point between Bronze and Modern.

I was always more of a Marvel guy than a DC reader. I like Batman, Superman, et. al., but the early Marvel "superheroes with problems" pastiche played really well with me. Superman was an invincible alien; Batman a super-rich businessman. These characters rarely encountered life difficulties, and most of the action was of the "Blammo!" knock-'em, sock-'em good guy/bad guy type. On the other hand, Peter Parker (Spider-Man's alter ego) was a confused teenager who constantly had problems with love & money, and the books focused equally on that aspect. Similarly, the Fantastic Four were a loose-knit "family" that bickered & fought just like REAL families do. I liked that stuff; it somehow made the fantasy more "real."

I began my collection from the aforementioned garage sales. This was my first comic book:

It's a doozy place to start a collection, too: in near-mint condition this book retails for nearly a thousand bucks! I paid 10¢ for my first copy, and read it until the cover was literally falling off (I've since replaced it with a better copy). This is the beginning of a 3-part saga, and the Silver Surfer is introduced in this issue (you'll see lots of him this summer in the FF sequel). The scope and epic storytelling of Marvel stalwarts Stan Lee and Jack Kirby...well, they just made a spectacular team, and I don't think you'll find a finer example of that than this issue. I got a few other books that same day...

both cut of the same cloth. That top issue, #46, introduces the FF to the Inhumans, and is a lead-in to the 3-part Galactus saga. #55 there is the 2nd appearance of the Silver Surfer, who quickly became a popular character throughout the Marvel Universe. I liked the art stylings of Kirby, but really it was the over-the-top storytelling of Lee that pulled me in. I quickly began reading the current issues of the FF (probably in the #170-range at that point), and that book has stayed my favorite right up until the present time.

I moved into the other "classic" Marvel superheroes that debuted around the same fertile time as the FF: Spider-Man, Hulk, the Avengers (and solo titles like Iron Man, Captain America, etc.), and those books form the basis of my considerable collection. I also occasionally bought DC books through the years, but those have always been hit-or-miss with me. I quite like the revamped Brave & The Bold title, and I'll pick up occasional mini-series, but my monthly purchases are basically Marvel books. The only regular character I'll buy that's outside the Marvel stream is Plastic Man, a stretchy hero written from a standpoint of absolute bizarre comedy.

Comics have had ups & downs, just like any business; the late-80s/early-90s was a particularly stagnant period, with storytelling taking a back seat to catchy gimmicks like die-cut or "chromium" covers. Luckily the "Big Two" (Marvel & DC) were pressured by the rising sales of independent companies like Image, Top Cow, and the like, and storytelling has improved considerably since then. Some pretty big names are involved in comic writing: Kevin Smith wrote some stories for Daredevil, Green Arrow, and Spider-Man. J. Michael Straczynski has been the regular writer on Amazing Spider-Man for years, and Joss Whedon (of Buffy fame) has not only worked on Wonder Woman, he's moved his TV goldmine over to comics exclusively.

The comic book medium isn't for everyone; I think, like most healthy obsessions, you either "get it" or you don't. I do believe that there IS a comic book out there for EVERYONE, but if you're not into "graphic storytelling" then it won't matter. Bill Watterson, famed for his hilarious Calvin & Hobbes strip, was always a pooh-pooher of comics; Calvin read them, but then dissed them as being frivolous & unbelievable. (This, coming from a perpetually 6-year old cartoon boy!) And, far from being "just for kids," comic companies are having the OPPOSITE problem: so many older fans (like myself) have stayed true to their collections, it can sometimes be hard to convince younger buyers to pick up an issue...hell, who wants to start collecting a title that well into its 600th issue?

I could obviously go on & on, but who wants to read that? This was just supposed to be my break, after all! So, I need to get back to work. And YOU need to hoof it to your local comic shop & buy a few issues...either for yourself, or your kids! Not only will you have bought hours worth of entertainment and quality reading...you'll end up making MY collection worth more!


Blogger Steph said...

Ooh, this is timely for me! I've been writing an article on an artist friend who is very influenced by comics and that project converged with the release of the new Buffys, and now I'm on a total kick. I confess the old superheroes don't really do anything for me, since they're pretty dude-oriented and I don't have a nostalgic connection to them or anything. But thank God for Joss Whedon! Have you read his Fray series? (Sort of like Buffy, only a futuristic Slayer and a way grittier backdrop.) They're all together in graphic novel format now, and they're awesome.

I think you would really like Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. It's an aesthetic history of comics, written in graphic novel format. I devoured it, and I've hardly read any comics at all.

I think I'm going to try Neil Gaiman's Sandman series next. Have you read any of those?

6:15 PM  
Blogger Tess said...

My sister always said that the reason she could never memorize the Periodic Table of Elements was because she had too many Go-Gos lyrics crammed in her brain. So, the next time the Scotathon asks KAT who Andrew Sullivan is, I'm gonna have to refer to this well-written and hugely informative blog!

7:08 AM  
Blogger Animal said...

Gaiman's "Sandman" series was AWESOME! I highly recommend it...and, I must say, if you were just a little more goth you'd remind me of the Sandman's sister! (You'll see...)

Uh...who is Andrew Sullivan again? (No. Really.)

8:11 AM  
Blogger Kim said...

I have a book assignment for you, my comic loving friend. "The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay" chronicles two upstart comic writers/illustrators in the early 30's through the 60's. It won the Pulitzer Prize and is said to be modeled after Jack Kirby and Stan Lee. Check it out!

12:46 PM  
Blogger Suze said...

i just heard joss whedon is OFF the wonder woman project. i don't know why. but it's disappointing.

someday i might read some comics. maybe.

7:16 PM  

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