Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Guest Post - Recollecting on Collecting

Doug: Welcome to another guest post in what is becoming a long line of guest-writing here on the Bronze Age Babies. Karen and I are excited for not only what has gone before, but for posts already in the queue that will be winging your way in the not-too-distant future. Today we welcome Mike S., better known to friends and foes as Martinex1. Mike pens a love letter to comic books and comics collecting, and we're sure you'll want to discuss your passion for the hobby as he so eloquently does below. 

Martinex1: I was doing some reorganizing of my long boxes and comic art this past weekend, and as I came across certain books and original pages, it caused me to reminisce. I suspect that enjoying memories is a big part of collecting comics. Like all entertainment and art, comics are an escape. For me it’s a chance for my imagination to go places I never can, while at the same time thinking about childhood and the fun and growth of those days.

Comics were interwoven in my life from a very young age. I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago in a large family within a larger family. My six brothers and sisters and I had an extended family that seemed to poke into many neighborhoods. We were all very close knit, from my Grandfather who lived right next door to us, to the many aunts and uncles and second cousins and relations that lived in the sturdy brick bungalows in the city. On a fairly regular basis, our family of nine would load into our van and visit my great grandmother; she was a tiny woman of Polish descent who lived in a doily filled duplex and treated us to Pringles and Goofy Grape punch. Upstairs from her lived an aunt and uncle and their three older teenaged boys.  

My first memories of that house and those family members are from around age five, and they are some very vivid and happy memories indeed, particularly those around my cousin Joey. Joey was the middle son who lived upstairs; he was thin and wiry and soft spoken. He was about 18 at that time, but he always had time for us youngsters. Most impactful to me was the fact that Joey was a collector. Every dresser and shelf in his room had sports’ bobble heads adorning them. He had Bears bobble heads, and White Sox bobble heads, and hockey bobble heads.  My brothers and I would run around the room trying to get them all nodding simultaneously to his shouts of, “Cut it out. Cut it out”, and laughter.  Joey also had G.I. Joes, not the small ones that came out in the ‘80s, but the tall military characters.  He had their jeeps, and their weapons, and their space capsule as well. Joey had large plastic figurines of army men, and Vikings, and knights. They were similar to the small army men that you can purchase 200 at a time and appear in Toy Story, only these were about 4 inches tall and very detailed.  And Joey had comic books. Stacks and stacks of comic books were tied neatly in his closet with soft twine.  We could hardly ever touch them while we were there, but we could see the stacks and make out some of the books on top… Avengers, Fantastic Four, Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos. He kept them stacked nicely, all in their spot, all in order. The brightness of the covers, with the characters in their costumes in dramatic poses, called to us. Once in a while, one would be lying about free and the kids in my family would quietly page through it; I distinctly remember looking at a Sub Mariner comic as a graduation party carried on throughout the house.  But that was rare; Joey kept the comics tucked away for the most part. 

Joey was very giving. Over the course of our visits to their house, he would always give us something he no longer had need for, so the G.I. Joes, and their supplies, and the Vikings and knights were soon ours.  It was like Christmas whenever we went visiting, and I can remember countless hours playing at home with all of those toys.

After one of the family parties, in which the kids had their fill of Shasta soda pulled from large ice tubs, we climbed into the van and took our places. As my mom got in she loaded a cardboard box into our midst. What was it? What was it? I am sure all of our hearts leapt with the excitement. I was shocked.  It was a huge box of COMICS!

I can recall a lot of them, but I probably cannot remember most even today.  Some stand out in my memories; some are lost to the hazy clouds of time.   He gave us Avengers!  Avengers #s 34 and 35 with the Living Laser, #59 with Yellowjacket, #61 with the Black Knight and Dr. Strange, #69 with the Growing Man, #71 with the Invaders, #86 with that big headed Brainchild. Wow! And also Silver Surfer 2, Iron Man 21, Fantastic Four 87, Captain Marvel 17, and more and more and more. There were Archies, stacks and stacks of Archies:  PEP, Jughead, Lil’ Archies, Betty and Veronica. And Sad Sack, lots of Sad Sack. And Sgt. Fury, dozens of Sgt. Fury.  

A side note: with the G.I. Joes, army men, Sgt. Fury, Sad Sack, etc., it was obvious Joey had an affinity for anything related to WWII; his father was in the war and we knew of him as Uncle Jeep (because he drove a jeep in the war and the name stuck from those days when his buddies simply called him, “Jeep” instead of his given “Eugene”).  

Joey gave us so many comics, and being a collector today I know that those books were difficult to part with.

All of those comics were thrust into our little grubby hands.  And we read them over and over and over again until sadly the staples loosened and the covers fell off. I read them at the kitchen table while eating Honeycomb cereal. I read them during commercials while watching Sigmund and the Sea Monsters on Saturday morning. I read them by flashlight in a tent on a vacation stop at a KOA.   I read every inch of those comics. I didn’t even understand some of the words, but I read them.   And I drooled over the “Coming Soon” advertisements of future issues. And I wondered what happened in chapters that I was missing (IE. Avengers #60, the marriage of Yellowjacket and Wasp).  I read every checklist. I read every letter. I particularly read the Marvels until I memorized them.  And I loved every minute.  

Over the next couple of years, that was my exposure to comics. They were all gifts from Joey.  
When I was eight years old, my mom told me that Joey was sick; I can remember the conversation and I can remember not truly understanding. He had leukemia. It was discovered after a minor injury would not heal correctly. Within only a matter of months, Joey died. I can remember that conversation too; I can remember exactly where I was when I found out. I had to miss the wake and funeral because I had the chicken pox. I stayed home alone (in those days kids did that) and I read comic books and thought about my cousin. To this day, even as I type these words, I miss him tremendously.

Within a year or so, my mom bought me my first “new” comic. I was shopping with her at the local Jewel-Osco, and they had on a rack three bagged comics for less than a dollar. She let me pick one bag. It contained an Amazing Spider-Man, a Marvel Two-In-One, and an Invaders issue. I was ecstatic. I could not believe the Thing had his own series, and I saw more of what Captain America was doing back in WWII. I have to give my mother credit, because not only did she buy them for me, but she read them too. She was probably just checking to see if it was appropriate for me, but I distinctly remember her chuckling and saying, “It is very tongue in cheek”.

Not long after, I was venturing to the corner drug store and buying comics from the rack. My first purchase, using money from my part in a paper route, was Avengers #164. That is still my favorite comic in so many ways. To come in at the start of the Nefaria storyline with Byrne interiors and a Perez cover helped, but the issue brought together so many characters that I had known from the days my cousin shared comics. The Living Laser and Whirlwind were there; it had Black Panther and Yellowjacket too, but it also had some new guys I didn’t know yet like Wonder Man and the furry Beast. The continuity in the story and in my life just made sense; it made me happy.

Somewhere in my mind, even back then I wanted to collect everything that Joey had given me that as youngsters we had mishandled and destroyed. As I reached my teenage years, I set out to gather everything I could remember in that wonderful cardboard box. The first back issue I purchased was Avengers #47 with Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Magneto.  It filled a gap. One down, dozens to go.
It has been easy for me, even 40 years later, to remember the Marvel Comics that I had to replace.   They had so extreme an impact. Honestly, I struggle to remember the DC issues, and I am sure I have not replaced them all in my collection yet. I can remember certain images or parts of storylines, but I have not been able to pin them all down. I recently came across a cover of the Flash that sparked a memory. Archies all started looking the same to me; I could remember some stories, but identifying the cover or issue I needed was near impossible. I’ve known for a long time that a gap is” Dennis the Menace Goes to Hawaii” but I have not made a purchase on that yet. 
There is also one issue that I know we had that I am afraid I will never be able to afford: X-Men #1.  Yes, unbelievable but true, I know we had it because I distinctly remember Iceman sliding down the pole on the first page and dressing like a snowman. I didn’t realize it until I read the reprint in Amazing Adventures much later. 

My preferences have always been superheroes and particularly Marvel characters, so my collection has grown in that way. I am sure my collection is far beyond anything Joey could have imagined, with plastic bags, and long boxes, and trades, and CGC, and original art. It has been fun to share some of it with my nieces and nephews and now my young sons, although they are more interested in Legos and Skylanders. That’s okay; maybe someday they will share the passion or maybe not. The main thing is that we share the imagination.

This all got me to wondering how the folks at the BAB site stumbled into comics, what their influences are, and what they think about comic collecting as part of their life.

So, how did your collecting of comics start? Did you happen into the local convenience shop or drug store to buy candy and have your eye caught by the four color magic on the spinner rack? Or were you led to the hobby by somebody you knew; did a family member or friend share the experience? What were your first comics and are they still amongst your favorites? Was it a Marvel, or DC, or Archie, or some funny animal book that first spiked your imagination? Do you still have that first book and how well do you remember it? Did you have a special book that was lost to the ages?

What makes your Bronze Age gold?


Humanbelly said...

This was a great- really great- reminiscence, Mike (MX1). You've brought your cousin Joey to life for all of us here, and the loss of that quiet, generous, geeky-before-it-was-cool soul saddens me now, decades after it occurred. Well-done on honoring his memory and maintaining such an endearing personal bond with him. Although your untimely bout of Pox may have seemed awful and unfair at the time, it really does seem like it may have afforded you a very unique, personal, and less-traumatic journey through the grief process.

So, Joey was the one other guy out there buying Sad Sack, eh? His esteem contiues to rise.


Doug said...

HB -

I have to agree with you on the quality of Mike S's post today. It's a pleasure to get to read all of these guest posts several days before the general readership gets hold of them. I hope future comments are as warm as yours. And Mike S. will be back next Wednesday with another Open Forum discussion!


Garett said...

Thanks for sharing your story Mike! Very touching.

I was going to say that New Teen Titans was the first time I went from a casual reader buying secondhand comics to a collector buying fresh off the rack. But I did browse the Coles bookstore in the '70s, and bought 3 new books I still have today.

Asterix at the Olympic Games:
The Olympics were in Montreal in '76, and I remember watching much of it and being inspired. Asterix was funny and very well drawn, and I liked all the different athletes in the book who come from different places, and have different training methods.

The Trigan Empire:
A "Star Wars"-like cover, and released a year after that movie. This book had painted art that was rarely seen in comics at that time. Great quality and very different from regular Bronze Age comics. I didn't love it exactly, but it was very impressive and unusual, and the rarity made me hang onto it through the years.

The Golden Age of Comic Books 1937-1945:
This link shows most of the great covers in this book from '77. In pre-internet days, this book was a treasure trove of info and art about the Golden Age. Will Eisner and Lou Fine combined for some of the best cover art of that era.

Doug said...

I can recall two somewhat important comics that I got at a yard sale when I was probably 10 years old. Both coverless, and the more important of the two was also perhaps only 2/3 complete.

X-Men #58 and Silver Surfer #4.

I still have the X-Men, but have no recollection what became of that Surfer book. I wish I still had it, ragged as it was.


Edo Bosnar said...

Yeah, absolutely outstanding post, Mike S., alias Martinex. And even though I know it happened long ago now, I feel compelled to express my condolences on the loss of your cousin Joey.

A few things in particular really struck a nerve, as they sparked my own recollections:
First, I can really relate when you say that you didn't even understand all of the words, because I grew up in a mainly non-English speaking household (I spoke English with my sister and brother, but not my parents) and had reading comprehension problems until the third grade. It was in fact comics, and me trying to decipher all of those word- and thought-bubbles and caption boxes that not only improved my general literacy but turned me into a voracious reader.
Second: chicken pox. It really sucked, but the bright side was that I was able to pore through my comics while lying in bed and trying not to scratch my skin off.
Third: the big cardboard box of comics - in my case, this happened when I was already a deep into comics reading and well-versed in Marvel and DC continuity, but it was still awesome. The guy who later became my brother-in-law, who was a big comics reader until he graduated from high school, lent me his giant box of comics one summer. He was mainly into Marvel, and mainly into team books, so it had nearly complete runs of Avengers, Defenders, etc. from the early to mid-'70s. And X-men. Giant-size X-men #1 and about a half-dozen issues fom #94 onward. I was in 7th heaven, and that summer I think I read every single one of those comics at least three times.

Thanks again for the great post, Mike. Looking forward to your future contributions.

Martinex1 said...

Thanks for the kind comments, guys. I had fun writing the piece and I like to think that Joey would have been one of us hanging out on the board and commenting on covers, hero styles, and bronze age classics (including but not limited to the aforementioned Sad Sack).

Garrett, I never read the books you mentioned. And I have seen Asterix numerous times, but never picked it up. I may have to sample that.

HB, growing up I thought Sad Sack was just as good as Beetle Bailey. We talk about the proliferation of Richie Rich but it sure seemed Sad Sack had his share of comics also. As did Archie and the gang. I wonder if there is any market at all anymore for those gag magazines. I am sure there is a small niche, but 40 years ago they were prominent. Even Marvel and DC had their versions of Archie with Chili, Binky's Buddies, Debbi, Scooter, and others.

Edo, with the chicken pox, I remember some awful pink liquid that they would prescribe to smear all over the rash to keep from itching. Felt like you took a bath in mud, but at least no scratching.

Doug, I feel for you and that Silver Surfer 4. Oh, if only I could build a time machine and go back with some mylar covers!

Thanks again all.

Anonymous said...

Time is short for me today but I just had to say that I really enjoyed your post today Mike S. and I have enjoyed all of the guest postings so far.


Anonymous said...

The first comics I ever saw were probably funny animal comics, and probably featured Hanna-Barbera characters (Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound) that I would have recognized from TV cartoons.

The Batman TV series was the gateway drug that got me into super-heroes. Starting at about age seven, I was mainly a DC fan, buying Justice League and the JLA members' solo titles (Batman, Flash, Green Lantern). I occasionally bought Marvels, but I disliked the soap opera and the long, drawn-out serials and arcs. Maybe if I'd been older...

I never really systematically collected. I had stacks of comic books, but it was an accumulation, not a collection.

I wonder if Joey's dad got nicknamed "Jeep" because he drove one, or because the "Jeep" creature in the Popeye cartoons was named Eugene.

Or maybe both. Its possible that the multipurpose military vehicle was nicknamed after the cartoon character. Kind of a chicken-and-egg question.

Martinex1 said...

Like I said, I know I had DC comics very early on but I have trouble remembering a lot of them. For me, DC became more popular when Super Friends was on the air. Garett mentioned the Teen Titans. And I have to say that was one of the first DC books that I jumped back into full force. That truly rivaled other team books of the day. Wolfman and Perez were at their peak. I cannot remember how I first picked it up, but it must have been around issue 15 or so and then I backtracked to get the early issues. The team dynamics were very good with leader Robin, stoic strength Cyborg, easy going Changeling, powerhouse Starfire, cryptic Raven, and the ever popular Wonder Girl. My favorite team books had some breakdown very similar to that. I think the character interaction then can drive the story and the conflicts seem less forced.

Redartz said...

Mike S. / Martinex- thank you for that terrific, heartfelt essay. My condolences on your cousin, he sounds like a fine inspiration, and a friend.

I was reading Sad Sack along with you and HB; my tastes have always been very eclectic. As for what started me: it was my neighbor, a boy a couple years older. He introduced me to comics, both DC and then Marvel. That long summer I discovered Spiderman will live forever in memory; anxiously waiting weeks (!) To find out how he would escape the Kingpin.

Oh, like Mike's cousin, my neighbor was an early source of books. Soon after I started actually collecting comics, he gave me a small stack he'd kept from before. Coincidentally, like Doug, one book was Silver Surfer 4. Sadly I too have since lost it. What was it about that book.......?

Anonymous said...

Great post, fellow Mike! I know what you mean about the fragmented memories and trying to figure out which comics you had as a kid. I know I had lots of comics, but remembering specific issues is hard; sometimes I'll remember one panel from a story, or just a cover, but even with all the online resources available these days, I can't figure out an exact issue number. Of course, it could be my old memory playing tricks on me!

I don't remember specifically what got me into comics, or what my first one was; I liked to read in general, so maybe it just evolved from there.

Mike Wilson

david_b said...

Mike, great posting and recollection today sir. I doff my hat to you. Poignant and warm, honoring those who were cool and very influential in our youthful days, always very important to reflect on.

It was my Dad bringing me three comics when I was sick at home back in 1969: CA 113, Hulk 114, and a Ditko Space Adventures 5. Those, with Spectacular Spiderman 2 a few months later were lovingly provided and sufficient for my young escapistic-imagination to soar...

Karen said...

Mike -a truly moving post. Thank you for writing that up and sharing it with us. It was really a pleasure to read. I found it very touching how you felt compelled to reclaim those books that your cousin Joey had given you. It seems to me a way of honoring him and his kindness.

Martinex1 said...

Thank you all. I appreciate the feedback. And I appreciate the opportunity to share my thoughts on such a friendly and collaborative site. I always look forward to reading the topics and thoughts from everybody each day. Comics are truly an art form if we can bond over these garishly clad adventurers.

I've really been enjoying all of previous guest topics, so I am looking forward to more along with Doug's and Karen's insights. Still waiting for Team America Tuesday !!!!

Dr. Oyola said...

Late in a busy day, but I just wanted to add that I too thought it was a great post.

While I did not have an older person who was into comics pass some down, I do credit my older sister for encouraging my fascination with comics and frequently taking me on weekends to troll yardnsales for old comics for sale (before people realized they might be "valuable"), when I would not have been allowed to wander Brooklyn alone.

She probably is also responsible for the first comics I ever got, stuff like Archie and Richie Rich and Casper. I do have a sharp memory of my older brother having several old issues of ASM, but they seemed very adult and scary to me when he had them (before kindergarten), and he just happened to have them and got rid of them soon after - so I didn't get into superheroes until I became friends with a kid named Lewis in my 5th grade class, who showed me my first X-Men and ROM and Ka-Zar. Weird stuff. But I was hooked.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful Mike S., truly beautiful reminiscence. I'm sure cousin Joey is looking down on us all from that great big comicbook store in the sky. I imagine he's smiling with a copy of FF or the Avengers in his hand.

Well, I don't have any special anecdote to follow that. My older brother was the one who introduced me to comics. Both of us are voracious readers so naturally comicbooks were a good part of our literary diet. We would also try to draw the various characters from say, the Avengers or the X-men. I for one am proud to have continued my love affair with this medium up to this day.

Comicbooks were also my first introduction to new words. Although I was a bit older at the time, I remember I first saw the word "opprobrium" in the pages of the Simonson-era Thor. Who says comicbooks ain't educational!

- Mike 'definitely gonna give my nephew my comics before I die' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Humanbelly said...

A nice little side-benefit of this post & thread is that it's brought several closet-Sad Sack readers out into the welcoming light of day, where they (we) can see that we were never, ever really so alone after all!

The character was actually created during, I believe, World War II as a military comic strip. And Mel Blanc once portrayed him during a USO tour (pretty much using his Porky Pig voice) as part of the act. But yeah, during the early/mid 70's the character had a LOT of titles-- it was this enourmous Harvey Comics boom that just disappeared in a heartbeat. I did have a huge stack of them that were part of the major life-changing trade I made w/ my pal Bryan that gave me possession of an embarrassing number of great late-silver-age Marvel runs. Really, it became the heart of my collection. (And had been borrowed, like, three times over in the previous years, so ownership was becoming hazy at best by that point. . . ).

HB-- free-associatin'

J.A. Morris said...

Late to the discussion, just wanted to say thanks to Mike/Martinex1 for sharing such a touching story.

I never read Sad Sack, but it seems like just yesterday the spinner racks at the Convenient Food Mart was overflowing with Sad Sack and other Harvey comics.

Sean Phillips said...

Pete Doree and I did a comic strip about reading comics back when we were kids in the 70s...

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