Circa 1974 - I had just moved into a new neighborhood and became fast friends with Hank Darnell, the kid who lived down the hill from me. We immediately took to riding bikes together around the neighborhood, catching crawdads in the creek and drinking Kool Aid on each other’s front porch.
One hot day he invited me into his house. We grabbed some Cherry Kool Aid and went back to his room…and there it was. I swear it was glowing, like a beacon in the night. A huge cardboard Pampers box that was overflowing with comic books. I said, “Hey, what are those?” I already knew the answer because my older brother had a few comics, but they were generally off limits. So the following conversation went like this:
Hank: Ah…just some ol’ comic books.
Me: Where’d you get ‘em?
Hank: My mom’s work.
Me: Where does your mom work?
Hank: She works for a magazine company. They deliver them to the stores and pick up the old ones that didn’t sell. They have to rip the covers off (*shudder!) and then they just throw ‘em away or they can take ‘em home.
Me: Can I look at some of them?
Hank: psh…you can have ‘em if you want ‘em!
And so it began. I was in 3rd grade at the time and started to collect. Every Friday I would get $5 allowance and would set aside 50 cents to put in church and would blow $4.50 on comics while mom shopped for groceries. Back then $4.50 would buy 18 comic books…and yes, every Friday I would come home with an armload of comics. Everything from The Invaders, to The Amazing Spider-Man…from The Incredible Hulk to The Avengers. Back then I was strictly a Marvel guy, but over the years, I would jump on the DC train from time to time.
Over the years I sold some, and occasionally lost interest. But I would always come back and would try to re-collect some of the old ones I once had, including those early ones from my afternoons with Hank that had no covers. Comics at one time instilled within kids a moral compass that helped them see things in black & white terms: Good guy vs. Bad Guy, Right vs. Wrong.
They are not as useful in those terms today. Our culture has blurred the lines of good & evil…heck, even some of the “heroes” in comics today seem to have a difficult time trying to figure out the right thing to do, but they merely reflect a morally ambiguous writer, editor and society. My son is in his mid teens and has also had a love for comics…not anywhere near what his old man has, but nonetheless, he has grown up being familiar with them. It’s a shame that I had to look over the comics he wanted to buy when he was younger to make sure there was nothing inappropriate in them.
Comics have evolved over the years, but one thing still holds true: They are still one of the best forms of entertainment and also a great tool to teach kids to love to read.