Nerdstalgia

It’s been fun reading the retrospectives of comics in the 1970s sparked by Dick Hyacinth’s innocent question as to whether or not the decade has a defining theme or not.

In spite of the fact that that’s the decade I started reading them in earnest, with almost instantaneous collector’s fervor, I don’t really have a theme to contribute, because “the decade David started throwing his youth away on super-hero comics” is hardly up there with “the Enlightenment” or “the Great Depression.”

But hey, nostalgia is fun, and I’m old enough to actually have been reading comics in the ‘70s, so you’ll all just have to suffer. I’ll at least be thoughtful enough to put the worst of my old-man ramblings after the jump so they’re easier to avoid.

The weird thing is, I remember the experience of buying the comics as much or more than the comics themselves. Hovering at the strip-mall bookstore next to the supermarket, waiting for the poor clerks to put the new comics on the spinner rack, probably while imagining my violent death. (The setting may have changed, but I clearly had a fondness for pilgrimages even then.) Wishing my parents would realize they needed to fill the car with gas, energy crisis be damned, so I could do a quick sweep of the convenience store to see if they had any comics and put it on my mental checklist of desirable retail establishments. (That was pretty much the defining trait of a store worth visiting – whether or not they had comics.)

Some convenience stores even sold cheap three-packs of remaindered comics with half of the covers cut off. The middle comic was always a risk, but they were so cheap (relatively speaking) that it didn’t matter that much. (You could almost always find issues of Spider-Woman in those three-packs. Sure, you could only see half of whatever arcane form of bondage the cover artist had devised, but I wasn’t really the target audience for that.)

I clearly remember feeling strangely mocked by the footnotes that Marvel would insert in its stories. “And where, precisely, am I supposed to find Moondragon’s early appearances in Daredevil, ‘Ed.’?!” This was mitigated when I discovered flea markets. There were no comic shops within biking or walking distance, and my parents’ willingness to accommodate my habit was limited.

Then Dan moved in down the street, and having a second comic-obsessed nerd nearby opened new horizons of wheedling for a fix. Sure, Dan liked DC, finding Marvel super-heroes unbearably soap operatic in their neuroses, and I thought DC was only a step up from the Riverdale gang in terms of sophistication, but addiction makes for unlikely allies, and at least I could honestly say that I liked Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes. (Our bitterest divide was over which members of the Justice League were worth reading about. I liked the second-stringers. He thought an issue was wasted if it didn’t prominently feature someone who already had their own comic.) And Dan knew where the back issues were buried, so he could rhapsodize about The Flash all he wanted. (It was also handy to have two delivery addresses for comics we ordered by mail, so neither of our parents had any idea how much we were spending at Mile High.)

It wasn’t all sun-dappled nerd nirvana, though. There was the time one of my sisters accidentally mangled the issue of Uncanny X-Men where the Phoenix died the first time. It was the first time anyone had said “It’s only a comic” to me, and oh, did I hate it. (Here’s an even more embarrassing memory. When I read that comic, I obsessed over the notion that Thor was really powerful and he’d never gone crazy and evil, so why did Jean have to? It’s because she was a woman, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it?! I couldn’t throw a ball for crap, but the muscles governing shrill moralizing developed early.)

There was the guy at the campground store who kept a stack of comics by the register but wouldn’t let anyone browse through them and snarled at them if they tried. And of course, there was the inevitable loss of innocence that came during a phone call from Dan, distraught over a “One will die!” cover of The Flash. I don’t remember the exact details, but Dan just knew that it was obvious they’d kill off Iris because, duh, it’s the Flash’s comic, and they obviously aren’t going to kill the star, David. (Oh, the innocence of youth.)

I don’t really have a point here, do I? I mean, other than that I’ve always been a big nerd? I’ll wrap things up with my favorite quote on the ‘70s subject, which comes from Tom Spurgeon:

“And if you argue from a point of view that the entertainment value of what goes into a piece of pulpy art has an impact that’s as valuable as and is distinct from a comparison of literary qualities, that sensibility exists beyond the intention of the creators, you can make an easy case that, say, ‘Sweaty Pat Harrington lookalike Swordsman shows up on the Avengers doorstep with his hooker girlfriend, continues to be crappy at job, eventually becomes a sentient plant’ has it all over Mark Millar’s Eminem lookalike proclaiming he’s giving it to you in the ass.”

Ohhhh, yeah. That stuff was like crack.

3 Responses to Nerdstalgia

  1. Lyle says:

    That brings to mind my first encounter with “Ed.” To me, he was the guy who’d keep showing up to explain who the Legionnaires were talking to when they addressed Brin or Imra (“* Saturn Girl’s real name”) or whenever a supporting cast member was named in conversation (“*Cosmic Boy’s girlfriend and a member of The Legion of Substitute Heroes”)

  2. davidpwelsh says:

    Lydda Jath! Lydda Jath! I loved the Subs, and always felt that their exclusion from the Legion was arbitrary and elitist on the part of a group that had more than its share of endearing morts. I mean, if you’re going to let Bouncing Boy, Triplicate Girl and Matter-Eater Lad in…

  3. SanctumSanctorumComix says:

    Great rant on geekery (from the PRO-side, of course).

    😉

    I, also, hail from the time of 1970’s comics, long bike treks to mythical realms called “comic shoppes”, stationery store spinner-racks, bundled remainder-comic grabbags and parents who did NOT encourage the mass purchase of these 4-color “corruptibles”.

    I DID, however, have more than a few allies with whom to share this wonderful hobby.

    It seems, looking back at it all now, that nearly ALL my friends back in elementary / jr. high school were COMIC fans.

    Most of us were Marvel fans (I just couldn’t get into the “kiddie-pool” comic stories of DC at the time – sorry).

    Each of us had a favorite:

    John had Spider-Man (actually OWNING # 1 – something that blew us away) & Hulk.
    Rosario had Thor and X-Men.
    Mike had Ghost Rider (original Johnny Blaze – remember, this was the 70’s/early 80’s).
    I had Man-Thing & Doctor Strange (and later, ROM as well).

    We’d all get together at each other’s houses and bring a stack of comics to show/compare and talk about.
    And the lengths to how we would feed our collections (we would often bicycle to far away comic stores, in ALL manner of inclement weather) was impressive.

    Then, since EVERYONE wanted to be a comic artist (and we all had some artistic ability) we would draw our own pin-ups and comics and actually GRADE each other’s work (little star stickers).

    I forgot about that until just now.

    John had the least artistic ability but he MORE than made up for it with enthusiasm.
    His poses were ALWAYS the same (figure standing with legs wide and arms outstretched – either above the head or down at the sides).
    His costume designs were pretty good, but he was the BEST at doing logos.

    I had the most ability (actually becoming a comic writer/artist for a little while in the late 80’s/early 90’s for a few small indies) and would usually set the bar for the rest.

    Sadly, I’m most likely the only one of us that still rides this beast of a hobby (ostensibly because I had always intended on making comics my life/work).
    While I do plan on getting back to it (soon, I hope) with my own creator-owned stuff, I am still a professional illustrator (and owner of if not THE greatest/most extensive DOCTOR STRANGE collection -I’m talking EVERYTHING, not just comics- then definitely the 2nd greatest).

    ThanX for the flashback.

    ~P~
    P-TOR

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