A writer friend of mine is moving to the west coast, and posted online that he was trying to unload a lot of his books and comics because it was too much to move. Books I have enough of but the comics piqued my interest.
When I was younger (roughly 11-16 years old), I used to collect a lot of comics. I’d save my allowance, save up my lunch money, scavenge cans and bottles for 5 cents each, and then every Friday I’d go to the comic shop and pick up my haul. Mostly I read Marvel, some Image, and a handful of DC titles.
I’d regularly read Spider-Man, X-Men, Punisher, New Mutants, Wolverine… generally super-hero stuff. Occasionally I’d ask the people behind the counter what was good to read and they’d look me over and point me to more superhero comics. I didn’t have a problem with superheroes per se, but everything was starting to look and feel the same. Comics were starting to feel predictable. I read several series that didn’t last long. I read a lot of stuff that just wasn’t very interesting, and every time I asked what was good I’d get pointed to another series with a guy in tights.
By the time I graduated high school in 1993 I’d pretty much stopped collecting, only buying the occasional issue that caught my eye. I’d basically given up on comics because I thought that they were all the same.
Fast forward several years. I’d read a book called Good Omens, written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, because I was (and still am) a huge Pratchett fan. Over time I heard Neil’s name come up fairly often, and picked up another book of his called Neverwhere, a novelization of a TV series that he’d written. I loved it. When I asked a friend about him, he said Gaiman was one of his favourites, at which point I brought up the fact that he hadn’t written very much. My friend said “Not novels, no, but there’s Sandman.”
I’m so glad I asked him,”What’s Sandman?”
Sandman blew my mind. I picked up the first collection grumbling about how expensive it was (I almost put it back on the shelf), because I knew I could get two new novels for the same price. I expected it to suck. I expected it to meet absolutely none of my expectations. I expected to hate my friend for encouraging me to spend so much money on something I couldn’t possibly enjoy. I never expected that I’d be going back the next day (having stayed up until 3am reading the entirety of the first volume) for the second collection in the series, or that I’d be going back two days later with my credit card so that I could buy the rest. I did my best to make them last but I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I’d never before seen such an incredible story told with pictures.
I learned over the following years that I’d missed a lot while I was reading the comics I was reading as a young teen. I learned, way too late, that comics aren’t just about the title or the character on the cover, that comics have writers, and that some are more to my taste than others. I’ve spent the last few years trying to give myself an education in comics, learning that there are writers who consistently impress me (Gaiman, Moore, Ellis, and some newer faces) but there’s a lot to catch up on.
I can’t believe that I gave up on comics having never read Watchmen. I can’t believe I gave up on comics while Sandman was in it’s prime. I’m not surprised that nobody pointed the twelve-year-old me in the direction of those titles, but I’m upset that the fifteen year old me didn’t ask better questions, or that I didn’t find them for myself. I’m very happily learning that some of the greatest stories told have been told in monthly issues with art on every page.
I was happy to go to my friend’s house and look over his comics and get more suggestions as to what was worth reading. We seem to have similar tastes in a lot of ways, and it was great to have someone around who could point me in the direction of what would interest me, and it didn’t hurt to get it for much less than it would have cost me to get them all new at a store. I came away with a huge pile of stuff, some continuations of series I’ve already started (Transmetropolitan), some I’d heard of and have been looking to pick up (Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing, some Batman), and a whole lot of stuff I’ve never heard of at all (Finder, Zot!, Wormwood).
I’m looking forward to all of them, especially now that I have two weeks off to make the most of it. And all this just in time for Comic Con this weekend, which should be lots of fun. It looks like it’s going to be much bigger than last year’s edition.