Old Comic Books

There's something to be said for the simple things in life. As life becomes more hectic and complicated, I find myself looking for those simple things to find solace and relaxation in. When I need to wind down, I like to have something simple to find some enjoyment in.

The taoist book "Tao Te Ching" mentions teachers who "teach without teaching", and during my early twenties, I had two friends, Ed and Rob, who did just that. From them, I learned an appreciation for the simple things in life, not through anything they said or told me, but through their example. I soon learned to appreciate the simple things myself, and from time to time (when I have time), I put this to practice to take a break from all the commotion in life.

One of those simple pleasures for me is old comic books, specifically those from the '60s through the mid '80s. I'd probably enjoy comics that are even older, but haven't read any that I know of. This isn't to say that comic books are simplistic -- in fact, they often deal with heavier issues than good guys and bad guys battling it out. But something simple like sitting down and reading an old comic book is something I find relaxation in. I've recently amassed a nice-sized collection of old comics in digital form, which I've been reading when I have some spare time on my laptop.

Lately I've been reading some old Marvel comics from the early '60s, and many of these are pretty simplistic, which isn't a bad thing. I think the stories got more involved as the comics and characters grew, but as for these early issues, it's pretty lightweight for the most part. I had read comics regularly from the time I was about 10 until my early teens, but I stopped when I started spending my money on music instead, and when I realized that I'd begun buying comics not for the stories, but because I thought a particular issue would be worth money someday. Thus ended my comic collecting hobby until my early twenties when I began collecting Superman comics for a short while. To read these older comics now is giving me some insight into the foundations of some of the characters I enjoyed reading about when I was younger.

First, there's Spider-Man. I always liked the character, but don't think I truly appreciated at the time how he was someone I could relate to in ways: he was young, he had problems, and sometimes things never seemed to work out for him. He was a likable character you could root for. When I'd originally read the comics as a pre-teen, Spider-Man's alter-ego Peter Parker was a freelance photographer living in an apartment he was having trouble making the rent payments on, having relationship problems and, at the time, estranged from his Aunt May, who had raised him after the death of his parents along with his Uncle Ben, who was later murdered by a criminal Peter Parker could've stopped but didn't. Like I said, comic books aren't always simple. Of all the old comics I've been reading, these are the least simplistic, and seem to delve a lot more into the character's problems not only as a superhero but in every day life. The early issues have Peter as an awkward kid in high school, someone who doesn't quite fit in and has to deal with life at that often difficult stage of life. I think I've gotten up to the 13th issue.

Next, there's the X-Men. For as involved as the series later became, the early issues are much more simplistic, and to be fair, it was really when writer Chris Claremont took over the series in the '70s that much of what it's famous for came to be. And there are some striking differences in these early issues! For example, the X-Men are known today as anti-heroes, battling discrimination for being mutants while at the same time trying to protect a public that generally hates and fears them. But in one of the early issues I read, the X-Men were working with a general in the army to help battle some evil mutants, and the male members of the team were considered heartthrobs by teenage girls. That's much different from today's X-Men. The comic originally was not a success, and after a certain number of issues they began reprinting older stories in the newer issues of the comic (issues #67-97 were reprints of older stories).

Then there's The Hulk, who started out grey, not green, and tranformed from his alter-ego, Bruce Banner, not when he got angry, but at night. The original Hulk was much more articulate, though still brutish, and had a deathwish towards humanity, remarking in one issue that he wanted to use the power of an alien spacecraft to wipe humanity out (speaking of alien spacecraft, this seemed to be a common occurrance in old Marvel comics: attempted alien invasions. It happened not only in the Hulk issue I mentioned, but in an old Spider-Man issue as well. And let's not forget the Skrull from the Fantastic Four). I've read the first 3 or 4 Hulk comics, and the main focus of them so far is Bruce Banner's attempts, with the help of friend Rick Jones, to prevent the Hulk from running amok at night and hurting innocent people. At one point they construct an underground vault to lock Banner in so that when he becomes the Hulk, he can't get out.

I've also read some old "What If?" issues that pose some interesting questions about the well-known characters (for example, "What if Doctor Doom had become a hero?"), and I have some Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and Avengers issues to read as well. And then there's the old '80s Star Trek series by DC...oh man, I love that stuff.

But the one thing these digital comics don't provide is that old comic book smell. If you've ever spent any significant time reading comics, you know what I mean. It instantly takes me back to a simpler time. But on the plus side, it's a whole lot easier to store a few thousand comics books on a handful of DVDs than in those long white comic book boxes.

Comments

Rob said…
Hey Al,

There are times that I miss that old nostalgia of comic books (I've since gotten rid of, or lost, most all of the books I used to collect) and yeah, you are right on about that old smell of newsprint. In fact, I'd take that a step further: I miss the nostalgia of 60 cent comics from the local drugstore (with a UPC stamp on the cover instead of the direct distribution 'Spidey face' in the little square, remember that?) and I miss that simplistic, pulpy paper and the simple color printing that didn't always line up with the black lines (remember that?). Comics today are about digital precision and paying top dollar for it, and I just miss that old, old simplistic printing.

Comics today have become far to violent, amoral, and devoid of any real quality, and not only did I abandon collecting years ago, but I don't even want my kids going near them (aside from some of the "easy-reader" Batman titles you can find in the children section of the library). At Borders recently, my daughter was looking at a shelf of comic TPB covers and asked me, "Why does everyone look so sad and angry?" I think she caught on as to why the industry has totally fallen.
MyLifeAndCode said…
IMHO, there's a place for comic books aimed at adults, but I think the classic characters that we grew up with should still be all-ages and kid-friendly. I liked "The Dark Knight Returns", which wasn't really a kids book, but it wasn't part of the regular monthly Batman series, so I think that's okay. I have nothing against dark and gritty, but when EVERYTHING is dark and gritty...well, I'm not into that. I think there should be variety, and that the books we read as kids should still be comic books that kids can read. What's happening is that people who grew up reading these comics are now writing them, and making them more adult-oriented. They don't have to be fluffy kids stuff, but I want my kid to be able to pick up Spider-Man and not read a bunch of sexual innuendo (and yeah, I know he gets exposed to that in other places, but still). Anyway, I'm definitely not trying to preach or censor or anything like that -- it's just my opinion that the classic all-ages books should remain all-ages. There's a fanbase for more adult-oriented comics, and more dark comics, and it's all good -- but let's let the kids of today have the same kid-friendly experiences we had when we were reading comics at that age. End of rant. :)
Ed said…
Dude, just grab an old comic and hold it up to your nose whilst reading your digital copies. ( I finally got to use whilst in a sentence!!!)

I still have 9 boxes of my old comics bagged and boarded. Not for any financial worth, (I think I already paid more than I will ever get for them).
I am keeping them around for when my kids are of age and hopefully have an interest in reading them. Hopefully by then the stories will seem fresh to me again, I read most of them like 3 or 4 times when I was younger.

X-men and Spidey and Batman where my favorites.
What If? was a great series.
I was also big on "The Defenders" an offshoot of the X-Men when Beast, Iceman and Angel formed their own team. Beast had a very funny personality in this run. Beast started in this group around issue 110. Soon after was renamed as "The New Defenders".
"Ambush Bug" was also good for some comic relief.


Damn, I might just pull out The Defenders tonight...
MyLifeAndCode said…
I remember The Defenders! I had a really old issue, the title of the story was "Like a Death Ray From The Sky" (or something like that), and I had an issue of "The New Defenders" too. That one had a character named Cloud, who was this nude chick that had clouds around her unmentionables. Not sure what her powers were. Maybe "the power of distraction"? I dunno.

I remember Ambush Bug but never read any of his stuff.

Just got the first Captain America issues, but haven't read them. Read the first Iron Man story this weekend.

Did you ever hear of "DC Challenge"? It was this 12-issue series where each issue was written and drawn by a different team, and they'd leave cliffhangers for the next team to tie up.
Ed said…
Yeah, the cloud chick was a nice distraction.

Cap was decent, looks like the new movie should be good, Thor is the one I'm dying to see though.

Never read DC Challenge, sounds like a good concept as long as they don't use a cheap out from the previous cliff hanger.
MyLifeAndCode said…
There was a cliffhanger in DC Challenge that none of the initial teams could solve, so they ended up passing it on to the next group, and the next, etc. I stopped collecting before the series was over, so I don't know if they ever resolved this.

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