When I was younger, long before I could read, I discovered a magical kind of picture book. It was thin, flimsy, brightly-coloured and printed on coarse newsprint. It was not at all like the glossy nursery rhyme books I had or the school primers my older brother brought home from his grade one classes.
I was visiting a neighbour’s house and was given a tattered, old picture book to keep me occupied. Flipping through it, I encountered a world of men in funny costumes. One man wore a green outfit and had wings. Another man wore dark glasses and had steel arms snaking out from his body. A third man wore a striped shirt and could turn his hands into blocks as he dissolved into the floor. The main character, dressed in a blue and red costume, could walk on walls and ceilings.
Although I didn’t know it then, I was being introduced to the world of comic books courtesy of Steve Ditko, Stan Lee and Marvel Comics. I’ve since learned that the comic I first cut my teeth on was Amazing Spider-Man #24.
Looking at this comic now, I’m surprised at how much text there is in it. You might think Stan Lee was a “talky” kind of writer, filling the book with lots of dialogue, but any study of comics from that era reveals the same tendency towards wordiness.
Despite my rudimentary reading level I was able to move past all the verbiage and into the story. Ditko’s artwork gave enough in action and gesture to tell his tale and get me hooked. Titled “Spider-Man Goes Mad!” the story follows Spider-Man through a series of troubling hallucinations that are pushing him towards a break-down. Along the way, Spider-Man must also deal with the usual teenage angst which he faces as Peter Parker. The image I connected with most strongly was that of Spider-Man entering a room which had been flipped upside down. My pre-school self could “read” Spider-Man’s reaction and see that he was freaked out by what was going on and so was I, but in a good way. Spider-Man’s world was utterly fantastic and I wanted more.
As a kid, I had to contend with my mom’s back and forth acceptance over comics in the house. Sometimes she saw no harm in comics and other times she regarded them as junk that would rot our minds. As a result, my collecting wasn’t as concentrated or organized as it might have been. Over the years I’ve picked up the odd comic or two, drifting in and out of my hobby, but never straying too far from it. In recent years I’ve developed a more academic interest in comics, almost preferring to read about them as much as I enjoy actually reading them.
In future posts I’ll share my other reminiscences and experiences with comics touching on such things as: independent comics; underground comix; black and white horror magazines with EC-like stories; comic adaptations of licensed properties such as tv shows and movies; cross-overs and major event comics; plus cartoons and the like. Of course, I’ll also be talking about what’s coming up in comics, since I’m still buying the odd comic or two, even now.
In the mean time, feel free to share below about your own “first time” with comics. Go ahead, it won’t hurt!