The first comic books I flipped through were around the age of five.
Richie Rich, Archie, Sad Sack, Uncle Scrooge were among some of those first four color titles that added to the world of being a kid and showing off some early reading skills. The stories were colorful, the art was fun and who wouldn’t want to dive into huge piles of gold coins in Uncle Scrooge’s money vault?
At that point I understood the nickname funny-books and why some folks referenced comic books that way. When I was eight, my family was a world away in South Korea, and comic books were very much a slice of Americana. No television set in that house, and so I read some superhero comics to my little brother. Superman, Action Comics, the Amazing Spider-Man and an occasional Batman, Detective Comics or Marvel Team-Up among the reading choices during my six months there. My little brother, who couldn’t quite read yet, demanded these adventures be read aloud.
It was no bother, I really enjoyed reading comics to my brother. It added to the few children’s books we brought with us and whatever stories I could make up to entertain when the lights were out. Which was quite often in Korea in the early 1970’s.
His favorite was Spider-Man and I understood why. The stories were truly written for all ages then, so adults could enjoy the subtle complexity as much as younger readers. Some of the stories were actually quite dark. As with Amazing Spider-Man #121 when Spider-Man’s girlfriend dies in the arms of the hero trying to save her. Too much drama is what many modern parents would contend, but real life is always harsher than our fiction.
They were powerful stories. And they really stayed with us, as there were consequences for decisions characters would make, unlike the dumbed down all ages material kids are exposed to these days. But as writer Peter David might say, but I digress.
Batman comics of the 70’s returned the character to the darker, back alley tales of his Golden Age origins, pushing away from the campy POW, BANG, BOOM days of the wacky, but fun television version of the Dark Knight. Some of those Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams classics continue to haunt the edges of my consciousness. Good stories, great art and a healthy reminder, even the superheroes can’t fix everything. We all have to make good choices to make life better.
An evil step-dad of the day threw all of those adventures away into the trash, just as we were set to return home to states. The books were gone, yet, the imagination continued to thrive. I wrote and drew my own comics for a time. And then that one neighbor kid moved in behind my grandmother. The kind of kid who likes a lot of stuff you like, the one you could talk sports, or bad teachers or even comic books all day long. It was like winning the neighbor kid lottery.
Our families were fairly strict, so not a lot of goof off time, other than being allowed to hang by the fence and talk, once our homework and chores were done. I knew he liked comics, I didn’t know he had a room full of them. One day he handed me a comic sans the cover in between the chain links. Because the book lost the cover, he had no need of it. It was a copy of Thor #258.
A life changer.
I’ll grant the story was not exactly Shakespeare, but no one need apologize for it. In essence, the protagonist was on a mission to find his lost father. Along the way, he is attacked by a base villain who threatens to kill his beloved if he does not comply. We’re not talking about a regular comic or standard back alley brawl. It is on a ship, in deep space, and the caption of the Viking boat is the Norse god of thunder. Of course, Thor could make short work of the bad guy, in this case, the Grey Gargoyle, who turns his foes to stone — but no harm to his gal or his crew and he would surrender. That was a book displaying absolutely anything can happen in the space of 22-pages.
That was it. A standard cliffhanger comic book ending, that would leave the audience begging for answers in a mere 30-days. Of course, my next door comic guru did not have the follow-up issue or any of those life or death answers. Luckily, my aunt and my mom took me birthday shopping a few days later and we discovered a specialty comic book shop in Boulder, Colorado. Mile High Comics.
Crammed into that tiny retail space were thousands of comics, books, graphic novels, posters and well, let us just call it what it was, a slice of heaven on earth.
Oh, I found my answers, and a pile of Thor adventures, and the Avengers, the Justice League of America, Green Lantern and X-Men, oh my. I was 12 at the time and life was instantly made better.
I returned to making comics, but my neighbor pal wanted in on the deal, so the partnership was called R&D Comics. The letters simply representing Rob and Don. But we made a cool logo and went to town telling stories and drawing them out on paper. Our little brothers jumped on the creative bandwagon. However, we are talking ‘little’ brothers here, so clearly their inventions could not be as ‘cool’.
I returned my first ever character I made, Eggman, and I brought him back to life for R&D Comics. My invention was inspired by a number of existing heroes. An alien, in a giant egg shell – which acted a lot like a turtle shell for protection, who had to travel to earth with no place to go. Top that with a utility belt of specialized eggs, like force field eggs, explosive eggs, net trap eggs, etc., and you have hero who could hold off both Batman and Superman at the same time.
Yes, I understand other people have created their own versions of Eggman over the years, but mine was first drawn in 1972, my brother may still have the poster as proof of my very cool. He used a science fiction like projector technology to make himself look human, so he could work and walk among us. If the projection system was bumped too hard, it would scramble (get it, scramble) his appearance and give away his secret identity. He had several close calls.
I had a society of superheroes he hung out with, Birdman (not the Michael Keaton one), Lightning Bolt, and Solarr (two r’s for the cool) among others, teaming up to save the world as needed. Eggman’s arch enemy you ask? Humpty Dumpty. He did get put back together again, but when he was reassembled, he wasn’t right in the head. He was kind of scary. Humpty creeped me out.
All this imagination and creativity from reading a few funny books.
I collected for many years, loved the adventures, the incredible art and then started to look at the amazing talent creating all of those stories. I wrote for a couple fanzines, interviewed some of those writers, artists and editors. I went so far as to generate an online revival for The Comic Reader magazine for a year or so. The hardcopy magazine was supposed to follow along with the online work, but it blew up on the launchpad with three issues in the can. It was around the time of all the dot.com bubble bursting, including Stan Lee media, and the investors my business partner found had run away. Not quite as sad as the death of Gwen Stacy, but it hurt a bunch to not be a part of celebrating the comic book art form.
So, I did what a lot of folks do who love comics; I hung around a comic store so much, they hired me to work there. Then I bought in as a partner a few years later. There was no money in it then, actually quite the opposite, but love of the game goes a very long way. The store lives on, and even makes money for my former partners in crime, in Northglenn, Colorado, aptly called I Want More Comics! The relaunch of that store also inspired by another heroic store, Time Warp Comics in Boulder. Sometimes there are happy endings.
A few humans still miss the boat on comics, but it is a fantastic way to enjoy a story. Incredible art, great writers and some fascinating characters. As with books, plays, music and movies, there is plenty of art that misses the mark, yet a great number of memorable creations as well.
Appreciators of the art form quickly point to quality works like Alan Moore and David Gibbons’ The Watchmen. And it is worth the dozens of literary references and allusions in a complex epic of what people of power might choose to do or not to do living among humanity. However, some gentle readers here may not know non-hero works have inspired some quality film as well, such as The Road to Perdition, A History of Violence, 300 (the greeks with the great abs), Sin City, The Crow, and one of my personal favorites, the less known and very funny Scott Pilgrim.
Comics are cool. If you’re cool, you already know that, but if you’re not, there is still hope for you. Run, don’t walk to your nearest comic book store, operators are standing by.
Tell them Batman, no wait — tell them EGGMAN, sent you!