Everyone remembers their first. Comic. Whether it was a Peanuts strip, an X-Men floppy, or the collected run of Watchmen, we were all introduced to the wonderful world of sequential art in one way or another.
We at The Beat are celebrating the site’s eleventh birthday today and we were feeling nostalgic. Join us as we take a look back at our innocent geneses and reminisce about the books that shaped the people we are today.
Believe it or not there was a time where reading comics got you ridiculed or to a more extreme consequence beat up. In the 90’s, I grew up in a city adjacent to the NWA’s hometown of Compton. In those cities being different meant being a target. Growing up I never really had anything that spoke to me or felt like my own. In order to fit in with the rest of the kids in school you either had to listen to music on KROQ and POWER 106 radio or know everything there is to know about basketball and football. Being 12 years old nothing was more important than having friends, so I did what any kid my age would do, I followed. Even in wearing the right team or having the hot CD; I managed to be the sore thumb that never got picked for a team or invited to a birthday party.
For a long time I felt like there was something wrong with me. One balmy September day, on a grocery trip with my mom at a Lucky’s in South Gate; I found myself lost in the magazine aisle flipping through Gamepro and Electronic Gaming Monthly. Then I saw someone fill a rack next to all the magazines with what looked like smaller ones. She dropped one and I picked it up off the floor, it was Jim Lee’s X-Men #4. Something about anger on Wolverine’s face and the confident shear on Gambit that dared me to open it. I’d never read any comic and I only knew Batman from cartoons. The story of a group of people who had to live apart from society because they were different. It was me. That day, comics found me. I had something to grow up with that felt like me. Today that comic sits torn and crinkled in my collection, but it’s pristine in the long white box of my heart.
I can’t remember what the first proper comic I read was – but I do remember having a odd almost guidebook to the origin of the X-Men, published by Scholastic (previously DK Children), which essentially guarantees that it was desperately trying to educate me. If I remember correctly, I could school anyone in the X-Men so long as the information was in the hopefully still up to date Story of the X-Men, How It All Began. That doesn’t really count, as it was a book about a comic, not a comic itself. No, the first comic I bought with my own money was a copy of the weekly Shonen Jump from December 2003.
I remember because it had the first chapter of Hikaru no Go in it (literally about a boy who gets periodically possessed by a ghost who wants to play a slick game of Go). I was young, foolish, and ate it up. Soon I was well on my way to being one of those kids sitting for hours on end in the manga section of my local Bookstar (owned and operated by Barnes & Noble) taking full advantage of Tokyopop’s incredible localization scheme of “throw it at the wall and see what sticks”. Viz, to their credit was a little more selective. My favorite series, and the first I caught up on Shaman King and though the serialized chapters only lasted until 2007 – I deeply loved it. Tokyopop didn’t actually care what they brought over so long as it could be rapidly translated to an acceptable degree of readability; it was a golden era, safe to say. I would read Samurai Deeper Kyo or GetBackers when Shaman King or One Piece just weren’t doing it for me (who am I kidding, One Piece is the best). Huddled betwixt those shelves, I found formative works like Battle Angel Alita and Claymore which still influence me to this day.
Though I found Sandman in high school, it wasn’t until I was shown the modest but diverse collection of comics in my college’s library did American comics hold my attention. I have no idea where any copies of my comics pre-2007 are but I can tell you in earnest that they were loved.
My first comic ever…that’s a hard question to answer. As a younger reader, I jumped on around high school during a vacation in Hawaii. Being a major geek, I was thoroughly interested in Blair Butler’s comics analysis on Attack of the Show — which originally scratched my love of gadgets and nerd news. After watching her rave about All-Star Superman #10, I decided to give the issue a shot when I was browsing through a comic rack in Maui. Also, I picked up the New Avengers issue with Echo, number 39. I didn’t understood the nuance of All-Star Superman #10 until years later, but the comic still struck a chord with the Frank Quitely artwork. I was also charmed to meet Grant Morrison years later, who is so lovely and supportive of comics fandom in person — it doesn’t hurt that he’s one of the best writers in comics either.
I could answer this question with a lot of different books and they’d all technically be correct. If we’re talking about the first book that got me hooked on comics, we’d be talking about Tsugumi Ohba’s and Takeshi Obata’s Death Note. Their thrilling tale about morally ambiguous (but really morally reprehensible) characters attempting to outsmart each other with careful strategies instead of testosterone-driven brawls was perfect for the twelve year old who hadn’t seen the appeal of physical action at the time. If we’re talking about American comic books, we’d be talking about Jeff Loeb’s and Tim Sales’ Batman: the Long Halloween, which proved to me that superhero stories didn’t always follow the juvenile and simplistic tropes I had grown up being told they would.
However, the first comic I ever read was Bartman: Best of the Best.
Truth be told, I don’t remember very much about this book; only vague bits and pieces spring to mind when I think about the stories contained within the collection. However, when I assemble those small memorable fragments now, what comes together is a very clever book. The first story in the collection is entitled “The Comic Cover Caper” and on the cover, features Bartman hanging over a vat of silver foiling. The plot focuses on the “cover enhancements” that were all the rage in the 90s when this book was first being published, and satirizes the ridiculous idea that a little bit of emboss or a triple gatefold could potentially raise the value of a unlimited print run comic to Action Comics #1 prices.
I first encountered this book and The Simpsons TV show when I was around four years old. At the time, I didn’t understand the true depth behind either one. I simply loved the irreverent natures of the characters and the colorfully rambunctious animation. Perhaps it’s time for a nostalgic weekend marathon…
I’ve been reading comics for about 25 years or more, which doesn’t make me old by any stretch of the imagination (I’m 32, for the record), but I do have quite a comic book reading past behind me that just continues to grow. This also makes remembering what my first comic was rather difficult, as my memory of those years continues to fade away. Most of my comics reading came from my uncle, who passed along titles like Marv Wolfman and George Perez‘s New Teen Titans, and got me hooked on The Legion of Super-Heroes, which started an obsession that I’ve never been able to shake.
My uncle had a number of longboxes he kept, filled to the brim with “Silver Age goodies” as he’d call them, I remember specifically that he had the first appearance of Supergirl, the Superman Red/Superman Blue issue, along with a full run of many titles like Adventure Comics and The Brave and the Bold. But one of the boxes he had stuffed away contained two very seminal indie works that changed my perception of comics forever: Evan Dorkin‘s Milk & Cheese and The Hernandez Bros‘ Love and Rockets. The latter of which, with its magical realism and punk rock energy remains my favorite comic of all time. Sure, there are things that occasionally challenge it for the crown: Maus, Palookaville, Criminal, The Invisibles, From Hell, there’s always something; but the sagas of Maggie, Hopey, Ray, Luba, Carmen, Heraclio, and a cast so rich I can’t even begin to list them all, has a hold on my heart like nothing else. I’m not sure it’s the first comic I ever read, but it’s the first comic I ever loved.
My big brother is 10 years older than me, so I was often running around in his wake blindly liking whatever he liked. He was a big comics fan, but in the mid-1980s our only options for getting comics were the spinner racks.
But it wasn’t until I was six and tagging along with my brother to Waldenbooks in the mall that I saw the comic book cover that made me say: I need to have that in my life.
Alpha Flight #23, the John Byrne run. Sasquatch fighting Sasquatch!
I had no idea who these characters were, but I liked monster and I liked (it turns out) when characters fight alternate versions of themselves. The issue featured a demon-possessed version of the hero Sasquatch in battle with Snowbird, a shape-changer, who (spoiler alert!) rips his heart out of his body and kills him. I read it over & over & over again sucking up every detail, searching for context.
Comics and superheroes had been around my house for years, but this was my first brush with non-A-list characters, and Byrne’s run on the book was one of tumult and constant change. Characters died, the team shifted, they fell in love with each other, they fought amongst themselves. This wasn’t just about the shepherding of lunchbox trademarks — this was storytelling.
I continued to follow Alpha Flight off and on as I found issues on the racks, or as another cover caught my eye. A few years later, writer Bill Mantlo brought Sasquatch back to life in Snowbird’s body, creating — kind of? — the first transgender Marvel Super Hero.
I’ve cobbled together a dollar box run of the Byrne/Mantlo Alpha Flight years, and nostalgia aside, it remains an underappreciated run of Bronze Age superhero stories.
I always put a little asterix behind what I consider to be my first comic. It certainly wasn’t my first – that distinction would belong to a long forgotten Archie digest of some sort – but it’s the first that grabbed me and dragged me into the deep end of the comics pool.
This is a picture of my first comic, as it lives today. The cover fell off long ago, so I a young me decided it would be good to add more staples to the spine. It didn’t really work. That said, it’s a book I return to almost yearly to re-experience. Whenever I flip the cover off the rest of the comic, I’m hit with a wave of nostalgia. I remember paging through this what must have been hundreds of times, taking in some of the (admittedly cheesy) dialogue and completely missing how bananas it was that Ron Frenz was providing pencils that Bill Sienkiewicz would then go over. I mean seriously, Bill Sienkiewicz was essentially one of the co-creators of Spider-Girl and that’s insane to me now. But anyway, for those who want to check out that issue, it’s hanging up on the Marvel Unlimited app right now. As a word of warning, a lot of my love for it comes from a pure place of nostalgia. I recognize that in a lot of ways if this book came out today, I would be giving it side-eye like nobody’s business. But hey, in comics, there’s room for all types and all kinds. There’s room for your tastes to change, and for entire worlds to spread out before you. Its pretty wonderful, and I’m glad I got started on that road all those years ago with this book.
Victor Van Scoit
I wish that I could say the first comic book I picked up was a monumental moment. In reality it was likely a Disney comic in Spanish that I’d borrowed from my cousins to pass the time while visiting family in Mexico. What I can recall with much more clarity is that first real comic book moment. Where you think “Yes. This thing. It’s for me.”
My brother and I grew up on weekday afternoon and Saturday morning cartoons from reruns of the Herculoids to Johnny Quest, Transformers to Robotech, and Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. My brother being six years older had much more access than I to money (a job) and mobility (a car). He was able to go on weekly jaunts to the comic book shop and return with a stack of bagged and boarded comics. His collection was kept tucked away in a long box on the bottom of his closet safely in his locked bedroom. As a younger brother’s curiosity is wont to do, I had made it my goal to make sure he share his riches.
I figured out through a few bouts of trial and error how to defeat the lock on his door. I then went to the closet, sat on the floor, and slid the heavy long box my way. Removing the lid I rubbed my fingertips with anticipation like Indiana Jones stealing the golden idol, and quickly let my fingers walk over his comic collection. I’d slide a comic from it’s bag and gently open it no more than two to three inches. Holding it so, my hands in a somewhat prayer form, I’d tilt my head side to side as I read. I read for a few hours safely knowing my brother was at work and wouldn’t return for a while. I don’t remember everything I read but certain images and titles stand out. I can recall reading through Classic X-Men, The West Coast Avengers, X-Factor, and Daredevil. I remember that feeling of satisfaction and discovery and the expansion of my tiny world.
When I was done I put every comic back in its bag and back in its exact location in the long box. I covered the box and slid the heavy box back in place over the indentation in the carpet of where it once was. I pushed myself up, walked out, and locked the door with no evidence of my cultural heist. That’s not to say I wouldn’t get caught various other times, but it was worthwhile. These minor squabbles between my brother and I led to my parents making him let me tag-a-long on his trips to the comic book shop with my own allowance to start my own collection of comic books.
Like many kids my first brush with comics were Garfield, Calvin and Hobbes strips, and giant treasury collections of The Far Side. But my first real immersion in comic books beyond one to four panel stories were Archie Comics.
I went to sleep away camp in Connecticut for a month each summer. It was *real* summer camp: platform tents in the middle of the woods. No electricity. No TV. Flashlight size C & D batteries became the most valuable currency a kid could have during those four weeks. When night fell and curfew kicked in, I’d hide beneath the cover of my sleeping bag with a canteen of water and Archie, Jughead and Betty and Veronica double digests. I followed the exploits of the Riverdale gang like some people watch soap operas. Though I was eager to experience the kind of freedom these teenage characters seemed to have, I knew that real teenagers weren’t this clean and all-American, at least, not the teens I saw growing up in New York City in the 80s.
But there was something exceedingly comforting about Archie and his pals, and as an awkward child coming of age and on my own for 30 days I often found myself handing over a few dollars in pocket money to my camp counselor to grab me the newest Archie digest on their way through the nearest town. Only counselors could travel “off campus.” When she’d return with my comics, just seeing the covers gave me the same thrill I still feel every time I pick up a comic book. I know there are stories waiting inside for me, that escapism is only a page turn away.
Later I’d find Eastman and Laird and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Spider-Man and (sadly) the Clone Saga. I’d even end up creating my own characters and forming a comics label with two of my classmates. But Archie was first, and sometimes when I see an Archie cover I can still smell that musty sleeping bag all around me and feel the excitement of summers that stretched on forever.
Looking back, I guess my comic reading started later in life than most can claim. It wasn’t that I didn’t like comics, but rather never was introduced to them. And my book reading was at a school requirement level at best.
What I loved were toys. That was my thing. I had a whole Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles chest full of action figures and accessories. When the chest began to overflow, my toys spilled out onto my floor and then the carpet. Safe it to say my mom and I were very familiar with Toys R Us.
During one of my frequent visits, I was 11 years old and spending time that weekend with my dad. I was walking down one of the figure aisles when I saw wrapped in hard plastic, hanging from a hook, three comic books. It was a DC collection, with a giant sticker that claimed it was offering a great value. I was curious, and also fascinated with the packaging’s cover art. I grabbed one off the hook and my dad bought it for me.
After taking it home, and spending a good deal of time on the hard shell with a pair of scissors, I laid out the books leafed through them.
Two of them I don’t remember, but the third is still vivid in my mind. It was Batman: Shadow of the Bat #52. My only exposure to the Dark Knight at the time was the Tim Burton movies with Michael Keaton. But this was something different.
The first thing that caught me was the look. The art style was darker than any of the Sunday Funnies, both in color and content. The villain wasn’t any of the one’s I knew about, like the Joker or the Penguin. This was a guy named Narcosis. He wanted to put the whole city into a deep sleep using poisoned milk. For an eleven-year-old kid who loved his morning cereal, this messed with my head. I began to question hard whether I wanted my Frosted Flakes.
Batman and Robin had to intercept the milk before it was delivered to any innocent people, so the story took place in the early hours of the morning. Even I with my limited comic exposure knew then that Batman only operated at the dead of night. At the end, while Narcosis lay in a deep sleep from his own tainted milk, police argued with themselves that since it was daylight, it couldn’t have been the Batman.
Toys R Us didn’t carry comics for too much longer. But by then, I was finding my love for books like Goosebumps. Soon I came in contact with more comics from stores like Borders. My love of the Batman character also grew.
I’ve since ventured to other titles and genres in the years that came. But that one comic will stick with me for a long time I think.
The Elite Beat Staff is a trained squad of ninja masters.