I can’t recall if I’ve ever told my “learning to read” story here. I’ll have to do some searching and if not, tell that story at another time. It’s probably clear to those who visit here that comic books played a vital role in my learning to read experience.
When I first started reading comics, I had to buy them off the spinner racks at the local Stop N Robs. When I was in 7th grade, however, a friend introduced me to something that would forever change my life: the comic back issue. For those unsure, a comic “back issue” is simply an old comic. It could be months or it could be years, but it simply isn’t “new” anymore.
One day while at my friend’s house (we didn’t live near—I’d stay at his house after school sometimes until my dad got off work and would come pick me up. Or I’d spend the night with him and go to school the next day and just ride my own bus back home), we walked several blocks to a sidewalk mall. There was a used bookstore there, and within the bookstore; there were a few boxes of comics. My first trip there, I spent all the money I had on me—which wasn’t very much, of course—but it caused me to want to earn more money so I could buy more back issues (this is what drove me to cut so much grass as a kid—but that’s another story!).
Within a few short months, I learned of the flea market that featured a few vendors there who carried more than just the 4 or 5 boxes at the used bookstore. Shortly after that—before I could drive—I learned of the comic shop and my mom would take me sometimes. Never as much as I wanted, but I did get to go. Once I was able to drive, the comic shop was a weekly destination.
You have to understand that in this pre-internet age, the newsstand dominated distribution and if you were unlucky enough to miss the issue (even of regular magazines!) while it was out, tough luck. I was a big Marvel fan in those days and they always had the editorial notes that pointed me to issues in the past, issues that I wanted because I wanted to know what had happened to the characters that I loved to read about. Discovering there was an outlet to actually find and purchase those back issues was a real revelation for me and changed my “reading” habit into a collecting one. It was at this used bookstore that I saw the first bagged comic (I don’t remember when I first saw backing boards, but I’m sure it was sometime considerably later) and realized that the better condition a book was in, the more value it had. Often I couldn’t afford those in the best condition, but I didn’t want those in poor condition either—I was going to READ it after all.
Of course, we know what my comic reading/collecting turned in to.
That friend who took me to the used bookstore that first time? Barry Gregory. My second oldest friend that I still keep in touch with (the oldest, Duane Holland, only has him beat by about two years) is now a comic creator in his own right and the co-owner of Ka-Blam, the premier POD service for comics! I’ll have to write up an entry about Barry and our budding comic career sometime in the future…but that was not today’s story.