Thursday, December 30, 2010

We Interrupt This Blog For A Burst of Cranial Flurry . . .

By The Comic Book Pusher

A customer came in the store a few minutes ago and asked for current-size comic book bags and boards. Not only do we carry a wide variety of collecting supplies, we happen to be having a sale on those items right now. I told him he could save more in the long run by buying two, because the third one would be free.
    "I really don't need that many," he said blandly.
    "Ah, but you will eventually need them," I said enthusiastically, "and you'll have saved yourself a lot of money in the long run," I encouraged.
   "Wow," he said, rather deadpan. There was a flavor of apathy in his tone. "That's a good deal, but I'm actually cutting back on comics and trimming down my collection."
   Bam! Pow! The sudden, unexpected assault on my capitalistic senses slammed me in the hip, right around the wallet region. I began to feel a little dizzy.
   "Cutting back"? "Trimming down"? I could hear the words, but they felt like someone running barbed wire between my ears.
   Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, brothers and sisters of comic book fandom, I beseech you. Consider the plight of that paragon of American Entertainment Retailing, the comic book seller. In Peter Pan, when someone says they don't believe in fairies, somewhere a fairy's wings shrivel up, it turns stone cold and dies an ugly and horrifying death. So it is in the comic book world. Every time a collector says he plans to "cut back" on comics or "trim down" his collection, somewhere a comic shop owner dies. Drops as dead as another relaunch of Alpha Flight. Struck down while faithfully attending their cash register by another lost fanboy.
   So, just as Peter asked us all to clap our hands if we believe in fairies, I am asking you to unclasp your wallet and believe in the wonder comic books can supply. Your comics are your doorway to other worlds, taking you on adventures far beyond those of mortal men.
   Comic book prices are coming down. Upcoming story lines promise to keep many of the best titles interesting. New genres are being explored. More movies, television shows and games are bringing comic book characters to life. We're in a new Golden Age of comics, a great time to be reading and involved in this great hobby!
   All together now: "I do believe comic books are cool! I do, I do!"
   If you have but one New Year's resolution this year, make it to become more involved in your beloved hobby of comic book reading and collecting. If you have been a long-time Marvel fan, try a DC comic. (A couple of new Batman titles just launched!) If you have been reading mostly DC and Marvel, give Image, Dark Horse, or one of the other "Independent" comic book publishers a try. Grab some friends who have never been "into" comics and take them with you on your next trip to your comic book store.
   If you are new to comic books, or have not been reading them for awhile, go down to your local comic book store, tell the owner or manager about your interests and ask what comic book they would suggest. You may just fine that there is a whole lot more great reading out there than you realized.
   Tell 'em The Comic Book Pusher sent ya.

Next time in "Confessions":
How on Krypton Did I Get Here? Part Four: A Merchant Prince is Born

Remember to visit these fine websites:
The Comics Club's Online Store  A Hero’s Last Resort for comics, games, toys and more!
The Comics Club @ Cafepress Wonderful, whimsical words and images on everything from t-shirts to coffee mugs to pillows and more!
Princessitude! It's a princess thing! Every girl's a princess. The ones who know it have Princessitude! 
Princessitude @ Cafepress  – Find something for the girl with Princessitude!
FunnyVet.com The World's Funniest Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine!
The Adventures of Mr. Happy A FREE web comic widely known to temporarily curb the debilitating effects of boredom!

Monday, December 27, 2010

How On Krypton Did I Get Here? Part Three: Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's . . . Spider-Man?

By The Comic Book Pusher

  It was the end of the world as I knew it.
   For me, moving to Florida from Michigan in 1972 at the tender age of fourteen was, at first, an assumed nightmare. I was about to go into ninth grade, which would have put me at the top of the social heap in junior high school, and I had just started going steady with my first girlfriend. Now I was being told that we were moving to Florida. I would have to forget about being among the scholastic social elite. I would now be the "new kid" at school. I would have to say goodbye to my very first ever girlfriend and all the new experiences that went along with that. Worst of all, I would not be allowed to take my comic books with me. 
   Clearly, my parents were trying to ruin my life, having plotted this insane move to Florida, a place where, for all I knew, comic books would be unobtainable. However, things are not always what they seem, and events and experiences can give us new perspectives on life, which is exactly what was soon to happen to me.
   The summer after we moved to Florida, I went back to Michigan to visit my old friends. While I had spent the past year hanging out at the beaches, fishing, swimming, boating, going to amusement parks and even an alligator farm in the Florida swamps, my old friends seemed to have been frozen in time. They were still hanging out at the same places doing the same things that I used to do with them.
   The future prospects of a young man growing up in the suburbs of Detroit in the early 1970s weren't particularly bright. Most of my friends, at least the ones who weren't already becoming involved in drugs or other criminal activities, were anxious to graduate high school and get a job in any one of several automotive, chemical or steel factories.
   I'm sure some kids there went off to college and careers that would take them to new and better lives, but not most of the kids I knew. Not in that town. Not at that time. For them, nothing had changed except that some of them had replaced their Superman and Amazing Spider-Man comics with underground comics or "comix". (I, too, ventured into the comic book counter culture of underground comics, even before they did, but I'll leave that story for another time.) About then it started to sink into my superhero-addled juvenile mind that my life in Florida wasn't such a bad thing after all. For me, things had been quite different over the past year.
   My first two weeks of living in Florida were spent at the Holiday Inn Surf Side, right on the sands of Daytona Beach. My little brother and I learned to body surf as we played Aquaman and Aqualad, riding the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, ordering room service at the hotel and living like kings. My father's new job as the manager of a furniture store would soon take us across the state to more new wonders along the Gulf of Mexico, from Indian Rocks Beach to Clearwater Beach.
   Living just one block from the Gulf of Mexico, swimming, fishing, boating and watching all the bikini-clad girls sun bathing in the sand brought me to the final realization that I had been moved not into exile, but into paradise. I spent my time hanging out on the beach, riding my bike and having the time of my life. I still loved comic books, but other interests had pushed them to the sidelines. I occasionally bought one once in a while, but at the time, there weren't many places near my house that sold them, and while the infrequent shopping trips to a bookstore usually included a comic book, I was more likely to leave with several science fiction and fantasy novels.
   Years passed. I graduated high school, got a job, went to college, and earned a degree in journalism. Comic books, while no longer a near daily read for me, were still influencing my interests and ideals. I wanted to be a reporter, a job just like Clark Kent had. From the time I was a teenager I enjoyed writing, and while I had no delusions that I would be the next Hemingway, I did want to make a living at it, so journalism made sense. It was a cool profession. I landed a job writing for a magazine and would eventually become its Editor-in-chief.
   If you read my last blog post, you know that some members of my family acted almost like invisible hands that, without realizing it, had a tremendous influence on how comic books would become such an important part of my life.
   Enter my brother David's contribution.
   Back when we were getting ready to move to Florida, my mother squelched my hopes of bringing my box of about three hundred comic books with us. I took them down the street to my friend Ron's house and gave them to him. I thought that was the end of them.
   What I did not know was that my brother David had observed that whole incident and, after we drove away to our new life in Florida, went down to Ron's house and retrieved the comic books. That was 1972.
   Fast forward to 1983. I was living in the Fort Lauderdale area of South Florida and attending college when I took a trip to Orlando to visit David. He pulled out an old cardboard beer case and handed it to me.
   "Here," he said. "Check this out. I kept these for you."
   I opened it up and to my surprise it contained about 125 of my comic books from those childhood days in Michigan. Dave had kept them all those years, occasionally pulling them out and cutting one or two up for use in collages that he and his wife Rita used to make when they lived over on the Gulf Coast in Indian Rocks Beach.
   Reading those comics again after all those years was such a great nostalgic experience for me. With each turn of the page some old memory of my life as a kid in Michigan would well up. It was a wonderful nostalgic stroll through my childhood, but when I was done I put them back inside the box and into my bedroom closet and once again forgot about them.
   Fast forward to 1987. I was driving to work at the business magazine where, at that time, I was one of the writers. On the radio a news report was talking about DC Comics relaunching the Superman comic book to be written and drawn by some guy named John Byrne. While I had never heard of him, I was excited to hear that I would be able to get a new, number one issue of Superman! I had quit smoking cigarettes after a thirteen-year-long habit, and thought that the money I was wasting on coffin nails would be better spent on the new Superman comic.
   Each day on the way to work I would drive by a store with a big red sign that read "COMICS". I never gave it much thought until I heard that radio news report about the new Superman comic book. I decided to stop inside.
   I had never seen a store like it. It was rather dark. The wooden "fixtures", which looked to be homemade, were strewn with comic books of all genres. There were dozens of comic books inside plastic bags pinned to the wall behind a card table that served as the store's check out counter. Its "cash register" was a small metal lock box. The teenager who was apparently operating the store on his own smiled at me briefly before returning his attention to the comic book he was reading.
   "Do you have the new Superman comic book by John Byrne?" I ventured.
   "Not out yet," came the reply from behind the comic book.
   I glanced up at one of the many comic book pinned to the wall behind the young manager. It was an issue of Amazing Spider-Man. On the bag hung a handwritten price tag. "$15", it read.
   Something twitched in that back of my brain. Fifteen dollars? I owned that comic book. It was sitting in my closet in the box of comics that my brother had given back to me. The cover price was 20 cents. From 20 cents to $15. The twitch in the back of my brain moved forward.
   Comic books had value?
   Really?
   I looked around the store and realized that, with few exceptions, the only thing this store was selling was comic books. Wow. A store that could make a profit solely on the sales of comic books? It was an enlightening experience, another in a string of situations and influences that would continue to steer me down the path to the life of a comic book pusher.

Next time in "Confessions":
How on Krypton Did I Get Here? Part Four: A Merchant Prince is Born


Remember to visit these fine websites:
The Comics Club's Online Store  A Hero’s Last Resort for comics, games, toys and more!
The Comics Club @ Cafepress Wonderful, whimsical words and images on everything from t-shirts to coffee mugs to pillows and more!
Princessitude! It's a princess thing! Every girl's a princess. The ones who know it have Princessitude! 
Princessitude @ Cafepress  – Find something for the girl with Princessitude!
FunnyVet.com The World's Funniest Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine!
The Adventures of Mr. Happy A FREE web comic widely known to temporarily curb the debilitating effects of boredom!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

How On Krypton Did I Get Here? Part Two: Invisible Hands

By The Comic Book Pusher

Sometimes, the people around us can have a powerful impact on how our lives unfold. Several members of my family had a direct influence on my life as a comic book pusher, mostly without realizing the path their actions were steering me down.
   Certainly my mother had the earliest influence on what would eventually become my comic book pushing ways, however inadvertently. I have no doubt that if she could see how things would eventually turn out, she would go back, turn off that television and instead sit me down with a copy of the Holy Bible or The Art of War.
   It's true. My mother would have preferred I become a priest, or perhaps a military general. I guess it depended on her mood that day, or, more likely, my own behavior that day. Sometimes when I look back at my childhood, I think that just maybe she wanted me to be both. (Perhaps a holy warrior? Sounds like a comic book I've read at sometime or other!)
   For instance, when I would do something especially good she would tell me, "You're going to be a priest someday." (Good lord! No pressure there, Mom!) Then the next day she would say, "You're going to be a great general some day." (I don't know what behaviors may have brought that kind of praise, but she told me that on a regular basis. Maybe it was because I used to play with my G.I. Joe dolls -- ah, that is -- action figures so much. I'm not talking about those little eraser-size things that pass for G.I. Joes today. Oh no! I mean the foot-tall Joes that could be posed in any number of war-action-ready stances! Some even equipped with life-like facial hair!)
   The thing is, my mother instilled in me a great deal of self confidence. Nearly every day when I was a kid, if I wasn't in some sort of trouble or other, she would say, "You're going to be great when you grow up." Her words made me feel good. In fact, they made me feel great. Really great. Like I could do anything. Be anything. Maybe be as great as Superman. Without ever realizing it, she was making me a bigger and bigger fan of the Big Blue Boy Scout.
   There were others who would have their own influences in forming my early love for comic books.
   I had an uncle named Clarence who everyone called "Sarge". He was one of my father's brothers. (My father had eight brothers, all older than himself.) Sarge lived in New York City, but he came to Detroit to visit us for a couple of days once when I was a kid back in the early 1960s. Sarge, being a big New York Mets fan, promised my brother and me that, if we would chant "Lets Go Mets!" at my father (a Detroit Tigers fan), he would send us Superman costumes when he got back home.
   Superman costumes! It may well be that if my uncle had suggested I burn down our home in exchange for such a gift I would have rushed to find the matches.
   That night, my brother and I proceeded to drive my father crazy with the "Let's Go Mets!" chant, much to the delight of my uncle. True to his word, a few weeks later we received Superman costumes in the mail with a note from Sarge that read, "Let's go Mets!". Needless to say, Sarge quickly became my favorite uncle. With all the excitement of a Christmas morning (although it was either early spring or late Fall as I remember, because all the leaves were off the trees), we donned our heroic apparel and became Superman and Superboy!
   Looking at myself in the mirror, I could feel the power surging through my limbs! I could actually feel my muscles growing! I could hear my mother from all the way downstairs! Was my super hearing already kicking in?
   Uh, no.
   "That costume does NOT give you the power to fly, Duane!" she shouted at me all the way from the kitchen. My little brother knew that any behavioral instruction given to me from Mom also applied to him, but she always addressed me directly on these things. I, being the elder brother, was held ultimately responsible for any trouble we would get into when we were together. "Now get down here and get outside and play. And be nice to your little brother. He's the baby of the family!"
   Perhaps the super hearing would kick in later. For now, I was drawn back into sobering reality. It was one thing to own a Superman costume and wear it in the house as I leaped from room to room with my arms stretched out before me. It was quite another to go out into the neighborhood dressed like that. After all, I was six years old now. It seemed undignified. Embarrassing. But a child's ability to overcome the limitations of reality can be remarkable. Couldn't it be at least slightly possible that this costume would give me super strength? Super speed? Could donning this suite make me be like Superman?
   With a great deal of apprehension, and with my "super-baby-of-the-family" brother at my side, I trotted out the door. The two of us "flew" through the yards and ally ways all afternoon playing Superman and Superboy. The older neighborhood kids gawked and laughed. The mom's smiled and waved because they thought we were the "cutest things". There we were, a chubby little redheaded Superman and a skinny little blond Superboy running up and down the sidewalks in utter Kryptonian abandonment. It was all over too soon as twilight set in and it was time to go back in for the night. As I stripped off the Superman costume and got ready for dinner, I realized something that would influence my behaviors for the rest of my life.
   I realized I would never be Superman. I would never be faster than a speeding bullet. I would not be able to bend steel in my bare hands. No fire would spring from my eyes in the form of heat vision. I would never leap tall buildings in a single bound, much less be able to fly. But then, something clicked inside my six-year-old mind, and from that sorrowful realization of my own mortality came a whole new way of thinking about myself.
   I decided that even though I would never be Superman, I could still be like Superman. I would never have super strength, but I could be strong in many ways. I could never have super speed, but I could use my mind to become something greater than the average mortal man. I could never fly, but I could believe in myself, be confident in what I could accomplish and use that belief to lift my spirit and let it soar. I could still live a life of truth and justice. I went downstairs to dinner that night with a whole new outlook on life.
   I did my best to keep those ideals as I grew older, but at times the world can test the best of us mere humans, even those influenced by the standards of the mightiest superheroes. Life's realities just don't always jibe with Superman's ideals.
   As I grew up through the sixties and early seventies, I became more aware of the changing societal attitudes and dramatic social events that were swirling around me. As a result, by the ripe old age of fourteen, comic books began to seem like things of childhood that I thought maybe, just maybe, I should try to put behind me. Even as I struggled with the idea that comics were really just for kids, reality was about to take a staggering toll on my enthusiasm for comics. It was a toll that would turn me away from comic books almost entirely for well over a decade.
   Having made those points about social change and events beginning to influence my attitude toward comic books, it's time for a confession: It was not any of the great social issues of the day (equal rights, the Vietnam War, concerns about the environment) that caused me to start growing up and leaving behind the "things of youth".  What would yank me away from my beloved comic books was . . . my mother.
   Yes, yes. I know what you're thinking:
   "Again with his mother! This guy has a mommy complex!"
   But, no, you would be wrong in thinking that. Most every child like me growing up in America during the 1960s was influenced dramatically by the decisions their mothers and fathers made for them. Most wives were still stay-at-home moms raising three or four kids. (Our family of eight was well above average, but not uncommon in those days.) Like most children, I did not get a voice in matters of such great importance as what was kept and what was left behind when the parents decided it was time for a move. For me, that move was from Michigan to Florida when I was fourteen years old. My mother always told us that she wanted to move to Florida someday, and now it was actually happening.
   Moving day was particularly memorable for me.
   "What's that?" my mother asked as she watched me dragging a large box -- too large and overburdened with its content for me to actually carry -- down the driveway toward the car. It was a tattered and well-used cardboard box that at one time had housed an over-sized appliance of some sort. It was large enough to hold every last issue of my precious comic book treasure, which was comprised of some three hundred awe-inspiring comics.
   "My comic books," I said in a pleading tone and with some tiny hope still in my heart. But even as the words were leaving my lips I could feel the axe falling. From the stern look on her face I knew what was coming.
   She shook her head. "They're not going to Florida."
   Not going? I heard the words, but I did not want to believe them. I was devastated. I knew that no amount of begging and pleading was going to get her to agree to let me bring them with us. After all, my dad wasn't bringing his beloved pool table. There was no way I was going to get to bring my comic books. But I had to try.
   "But they're my comics!" I whined. It was a feeble attempt, lacking in any real enthusiasm, but I already knew I was beaten.
   "You can't bring them to Florida," she said emphatically.
   "Well, what am I supposed to do with them?" I whined again.
   "Throw them away," she said carelessly.
   "What!" I said, stunned by the very idea.
   "Then give them to Ronny," she suggested as she turned back inside, repeating over her shoulder for emphasis, "because you can't take them to Florida."
   There it was. My life of reading and re-reading and re-re-reading the adventures of my favorite characters and heroes was about to be left behind; probably lost forever! No more epic stories in which Clark Kent's secret identity was nearly revealed by Lois Lane! No more gamma ray infused adventures with the incredible Bruce Banner! No more marveling at Wonder Woman fighting crime in her underwear!
   I stood peering down at my cardboard treasure chest of fantastic wonders for a brief moment before resigning myself to the inevitability of the situation. I dragged the box down the sidewalk to Ronny's house; tiny cardboard shavings trailing behind me. It was, perhaps, the longest thirty yards I would ever walk. There was, however, one bright spot in it all. At least my best friend would be able to enjoy my comics while I lived out my life in exile in the far off, mysterious land of Florida, which, as far as I knew, was entirely devoid of comic books.
   As it turned out, comic books could and would be found in Florida, but it didn't really matter by then. Like ocean foam caught in a riptide, my interests would quickly begin drifting toward new horizons as I adjusted to life on the beaches Florida.
   We are not always privy to the events taking place around us that have an impact on our lives. That is doubly true for children. On that fateful moving day, yet another member of my family was about to play a part in my comic book pushing life that would not reveal itself for another ten years, but it would impact my life in a very dramatic way.

Next time in "Confessions":
How On Krypton Did I Get Here? Part Three: Look! Up in sky! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's . . . Spider-Man?



Remember to visit these fine websites:
The Comics Club's Online Store  A Hero’s Last Resort for comics, games, toys and more!
The Comics Club @ Cafepress Wonderful, whimsical words and images on everything from t-shirts to coffee mugs to pillows and more!
Princessitude! It's a princess thing! Every girl's a princess. The ones who know it have Princessitude! 
Princessitude @ Cafepress  – Find something for the girl with Princessitude!
FunnyVet.com The World's Funniest Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine!
The Adventures of Mr. Happy A FREE web comic widely known to temporarily curb the debilitating effects of boredom!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

How On Krypton Did I Get Here? Part One: TV Turned Me On

By The Comic Book Pusher

Let me begin by openly and unapologetically admitting that I have been pushing comic books to almost every last person around me all of my reading life. From turning my childhood friends on to Harvey Comics titles like Hot Stuff and Richie Rich back in the early sixties, to hyping the latest issues of Brightest Day and Shadowland at The Comics Club to a clientele weary of seemingly endless "crossover events", I have coaxed and lured the uninitiated into reading comics, and pushed and pimped the literary art form known as the comic book continuously, tirelessly and without shame.
   Would I intentionally give a child a comic book to get them hooked on reading? No doubt. Just stop by The Comics Club the first Saturday in May and watch me. The first one's free, kid!
   An obsession? Perhaps. An occupation? Absolutely. A life worth living over if given the chance and the right financial incentive? An unmitigated "Yes!" I have led a truly blessed life, and comic books have almost always been a part of the journey.
   The title of this blog implies a promise of confessions within, a promise that I promise to deliver on as often as possible. To that end, I'll share with you my first soul wrenching confession -- the dark and terrible secret truth at the core of my comic book addiction: 
   It wasn't an actual comic book that got me hooked on comics. What's more, it happened when I was just a toddler, well before I could even read. My "gateway drug" into the world of comic books was . . . The Adventures of Superman television show.
   It's true. When I was but a wee lad, my dear old mother, though not so old at the time, would sit my little brother and me down in front of the magical box of black and white wonders for another exciting episode of Superman's adventures. For so many moms like mine, that amazing device was a godsend for helping them get everything done that needed done in the short hours of the day for a household of so many people (I was the seventh of eight children in my family). Even with its simple monochromatic display, the "TV" was a portal to worlds a child like me could only dream about.

  The Comic Book Pusher's mom.
(For your part in what would become a lifelong addiction to comic books . . . thanks, Mom!)

   That is, until I discovered comic books.
   I don't know exactly when I first got my hands on a copy of a Superman comic book. Thanks to my older brothers and sisters several other comic book titles made their way into my comic-hungry hands long before the Man of Steel would excite my young imagination. Archie, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Hot Stuff, Little Dot, Richie Rich were all taken greedily and consumed almost instantly. I just could not get enough of that fiery neuron stimulation that only comic books could supply.
   Then one day when I was about six years old I read an issue of Superboy and the Legion of Super Heroes.
   Super . . . boy?
   Superman when he was a boy? The television show never said anything about Clark Kent being a superhero in Smallville when he was a kid. I was flummoxed, flabbergasted, but mostly I was thrilled! A boy, just a kid like me, with amazing superpowers! I wanted to be like Superboy!
   Okay, confession time: Actually, I didn't want to be like Superboy, I wanted to be Superboy.
   I wanted to beat the bad guys, stop every bully, and defeat every criminal. I wanted to be faster, stronger, smarter, and braver and have Good always triumph over Evil. I wanted to be able to right all wrongs. I wanted to always tell the truth and do good deeds. Most of all, I wanted justice to prevail. I wanted a black and white world where what was good and what was evil was clear-cut, nothing was gray, and good would always win in the end. Always.
   Deep inside, I wanted desperately to believe that I really could be Superboy.

Next in "Confessions": 
How On Krypton Did I Get Here? Part Two: Invisible Hands

Remember to visit these fine websites:
The Comics Club's Online Store  A Hero’s Last Resort for comics, games, toys and more!
The Comics Club @ Cafepress Wonderful, whimsical words and images on everything from t-shirts to coffee mugs to pillows and more!
Princessitude! It's a princess thing! Every girl's a princess. The ones who know it have Princessitude! 
Princessitude @ Cafepress  – Find something for the girl with Princessitude!
FunnyVet.com The World's Funniest Doctor of Veterinarian Medicine!
The Adventures of Mr. Happy A FREE web comic widely known to temporarily curb the debilitating effects of boredom!