Tuesday, 20 November 2012


BARRY PEARL is as fine a chap as you could ever hope to meet -
even 'though I've never actually met him. However, I feel that I have,
through our email interchanges, in which Barry has kindly tolerated and
indulged my annoying tendency to edit everything* he writes. Which, it
has to be said, is no reflection on the standard of Barry's writing (after all,
he's just written an introduction to one of the MARVEL MASTERWORKS
volumes) - it's just that I can't help myself; I automatically edit everything I
read as I'm reading it. Give me a shopping list and I'll edit it for spelling,
grammar and punctuation. What can I say? It's a disease, I tell you!

(*It goes without saying that I'm indulging in hyperbole - I don't literally
mean 'everything' he writes - it just probably seems that way to Barry.)

Anyway, Barry is the host of a great blog called Barry's Pearls of Comic
Book Wisdom (which you should all check out), and he graciously acceded
to my request to write something about himself for my own humble blog.
So, without further ado, here's Part One of what Barry has kindly cooked
up for our entertainment and edification. Take it away, Barry...


Kid Robson is one of several
friends, colleagues and editors I
have happily met on the internet.
He asked me to write something
about myself, so I thought I'd
tell the hidden story of how I
became interested in comics,
left them for a while and had a
funny return. The secret thread
of the entire story is my
weird memory.

My family moved to Nashville,
Tennessee and then Kentucky
for business reasons when I
was a mere youngster.

The first movie my parents ever took me to was Fantasia, and that's where
the memory thread begins to click in. If I can remember the movie I can tell you
what movie theatre I saw it in. In fact, I could probably tell you on what TV set I
have seen most TV shows. Fantasia began the development, for me, of a love of
visual storytelling, be it drawn or live-action. I love that movie, its colours, its
music and its abstractness, which would stay with me for my entire life.

My Aunt Gussie and Uncle Leon,
in Woodside, Queens, N.Y., owned
an old-fashioned candy store.
They would send my brother and
me boxes of candy and comic-
books. The first comic at the top
of the very first box we received,
was Lois Lane #1, where she was
flying like a witch on the cover. I
was too young to read it at the
time. Very soon after, however,
we travelled back to New York,
to a very strange place known as
Brooklyn, and on the trip my father
bought me World’s Finest #102,
featuring 'The Caveman from
Krypton', the first comic I ever
read. I loved it. I even loved the Tommy Tomorrow back-up strip.

I can tell you that I got the chicken pox in the spring of 1959 only because
I remember my mother buying me a comic to take my mind off the itching
and stop me from scratching. It was Challengers of the Unknown #8, my
first encounter with Jack Kirby and Wally Wood, although I didn't know it
at the time. That's when I fell in love with comics. I then began to use my aunt’s
candy store as a library, reading dozens of comics several times a month!
But nothing was as good as Challengers….until Marvel got started.

At first, being so young, I kind of thought that Charlton, ACG and
Marvel (which wasn't called Marvel then) were the same company. This was
because their stories were similar, they often used the same artists and their
comics weren't as brightly coloured as DC's. But soon Marvel began to distin-
guish itself, first in better anthology stories and later with great superheroes.
I loved them, having finally found stories as well-written and drawn as the
Challengers. Of course, those first ones were the Fantastic Four, also
drawn by Jack Kirby (who I still didn’t know at the time).

I lived in a small room, no bigger than four single beds with my brother.
There was only so much space to keep my comics, baseball cards and
records. My mother would let me know when I got to my limits by throwing
out my comics! Including Lois Lane #1 and the Brave and the Bold #
28-30 (Justice League). So I had to decide which ones to keep. Let me
tell the reasons I decided to keep my Marvels.

First, I really, really liked them. Second, Marvels had continued stories
and a growing continuity. It was great fun to pull out a bunch of comics and
read them all in order. But there were other more important reasons. I was
there at the beginning. There is a 'completist' gene that many collectors
have and I knew that I could never have all the Superman, Batman, and
Archie comics. ( I started with World’s Finest #102 and Superman #
132.) However, I could have all the Marvels. Fantastic Four #1; the first
Spider-man (Amazing Fantasy #15); The first Thor (Journey Into
Mystery #83), etc.! I loved that I was there at the beginning!

Finally, 50 years ago, I had a long stay in the hospital. I wrote Stan
Lee a fan letter with a funny parody poem, 'The Rhyme of the Sub-
Mariner'. Stan and Flo Steinberg, his assistant, sent me a nice letter
(above) and stack of comics for me to read. I was hooked.

To thank them, I started writing what eventually became 'The
Essential Marvel Age Reference Book'. I took every Marvel comic-
book, as it came out, and wrote an index card featuring its plot, references,
credits, dates, history and what-not. I kept a separate file of cards for all
the guest appearances. I also kept pages of notes and quotes that became
the first part of my book.

By 1977, Stan, Kirby, Ditko and several other great contributors had
either already left Marvel or had begun to leave - and so did I. My aunt’s
candy store also closed, so no more library. I estimated at that time that
I had read about 15,000 comics, most of them from my aunt’s store. The
stories and even the printing were not what they used to be. I now needed
a typist to retype my book and I needed illustrations. So I put everything
aside and gave up on current comics. I still kept up the hunt for older
ones 'though, which I enjoyed more.

I was very bad with computers and never got the hang of DOS, but
when Windows came out with pictures, icon and sounds, it clicked into my
memory, just like movies and comics did. So, at the turn of the millennium,
after being in storage for a quarter of century, I took out my comics. What
prompted that? I went to a comicbook store just to look around and saw
that there were books such as 'The Justice League Companion' and the
'Warren Companion'. I thought that if there should ever be a 'Marvel
Companion' and it wasn't written by me after all that work, I’d hate
myself! So I learned desktop publishing and started working
on my book!
The white story cards and the orange tabs were 'merged' to become this sort of page (above)
from my book. Below you will note that I typed character appearances onto blue cards and
they became my character map pages. I did this every month as the comics actually came
out - and as I read them - for over 15 years. 

When I finished my first draft, I sent a copy
to Stan Lee, complete with a photocopy of the
letter he'd sent me a half a century ago. And he
sent me a wonderful reply. He was also to say
he was so glad he sent me the comics and he
made me an F.F.F., a Fearless Front-Facer,
the highest rank of Marvel. We also began
emailing, which we do to this day.

And that leads to a funny part of the story.


And be sure to join us for that funny story (and
a lot more besides) when we publish Part Two
of Barry's fascinating reminiscences in our very
next blog post - at this link!

(Click on images to enlarge. In select cases, click again for optimum size.) 

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