30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.
I went through two intense period of buying comics. One was from ages 10 til 17. The second was around age 25, just before I left Australia, up til now.
Fun fact: a week after I quit collecting comics the first time I started going out wth my first girlfriend.
That first period was mainly about superheroes. (Did you know that ‘superhero’ is actually a trademark co-owned by Marvel and DC? Such a joke – no wonder those two companies are still running the comic book industry.)
The second period has been more mixed. Some alternative stuff, lots of older stuff, still the occasional superhero thing. But the big defining theme of my second tenure in comics is the trade paperback.
I have no idea what my first comic was. It would have been borrowed off a friend at school. But comics taught me, at barely 10 years old, that I wanted to OWN something rather than borrow it. If I read a comic I liked, I went out and bought it. It’s something I’ve carried over into music, books, DVDs and more.
This was around 1991, so I was there to buy X-Men #1. At over 8 million copies, it is still the highest selling comic book of all time. Along with all the X-Men and Spiderman books, I had pretty much all the big guns – Daredevil, Fanstastic Four, Batman, Superman, the Flash, etc.
My teachers hated comics. And I was an argumentative little shit, and would ask why. Comics get a bad wrap, but even that highly commercial, glossy, 90s era of comics brought some real goods. Acclaimed books like Marvels, Kingdom Come etc are rightly considered in great BOOK lists.
(I was, of course, too young to have been there for the 80s revolution that has truly broken through to the mainstream. Watchmen. V for Vendetta. The Batman from the current movies is very much Frank Miller’s dark take on Batman)
I gave up around 17. It was a slow petering out rather than a big decision. I was buying up all sorts of music. I was seeing movies more. Hanging out after school with friends in the city. Meeting girls. All age gigs. And of course, end of high school studies.
And the comics got really shit anyway. Overblown, crass and saturated with holographic covers, trading cards, all sorts of stupid shit. It was all big events where you had to buy 30 comics a month just to keep up with the story…or maybe I just grew out of it.
The comic book industry as whole crashed in the mid 90s anyway. I was part of the reason. I had enough, and I left it to rot.
I went on and fell in love with Bob Dylan
I learnt a lot from those 90’s superhero comics. A hell of a lot. And I will go to my grave defending comics.
First and foremost, I learnt how to read. I make absolutely zero bones about this. English is my second language and I was reading English for maybe five years up until comics, and still spoke broken-ish English with a strong accent.
So every day, several times a day, I would read comics. And why it was different from reading books was because my English was not good enough to read Friedrich Nietzsche, but every issue of the 1991 mini series the Infinity Gauntlet started with a Nietzsche quote.
So I’m ten years old and I’m reading amazing stuff like “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”
And lets face it, I was not really going to come across this stuff in school.
“And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”
That was used in the Incredible Hulk #425. Bet you didn’t know that shit at age 12. I did!
It wasn’t just random literary quotes. Words like ‘intergalatic’, ‘radioactive’ etc. Not only were they hard – they fired my imagination. I learnt words like ‘hybrid’ from comics.
Just run your eye through your average list of characters to find so much more. Morlocks. Nova. Doomsday. Even Daredevil. I didn’t know what a daredevil was when I was ten. I looked it up.
The point I’m trying to make is I was buried in thoughts, words and ideas.
There was great sophistication in the writing too. Great science fiction ideas. The Hulk meeting an evil future version of himself. The wonderful Marvels series, which we are told classic stories from the point of view of an average person on the street. My mind exploded every week from all the cliffhangers, plot twists and mysteries.
As I got older, I cared less about the big graphics and more about the stories. It led me into my next phase of comics. More ‘adult’, thoughtful, character driven books like Starman, Bone, Sandman Mystery Theatre, Zot!, Astro City and more. I’d also read books ABOUT comics like Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics. It’s this era that I really, really loved comics. This stuff is so great, I can’t even describe them to you.
A lot of that stuff was independently published. Or if it was published by Marvel or DC, it was on an imprint. (The most famous work of this era, of this style, is probably Neil Gaiman’s Sandman)
I learnt a million things from these comics. I mean – Oscar Wilde was a recurring character in Starman! It’s the same neat trick that stuff like Doctor Who pulls off – it’s entertaining and educational. What a great head-fake.
I would buy comics from everywhere. A lot of those places depress me now.
Comic Kingdom on Liverpool Street. God that place just depresses the hell out of me. It still looks like the 80s, and I’m pretty sure the staff is still the same people. They just never got the memo that the 90s and 00s happened. They were too busy reading old issues of the Phantom.
Comic Kingdom’s main competitor is Kings Comics on Pitt Street. The staff are young and hip. There are plenty of girls on both sides of the counter. They have lots of movie merchandise, toys, posters and stuff. The store looks great too.
The thing that depresses me about Kings Comics is the same thing that depresses me about indie record shops. Every time I’m in there and I want something and they don’t have it, it just destroys them. And it’s so much more expensive than Amazon.
Not that Amazon is any good. They never have anything in stock. They don’t sell single issues. There is a massive gap in the internet for a comic book online shop – deals with the distributors directly, digital comics, single issues, rarities and old collectables, etc.
I wonder how the iPad and such devices are going to affect comics. I like physical artifacts – but I love the promise of a good story and with great artwork a lot more. It will b like music I guess – some digital, some physical.
Funny how people talk of in-demand entertainment, I think of comics. This is what I had for years. I would buy a stack of them. But once I had them I could read them any time, at my own pace, and re-read them at my leisure. I didn’t wait for a TV show or make sure I’m home at the perfect time. Or wait for a repeat. I’ve been doing in-demand for 20 years.
I still probably have 10K+ comics at my parents house. They are mostly protected in bags, and they are in nice boxes. Although they haven’t been taken care off and I lug them everywhere I moved when in Sydney.
These days I buy Trade Paperbacks. If you don’t know the term, it’s basically a bunch of comics grouped altogether in a book. Most bigger bookstores carry them now.
I don’t know how I got back into it – but I blame the internet. It was just so easy to come across news. And slowly, I peeked back to see what my old friends in tights were up to. I never went back to X-men, but I’m amazed to see that X-Men #1 is now up to 236. But my tastes have changed, and I walk right past the kiddie stuff. Although, I don’t look down on it one bit. I wonder who all these new superheroes are…
So I’ve re-bought a few of those comics I loved as trade paperbacks (or even some fancy hardcover versions). I will probably get rid of a lot of them when I get home. There are lots of valuable ones in there. It might take some time to sort it all out.
I read all the comic book news because some of the websites are really good (Comic Book Resources and Newsarama in particular). I think the music industry could learn a hell of a lot from how the comic book business works. A lot of what I read and see on those sites informs a lot of the ideas I bring to my own work.
The best example of that is this Saturday. Free Comic Book Day was a daring initiative to bring both new and lapsed readers into comic shops, with exclusive products on the day, and creators doing instore events and working behind the counter. It is basically the model for Record Store Day. So if you’re around on Saturday, go visit your local comic shop. Cool things will be going on and pick up a free comic while you’re there. There will be something for everyone.
Finally, for me now, I still buy comics. I get the eventual trade paperbacks, collecting six months or so worth of stories. So I dip in and out – I don’t hang out at my comic shop several times a week anymore. I am going to back and reading old stuff, and trying to keep on top of all the great new work that is being created every month, if not every day.