Reading Comics – a Personal History / Childhood Reading

 

My parents are both readers, and when I say readers I mean they visit the library at least once a week, read every day kind of readers. And my parents are also artists, so as a result I have always had not just their art, but books about art and visits to galleries and other people’s art in my life. I think for this reason, comics have always been a natural fit for me. In particular, my Dad’s art is religious and makes use of symbolism, which gave me great tools for paying attention to art and comic book art.

Comics have quite simply always been a part of my life. Growing up my parents would read to my brother and sister and me – one seated either side of the parent reading, and the other lying across the top of the sofa. Once we were old enough, this included the kind of comic books that people don’t always associate with comics – Asterix and Tintin. When we ran out of ones in English, Mummy would translate the ones she had in French for us. Dad had also written his own comics as a boy – Cochise the Apache chief, Uta the Inca and Roy the Roman.

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When we were old enough to have pocket money we would make a weekly trip to the newsagents at the end of our road to buy our weekly comic. The first ones we bought were Care Bears and My Little Pony for me and my sister and Transformers for my brother. We also read some Beano and Dandy and what was probably the end of Bunty’s publication life. I remember particularly a Transformers comic where a Shakespeare quote “And in that sleep of death, what dreams may come” was worked into the comic but really none of that held our attention very well.

We really got into comics in big way when we transferred to what we called “American comics” – mainly Marvel and DC. Although I remember we briefly got our hands on some comics that were labelled “Image Comics” (not sure if they’re the same as the current Image comics). The only one I remember is a woman who got the mystical power to transform into a jaguar.

The newsagent was not a comics fan as such and he would buy up random bundles of comics meaning we would buy what we were specially interested in when it first arrived and then gradually buy our way through them all through the following weeks. This meant we tried to follow stories and particular comics but ultimately we read a diverse range of titles. My brother particularly liked DC and the bat-verse whereas I was more of a Marvel fan, but we read all of each others comics anyway. We were collectors, but not particularly gentle ones, I remember reading that the first issue when Gambit appears is now worth a lot. I’m pretty sure my copy, even if I still had it, would not be worth much in the state it got into.

Stories-wise, I particularly remember an early sequence with Gambit when he encounters Storm – shrunk back to childhood by Nanny and Orphanmaker. I also remember being upset by the Genosha sequence. I remember an X-men visit to another planet where Mutants were the norm but where people were stratified by the quality of their powers.

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We bought these comics without fail every week throughout my childhood and I’m not sure I stopped doing this until I went to university. I think even then, while my brother and sister were still at school they continued to buy them but I’m not really sure.

Reading comics was mainly a family pursuit. We had local friends but I don’t remember any of them sharing our interest and I definitely don’t remember sharing it with anyone at school. I do remember playing superheroes though, particularly after church and in friend’s gardens. My artistic sister wrote a comic for a brief while which starred her friends – it was called the “S-files” (S for her own name) and I think was a sort of Star Trek type set up. Once, while she was on a visit to Germany with some family friends she and my Dad exchanged letters in the form of comics. I think Batman was involved.

Later, due to isolation and bullying at school, some of my made up superheroes had powers that created isolation they didn’t want. They were faster thinking, more co-ordinated and gymnastic than I was and were good at things like computers or languages (my family is pretty mixed in nationality so this was very appealing). My brother and sister took note of artists and writers, but personally I mainly was interested in my favourite characters and their stories. Comics, alongside Fantasy and Science Fiction novels were escapism for me from parts of my life I didn’t enjoy and also a creative and exciting space.

This might have been the Silver age of comics, but it was definitely a golden age of reading comics for me.

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