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


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