This Saturday is the annual Free Comic Book Day event. It’s a time where the comics industry hopes to bring energy and excitement into the comic book stores by coordinating and putting out free comic books (hence the name). Whether you read comics back in the day, never read comics before, or have been reading them for over 30 years there is apt to be a comic being given away that might interest you (yours truly).
I always try to snag a couple of the kiddie comics to give to either my niece or nephews or kids of friends. As someone who’s been reading for so long and as someone who creates comics, I think it is my job/duty to try and pass along that same love to the next generation. And the thing is I don’t know if it will work at all. I figure it might take doing this every year and still not have any luck swaying the next generation. I’m still not sure why it clicked in my own head all those years ago. Technically it took four tries before I actually began picking up comics on a monthly basis.
The first time I remember even seeing a comic book had to have been when I was 4 or 5. I would sometimes get babysat by a woman whose husband had a bin in one of the rooms filled with comic books. They were neatly stacked up and I can recall seeing some of the crazier comics that existed back in the 70s: Ghost Rider and Man-Thing come to mind. I didn’t try to look through them… maybe I wasn’t supposed to touch them, but I did stand there at the edge and look at the covers with some wonder and awe not knowing exactly what it was these magazines represented.
The second time was when I picked up an issue of Transformers from the hospital gift shop (my mother was a nurse there). I was pretty much locked in on Transformers, constantly watching the show after school. Always conspiring on what I might be able to get when Christmas came around (sadly relatives thought Go-Bots were the same thing – I’m surprised I didn’t yell at them to try to get them to understand the difference!). I read that comic over and over again. Maybe it was because the cover said it was the last issue of a 4 issue limited series, but it never occurred to me to even seek out more issues. This really should have locked me in but it didn’t.
The third time was my elementary school’s book fair. Armed with a little bit of money, I stumbled across a collection of comic books. Again, not knowing the characters, I grabbed one that looked interesting – Fantastic Four. The story was in the middle of a story-arc about a little boy and what only could be the devil and these heroes who had to fight… demons? Again, it never occurred to me to seek out more issues.
And maybe that would have been it. I would have had 2 comics to my name and a bunch of money in my pockets from then on. I watched the Spiderman and His Amazing Friends comics, fascinated whenever some new hero might show up on-screen. In later years I would come to realize how many members of the Marvel Universe made little appearances on the show. After Spiderman, the Hulk cartoon came on and I watched that. I’d seen the Superman movies, watched episodes of the live-action Hulk, the 60s Batman and Robin, and the Wonder-Woman live-action shows.
Still, I didn’t seek them out. Maybe I didn’t know where you’d buy them?
On top of all of this, my dad read comics when he was a kid, but before I started collecting I don’t think we ever talked about it.
Then one day it happened. My step-father dropped me off to get my hair cut while he ran some errands and left me with $5 to go next door and get a snack and a drink. Next door was a 7-11. Needing to kill time, I wandered through the aisles trying to figure out what kind of candy I was going to get (I’m sorry… candies… plural). I wondered to the magazine rack and began looking when I saw a Spiderman comic book. Picking it up, I flipped through it amazed (pun intended) that Spiderman wasn’t wearing his traditional red and blues, but had a black and white costume that looked really cool.
Hmm… $0.75? OK. Sold! Wait, there are other comics? Who are the X-Men? And why are there two Avengers comics?
I bought all 4 and waited outside with my comics, soda, and maybe a candy bar (just one).
And it was over. I was hooked. It took 4 opportunities for the universe (maybe?) to ensure I went down that path.
Without comics, I don’t know if I would have read very much prior to 6th grade and meeting one of my best friends. Without comics, I wonder if I would have formed the same friendships which have lasted to this day. Without comics, I don’t know if I would be a writer of anything (the first thing I ever wrote was basically a comic).
So I’ll be out there on Saturday watching new faces light up to their first comic book and other faces light up to their 10-thousandth. You just never know when the magic is going to happen.
John McGuire is the creator/author of the steampunk comic The Gilded Age. The Trade paperback collecting the first 4 issues is finally back from the printers! If you would like to purchase a copy, go here!
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He can also be found at www.johnrmcguire.com