I worked out recently that I have been a comic fan/collector for 2/3 of my life. More than any job, school or family relationship outside of my parents, it has been a constant. Whether this is a good, or in fact a bad thing, well that really isn’t the point. It is what it is.
When I was younger I lived in Yorkshire, I was born in Merseyside, but my earliest coherent memories were of Yorkshire. It was there when I started reading comics with Original X-Men 1, which I talked about here. There were other things I read of course, but they left an impression. This was bolstered by the glut of action/adventure cartoon shows that were on when I was younger, a veritable golden age of kids cartoons. Some of these featured characters I was familiar with. In fact my first exposure to Namor, Thor, the All New All Different X-Men and Doctor Strange were watching Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, but I digress.
When we returned to our old haunts while I was still in primary school, I ended up living in a terraced house in the southern part of the city. I changed over that time from a quiet but cheerful primary school kid with several friends, to being alone in secondary school. Feeling isolated and socially awkward, I used comics as both an escape and to feel part of something. Whilst in secondary school I found two newsagents that sold American comics. One sold mostly DC and one sold mostly Marvel. I read Justice League stories, Spider-Man, West Coast Avengers, the occasional Green Lantern and the even more occasional Batman and more besides and more and more, I had found something I could pour all this attention and appreciation into. This was something no one else liked, I was a marginalised or niche interest and there was more than a little teasing and mockery whenever anyone else found out about it. But with a limited budget (more than once a 10p price increase cost me comics) and some accidental losses of comics I had, it was still only ever a side thing that I liked that no one else got. Although I had comics, I was still as I ever was alone.
But things were about to change.
It was 1991 when through some means I don’t recall, I learned of a comic mart in the city centre at the Blue Coat Chambers. It’s a weird feeling finding your tribe. It’s something I experienced again back in November 2019 when I was at the Thought Bubble convention. Here were comic fans, people who knew the world I had been spending (possibly too much) time in. It was looking on tables and through boxes that I found one of the many variant covers of X-Men vol 2 #1, still to this date, the highest selling single issue of all time. With 5 variant covers, 4 of which interlock, it’s not that surprising really is it? One of the vendors at the mart worked for a local comic shop known as World’s Apart and before I went home I visited there. I had issues 1-3 of vol 2 of X-Men and issue 17 of my beloved Guardians of the Galaxy. I had a LCS and I would spend most weekends of the next few years and more than a little of my pay, when I started working. X-Men vol 2 does have an interesting place in both comics history and my own history with comics. Other than it’s sales, it was the point that Chris Claremont, the man who made the X-Men left the book. (Okay a point of digression here, Chris Claremont in fact created very few of the X-Men characters, we need to look to others for that. But lets be honest, without him and the artists he worked with, no one would care who the X-Men were. So it’s fair to say that he made the X-Men what they are.) The Claremont era had come to an end, just as I arrived, yet the themes, characters and relationships that he started off would be some of the reasons that I was so invested in the property. Comics in general and the X-Men in particular would be a large part of my free time and disposable income for a long time to come.
One of the things happening in that era was the rise of the superstar artist. Spider-Man had Todd MacFarlane and Erik Larsen, X-Men had Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio, Mark Silvestri and Rob Liefeld. In 1992 for several reasons of their own and for their treatment by the higher ups at Marvel, all of them along with Jim Valentino the man who brough the Guardians of the Galaxy back to the spinner racks all quit. One of the reasons I am writing this, is that the 30th anniversary of this event is this year. But these 7 people then formed their own company, Image Comics. The Image explosion was one of the two times that I was in on the ground floor for something along these lines and will most likely write more about later. The other launch of note in 1992 was the 2099 imprint from Marvel. Set in a corporate dystopia (which looks a lot more like the world we are in that it did in 1992) this set of comics were sort of future relaunches of established characters, from X-Men, to the Hulk, from Ghost Rider to Spider-Man. To be honest Spider-Man was the stand-out title with career best art by Rock Leonardi and written by Peter David who was riding high from his successes on Incredible Hulk and X-Factor. That comic in particular spoke so much to me that years later I would have that character tattooed on my left arm. Within a couple of years I started visiting other comic shops (it was the 90s and the city could support 3 comics shops) including Liverpool Comic Co, which was were I was visiting when Zero Hour happened.
Up until this point, I was still very much a Marvel Zombie, but Zero Hour offered a jumping on point for several DC characters as well as the new Green Lantern which I was already enjoying. I read many of the DC comics for many years afterwards, including Flash, Justice League, the reboot era of the Legion of Super Heroes and Superman. Superman was another one I got in on at the end. I read the death of story a year or so earlier and some of the Reign of the Superman story after that, but again, the clean slate Zero Hour offered kept me reading that character for many years, even clearing the rest of the 90s and into the early months of the new millenium. A year or so after Zero Hour led me to the new comic shop, I started working there on a Saturday morning, mostly taken in comics. Up until 11 years ago, it was the job I got the most job-satisfaction out of. I spent the rest of the 90’s doing that, I watched the fall and rise of Marvel, saw the speculator bubble burst, the changing of the guard, several times in editorial staff of the big two and several events. I also got to read some of the slightly older stuff that was considered classic. This included (but was not limited to) Crisis, Secret Wars, Batman Year One, Dark Knight Returns, Man of Steel, V for Vendetta, Killing Joke and of course Watchmen.
There were fallings out and that feeling of being made less than welcome and then that all went away. It’s amazing how few comics you’ll get when you start paying full price for them again. I read Grant Morrison’s X-Men and Joss Whedon’s, but as the 00’s wore on, I bought less and less comics, a few trades here and there. In the 10’s I went digital and with that read so many older comics whose original copies would cost the Earth. I was less connected to fandom then, my weekly comic shop visits became bi-weekly and so on. To the extent that when I was still buying new comics regularly I started buying them through an online shop, connected to a LCS from down south of me.
The thing that changed for me was podcasts oddly enough. I have extolled their virtue often enough here and more than once mentioned why they are important, but from the podcasts and podcasters I become more involved online, which is one of the reasons that I am writing this today. Without those podcasters, there’d by no Munky on Merseyside.
In closing, because I have rambled enough here, comics have been with me through much of the life I can remember and beyond my most close family are the only constants. With so much of comics and geek culture being lauded now because of the movies and other media that has been pulled from it, I wanted to remember the days when comics were just those small magazine things that were once my only friends and links to the world that lay outside of my reach. I genuinely can’t remember why I started writing this, but apparently I had a lot to say on here.
If you are a comic fan, I want to ask, what is your history what is your Secret Origin?
My love to all of you internet people.