Every geek has their own secret origin, a time when the world of comic books magically came to life for them. I’ve never changed into a costume in a phone booth, but I did transform into a mutant in a garage many times during my childhood vacations.
My family lived in rural Missouri for many years. My parents’ families mostly lived in small-town Ohio back then. In most Decembers of my pre-adolescent years, Mom, Dad, Sister, and I packed our bags to drive roughly ten hours north and spend Christmas with the families.
Mom’s parents had a detached garage off their modest but cozy three-bedroom house. The backyard had trees, a bench swing, a small garden, a clothesline. To get to the garage, I walked along square, concrete tiles with black pebbles in the spaces between. A waist-high chain-link fence separated the small path from the driveway. A wooden door opened into the darkness of the garage, which at that time of year was always cold. When the moon was up or the back porch light was on, I saw my breath.
The garage possessed a unique scent. Grampa smoked cigarettes in there and framed pictures at his work bench. Dust, sawdust, stale cigarette smoke, and mold. Dampness, but frozen. It’s not the bouquet you might associate with happiness, 25 years later – unless you were also there with me to turn on the dim light, squeeze between the cars, and approach the ramshackle shelves on the far wall. Those shelves held every comic book my grandparents had purchased for their four children from the 1950s through the 1970s, and some that Gramma still liked to follow in the 1980s, like Conan, Dr. Strange, and Mike Grell’s Warlord. She always called them “funny books”, whether they were funny or serious.
Every year I dug out a new section of the stacks – hundreds, maybe thousands of books. Some years, I excavated completely unknown buried treasures. Some years, I found an issue I’d read before: a copy of World’s Finest #147 featuring Superman and Batman, or Tales of Suspense featuring Thor, Iron Man, or the Human Torch. With a year between visits to Ohio, it was like meeting an old friend. Early issues of X-men and Spider-man sat under so much dust and time and disuse that I sometimes got sick. I had pretty bad allergies to dust and mold at that age but zero qualms about risking my health to read those books. I would take an armful back inside the warm house, find a comfy spot to curl up, and be absorbed for hours. If the adults wanted to stay up late and play Euchre at the kitchen table, I might even make two or three trips to the garage!
Some of those books wouldn’t interest me now as an adult reader, but many have stood the test of time or have such intense nostalgia value that they’ve appeared on this blog. I regret that I wasn’t able to buy the collection when it was sold in the 1990s. It didn’t sell for much, considering how many decades it had been exposed to the elements. The books weren’t in great shape. But even a collection of Fair to VG+ vintage comics is a wonder to behold.
Those books took my mind on so many adventures and fantasies as a kid, and you can’t really put a dollar figure on fuel for your imagination. But these days, if the nostalgia becomes too acute, I can find most of them at My Comic Shop.