When I’m nostalgic, I think of comic books. Not graphic novels, not movies or Marvel Universes but comic books – those slightly dusty smelling 32 or 48 page magazines with glossy covers and newsprint interiors. Those are the things of my childhood.
I can’t remember the first books that caught my attention but by the time I was 10 or 11, I was accumulating comics of every kind. I was as likely to be reading cowboy stories from Dell, a Gold Key Tarzan adventure, a Classic adaptation of Robinson Crusoe as I was to be following the heroics of Superman or the web-crawling angst of Spiderman.
I collected them and traded them with friends. My earliest intense friendships were built around a common love of comic books. Age didn’t come in to it. My best friend was three years older than me – a huge gulf when you are 12 years old.
Being a comic book collector in a small town in Nova Scotia was not an easy thing. Only a couple of stores carried them – usually in a single rack in the corner of the store. You soon learned which store was most reliable in getting the books you wanted – even knowing when the books would appear on the shelf. I was such a regular at one store that the owner set aside my books for me so I wouldn’t miss an issue.
I was an enterprising lad. I mowed lawns, shovelled snow, sold greeting cards door to door, delivered newspapers and eventually, when I was fourteen got my first part-time job at the town library – a natural haven for a book worm like me. All that effort driven by the love of comics.
But local purchases weren’t enough. They kept you caught up on your favorite stories – I was buying 25 comics a month – but what about back issues? Some I got through trades – giving up lesser favored lines for back issues of those that obsessed me. To fill in the gaps, I started hitchhiking 40 kilometers to Moncton to find piles of used comics in the United Book Store. I was 14 by then and it was a good thing my mother didn’t know – I suspect my comic book days might have been numbered if she had.
Still, I found plenty of treasures: the first appearance of Thor in a Marvel comic and a #3 issue of Spiderman. I planned my weekends around trips to used book stores and even garage or estate sales in the hopes of finding a rare gem. I even once bought the entire collection of a boy who was moving away – just to get a couple of issues I coveted. The rest made great trade material.
I joined the Merry Marvel Marching Society – complete with membership card and special subscription rates. For a while I had comics come by mail direct from New York but didn’t like the way they were folded – creating a permanent crease up the middle. I’d lie awake at night hoping to hear Cousin Brucie on WABC give one of his occasional insights into my favorite heroes.
By the time I went to University, I had 2000 comics; raids from fellow students soon reduced it to 1500 and I kept them locked up after that (and spent a fortune replacing the missing issues). Then came my first divorce and my collection went away like a puff of smoke. And I’ve never felt the same about them since.
But that’s ten minutes.