Thursday, July 03, 2008
When I was a kid I was surrounded by comic books. No. Really. I was.
My dad owned a used bookstore on Highland Avenue in Atlanta, Georgia that opened when I was seven years old. From the time I was in the second grade until the time I stopped selling collectibles for a living in my late 30s, I was, quite literally, surrounded by famous four color comics.When my dad opened his first used bookshop, he was buying old comics for two cents each. His first store was in a predominately Jewish neighborhood in Atlanta and the moms filed into the store selling their kids' legacies by the boxload. The funny books piled up. Until my dad had to rent a warehouse across the street to sort and house the overflow. So I had the comics. Boy, did I have the comics.
There was no need for me to have my own collection. All I had to do was walk into the store or plunder through the warehouse or wander into whatever part of the house my dad was using to store box after box of old comic books. Indeed, at one point our living room was packed wall to wall and floor to ceiling with comics. This was in addition to the ones in the store and in the warehouse. YOW! So I read everything! And I mean EVERYTHING! It's very difficult for me to locate a comic book published between the mid-50s and the the late 70s that I didn't read at least once.
If it was a comic book I likely went through a phase when I had to have my hands on it and read it cover to cover, every issue I could find in some box or bag or overloaded shelf. I would go through different phases during which I'd be fascinated by one or another type of comic book. And when I was a kid, there was an astounding variety of comics. You want westerns? We had westerns. You want crime comics? We had crime comics. You want war comics? Gosh, did we have war comics! You want funny animal comics? We had those, too! Romance comics? Ick! (But they were there, in droves.) Classics adaptations? Yep! I grew up reading them all, at my whim. It was a dream come true for just about any kid. And I lived it!
But through the years, my favorite single humor comic was MELVIN MONSTER. It was published by Dell, and was written and illustrated by the brilliant John Stanley. I'd first encountered Stanley's work in Little Lulu and the various spinoffs from that title. I especially liked his Witch Hazel stories which were, in retrospect, a kind of precursor for his Melvin the Monster character.
Melvin was, to me, hilarious. He was a monster kid who lived in Monsterville with his monster parents, Baddy and Mummy. Melvin had no siblings but did have a pet crocodile who was forever trying to eat him. And Damon, his guardian demon. Occasionally, he interacted with normal people, to whom he referred to as "Human Beans". For years, I didn't quite know why I so identified with Melvin and why I found his stories so utterly appealing. But, finally, I figured it all out:It was that I identified with him because my own family was so much like Melvin's. We were just fucking weird, is all. We lived in a Christian society, but we weren't Christians. Other kids I knew had parents who had normal nine to five jobs. Not mine. My parents ran a bookstore and didn't punch a clock. My parents were cynics and leftists and didn't trust the government and hated almost all elected officials. Most folk I knew were racists and hated anyone who wasn't white. Not my parents. Oh, no. Not only didn't they believe in any god, they also didn't feel any hatred toward non-whites. We, like Melvin and his family, were not members of the "Human Beans". We were the odd folk out.
I also subconsciously saw my daddy in Melvin's Baddy. They even looked alike! Baddy was loud and very tall with jet black hair and had crappy table manners. My dad was loud and very tall with jet black hair and had crappy table manners.
It's no wonder that today I still read MELVIN MONSTER comics. They don't make me laugh out loud like they did when I was a kid (really! they did!). But I get a wonderfully warm nostalgic feeling when I read them. Sometimes, when I'm comfortable and sitting back with a copy, I'm a kid again, reading MELVIN MONSTER in the den at our house on Mead Road in Decatur Georgia. It's 1965. I'm eight years old. There's a stack of Famous Monsters of Filmland on the table, and dinosaur comics in STAR SPANGLED WAR STORIES waiting to be read. But first there's Melvin Monster.