Friday, 11 June 2021


All images copyright their respective owners

Truthfully, when I accepted our host's kind offer to write a guest post, I had no idea what I was going to write about.  A favourite comic from yesteryear?  There are plenty of other blogs which do that.  Desert Island Comics, where I do my best Roy Plomley impersonation and decide what eight issues I'd like to read if I was shipwrecked and washed up on the shores of Krakoa?  Terrible idea.

I recently read Danny Fingeroth's biography of Stan Lee, A Marvelous Life, which – as well as being a great read and one I'd readily recommend – had me thinking about my own relationship with comics and how that had changed over the years.  Why not write about that then?

When I was young, I read the Beano, sometimes the Dandy and occasionally the Beezer.  They were the funniest things I could ever imagine; irreverent, out-rageous, sometimes topical and occasionally baffling.  I could (and did) spend hours reading and re-reading a single issue, until I knew it probably better than its editor.

Later, comics came to be things of wonder.  I read epic stories of men in iron armour, of gods defending the Earth, astronauts made fantastic by cosmic radiation, heroes who ran at the speed of light, and my mind marvelled at these paragons of power, men and women who lived lives so different from mine.  I often glanced into the sky, hoping to see some strange visitor from another world streak through the air, but it was always only a bird or a plane.

After that, excitement became the foremost feeling that these newsprint nonpareils inspired in me.  Excitement which doubled and redoubled in the weeks between issues: how would Iron Man survive his latest threat? Were the Fantastic Four really beaten?  Concerns like these obsessed me to the extent that, when I got my frantic fingers on the next issue, I'd often be gripped with a sudden tension – what I would now describe as the dentist's-waiting-room feeling – as though even opening the comic would expose me to the same peril as the heroes.

Later still, comics became a habit.  I read certain titles because... well, because I'd been reading them for several years.  I no longer found them wondrous or exciting, but I stumbled on, not quite understanding why it didn't quite feel right.  Then, a week came around where I didn't have the money to buy my weekly issues, and that broke the spell.  I stopped reading comics, and I didn't miss them.

But, this interest that we share has a habit of drawing you back in.  Years later, I dug out treasured volumes of Origins of Marvel Comics, Son of Origins and Bring on the Bad Guys.  I read them, and it felt right again.  I no longer worried about the welfare of the characters, I just enjoyed them for what they were: fun!

These days I look at my small collection of back issues and appreciate the craft and skill that so many creators put into them.  I have on occasion watched Antiques Roadshow, saw art experts fawning over a painting and thought "John Buscema could do better", or wondered why Curt Swan isn't a household name.

I also find that I'm now much more interested in the creators themselves and the often fascinating lives they lead.  Did you know for example that Gardner Fox practised as a lawyer?  That letterer Gaspar Saladino was for many years a volunteer fireman, or that Herb Trimpe once made an emergency landing in the biplane he owned and piloted and was rescued by a man whose surname was Marvel?

One of the ideas I had when pondering what to write for this post was to choose a random comic from my box and burble on about it.  The comic that I closed my eyes and picked out was Rawhide Kid #1 from 1985.  I bought my original issue a couple of years after that in one of those second-hand bookshops that used to be dotted around, with precarious piles of paperbacks from floor to ceiling, stacks upon stacks of comics and usually a dim area near the back where furtive-looking men would lurk, pretending not to look at porn mags.

For anyone who has never read this comic, its not your typical Western.  It's set in 1897, the dying days of the Old West, and the Rawhide Kid is no longer a kid: he's a middle-aged man, stricken by arthritis and half-remembered as a legend by the aged.  We see the Kid encounter a primitive car and feel his unease at the changes coming over his world.

As 12 year old, I though it was interesting and a little sad.  I found it funny that the Kid was grumpy, and I laughed when his false teeth fell out in a fight.  Now, more than three decades later, this comic strikes different notes with me.  It shows a man trying to understand the changes happening all around him.  It shows him despairing at the foolishness of younger people while remembering his own youthful errors of judgement.  We see disdain and lack of respect for the elderly.

It shows us a man who, after all he has lived through, makes contact with an old friend and recognises how important the shared memories of simpler times can be.  The Kid notices a small town expanding into something larger and wonders whether all the fences he sees are there to protect the privileged or exclude those who are different.

In short, this 36 year old comic, written by the oft-maligned Bill Mantlo, brings up a lot of concerns that many people still ponder every day in our uncertain modern world.

And this, I think, leads to my present relationship with comics: I no longer worry whether Captain America will defuse a bomb in time, or if Adam Warlock will survive his latest psychological assault, but I can still read old comics and find enjoyment, relevance, charm, life lessons and gorgeous art by talented draughtsmen (Herb Trimpe and John Severin in this case).  I don't take comics for granted, or too seriously, or read them through any sense of obligation, but when I do look at them, it is for sheer pleasure.  I feel that I've come full circle, back to the days when I read comics for no other reason than that I loved doing so.

These days, we live in a society where everyone can send their opinions worldwide at the click of a mouse or a tap of a phone screen (and think how strange that sentence would have sounded thirty years ago!).  Much of the time, this can be a joy – people can debate, argue (in the philosophical sense of the word) or share knowledge and learn from each other.

Sometimes though there are those lurking online who only want to bring others down or show off that (in their opinion) they know more, understand better, or are just superior to the rest of us.  I'll finish with a quote from Rawhide Kid #1 where Mr. Mantlo sums up such people more eloquently than I ever could.

"Leo Wade bought his first pair of sixguns this afternoon.  He practiced all afternoon, hoping for another crack at the Rawhide Kid.  Now he's got the chance and he means to put his money where his mouth is.  Some men are born fools."


Didn't he do well?!  Be sure and let Dave S know just how much you appreciate all his hard work in writing this post, fellow Crivvies.


MK said...

Excellent article. Long time reader not very often commentator. Summed up my early comic reading perfectly. My lack of previous comments is no criticism of other blog entries!!

Philip Crawley said...

Really enjoyed this guest post, which in many ways mirrored my own relationship with comics over the years. I have a box, or two, full of bagged and boarded back issues, but it's the collected Marvel Masterworks volumes that I find myself taking down from the shelf to read (in order to preserve my ageing originals).

In regard to the trolls that you mention at the end - I hold these people in utter contempt, those complete waste of space individuals who use the annonymity of the ineternet to vent their mean spirited cruelty and sarcasm - complete cowards the lot of them!

Though my collection is no doubt overshadowed by many a collector out there I still treasure the titles I have and would not trade or sell them. I pity those people who consider themselves 'grown up' because, in part, they have abandoned such 'childish' things as comics - in my opinion losing that child-like sense of wonder and appreciation of such things is the path to an early grave - think young and live longer! Look how long Stan Lee lasted.

Kid said...

Don't worry, DS - er, I mean MK - we won't hold it against you.


Indeed, PC. We must never lose our spirit of youth when it comes to such things. They're what makes living worthwhile. I love the Masterworks and Omnibus volumes, as well as the Epic Collections, because they make reading those classics easy. Sometimes, however, I feel compelled to dig out an original issue, and savour the experience that only an actual comic can bring.

McSCOTTY said...

I really enjoyed reading your article Dave as it succinctly traced my own (and no doubt most folks) journey through the stages of comic buying (and aging 😊 ) right up until the present day from viewing comics as things of wonder onto them being a habit, to losing interest and finally onto to an appreciation of the genre. It’s just a pity we can’t go back to viewing them as “things of wonder” again, that was fun wasn’t it?

I find trolls in general to be sad folk and all then more so those adults that troll folk about comics , I mean its comics getting so upset and aggressive because someone doesn't like a comic they like is just beyond understanding to me.

I missed that Rawhide Kid comic first time around and keep meaning to pick it up, but after your review I will be redoubling my efforts to track it down. I also need to redouble my efforts on writing for my own blog after this masterclass - brilliant stuff.

Kid said...

Good to see DS's article getting the appreciation it deserves, McS. I seem to remember YOU saying you'd do a guest post a good while back. Started yet? No doubt DS will respond to everyone's comments himself when he gets a moment - I've just jumped in so that no one feels ignored.

Colin Jones said...

I too stopped reading comics (around 1983) and eventually came back again (in 2007) even though I'm only a sporadic reader this time around.

Kid said...

Then you probably have Sporadica, CJ. You can get some pills for it in Boots.

Dave S said...

Thanks for the kind words everyone, glad to hear you enjoyed reading my ramblings.

Kid, you picked out the perfect images for the post!

McScotty- I only read issues 2-4 a few years back, and the whole series is worth reading. I wouldn't imagine it's too hard to track down. Its printed on lovely slightly grainy paper too, as opposed to the slick stuff that became the in-thing later on.

Another little nugget is that, according to Marvel's sales manager at the time, Carol Kalish, Marvel didn't expect to make any money from the Rawhide Kid mini, but approved it as a thank you to Bill Mantlo for the loyalty he had shown to the company. I would imagine that that probably wouldn't happen nowadays.

Kid said...

It might be worth seeing if it was reprinted in a collected edition, DS & McS. I've got the original four comics, but I'd buy a book containing the issues if I saw one.

Kid said...

By the way, DS, I'd heard good things about Danny Fingeroth's book a while back and meant to buy it, but hadn't yet got around to it. However, your recommendation spurred me to get the finger out and a paperback copy is now winging its way to me.

Dave S said...

I really enjoyed it, Kid, especially the chapters that cover the Timely and Atlas eras.

Kid said...

I've read a few books about Stan over the years (not the recent negative one), DS, so I'm really looking forward to it arriving.

Kid said...

Hell's bells, DS, that was fast. Only ordered it yesterday, arrived about 25 minutes ago. I'm just off to the 'wee room' to have a browse through it. (The book, not the wee room. And wee as in small, not - well, you know what I mean.)

Dave S said...

Hope you enjoy it- I think it benefits from being written by someone who worked in the comics industry for many years.

Kid said...

It certainly seems fair to Stan and his co-creators from what I've read so far, DS.

baggsey said...

Great article, Dave. Have just bought the 4-issue Rawhide Kid mini series from eBay for $5 on the strength of your recommendation…..looking forward to reading them. Reading your article, it really does seem that a lot of us followed the same track - collecting comics voraciously in our teens, then selling them all in our early twenties, only returning to them later in life. For me now, the interest now is as much in the lives and aspirations of the creators themselves as it is in the nostalgia of revisiting old comics or being surprised by the quality of something I missed 40-plus years ago. But I’m not blind to some excellent stuff that is coming out each month such as That Texas Blood by Chris Condon & Jacob Phillips, or Chip Zdarsky’s writing on Daredevil, or Tom King and Jorge Fornes on Rorschach.
I’ll look out for Danny Fingeroth’s book.

Kid said...

I always feel as if I've returned to the past when I pick up something for the first time that came out 20 or 30 years ago, but I didn't buy then. Strange, eh? Of course, I also feel that way when I replace an old comic I used to have decades ago, or even re-read one I've had for years. Maybe not so strange after all.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...