Monday, May 4, 2015

31 Days of Comics: Day 4 – First Comic Series You Seriously Pursued

ROB'S NOTE: May has become the go-to month of the Comic’s Industry (even though National Superhero Day is late April, but whatever… Congress… pshaw).  It is when Marvel drops their big movie of the year.  May also sees the annual Free Comic Book Day celebration take place (this Saturday, so find your local comic book store and head on over).  May also has 31 days of the month so what better way to celebrate the wonderful world of sequential art with the 31 Days of Comics?

Seth Hahne, who runs the blog GoodOkBad, has put together the 31 Days of Comics challenge.  A daily challenge in which you are given a category and you have to fill it with a comic that you think fits it the best.  You’re all on the internet, I shouldn’t have to explain it to you.  For the rest of the month I will be taking this challenge.  It is my hope it encourages others to make and share their own lists either in the comments here or on their own websites.  The sharing not only might turn comic fans on to works they have yet to sample but maybe catch the eye of a few non-comic fans and highlight the diversity of the form.  

You might notice there was no Day 3.  The prompt for that day is “Great adaptation or remake of another work.”  In my years of reading comics I could not think of one example that I have read.  I tend not to pick up these types of books and the one or two I might have read accidently were for from the adjective “great.” You deserve better.

Our prompt for Day 4 is “First comic series you seriously pursued.”

Spectacular Spider-Man 
Written by Roger Stern. Peter David, Probably a bunch of other people too.
Pencils by Various Artists
Colors by Various Colorists
Letters by Various Letterers

As a child your entertainment options are usually limited to what your parents are willing to get for you or what your older siblings have left lying around the house.  The vast majority of comic book fans that I know tend to identify an older sibling as the reason they first picked up a comic book.  I was an only child so I was lucky that my parents, picking up on my love for the Spider-Man cartoon, would buy me a comic book or two from the local drug store (yes, I’m old enough to remember the “spinner-racks”).  As a kid I would grab whatever I could, nominally based on what was on the cover.  If it had a character that I knew, or a character who looked cool, or something exciting was promised in the issue, I’d try to grab it.  I knew nothing of creators, continuity, or even the fact that these were monthly stories.  I hardly would look at the titles until I got in the car and looked through the two or three I was allowed to buy.

Except for Spectacular Spider-Man.

We will come back to this comic later in the list as we talk about the first comic I bought with my own money but Spectacular Spider-Man was the first book I had an extended run of.  It began with issue #49 and ended with #111.  For about 6 years I bought every issue of the spinner racks either in the drug store or at the book store in the mall.  During the time I discovered comic book shops and also began to fill in the back issues as my budget allowed me.

When it was all said and done I had issues 1-111.

I’m not sure why I flocked to Spectacular Spider-Man over the Amazing Spider-Man.  It might be because even as young as I was I understood the concept of collecting, and it seemed much easier to get the issues of a series that was in the 50s in terms of issue numbers rather than something in the 200s.  But to this day I remember the line that hooked me in issue #49 (which I will reveal when I talk about the first issue I bought with my own money.  CLIFHANGER!!!)

The run itself wasn’t anything spectacular, ironic given the title I guess.  But it was everything I needed as a 5 to 10 year old at the time.  It had my favorite character, fighting different bad guys, dating different women (I never had a “ewww girls” phase in my life), and J Jonah Jameson yelling at Peter a lot.  What is more telling is what wasn’t in those comics.  

Very rarely was there a story arc that lasted more than 2 issues.  When it did last longer, it completely felt like the stakes were raised and the tension ratcheted up.  There were no trade paperbacks to write for so each story seemingly took as many pages as the story needed.  Nothing felt over-padded or slow.  Nothing felt rushed.  

While the emphasis on trade paperbacks as a business model has brought countless benefits to the industry there is something to be said about the one-in-done issues, occasionally  joined by a 2-parter, and then when the s#it hit the fan a 4 part story coming in.  It felt more like life to me, even at age 5.  It also allowed the writers to insert a number of subplots that, again, would develop naturally over time, using just one or two panels.  A person picking up one issue could figure out what was going on and enjoy the villain of the month while long time readers and collectors had the context to piece together the subplots as they progressed.

And while the run was solid, it was mostly inconsequential.  In the 1980s that was fine though, as we haven’t been taught that yet that only comics which “change everything for all the books in the line” are important for us.  The one exception to this is, coincidently, one of the last stories I ended up collecting.  Spectacular Spider-Man 107-100 tells the story of “The Death of Jean DeWolf.”  And as a 10 year old it scared the living bejesus out of me.  It might have been, up to that time, the most “real” and “gritty” story I had come across.  I almost wonder if it was a little too much for 10 year old me and that’s why #111 is where my run ended.  

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