I tried to think back and remember where it all started. When was the first time I ever really saw an actual comic book? Where was I when I reached out and took that multicolored dimensional door to infinite alternate realities and flipped through it’s addictive pages? Now, mind you, it’s not that easy for me. It’s been a long and arduous journey through the ages of comic fandom. For I was born at the hub of the comic explosion in the early sixties. I always tell people with pride that I was born the same year all of the comic greats were rising in the public eye: 1963.
SO you can see why it may be hard for me to remember that exact moment in time.
Now, due to the timing of my birth, I missed the sexual revolution, and even the whole hippie drug culture. What I didn’t miss was the Comic Revolution. By the time I got old enough to look around and explore this wonderful world and its offerings, comics were already growing in quality and number.
Now, back to that first moment.
I was young; either an older preschooler or maybe an early elementary schooler. Back then, I was used to going wherever my mother went; the grocery store, fabric shop, department store or, maybe, the drug store (This was before they put them all together; before Wal-Mart). It was at the drug store that I began my journey and, ironically, started a habit that I ‘suffer’ from to this day. For it was here that I discovered a marvelous spinning rack covered with the most wondrous magazines announcing to my young, adventurous mind that there were worlds to travel to and exploits to be had.
Back before the Internet came announcing to everyone the next story arcs coming months in advance and listing, from the comfort of our home or the convenience of our phone, all of the comics available, there was the drug store comic rack. Odds are most of the Old School comic aficionados found their first bit of Marvel or DC gold on one of those metal, wire racks with built in slots to house each comic and display their glorious cover art. If you were going to get a comic book back in the sixties, this was the place. Of course, some grocery stores and department stores carried them in their magazine section, but there were no comic shops.
No, the industry was at the mercy of impulse buying. And, not just impulse buying but the impulse buying of a child. Another shocker for this generation is that comics were considered child entertainment. There were not taken seriously at all. Comics had just come out of an era of being ‘funny books’ and the superhero genre had not got its footing as a solid seller. So there it was in all of its glory on a circular rack about 5 foot high. But to a young mind it was titanic! I remember picking up comics like JLA and the LEGION OF SUPER HEROES. Early on, I seemed to be heavy into DC Comics. Or maybe the racks I frequented were monopolized by them. I’m not sure. The point is, as a child, first I had to peruse the racks and decide wisely. Because the next step was convincing my mother to spend money on the ‘funny books’. And that wasn’t always the easiest thing to do.
I remember having a copy of Tales to Astonish #27; The Man in the Ant Hill. This was the first appearance of Henry (Hank) Pym. His entrance into the Marvel superhero universe as Ant-Man didn’t come till later. But I distinctly remember having that comic in my hands. ( Please don’t ask me where it is now or what happened to it. It’s just too painful to talk about.)
Even after the comic specialty shops started popping up and the Marvel Direct sales line started pumping, I was still romancing the rack. For as progressive as the comic industry was getting, it wasn’t changing much in the small country town I lived in. As a teen, I recollect buying a copy of Uncanny Xmen #135; The Dark Phoenix Saga from the local drug store in the small town I lived in. In the early eighties and nearly out of high school, I remember stopping in my favorite convenience store next to my mom’s favorite grocery store to see what was new on the wondrous spinning metal rack. There I picked up my first issue of Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s fantastic run of the New Teen Titans (missed issue #1 unfortunately).
I still miss those days. Maybe it was the innocence of childhood or the simplicity of the times, but there was just something about catching the rack full of new comics before everyone else had a chance to devour its imaginative goodness. There was a sense of urgency when you knew it was time for the rack to be filled with the new comics. It was as though this was your only chance to peer into your favorite worlds and live the adventures of characters that were like family to you. No, in an age where the comic fanboy can get on the internet and see the spoilers for what lies ahead and even catch some comic books laid out online, what is missed is that moment of discovery as if planting your flag on new, uncharted worlds. Before long, young fans will never know the joy of holding a comic in their hands and possessing entry into realities unknown. And most will never know that loving journey into the unknown as I did; romancing the rack.