Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day

sg 1983 - I've had this story rattling around in my head for a long time, and never got it down. Since today is Father's Day, I figured now was the perfect time.

A few years after moving to New Jersey in 1979, my comic book buying choices expanded exponentially when I discovered my first comic book specialty store--El Dorado, located just a few miles from my house.

Having subsisted off the vagaries of newsstand distribution before then, finding a whole store devoted to comics was like manna from heaven. I begged my parents as much as they could stand (and then past that) to take me there.

Unfortunately, not too long after I discovered the store, it closed down. Luckily, just before I was sent back to the sad spinner racks of my local 7-11s, I came across another store--Comic Crypt, located in Oaklyn, NJ, which was considerably further away (a 20 min. drive compared to the 5 min. one for El Dorado), but it was an even better store--more back issues, more new titles, more everything.

One of the titles I discovered via a comic book store was Marvel Fanfare, a direct sales-only "experiment" which featured the top creators of the day in a book that had no ads, and was printed on glossy, high-quality paper. The book cost $1.50 (horrors!) compared to the standard 60 cent comic of the day.

I loved Marvel Fanfare--the different creators and characters, editor Al Milgrom's sense that this book was a personal mission for him--I never missed an issue and I had managed to find the ones published before I discovered the book, except...#2.

Marvel Fanfare was one of those titles that most retailers didn't think would sell that well, so after ordering the standard amount for a first issue, they cut their orders for #2, since there's usually a big drop off in sales after the first.

But Marvel Fanfare sold well right off the bat, making #2 nearly impossible to find. As the series wore on, and I bought issue after issue, #2 still eluded me. To a twelve year old comic book collector, having the complete series was nearly as essential as Life Itself. The missing second issue nagged at me like the Tell-Tale Heart, instead the sound came from my long box, not the floorboards.

Then, one night, after making my Dad drag me to Comic Crypt one night, I was wandering the store, looking to spend every cent of the measly couple of bucks I had in my pre-wallet-days pocket.

Just before I left, I checked the Marvel Fanfare back issues, expecting to find nothing...and of course, there it was. Marvel Fanfare #2. Hark, the angels sing!

Unfortunately, it was stickered with a price tag of $6.00. Which meant, if I wanted to get it, I would've had to put back every other book in my hand. That was too tough a hill to climb, so I put the book back.

I walked out of the store, looking more dejected than I normally do when leaving a comic book store. I climbed into the back seat, and my Dad asked me something. I guess he noticed my mumbled, oh woe is me answer, and he asked me what was wrong.

I then told him The Tale of The Unpurchased Comic: A Tragedy in Two Parts. At that age, I just this side of being too young to try and angle for things, at least as consciously as I would later on. I was genuinely sad, figuring the book would be bought by someone else before I ever had the money to get it myself.

"How much is it?", my Dad asked.

"Six dollars," I said, as if that was the sum total of Croesus' fortune.

My Dad paused, then reached into his wallet, handed me the money, and said "Go get it."

I bounded into the store, the six dollars actually burning its way through my hand. I went in, bought the book, and walked out, feeling like a Big Time Spender.

I thanked my Dad profusely, and spent the rest of the ride home diving into its pages, lost in the tale of Spider-Man and the X-Men trapped in the wilds of the Savage Land. It was the Best Comic Book Ever, at least for those 20 minutes.

I'm sure there were many moments in my Dad's life where he metaphorically scratched his head, wondering who this kid of his was. I could care less about sports, and his attempts to play catch with me were met with grudging acceptance, and all the enthusiasm you'd have for an IRS audit. But hand me a pile of comics and I simply was in my element.

I guess, as a parent, you hope there are moments you have with your kids where you get to show them how much you love them, and they recognize that.

I'm sure my Dad would've never have guessed one of those moments would come sitting in a darkened car in Oaklyn, NJ, outside of a comic book store. But there you go.

Happy Father's Day, Dad. And thanks for the six bucks.

Friday, June 6, 2008

George Rears - 1980

George Rears - 1980

By 1980, I was quickly outgrowing DC Comics. After the DC Implosion in 1978, I steadily lost interest in many of the DC books I used to love so much. In my opinion, when DC cut their publishing line, it seemed to really affect the quality of their books. They just didn't seem to have the heart or creative spark they had earlier in the 1970s.

Justice League of America was rolling along, Superman had Swan, and the Batman books still had Aparo, but books like Legion of Super Heroes, Flash, and Green Lantern felt like they were marking time.

Combine my growing appreciation for Marvel comics--specifically, The Avengers and Avenger-related titles like Captain America and Iron Man which I had been buying for two years now (due to the newly-narrowed line of DC Comics) along with a neighborhood full of Marvel Zombies, and it seemed inevitable that I was would soon morph into a Marvel guy.

I just started picking up X-Men, and really liked what I saw. On top of that, my new favorite artist was actually a Marvel guy: George Perez. His intricate work on The Avengers was amazing...and of course his attention to detail made him that much more appealing to me, as I was entering a phase that most new teenaged comic book readers go through, in which you try to distance yourself from "cartoony" artists and embrace the hyper–realistic artists. All in an effort to prove your the way, it is so much fun to psycho-analyze yourself 38 years later.

My Marvel pull list was growing, and my DC list was still substantial, but the DC books were quickly dropping to the bottom of "read pile" after every comic purchase. With a looming price increase to fifty cents, it looked as if DC was on its last legs. Then little things started happening. Marv Wolfman, a long time Marvel writer, showed up on Green Lantern and George Perez showed up in my old favorite book, The Flash, drawing Firestorm.

I had no access to any fanzines, so I was completely stunned with what happened next. DC Comics Presents #26 introduced us to the New Teen Titans. I didn't know who half the characters were, but the artwork looked just like the Avengers! Turns out it was George Perez, working with Marv Wolfman--on a DC book! The dark ages were over! It didn't take long for Titans to become my favorite book (one month, to be exact--when issue #1 came out).

There were many reasons to love this book. The new characters allowed Marv and George (If I can call them that) to create well rounded characters with real personalities without violating any continuity. The personality "implants" for Robin (a strong tactician and leader) and Wonder Girl (noble and virtuous) made perfect sense for their characters based on their mentors.

There was no feeling of arbitrary personalities forced upon characters to make the stories interesting, as had happened a few times in the Justice League. As time would go on, I became less pleased with their handling of Kid Flash (since the Flash had always been my favorite), but eventually he left the team, and that issue went away.

The characters were all allowed to grow: Vic Stone started off in a very stereotypical manner as the angry monster character, but quickly became the heart and soul of the team. Gar Logan started as the class clown, but became the group's conscience. Well-rounded characters displaying organic growth in a DC comic was new for me, and I enjoyed it immensely.

It seemed within months, all DC comics started getting better...and within the next year and a half, the great Levitz run on Legion would begin, and Roy Thomas would introduce the All Star Squadron...DC was back.

I never thought of the New Teen Titans as DC's X-Men, as my Marvel friends always claimed. I had only read a few of the Claremont/Byrne X-Men when the Titans came out, but I felt there was a different vibe there.

The X-Men seemed to be young 20 somethings--kind of like the cast of Friends (except for Banshee and that Wolverine character), whereas the Titans seemed younger--kind of like the cast of Season 1 of Real World...the X-Men lived in an isolated corner of the Marvel Universe (until they got uber-popular and crossed over with everyone--including ROM), whereas the Titans seemed firmly routed in the DC Universe from the beginning, with the JLA appearing in the first arc, and the Doom Patrol having a major role to start the second year.

The tone of the X-Men seemed to be somber and pensive--the Titans seemed to be explosive and in your face. Even in the Titans issues with no villains, Perez made character interaction dynamic and exciting with his lush illustrations. I loved both the books. But they were very different.

The New Teen Titans stayed vibrant for about five years to me--only losing its "Top of the read pile status" when DC published the Crisis on Infinite Earths, another Wolfman and Perez collaboration. Ironically, when I was just hitting the same age as the Titans characters, was when I started to lose interest, however I think George Perez leaving the book was the real reason. To this day, George Perez remains my favorite comic book artist, and I still buy just about anything that has his name on it.