When last we left my secret comics origin, I had just discovered comics at a strange cabin in the woods and was instantly smitten by a damsel in distress, in that case played by Scarlet Witch in Avengers # 128. As I look back on things, it's clear to me now that I have more than a little William Moulton Marston in me. For the uninitiated, Marston created Wonder Woman. He decided he was going to bring feminism to comics, and by feminism he meant bondage. Lots of tied-up women in those books, lots of women tying people up. Delicious!
But I digress. I don't know exactly where to place that cabin venture chronologically. 1978? 1979? I was a precocious lad and ridiculously good at reading, and that time line puts me at 7 years old when the comics bug (or was it a fetish bug?) first hit me.
I had a couple of problems satisfying that craving, though. (the comic one, mean. well, both. but I'm talking about the comic one) The problem was that the cabin comics weren't mine, and I had no income. I was completely dependent on begging a pair of rather indifferent parents to get me some more comics.
But beg I did, and scored my first panhandling success on a trip with my mom downtown. About once a year mom would take a trip "downtown" to Minneapolis in the summer. Mom would buy herself something nice, a dress or a blouse or the like from Dayton's. We would get hot dogs for lunch at Woolworth's. I would get some school clothes, and a little something special as well if I wasn't too much of a pain the ass.
Well, I had comics on the brain, big time! There were no comic shops. Downtown would have had the legendary Shinder's newsstand/bookstore, but there was no way mom was going to take me there, and I wouldn't have known to ask. I have no idea what store we found with a magazine rack, but one of those stores had one, and the magazine rack had comics! I was given a $5 limit, which at the time adjusting for inflation equated to roughly six billion dollars.
I started to pick out comics, but the pile was getting enormous, mom was frowning, and I knew it just wasn't going to fly. We were taking the bus, and she didn't want me mucking about with a dozen or more magazines.
Pocket books to the rescue! Back then Pocket books were publishing tiny little paperbacks collecting Marvel comics, and "ALL IN FULL COLOR" no less! As a comics reading experience, 39 year-old Ryan does not recommend it. The format is just too tiny, you squint like demon just trying to squeeze the word balloons into your eyeballs.
For 7 year-old Ryan, those Pocket books were bad ass! They were comics, they were $2.25, and my mom was far more willing to have me drag two tiny books on the bus than a three foot stack of comics. I don't remember exactly which options were available, but I selected Captain America and Spider-Woman.
I don't know why I picked Spider-Woman, except....I take that back. I know exactly why I picked her - that book was packed to the gills with poor Spider-Woman getting secured by ropes and chains. It's insane, I know. But first there was a bewildered Wanda Maximoff, and this time I was completely absorbed with the very lovely and very harried Jessica Drew. I was a seven year-old bondage enthusiast.
Apparently, I wasn't the only pervert, because it seems like that entire series was built on bondage:
|And at least the villians aren't in fetish gear|
|Tied up and helpless, no less|
|And with chains this time - gotta mix it up!|
See what I mean?
At any rate, I read each of those books about 12,000 times apiece. I think I enjoyed reading Spider-Woman for the 36th time more than I enjoy reading my new comics on most Wednesdays. I think that's part of being a child, though.
The Captain America book was a tad confusing. It starts with Avengers # 4 and then jumps into some early Tales of Suspense stuff that mostly goes in order, but definitely skips issues. You can tell that you're missing pieces, and it's kind of maddening. It's the kind of thing that would send me to this blog in a fuming rage these days, probably. It's poorly packaged, and punishing to read.
The thing is, it didn't put me off comics at all. The frustration didn't manifest as "this sucks, I'm done with this", it manifested itself as "How in the hell am I going to find these missing issues"! I had no access to back issues, and no money to pay for them if I could find them.
Jim Shooter's philosophy was always that comics fail to sell when they suck. Make good comics, see good sales. I don't know that I fully believe that. Fantastic Four right now is a really good comic that don't sell as well as Shadowland, which is really quite dreadful. But there's something to be said for those early Cap issues. The energy of Stan and Jack translated very well, and Spider-Woman hit my fetish, apparently. Would I be writing this blog right now if my first exposure to comics had been Justice League: Rise of Arsenal? Maybe. I don't know.
Here's what I know for sure. I was absolutely confused by the fact that those Spidey stories didn't connect, but again, it wasn't a deal breaker. Even at that young age, (and if it actually was 1977, I would have been five years old) I wondered which events came first and if the stuff in Amazing had anything to do with the stuff in Spectacular. There was nobody to ask, though. Was dad going to sort that out? I don't think so.
The important thing was that Morbius was very compelling, and J Jonah Jameson was an aggressive ass, and Ghost Rider was probably the coolest goddamn thing I had ever seen in my life. A good guy with hellfire? It was delightfully confounding. Vampires, hellfire, superheroes, action. I was a Marvel kid all the way.
I think the point is that for me, accessibility was an issue, but not urgent. The question wasn't - does this make me a comfortable reader? The question was - is this stuff vital enough to make me want to take the challenge? The answer for Ryan in 1979 was HELLS YEAH.
But I didn't have a phone that played space age video games, or a television with 6,000 channels and a DVR that saved all the good stuff for easy access. We had a Heathkit television that my dad built by hand, because we couldn't afford a pre-built color television. It had 4.5 channels on it. If you toggled the UHF knob just right, you could kind of get Spectrum in. Spectrum had boobs on it after 11pm, and that's important.
So back in 1979, Captain America was pretty exotic, high caliber stuff. And I think it still is. I know it still is. It just has a lot more to compete with, and the direct market has made that compelling stuff a little more niche and a little more work to get to. In 1979, comics were everywhere. You didn't know anybody that didn't have some. Now it involves some effort, and in "life at a keystroke" 2011 that's a barrier.
Time to stop for now, I think. Part one was me bumping into comics that weren't mine. Part two is me begging for other people to bring comics home to me. Part three is going to be my first real purchases. It all begins with a nubile mutant girl in dire peril. I know you're all shocked.....