George Rears Kids don't like change. Maybe the "change you spend in a 7/11" change is cool, but not the “Pack your bags, we're moving to Germany" change. To my older brothers and sisters, we were setting out on a new adventure. To a six-year-old finishing first grade, however, going to a country where English is a foreign language meant isolation, or so I thought.
We arrived in West Berlin in May of 1974. Since there were only a few weeks left of school, I didn't have to enroll in my new school. What could be better than not having to go to school for three weeks for a six year old? Well it turns out, just about anything. Being new to the area, and having no school to meet people, I would have to wait for the summer to meet friends.
Television wasn't much of an option--Armed Forces Network had one channel (black and white!) that aired only soap operas during the day. So how did I get to spend time? Shopping with my Mom at the Post Exchange (PX).
There's something magically simple about living near a military base. You want to get a haircut; you go to a place labeled "Barber Shop". You want to go to get something to eat, you go to the Cafeteria. If you parent's car needs gas, there is a great place to go called "Gas Station". Well, I discovered a place called "Book Store".
My older brother had the unenviable task of watching me one day while my mother was shopping. Rather than hang around the cafeteria, my brother dragged me to a bookstore(or should I say the "Book Store"). Like any 13-year old watching a 6-year old, he quickly dumped me off in front of these colorful periodicals, so that he could check out the more "mature" fare in the science fiction section.
Needless to say the comics in front of me caught my interest. The thing that immediately grabbed me was this phrase "Still Only 20 cents"...having been given one dollar to entertain myself, I quickly became a fan of the "Line of DC Super-Stars" rather than those expensive Marvel comics that would yield only 4 books for my dollar allowance. My brother, still a comic fan himself at his "advanced" age bought these even more expensive books. Sixty cents for 100 pages! If only I had that money to throw around. It would be two years before I ever bought a giant-sized book.
I remember quite vividly what I bought that day, which is kind of amazing, since I can't remember what I had for dinner last night. Superman 276, Superboy(and the Legion of Super Heroes) 203, Adventure 434, Wonder Woman 213, and Flash 228. Having finished shopping, off we went on the long walk home. I remember reading all these books. But what I really remember is re-reading Flash 228 over and over again. Here was this comic book writer guy who actually got to meet the characters he wrote about! People were going to parallel Earths! Cool villains that walk on air! The lead character shows up late all the time! Exclamation points! Everywhere! How cool was that!
Anyway, they say the Golden Age of Comics is when you are 8 years old. I turned seven that August and was just entering my golden age. The rest of the summer was a blur. I remember meeting lots of new friends that summer (one thing army brats learn to do is to make new friends quickly), but no friends would I get to know as well as Nick Cardy, Irv Novick, Jim Aparo, Curt Swan, Dick Dillin(yes, I would read my brother's high priced Justice Leagues--sometimes even with his permission), and Jack Kirby. I actually never met any of them, but they spoke to me every month, or at least eight times a year.
Another thing army brats did when living overseas was to try to get their hands on any piece of Americana they could. Any new kid moving on to the block from the states would be a target for us. You needed to get the new kid quick, before he found out how much he could get for the Ma Kent Slurpee cup in a trade. We would chase after Baseball Cards, Wacky Packages, and Dynamite! Magazine, but for me, it was all about comic books.
To this date, when I see any books from the years when I lived in Germany, I remember not only the story, but silly anecdotes surrounding either the purchase or reading of the comics. I can recall a beautiful day in the park riding a bicycle punctuated by reading a story of Batman fighting Catwoman. I remember Superman being turned into crystal while I was in a church playground. I remember the anticipation as I turned every page of Superman 300, as the world of the year 2001 was revealed before my eyes. I remember arguing with my brother about Chicago when Kamandi discovered the remains of the town...I think I thought the city was spelled "Chicargo" and I was adamant that the guy who wrote the story made a mistake. Silly me, Jack Kirby never made a mistake. Except for the Green Team. However that’s another story...
We returned to the United States in 1978, and once again it was time to deal with change. Ironically, the DC Implosion forced me to try Marvel books (which were now cheaper than the DC books), which actually helped me meet all sorts of new friends--Marvel Zombies. They were cool, but did any of their favorite writers cross dimensions and meet their characters? I didn’t think so.