My first exposure to comics was through mini-comics included with toys. Masters of the Universe looms large, here. But I also distinctly remember a tiny Spider-man comic where he faced off with Scorpion. I’m not entirely sure where that one came from, to be honest. In any case, I fell in love with comics early, and hard. Superhero comics, to be exact.
As a kid, I was always a Marvel boy. What If?, Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer and Iron Man were my main go-to comics at the time. There was no LCS in my town at the time, so I relied on whatever comics were stocked at Hooks Drugstore or the local grocery store. So the titles available could vary from time to time, and it was rare that I’d be able to get a lot of books in a sequence.
Eventually, that changed. There was an LCS in a town about 30 minutes away I’d go to from time to time, and then finally a shop opened in my little home town of Bremen, Indiana. My first job was working at a Dairy Queen at 14 (breaking some child labor laws as I cleaned grease traps and all the things 14 year olds were NOT suppose to do) which provided some comic book buying money beyond my usual methods of couch-diving at home. I still remember the feeling of staring in wonderment at my first issue of Doctor Who Magazine. That was SO hard to find back in the day, when only thirty year olds knew about Doctor Who. I was the only 8 year old who seemed to be aware of it. I got a lot of Star Trek comics, and my collection of the Tom DeFalco/Paul Ryan run of Fantastic Four was pretty steady. I experimented (as I would continue to do for my comic book-buying life) with DC. I was a big fan of Legion of Superheroes until their continuity got rebooted one too many times for my liking. I was also a HUGE Kyle Raynor fan. As an aspiring comic book artist at the time, I thought it was cool he was an illustrator. Hal Jordan was okay, but always seemed kind of old fashioned in comparison.
The Bronze Age
Which lead me to the time when I had a job and more money to spend than I ever could have thought about as a kid. All through college and well into my adult life, I had an actual pull list. It was not uncommon for me to spend $140+ easy in a month on comics. Which, especially early on, was a pretty big chunk of my cash flow. I was still mostly a superhero guy. There were some incredible runs I collected during this time. Busiek’s Avengers. Peter David’s Supergirl. And then later on Brubaker’s Captain America. But more and more I began to get disenchanted with superhero books. I grew frustrated by the lack of character development or resets. The meaningless deaths that seemed to be used by lazy writers to make their storied exciting. Then there were the sometimes obtrusive crossovers that were sometimes hard to follow and oftentimes would fizzle out into nothing. It’s something I felt more and more, that even some of the big gun writers seemed incapable of following through on a story. Add to that I was getting sick of the clutter of all the long boxes of floppy books. I was sick of carting them around.
I did read some non-superhero books, of course, but more often than not the cream of that crop seemed to be more in discrete graphic novels versus ongoings, and (frankly) I was probably just a bit too lazy to really seek them out.
So… I pretty much stopped. I stopped my pull list at my LCS. I figured I’d catch up with good books through trades or by buying comics digitally for my iPad. But… let me tell you… when you drop out of the comic book game, the big 2 do not make it easy to walk back into it. There was a time when I could have told you where every major character was at story-wise in the Marvel universe. Even if I didn’t read that book, I kept up pretty well with all the pieces.
But after being away for months and months… it was really, really hard to walk back in. The events were still incessant, and trying to just stand in a bookstore and figure out which trades I actually needed to buy… and then to consider how many I actually wanted to buy for one story and how they fit all together. It was not always easy. And then the individual issues… I remember staring at the Marvel titles at Barnes & Noble (back when they still carried Marvel titles) and just being totally confused about which book was the actual, main Avengers title. The trade dress made nearly every damn book on the rack seem like an Avengers book. I’m sure with a little more effort I could have figured it out, but then I kept thinking about how bored I had gotten with the books and how lazy the writing had felt on some of the key books I’d followed.
I did still find some books to love, though. I enjoyed Hickman’s run on Fantastic Four a lot. Fraction’s run on Iron Man was great and I followed that through the end. But they were few and far between. I’d hear good things about Captain Marvel, but then I’d hear she was dead so it seemed a bit pointless to pick up her book. Trying to get back into comics as a now-casual reader was hard. I tried to get into the New52 stuff at DC but it didn’t do much for me.
The Modern Age
The funny thing about all of this, of course, is that I was actually writing a comic book for my proposed toy line, Eon Quest, at the same time. It’s meant to be an homage to the mini-comics that first sparked my love of comic books. Even though it’s (purposefully) old fashioned in a lot of ways, it did remind me how fun comic books are. And even though I long ago abandoned my desire to be a comic book penciler (not patient enough) my desire to tell stories in that medium was not lessened.
This, combined with some other factors, really started me on the path to trying to reconnect with comics again. One of them were licensed books. I’m still a big Masters of the Universe fan, so when a He-man and the Masters of the Universe comic book was announced, I tried it out. I didn’t love it to start with, but it kept getting better and better. There were also some licensed books that I thought were REALLY good. Like Boom’s Sleepy Hollow and Big Trouble In Little China. The new Jem book is fantastic. And I really need to check out Edward Scissorhands. Oh, and Marvel is KILLING it with Star Wars right now.
My friend Luke recommended some books to me (you really can’t brush off how helpful it is to have a friend who is currently into comics helping to guide you) like Saga and Fatale, and I got REALLY into those. The same thing happened with Sex Criminals, Fraction’s Hawkeye and The Wicked and The Divine. The big thing here, really, was that a lot of these were not superhero books. There are still some good superhero books out there from what I’ve read, but I find myself most excited about the non-superhero stuff. I went to Emerald City ComiCon recently and it really reignited my love for the art form. So much so that I’m working on a new concept for a comic myself. I am really excited about just picking up a new #1 and giving it a go. Image, in particular, has to be commended for the work they are doing here. In a recent trip to the comics shop I walked out with a stack of #1s that all seemed interesting.
So, I’m back. I figured out my old user name and pass for my LCS to start up a pull list again. I do still think I’ll mostly buy digital, but some of the paper on Image books in particular is so nice I think I’ll at least get a few of those titles in physical form. It’s nice to be back, and I am definitely open to giving out some post-Convergence and post-Secret Wars titles from the big 2 a try, as well. I have a HUGE stack post-ECCC of various comics to check out, including the first two volumes of Captain Marvel.
I do wonder if there are some lessons to be learned. As anecdotal as my experience is, it does make me wonder if comics publishers (especially the big 2) realize how impenetrable their books can be. Even at times when they seem to be wanting to bring in new readers. Sometimes I think consistency would help versus constant relaunches where it’s hard to tell if a Volume 1 trade is REALLY Volume 1 or the second Volume 1. It’s my hope that some of this might be achieved after the big 2 relaunch things. But, if they don’t… there’s a ton of other exciting stories out there right now to enjoy with the smaller publishers.