Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Gone Forever

I was born in 1957. I grew up reading comics. The first comic book that I can actually recall reading was the Jesse Marsh adaptation of JOHN CARTER, WARLORD OF MARS that appeared from Dell Comics. If memory serves me, I think my mom’s mother bought it for me during the only time she ever visited our home. But it could have been someone else who bought it—I would have been about four years old at that time. At any rate, it’s the first comic I ever saw, and I liked the thoats of Barsoom because they reminded me of dinosaurs, which were my passion (even at four years old).

The next comic books I ever received were several copies of FANTASTIC FOUR that my dad picked up for me at a used bookstore when I was around five or six years old. These were issue numbers 3, 4, and 12. I really enjoyed these, especially the character known as Ben Grimm/The Thing.

By the time I was seven years old, my family had moved from Brunswick to Atlanta where my parents had opened a used bookstore. It was there that my dad quickly began to accumulate well over 100,000 comic books. And so my childhood was filled with being able to read just about any comic you can name that appeared between the mid-1950s until the time he opened the shop—1965.

What amazes me now is that there were so many kinds of comic books. I had at my pleasure science comics (CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED WORLD AROUND US), adventure comics, superhero comics, funny animal comics, romance comics, war comics, science fiction comics, fantasy comics, movie comics, TV comics, humor comics, crime comics, monster comics, animal comics, detective comics, western comics, history comics...just about anything you could imagine was being done in comics form. When I go to comic conventions these days, I find that there are pretty much no comic books published between 1957 and 1975 that I haven’t read at least once. In that way, I led a really cool childhood.

Today, when I walk into a comic book shop, I find the variety of comics to be extremely limited. The industry is completely dominated by superhero comics. I don’t have anything against that little genre, as such, but it’s a shame that it’s just about the only game in town. Even something as once dominant as funny animal and children’s comics are pretty much gone forever. Gone are Wendy, Casper, Hot Stuff, Pogo, Bugs Bunny, Tweety & Sylvester, Little Archie, Sad Sack, Dennis the Menace, Melvin the Monster, Little Lulu, and their type.

Slowly, over the years, the many other publishers of comic books relinquished their market shares to Marvel Comics and DC Comics. Dell faded. Gold Key left. Charlton failed. Harvey Comics vanished. Archie Comics has shriveled from the racks to retreat to digests, it seems. Classics Illustrated became extinct. Even Disney characters can now be found only in trade paperback format.

I keep wondering if, perhaps, comic books could make a comeback in something like their old form. But the older I get, the more I have to realize that this will likely never happen. For one thing, it’s so damned expensive to produce a comic book these days. Even the most awful of formats is a slim version of its old self—termed the “floppy” by the folk who sell them. At more than $3 an issue, how can kids afford to buy them? A dime or twelve cents or even fifteen cents was something just about any kid could scrape together every week. But several bucks for a comic book? No wonder there’s so little variety on the comic racks these days.

I’m not begrudging the folk who make their livings at creating comics. Far from it. They deserve to earn a decent paycheck. But it’s sad to think of everything the past couple of generations of kids have lost by not having the selection of comic books that I experienced when I was growing up.

Unfortunately, I don't see them ever coming back.

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