Thursday, March 05, 2009

About My Comics History

The earliest I can remember comic books was from when we would go visit my grandparents at Oneida Lake in New York State. When the car was all loaded up we'd head towards the highway, but along the way we stopped at the Sweet Shoppe and mom would hand me a dollar with instructions to get three of the giant-sized comics (25 cents apiece) and four candy bars (five cents apiece) and I got to keep the nickel. Back then I was only 8 or 9, so I tended to get the Harvey comics like Baby Huey, Little Dot, Richie Rich, etc. I had three younger siblings, but my brother Mark couldn't read yet, so he didn't get a comic.

The first superhero comic I can remember reading was Adventure #320, with the return of Dev-Em. It was at my cousin's house in Massachusetts. I remember going with my cousin over to a friend's house who had to play this hot new record for us: Help Me Rhonda by the Beach Boys.

I remember getting into Archie Comics when I was 10, and the Batman craze hit when I was 11, so like many kids in America I bought some comics around then. I remember specifically having bought Batman #179 and #181, and I also bought the final Outsider story in Tec #356.

But I didn't really get the bug until 1968, when I happened to read World's Finest #179 at the local barber shop. It was a reprint giant with lots of Dick Sprang artwork, and I was hooked enough that I went back to the barber shop the next day and gave them a quarter for the issue.

At around the same time, one of the NY news programs ran a piece on a comic convention in New York, so the idea that comic collecting was a hobby that could make you some money was also planted. I wasn't just buying four-color entertainment, I was making an investment in my future.

So I amassed my collection for a couple years. I actually went to a NYC comics convention around 1970 at the Statler Hilton. I got some cool comics there, including Batman #18, #31 and #71, the longtime sole issues of my GA collection.

And then, what happened? I got to be about 17 and I was saving money for car repairs and gas and dates and although I kept buying Batman and Spiderman I was not a comics junkie at all. I still had the pretty good collection I had amassed when I started in eighth grade, but like everybody else life intervened and so I got to college.

And found that for the first time in my life, reading a comic was not considered completely geeky. In my first semester, Warren came out with their first Spirit issue. Having read the Harvey Spirit #1 in high school, I bought that issue and passed it around my dorm. When I went to the local store a couple weeks later, the second issue was sold out, although I soon found many copies floating around the dorm.

There were cool people in college that loaned out their copies of comics. Thanks to them I read a lot of comics I would not otherwise have bought, like the Starlin Warlock series or Swamp Thing or the original Howard the Duck stories.

I got out of college and was apparently cured of my comics addiction. I got a job working for the man every day and I was climbing the corporate ladder. A friend of mine and I teamed up with two other guys to rent a house. And like the second day I after I moved in, somebody said, oh, you should check out the comics in the basement.

A complete run of Amazing Spiderman from about 110-142, including awesome copies of 121, 122 and 129.

That got the bug back in me, especially when those issues were followed by the original clone saga with the Jackal, which I found entertaining. But I dropped Spiderman shortly after Len Wein took over. He's a fine writer but he didn't have a feel for the character; his Spiderman stories read as if they had been written for Batman, not Peter Parker.

And that was pretty much it for comics and me for 20 years. Oh, I kept my collection, and every now and then I'd pick up an issue, like Batman #300, or one of the Hobgoblin issues of Spiderman, or the final issue of the (Barry Allen) Flash. A coworker of my girlfriend recommended Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen to me in the late 1980s, both of which I devoured. I bought quite a few of the Spirit reprints by Kitchen Sink. But if I read more than ten comics a year from 1978-1997 I'd be surprised.

Fast forward to May 1998. It's a Saturday night and I'm sitting around bored with nothing in particular to do, and I got this oddball idea: Why not try to locate the covers to the first 100 issues of Amazing Spiderman? Well, even in those relatively primitive internet days, that did not turn out to be terribly difficult, so I set myself a somewhat tougher task: Locate the covers to the first 100 issues of Batman.

I got about 60 covers from various sites; one of my big hauls came from a site called the Golden Age Batman site of Mr Bill Jourdain, who also blogs Golden Age Comics.

As the evening wore on into night, I decided to see if there were any binary newsgroups devoted to comic books. As it happened, a newsgroup had been created only a month earlier, called So I posted the covers that I had downloaded that evening. A few days later somebody posted some more covers, and a few days after that another poster uploaded a big set of covers.

I had a scanner, but like most people, hardly ever used it. But I still had a collection of comics and so I began scanning the covers to fill in gaps. And one evening in June I decided to try scanning a story. I chose The Secret of Hunter's Inn from Batman #18. If I expected a sensational response, I didn't get one. But about a year later, somebody posted a complete scan of a Cry for Dawn issue and the newsgroup literally went nuts. Everybody started scanning complete comics like mad.

We had only one rule at ABPC. Comics that were under a year old were not allowed to be posted. Partly it was defensive; we hoped that by not scanning the newest comics the companies would let us skate on the older material. But also none of us wanted to hurt the industry that had given us so much pleasure.

The scans posted to ABPC grew at a phenomenal rate. In the beginning I was burning a CD of new scans once a month, then twice a month, then once a week, then every day. To give you an idea, in April 2001, 412 comics were posted to ABPC. In April 2002? Try 1,045. By April 2003 it was 1644.

And in the midst of that flood of comics, I started filling in the gaps in my own collection. I found that I hadn't lost interest in comics so much as I had lost interest in new comics. Indeed, one of the things that had kept me collecting into the mid-1970s was the ready availability of reprints in the backs of those 100-pagers that DC published for awhile around 1974. But reprints very much fell by the wayside as that decade wore on, and the prices for the older issues kept rising.

Hence the focus of this blog on the Silver Age of Comics. Although I'm a big fan of the Golden Age material, I don't have the extensive knowledge of that era like Bill Jourdain. And although there's a fair amount of newer stuff that I like, there's a massive gap in my knowledge of comics from 1978-1997 that I'm never going to be able to make up.