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Thursday, April 21, 2005

Comic Books

It started when I was 4 years old, with a fat issue filled with colorful heroes and a slim book with a blind hero and an evil frog.

Like most kids, I was aware of comic books, but lacked the money to buy any. That changed as I started doing odd jobs, saving my gift money and especially when I went to college and discovered direct buying through a number of mail order companies.

I started out buying a few favorite titles, mainly in the DC Comics line, with some Marvel titles thrown in. But this was 1980 and the comic book explosion—as collectibles, small-investment bonanza and creative supernova-- was about to leap into overdrive.

Always a Batman and Daredevil fan, I gained greater appreciation for old favorites such as Green Lantern and Thor, revived with skill by old hands. A young gun named Frank Miller took over Daredevil and made it the single-best reason to read comic books for over a year. He later moved to Batman, redefined the character and practically launched the graphic novel market with his incredible “Dark Knight” series.

From Great Britain, Alan Moore wrote comic book stories that defied the genre. He took a sad excuse for a character named Swamp Thing and gave it the depth one finds in classical literature. Alan then encompassed and reframed the entire comic book genre with The Watchmen, still the best graphic novel I’ve ever read.

Independent companies launched hundreds of titles and long-time independents gained a greater audience. Cerebus the Aardvark kept climbing the pantheon to greatness. John Ostrander and Timothy Truman created the unforgettable Grimjack, he of the leathery soul in the heart of Cynosure. Mike Grell moved from the fantastic Warlord to the amazing Jon Sable, a comic book that often let only the drawings and layout tell the whole story.

Every month I’d order about 100 titles and await the arrival of huge, heavily-stuffed envelopes. In a ritual as important as the reading itself, I’d open each envelope and carefully, methodically, sort the titles in the exact order I would read them. Then, after making sure I had something to eat and drink within reach, I’d start to read.

Sometimes Carol would be there as I was reading, and on occasion, she would pick one up to read. She read with care and a sense of absorption which I found endearing. (Another thing: she never messed up my order. How great is that?)

The stories were both escape and art, literature and playtime. Alone, I reveled in the wave of creativity I immersed myself in every month. With Carol, I felt I could share a thought or two that later would help me create a better story, or find a stronger phrase, as well as sharing what little connection I had with my childhood with her. If only for a couple of hours, I—or we—were in a colorful, kaleidoscopic cocoon that moved at breakneck speed, a trip through Imagination that would never be the same again.


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