I love comic books. Unabashedly. Unequivocally. Unapologetically. And, most importantly, while it is true I enjoy collecting them, I love reading comic books. Sure, I have many a tattered and dog-eared comic book, but that’s because I’ve read them, some many times. When my age was in its single digits, comics taught me knew words, like “counterpart” and “nemesis.” All my life I’ve lost myself in the pages of comics. Back in the ’70s my mother and I would make a trip every Friday night to Red’s Newsstand in Riverside, Rhode Island. She would get a craft magazine and I would get a couple of comic books. This was in the days before specialty shops, but Red would still hold my favorite comics behind the counter for me each week. We would walk a couple of blocks to Riverside Grill for dinner and I would tune out the world while I hungrily read my new comics, my food going cold beside me. At first it was titles like Star Wars, Fantastic Four, Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes and Action Comics. In fact, the first comic I bought was the first Star Wars treasury edition. Then I met my best friend, Christian Poirier, in fourth grade. He introduced me to X-Men, Avengers and the greater Marvel Universe and the love affair began in earnest.
Uncanny X-Men in particular made a huge impact on me. I think that was my first exposure to a long-term continuing story with the slowly unraveling “Dark Phoenix Saga.” Number 129 was the first issue I read, but it was #137 that really hit me like a ton of bricks. I had never read a comic where they killed off a main character in what seemed to be a permanent sort of way. Jean Grey was really dead and not coming back next issue. In fact, the next issue was her funeral! This was in the days before the Internet and I didn’t read any comics related magazines so I actually thought that issue 138 was the very last issue of the title. It really felt like a final issue. Jean had died and Scott Summers, the heart and soul of the team to me, left for parts unknown at the end of the issue. I was pleasantly surprised to see another issue the following month, but happy knowing that the adventures of the X-Men would continue. I’ve been buying Uncanny X-Men ever since and a rather sad over the recent decision to retire the original numbering and relaunch it with a new #1.
In 1981 my mother and I moved to Gainesville, Florida and I discovered my first comic book specialty shop. I was in heaven. There were three in town, one close enough for me to ride my bike to. That was around the time that Direct Sales only titles started up, meaning you could only get them in comic shops. To me that meant I was in a select group of people who were the only ones that could read those comics. Micronauts and Ka-Zar were the first direct-only titles and the paper quality, edgier stories and no ads in these books what pretty awesome. I would know about adventures that lots of other folks would never know about. Additionally, these stores dedicated to nothing but comics allowed me to discover independent and self-published comics for the first time. This was when I found out that comics weren’t necessarily just about superheroes and you could tell any kind of story with word balloons and artwork. I also went to my first convention around this time and Bob MacLeod was there showing off artwork for The New Mutants prior to the Graphic Novel being published. This was a big deal as there had only been one X title up until that point. I stared in wonder at the character sketches and babbled stupidly to Bob about my love of the X-Men and how I wished John Byrne had never left the title. I was young and impressionable, ok?
Over the years I’ve never stopped loving to read comics. Admittedly, there are a couple of titles I have kept getting mostly just to keep up a collection, even if I haven’t enjoyed the storylines. But even those issues I’ve read, if only once. I still pull out favorite comic book runs and re-read them. Over the last few years it seems the fad, at least on the Internet, has become to treat everything as crap and spend lots of forum time speculating on what’s going to happen to certain titles months and months down the road…and then bitch about how awful it will be. A prime example is the upcoming DC Relaunch. With only an announcement to go by, there was instant hatred for the titles and it hasn’t seemed to abate, despite the glut of information that has been released. Even then, this is hatred for books that no one has even read yet. Many upcoming storylines and mini-series are already being dismissed out of hand based on a one or two line description before a single issue has even been produced. It’s trendy now to bad-mouth certain titles and creators. All that annoys me and seems really dumb. If you really don’t like comics in general or certain titles in particular, don’t read them. Move on to something you do like and promote the hell out of it so more people will buy it and it will stick around. Or, you know, actually wait and read the future book you are already bad-mouthing. You might actually like it. Me, I’ll hungrily read each and every comic in my pull list every Wednesday night, my food going cold beside me.