SNAPSHOTS OF MY LIFE IN COMICS, EXECUTIVE SUMMARY VERSION
I’ve been sort of on/off thinking about the comics that really kicked my ass growing up; the books that sort of defined certain periods of my life. It's an interesting excercise. I can remember some things so vividly; not just the books but where I was, in some cases what was on the radio. Smells, even. In lieu of my participating (at least not for the moment) in the getting to know you meme sweeping
, I offer my life in comics, the pre-college years.
1982: I started really reading comics seriously with X-Men 166. I was eight. I’ve talked about what a revolutionary thing
that issue was for me at the time. I won’t bore you by repeating myself; suffice it to say, this was the first time in my young life that I had access to media that spoke to me like I wasn’t a child, that hinted at real danger. I realized as I was making this list that this sense of the illicit is something that many of my favorite comics share; and I wonder whether or not the decline in comics readership has less to do with the availability of other media in general than with the fact that specifically 'dangerous' media is more available to children. Kids today wouldn’t regard God Loves, Man Kills with the same sense of wonder as did I, given that the swearing in that book is heard now on mainstream TV. At the time, though…our neighbor had a pop-up camper; during the summer, I and my cousins got to sleep out there, a way to get the kids-who-wanted-stay-up-late out of the house. It was sort of our unofficial clubhouse, from which we would creep out to, of course, spy on our parents; I’m still shocked that I was never bit by anything poisonous given how often I crawled under the deck to sneak closer to the house. Moreso shocked that I kept doing it, given that the most outré thing I ever saw was my parents watching Caddyshack. Anyway. We kept a copy of God Loves, Man Kills hidden in the pop-up; it had bad words, and we were afraid my mom would find out. That would have been, needless to say, a bad thing indeed. The book fascinated us, like some sort of untranslated communication from beyond; we would take turns reading it aloud, for the sole purpose of getting to bits with the swearing. We’d practice spitting out the words, trying to sound worldly and tough and older. If kids today don't get that thrill, they're really missing out.
On with the show.
1983: I got Daredevil's 187 and 188 as a Christmas present; part of Sears catalog comics twenty four pack, I think. I arrived in the middle of this story, having had read Daredevil. I wound up with a subscription, I think, less than year later. Miller’s work had a beat, a drive, that was, again, not like anything else available to me, with the possible exception of Raiders of the Lost Ark; and of course that wasn’t out on video yet, and videos were still rare and precious things in my neck of the woods in any event. The O’Neill run didn’t meet the same quality, but it wasn’t far off, to my mind at the time. I gave my mom Daredevil 200 when she got worried about my burgeoning hobby; the anti-revenge murder message I think assuaged her fears about comics content, and freed her to worry full time instead about Dungeons and Dragons. Lucky for me that she picked that comic (based on the bloody cover, I assume) and not, say, the Swamp Thing annual my Grandma had randomly picked up for me at a gas station as a gift; had my mom seen Hell as drawn by Steven Bissette, the world would be one comics reader poorer, the internet correspondingly richer.
1984: Ah, Secret Wars. Like mana from God. Every summer my cousins would stay with us. Mark and Jim were, respectively, three and one year older than me; both like superheros more as concepts than as stories. That is to say, both loved staging superhero fights with GI Joe characters (Airborne always standing in for Wolverine, for some reason) or else running around the woods playing superhero. Mark had permanent dibs on Hawkeye, Jim on Wolverine. To be difficult, I think, I usually played Dr. Fate (I had discovered All-Star Squadron earlier). Secret Wars provided some sort of context to our games. Now instead of having to make up reasons why Hawkeye and Wolverine were together (we were typically sticklers for narrative consistency in our games, for some reason) we simply used the Secret Wars miliau; and while Doctor Fate shouldn’t have been there, he was easy enough to shoehorn in. Hey, the Beyonder had infinite power, including the power to reach into alternate comics' universes. And then The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, needless to say, opened up whole new worlds for us; Jimmy took a particular fondness to staging fights with an imaginary Ulik the Troll, despite none of us ever having read an actual comic about him. Sometimes we would incorporate creatures form the Monster Manual. Yes, we were nerds, but in a sort of playing outside in the woods all day kind of way. And there was always Ting to drink. I can't think of a better way to grow up.
1985: I’ve moved to Texas and start middle school all at the same time; truly, those were the salad days. I made friends with soccer and copies of Born Again, friendships soon to blossom to include Mail Order Monsters tournaments on the C64. I loved that game.
1986: X-Men 204 hits, and for the first time I’m aware that there is art and there is ART! Windsor-Smith can do that do a kid, I suppose. Gone were the days when all I cared about was a good story; now I wanted a good story to also look cool as hell. And what a pain in the ass that is to find.
1987: I’ve moved back to Wisconsin. Which means yet another junior high school to adjust to, just what ever thirteen year old always wants. My grade school friends had their own cliques already, and a surprising number had evolved into what were termed “grits”, that is, essentially, metalheads. To this day I don’t understand how a disgusting foodstuff is the right comparison for a fourteen year old in a Dio T-shirt, but I didn’t invent the jargon. Anyway. As you can expect, lots of free time for Dave! Which meant, of course, comics. The Kraven’s Last Hunt saga caught my attention, as did Legends and later, the JLA spin-off. Like many things that seemed important and profound at the time, Kraven hasn't aged well. I love it anyway, still; plus it's my first exposure to Blake, which allowed me to fake a profound knowledge of poetry in eigth grade English (I'd also come across a copy of Yeats' The Second Coming, which helped). Later that year I make friends with the help of Thor, after a kid on my soccer team somehow mentions the character. I’m still friends with the guy. He's got a kid now. Weird. Hi Owen. Oh wait, he can't read yet...
1988: At some comic book show at a bowling alley in Appleton I discover in one fell swoop The Question, The Shadow and the Dark Knight Returns. The universe expands again. The Helfer/Sienkievicz/Baker Shadow, in particular, just set up residence in my brain, forever warping my notions of entertainment; here was wrong fun done right. If pressed, I'd say to this day that that series, taken as a whole, was better in every way than The Dark Knight Returns.
1989: The year of the Punisher. Wiindigoo James and I sitting in a basement playing Top Secret, roleplaying imaginary Frank Castle-style commando missions, complete with Punisher-style looting of corpses for spare change. I half suspect our parents would rather we were down in the basement with a bottle of Wild Turkey rather than ten sided dice and a dog eared copy of the The Punisher's Weapons Locker but you never get the kids you want. It's also the year I'm reintroduced to Mike Mignola (whose seminal work on Rocket Racoon I’d loved as a kid) via Cosmic Odyssey; I have a very vivid memory of reading the third issue of that series as my dad drove us out to the marsh to go hunting. I hated duck hunting, but liked spending time with my dad. Debate eventually is my ticket out of the marsh; I make it up to dad by hunting pheasant with him, which is so much more fun than hunting duck. Moral: movement is better than sitting still.
1990: I can drive myself to the comic shop. Big times; I get a license to drive, discover the Pixies and the Before-There-Was-Vertigo grouping of DC Titles, Sandman, Doom Patrol, Hellblazer, pretty much all at once. Then of I get busted hauling ass back to school after a dental appointment—had to catch the last ten minutes of Western Culture, moreso to stare longingly at a girl than to absorb the subtle differences between Doric and Ionic column—and spend a lot of time cooped up at home. Reading comics of course, and searching for that one punk song that most perfectly expresses my alienation; I find many contenders on Husker Du's Zen Arcade. Doom Patrol was my first Morrison book, and in some ways it's still my favorite, if only because Morrison really only writes one kind of book and the read is freshest the first time. Not sure why I kept reading Hellblazer, in retrospect; I came aboard during the tail end of the Family Guy storyline, which was both continuity heavy and also terribly dull. I think it the Steve Pugh fill in issue about a possessed dog, that kept me onboard. That one issue was cool enough I kept waiting for lightning to strike twice. Also, roundabout this time I start reading Marshal Law, and once again find myself terrified that my mother will read one of my comics. I'm still terrified that she'll someday find this comic, and I'm thirty one years old now.
1991: My timelines are getting all fuzzy now. Some of the 1990 books may have belong here instead. Well, this is a subjective list anyway. I think maybe Starman started around here; the last superhero book I picked up at issue one and followed to the end, if I’m not mistaken. Though the whole “Jack in Space” bit really tried my patience. About this same time as well the bad local comic shop—the one that smelled funny and was run by an extra from Deliverence and a Hawkwind groupie gone long in the tooth—had this ridiculous, we’re too lazy to move our backstock sale. Ten books or five prestige format issues for a dollar. The Wiindigoo picks up the Epic issues of Akira; along with Appleseed, my introduction to manga. I pick up, among other things, the Giffen/Bierbaum Legion reboot. Which of course, it being my first sustained exposure to the Legion, I still think of as the definitive Legion series. Dropped the book again when the Legionaires showed up. I wind up oddly addicted to Giffen's...unique art style and later in life become the only person in America to buy all his Image titles.
1992: Senior year. I know I read a ton of comics, but damned if I can tell you which ones made that big an impression, other than continuing stories in Sandman and Doom Patrol. I had stopped reading X-men and Daredevil by this point, at least in a slavish fanboy sort of way; I'd instead stop by for an issue or two just to catch up. For old times sake. I'd started to toy around with intro-level indie titles; stuff from Piranha Press, some random books from Caliber and Tundra. It was a miracle, really, that I even had access to these. One shop carried them, and even then, 'carried' is a strong term for what was really a pretty hit or miss chance of finding them racked.
And then I went to college.
Well. Quite the trip down memory lane, putting me in the mood to sing maudlin Sinatra peaons to my lost youth. Peh. Instead I'm going to the gym to prove that my youth is gone.
I'd google up covers for all the comics I'd mention but I'm, surprise, lazy. Also, the dating here is based on subjective memory not honest to god research; the internet is for slipshod personal digressions, not for finding things out.