This has the potential to be the most geeky and nerdy thing I have ever written, including the hundreds of posts that no longer exist publicly. I am mostly uncomfortable in my geekness and don’t write about it much but some days I feel a little better about who I am and can write about the guilty pleasures I enjoy. This is one of those times. It promises to be quite wordy so buckle up.
I have been a comic book reader since 1985. When I moved to Alabama at 10 years of age I found myself friends with a few kids who were big into the DC comics line of characters. These include the classic characters like Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and The Flash. Although I had not really read comics before, I loved the Super Friends cartoon so becoming a comic book reader was really second nature. This was also a great time for comics. Throughout ’85-’87 the comics world saw really landmark titles like The Dark Knight Returns, The Watchmen, and my favorite (probably because it was the only one I had and then only the last few issues), Crisis on Infinite Earths. It was also a great time for me because DC was publishing the Who’s Who of the DC Universe. This was like an encyclopedia of superheroes and for my 10 year old self it was the holy grail of awesome. Each issue contained pages and pages of detailed information of the post Crisis superhero lineup. All of this hooked me at an age when kids are really starting to understand what who they are and what they enjoy. I think I found out pretty quickly that I enjoyed comics.
During this brief period though, comics were not easy to come by. Obviously I didn’t have money nor did I have transportation to visit a comics store every week. I remember occasionally picking up a Who’s Who at the local grocery store and every once in a while I could talk my Dad into taking me to the local hobby or baseball card shop (in those days they usually carried comics) to spend some birthday money. I built up a collection of a few dozen books. Nothing really worth mentioning but I loved them and read them over and over. I still have them. They are tattered, sun-faded, and worthless but they represent the origins of an obsession that would manifest itself much later in my life.
I think by about middle school I had moved on from comics. Oh I still enjoyed superheroes but I just didn’t have the ability to get comics. This was also around the time that the NES was big so my geek self had already moved on to things like Zelda and Metroid. In the face of all the awesomeness around the revival of the video game industry, comics no longer held my attention. I didn’t give much thought to my comics and they languished nearly forgotten in a box in the closet for many years.
I spent the next few years trying to fit in with just about every clique in school. I failed on just about every account. I played sports but I wasn’t a jock. I was smart, but I wasn’t a nerd. I was really a nothing who didn’t have a place anywhere. I didn’t see it then but today I can look back and realize I never really had a place. That really doesn’t matter to this story other than I missed nearly a decade of changes in the comics industry. During my time “away” from comics the nature of the business changed. Watchmen and The Dark Knight along with other books written for an older audience changed the nature of comics. Stories got darker and much of the silliness of the previous age was glossed over or forgotten. It was a time of serious writers telling serious stories. Well, not all the time, but a shift was taking place. Of course I missed all of this in my quest to be cool or at least someone others of my peer group cared about. I failed at that task and even by the time I graduated high school I never really felt I had an identity of my own.
It was around that time that I took a job as a lifeguard at a pool quite some distance from my home. To this day I don’t remember exactly how I got involved in being a lifeguard, but I got certified at 15 but couldn’t work until I was 16 because no license and no car. So, it must have been the summer of ’92 that I started driving to work every day. Everyone’s life is peppered with little coincidences and tricks of fate that can change things very unexpectedly and me driving to this out of the way pool during this particular summer was one of those points in my life. I took the same way to work every day and most of the time I was oblivious to my surroundings. One day, however, as I was driving past one of those little strips of stores that pop up along back roads I noticed something interesting. There was what looked like a newish store that I had not seen before. I don’t know how long it had been there but there it was, a comic book store. The sign said “The Comic Strip”. I can’t say how many days I drove past the store without even considering to stop. It may have been days, it may have been weeks. I really can’t remember. One day though, I stopped. Maybe I was running early to work and needed to kill some time. Maybe I had left work early do to rain and was bored. I don’t know but something stopped me at that store one day in ’92.
What I remember of that day is fairly clear. I even recall the layout of the store. New comics on the left, back issues on the right, and the checkout counter in the back. It was a tiny shop but it was filled with awesome. There were books in nice displays on the walls, merchandise in other places, and that big New Release section right as you walk in. The store was owned and run, at the time, but two guys. One was tall with dark hard and another was a little shorted and I remember him looking a lot like Tommy Shaw from Styx. Anyway, the one thing I know for sure that day is that I walked out with at least one book, Eclipso: The Darkness Within. It was issue #1 of a a bookend series that book-ended DC’s summer cross-over event. To this day I am pretty sure I bought it because it had this cheesy little plastic diamond embedded on the cover. Anyone who was around during the 90’s knows this was indicative of the gimmicks used to try and sell comics during the age. That cover is so clear in my mind today I could have bought it yesterday. Strange that. Especially considering I don’t remember what the story was about. At least not much. What can be said, however, is that the book kicked off my second period of comics fandom.
What followed was a quick decent into what, at one point, became an uncontrollable obsession with comics. The shop offered discounts based on the level of books you subscribed to and I got many books each month. What I didn’t do, however, was speculate on the future value of books. T
his was a big deal at the time and the industry feed the demands of the market. People were buying multiple copies of books especially if they had foil covers or were #1s. For a while this created a boom for retailers but ultimately it did irreparable damage to the market. I, however, was one of the rare guys who actually read the books for the stories. Sure some of the stuff I bought was crap but I still read everything. That was because I was a fan and not some idiot thinking comics would pay for his kid’s education. I silently hoped all the boxes of paper I was accumulating would have some value one day but I knew that it probably wouldn’t happen. Of course most comics sold then are worthless today. There is a part of me that laughs at all the people who bum rushed comic stores for The Death of Superman and willing paid over the cover price, in some cases 100 times the cover price, only to find out that the book’s value dropped to less than $10.00 only months later. They got what they deserved. Sadly, they also killed a lot of good shops.
Getting back on topic, for me I just wanted to read. I would pick up my books religiously every week and spend hours at home reading. There was good and there was bad but I enjoyed just about everything. It was an escape I suppose but I didn’t go out much so I needed something to fill my time. At some point I was buying just about everything published by DC and Image. This is when things started getting out of hand. By my first year in college money was running short and I was using most of the money my parent’s gave me to buy groceries (I was living on campus for a time) to buy comics. Many times I found myself eating peanut butter out of the jar and washing it down with ice water for dinner. Certainly I could have driven the 30 minutes to the house to eat there but I didn’t want my scam to be revealed so I sucked it up. I bought groceries every other week only and kept the rest of the money for myself. I worked when I could, mostly during the summer, but a good chunk of that money always went to comics. Kind of sad really but I enjoyed it. I built of collection of a few thousand books during this time. Storage was becoming a problem but there was plenty of room at my parent’s house so I didn’t even consider that particular issue. I bought, I read, and I stored.
I went through college like a normal kid and most people had no idea that I was a comic book geek. I played intramural sports. I was a member of several on campus groups and clubs. I took my studies mostly seriously but there was always this addiction lying just out of sight. Comics were something I kept private while I acted the part of the All American College Student in public. Things during this time were good. I was happy and the future looked bright. I had surrounded myself with a good group of friends and had been able to keep the stranger parts of my life a secret. It wouldn’t last.
1996 came around and early that year something big happened to my life. I had no idea at the time the monumental change that was headed my way. Computers were always something I enjoyed but never really cared a great deal about. Mostly I used computers as game machines. As it happened, however, I wanted a new computer because the family machine was getting long in the tooth and would not play the games I wanted to play. I had also been exposed to the bulletin board system by my freshman roommate and wanted to play around with that some more. Again, events conspired to put me in a position that would alter the course of my life My father had reluctantly given me a credit card for expenses and I talked myself into buying a new computer with it. That decision became the most important and life changing decision I have ever made for many reasons and it certainly impacted my comic book buying. It was at this time that I was given my formal introduction to this new thing called – The Internet.
So ends Part I.