Growing Out Of Comics, by Mike Gold
It was the very end of summer, I had just turned 11, and – heaven help me – I was just beginning to tire of comic books.
Not that I was considering getting that four-color monkey off of my back. My enthusiasm was waning. The Superman books were beginning to get silly, the Batman titles had already become silly, and Julie Schwartz’s books like The Flash and Green Lantern were beginning to feel repetitious. I had exceeded the five-year point in my comic book reading life, that moment when the publishers felt you were on your way out, trading comics for sports, girls, and/or life. Being a precocious reader, I was at that portal at an age somewhat younger than the norm, but there was no doubt about it, comics weren’t quite as exciting to me as they had been.
At that time, DC had the market on super-hero titles lock, stock and barrel. Few new titles were launched; indeed, DC’s two debut books – Showcase and The Brave and the Bold – often recycled previous unsuccessful attempts like Cave Carson: Inside Earth and the original Suicide Squad to give them another shot at the marketplace. Each run generally consisted of three issues, so at best there would be four debuts each year, and most of those (like Cave Carson and Suicide Squad) were not of the super-hero genre. Today, of course, we get four such debuts a week.
So when it came time to drive my sister to college, my father did something unique. He stopped at a drug store – one of those places that actually had a massive wooden rack plus two comics spinner racks exclusively dedicated to comic books – and told me to pick out a few for the ride, in the hope that I would not be a bother. He then dashed across the street to pick up a dozen bagels at Kaufman’s, the original one on Montrose and Kedzie in Chicago. They boasted the best bagels in the country, and they were right.
When he returned to the drug store, I had nothing. Absolutely nothing. I had read each and every superhero title in the vast expanse of rack space. Even Lois Lane. Even the war comics, about which I was ambivalent at best, although I was not ambivalent about Joe Kubert’s art.
My father stared at me in hurried amazement. “Nothing?” he asked, as though I had descended from the sea perfectly dry. So I took one hurried look at the racks, saw a bunch of those no-name monster comics that did nothing for me at the time, saw one that looked slightly heroic, and picked it up. “One? That’s it?” my father proclaimed, as though he got shorted by a Rasinetts box. “Well, we’ve got to go,” he said in trepidation of the behavior of a bored, trapped 11 year old boy. He tossed a dime at the counter and we joined my mother and sister in the car.
I read that comic book. I reread that comic book, and then I reread it again and again. On the way back home (after drinking a Coca-Cola made entirely out of Coke syrup; I was not about to fall sleep in the car) I read it again until it was too dark to see.
That book was Fantastic Four #1, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
And here I am today.
Mike Gold is editor-in-chief of ComicMix.