A Writer’s Biography, Volume I, Part 3: Comic Book Days.

I wound up buying a comic book today when I was in the Quad Cities running some errands. (For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, here’s a couple primers.) I realized today that this was the first comic book I’ve bought in about 20 years. It might even be 25, but it’s at least 20.

Before I get into why I purchased the particular comic book pictured, I have to tell you how comics were a major part of what I read when I was younger. In the choice between DC and Marvel, in the end I was a Marvel guy. I loved the tales of the X-Men in particular, this idea of people with superpowers representing outsiders and those feared by society. The comic book writers of the late 20th century got endless mileage out of that idea, almost like how the WWE got endless mileage for years from the conflict between labor (Stone Cold) and ownership (Vince McMahon). However, a biography piece on wrestling’s influence in my life is another bio entry for another time.

As I said, I was a Marvel guy in my heart (who may have even bought a Captain America comic once), but when I heard about The Dark Knight Returns I immediately had to go to the bookstore to thumb through it, then to the library to check it out. This was revolutionary stuff, and I became a disciple of Frank Miller’s writing. I immediately attempted to try and find more examples of comic book coolness, which included a couple of collections of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles run and some other books.

You have to realize that as this comic book revolution that had started in the 70’s and ramped up in earnest during the 1980’s and 90’s was something that was more of a rumor to me than an actual fact. I grew up in Iowa during the 1980’s and 90’s. Comic book stores were exotic places that I went to once a year on visits to Iowa City and Davenport. The Internet and smartphones didn’t exist. When I eventually went to college, I was literally the last college student in America not to have email, which would have been very helpful in keeping in contact with my future wife.

So with all of that, I had to do some digging, going to libraries to find the cool collections of comics or histories of comic books. Later, I’d find the more hip bookstores of Iowa City would have plenty of “graphic novels,” and I really started to dig the stories I found there. I discovered Watchmen there well after the fact, and dug the idea of a superhero reimagining – as well as a history re-imagining. I read Maus for the first time and realized how the medium could affect how you told a story.

Over time, my tastes in comics changed. I boxed up the comic books I’d collected in a plastic container 20 years ago and they’ve stayed there ever since. There’s dozens of them there, but the entire box was barely worth about $20 worth when I had them appraised a few years ago. (I sold the one comic that was worth $10 and kept the rest.) I got away from continuing series and liked graphic novels that told extended stories yet eventually came to a conclusion. I also started developing a taste for independent comic books, like Love and Rockets, The Crow, and others.

Superhero stories were not what I was buying, although 10 years or so ago I saw a collection of the Starman series by James Robinson and Tony Harris that blew my mind, how it showed the growth of a new superhero in a city that became just as vital as Gotham or New York had been in previous comics. And I’ve been impressed by the film adaptations of the MCU and DC’s efforts. (Trust me, they make far better adaptations of comics than they did years ago.)

I still have a collection of these and some other great books I’ve collected, including the last volume of Strangers In Paradise. One of the happiest times in recent years was my daughter’s discovery of those books in one of my bookcases. She proceeded to liberate them from my shelves and they were in her room for the better part of the year.

Even though I’m not sure I’ll probably ever write in the graphic novel format, I do appreciate how the medium attracts creative people trying to expand what can be done with the idea of graphic stories in general and superhero stories in particular. I had heard about Black Mask Studios being this new publisher that was experimenting with new ideas, not just trying to tell the same stories over again with the same characters. And when I heard that they were doing a comic, Black, that told the story of a world where only black people had superpowers, bringing new life to the old ideas hinted at in X-Men – well, that got my attention.

Why shouldn’t I support that type of creativity? So, I got out and bought Chapter Six (the last one) of Book One of Black. Not that I’m collecting comics or anything. For one, it was only $5.99. Second, they didn’t have a graphic novel collection of it. But, I’d be interested in one whenever it comes out.

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