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More on gateway drugs

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Well, we have been swirling around a lot of ideas generated by this week’s stimulating conversation on Where Comics Are Now, and we don’t quite have time today to write another thoughtful essay, but here’s some more grist for the mill:

§ Tom McLean has a very thoughtful post about how much of a gateway CIVIL WAR and other events really are:

The point became especially clear as I sat down to read Civil War #1-7 yesterday. Having read as periodicals a number of the tie-in titles and miniseries, I was surprised to find that many of the subtle moments I liked were pretty much completely absent from the “main” series. The details of Peter Parker’s decision to unmask, the inner workings of the Tony Stark and Reed Richards alliance and their Negative Zone prison, Ben Grimm’s decision to ride out the controversy as an American expatriate in Paris, and Speedball’s interrogation and transformation were all told in peripheral titles. The main title, which is what most people will read when it comes out in hardcover and later softcover, was spare and unsatisfying on its own.

§ Rivkah has started her own poll on gateway drugs:

My first exposure to kids comics were, hands down, the Garfield and Calvin & Hobbs strips. I was a child in the 80’s when Calvin & Hobbes was in its heyday, and I still remember reading through my brother’s complete collected editions or flipping through the Sunday funnies for the latest installment, brought to me in full, brilliant color. It was easy to get swept away in the adventures of Spaceman Spiff off on Mars or to laugh at Calvin’s turbulent relationship with his pet tiger, Hobbes. To me, Hobbes was, and always will be a real tiger. Garfield, on the other hand, appealed in a more basic fashion with an easier, more laid back sense of humor. I was an avid watcher of the television cartoons as well as collecting the strip in the bound format, picking up copies at my school’s scholastic book fairs whenever I had saved up enough dimes leftover from purchasing my school lunches. I loved lasagna and hated Mondays, and well . . . I finally did get that orange striped cat–though that wasn’t until AFTER living on my own and out of range of my father’s “allergy” to cats.


This does back up our own field research in the 90s when kids who said they read comics usually meant Garfield and Peanuts.

§ This comment on our previous post by The Dane mentions some popular kids comics of his day:

Power Pack, X-Men, Micronauts, and GI Joe


We’d just like to note that those comics were created by folks like Louise Simonson, June Brigman, Michael Golden, Larry Hama, Herb Trimpe. (Don’t even mention X-men.) These weren’t second stringers…they were top crasftmen and women who turned out solid fare. In other words, there’s a REASON the kids came back every month. Today, kid lines at both Marvel and DC are mainly considered stepping stone titles to break in new talent — not that some very talented people aren’t working on them, but kids comics have never really been considered a glamour assignment.

§ Dirk wrote this yesterday:

Heidi MacDonald and Brian Hibbs swear that there are twentysomething readers still patronizing comics shops. I don’t doubt it. The question is, where are the younger teenage comics-shop patrons?


Which strikes me as very much beside the point. They are in bookstores buying manga, Dirk, and that should make you feel all tingly. The manga mammals are already overtaking the direct sales dinosaurs. But that I suppose needs to be another think piece one of these days.

  1. Morgan Freeman was my pusher, as the Easy Reader on the Electric Company. When I went through my superhero phase, my first comic was Spidey Super Stories #5.
    Much later, Secret Wars #4, where the heroes are buried under a mountain, caught my eye, and Memorial Day weekend I bought my first comics at a GROCERY STORE when i saw Spider-Man’s new costume. Eight months later, i walked uphill both ways in the snow to visit my local comicbook store.
    and so, in a way, thank you, Jim Shooter.
    Now then, Marvel, when will you publish a Spidey and Friends comicbook to compliment those ohsocute toys?

  2. For me it was a slow burn. Comic strips first (also Garfield and Calvin and Hobbes) and then the Transformer Vs. GI Joe miniseries…eventually Groo and Uncle Scrooge…then around the time Mark Martin drew an issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles something exploded in my mind and my sould belonged to comics.

  3. I’ve said this before on a number of blogs. I’m an older comics fan – in my 50s now. I started with wonderful kids’ comics such as Little Lulu, Nancy and Sluggo, Baby Huey, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Richie Rich, and others. I was 6 years old, and my parents were willing to buy these (one at a time, once a week – oh, to have to choose!). Within a couple of years I was reading Batman, The Phantom, The Spirit – borrowing from the neighbor kids. We all shared our comics, often congregating in my family’s living quarters (military) with our stacks of books. When we moved back to the U.S., I’d go to the local drug store a few blocks from our house and check out the spinner racks for stuff every week. I had a weekly allowance, and I bought comics a couple times a month (Hawkman and Green Lantern) and teen magazines once a month. I was a DC girl growing up.

  4. It was “Transformers” and “GI Joe” all the way for me. I actually discovered Spider-Man from an early issue of “TF” where he guest-starred (I still don’t think his webbing would hold Megatron). Not to mention my first conscious memory is of watching “Superman II” on TV and jumping of the furniture in my Superman PJs pretending I could fly.

    Now, of course, I do this for a living so it obviously had quite an effect on me.

    As for quality kid’s comics, I do them myself and am just wrapping an issue of “Batman Strikes” for DC. I don’t think of it as “lesser” work at all. In fact, I think the kids book versions are often more true to the characters than their “mainstream” counterparts. Plus they’re a whole lot more fun to read — and to write.

  5. I recognize at least 2 or 3 teenagers that regularly come into ‘my’ store. Its not a lot obviously, but its nice.

    Personally, I started reading in earnest and with regularity when I was in high school.

  6. “In fact, I think the kids book versions are often more true to the characters than their “mainstream” counterparts. ”

    Absolutely.

    I know that many people (including me) think of the “kid” versions of various characters as the “real” ones. Batman is Bruce Timm’s Batman, etc.

    My gateway comics were GI Joe and Uncanny X-Men. The former I picked up at the local drug store, and I was hooked by Larry Hama’s smart, engaging plots. He has people working through their personal histories, and it feels legitimate. You really want to know how Snake-Eyes and the rest are connected through thier time in Vietnam. X-Men started after I happened to get two sequential issues in one of those Sears “30 random comics” packs from my parents for Christmas. There was enough continuity in there that I wanted to know what had happened and what was going to happen.

    These days, I “check in” on the core titles at various companies now, but give me Runaways and Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane over whatever convoluted muck is happening in those core books.

  7. I started on the Terminator comics, put out by Now. I was a big Sci-Fi fan, and would ride my bike to the drug store to get them. When a comic book store did open up, all I saw were the Aliens comics. It took some real pushing from the people that worked there to get me to read other stuff. As for manga; I have a real hard time finding any that that make a hole lot of sense. The stories (and I’m not saying all of them) seem to be very convoluted, with pretty yet redundant images, and more often then not, have no beginning, middle, or end. I feel that it’s only a matter of time before our teenage readers realize this, and move on to other things. Will it be other forms of comics? Well, that’s up to us. I also worry that alot of kids are going to think that, this is how you tell a story, and that’s just bad. Don’t we have enough poor story telling as it is? I’m sure many will disagree with me (but don’t be to hasty, think about it first) but it just seems to be a black mark on literature, to bolster such a large amount of mediocre genre, when we could be spotlighting just the good parts of it. This may not mean much coming from a dyslexic (who has 0 control over what happens anyway) with very poor spelling, but we live in a world with ADD and I think we should take a closer look at that. Why are we putting our faith in genres, when we could be upholding individual works of greatness? Those works are what have kept me around.

  8. Yeah, I remember as a kid, I would actually seek out other books by Louise Simonson, June Brigman, and Larry Hama. It was because of my love of their earlier works that I was able to enjoy some of their later, less popular works from Marvel (like Simonson’s Spellbinder). And I think Larry Hama’s Nth Man may have been one of the key steps to me seeing that interesting stories could be told without superheros – even though Nth Man wasn’t that far from the fold. Other aids to expanding my horizons were Marvel’s Epic line and their publishing of Groo the Wanderer and their colourful republication of Akira (or most of it anyway – grumble, grumble).

  9. Tintin was my “gateway” comic. (And the idea of another attempt at a Tintin motion picture makes me chilled and exhausted at the same time.) Tintin was serialized in two-color, then b&w in Children’s Digest throughout my childhood. After Tintin, I discovered Harvey Comics, and that’s when the real obsession began. Richie Rich and Casper were what I lived for every Sunday after church when my dad would stop at 7-ll so my sister and I could each buy a comic book. (When Richie and Casper later got their own title together, that was the best–a title I continued to buy into my late teens until the whole line was cancelled.) Peanuts collections were also a revolving obsession, not only with me, but with many kids in school. Also in school a teacher brought in a huge supply of old comics and I discovered the Warren horror magazines. I read the supply of these in school avidly and that’s the only time I ever stole comics–and felt so guilty I took them back the next day. Once in a while I’d read a comic published by DC, although Shazam was the only one I followed with any regularity. I was also saving the daily newspaper so I could cut out every Peanuts strip to save. By the time I was 12 years old, I loved the Pogo reprints from Fireside, I was heavily into the Archie digests, and I began to read more DC comics. Little Brown began publishing the Tintin books, so now I was reading Tintin in color for the first time and didn’t have to wait a month between episodes. I’d loved Uncle Scrooge for awhile when I got ahold of a Carl Barks story, but those stories weren’t frequent enough for me to really recognize at that point what the difference was between Barks and other cartoonists in the Gold Key comics. But in my early teens I suddenly saw the difference and had to have anything Barks did. Justice League of America turned into my favorite DC comic when Shazam turned into a bad imitation of the bad Saturday morning show. I’d avoided Marvel for awhile because the dialogue was usually just so awful and since the stories were always continued, I never had any idea what was going on when I occasionally read a Marvel comic. By this time I’d stopped reading Archie comics, cut way, way back on the Harvey comics, and only bought Uncle Scrooge from Gold Key. But I’d turned into a DC superhero junkie and that led inevitably to Marvel superheroes, especially after I read a few Kirby Fantastic Four reprints. When younger I’d been too cowed by my mother’s disapproval of Mad magazine to buy it for myself–I just read friends’ copies. Now I bought it every month. X-men began to supplant JLA as my favorite comic book. I dropped Mad, but began to pick up Epic, although I hid Epic so that my mother wouldn’t see it. Steve Canyon became my favorite newspaper strip, supplanting my long love of Peanuts. Of course, I’d been drawing my own comic strips and books for years, and in my mid-teens I decided to become a professional cartoonist for my career. When I was in art school, the comics publishing world expanded and suddenly DC and Marvel weren’t so important (although Marvel’s Master of Kung-Fu overtook X-men as my favorite comic book). But now comics had so much more to offer–Pacific (Twisted Tales, Alien Worlds, Elric!), Eclipse (Sabre!), First (American Flagg!) Fantgraphics (Love and Rockets!), and more–much more. I read all sorts of comics, including (finally) Heavy Metal and Raw. Forget superheroes–they basically never progressed anyway–I’d been reading them long enough to realize they were always the same old thing endlessly recycled. My comics reading has basically remained pretty wide ever since. Best discoveries over the years have included Blueberry, Cerebus, Promethea, and Lynda Barry. Now I buy lots of graphic novels, best of the new, best of the old. Not so many of the pamplets anymore–Love and Rockets, Autumn, Apocalypse Nerd, Castle Waiting, Magic Whistle, Berlin, Uncle Scrooge when there’s a Don Rosa story or Carl Barks story I don’t already have, and a few other things. And things written or drawn by friends. I very, very rarely see newspaper comics, though I’m buying the Complete Peanuts collections. And I pick up every issue of Swan and Little Lulu. Currently I’m reading the early Blueberry volumes that haven’t been translated into English. My French isn’t very good, so I’m progressing slowly.

  10. I will second, third and fourth a vote for the original Power Pack as a gateway drug for me, and if we continue that metaphor, the current series is akin to Marinol, the gummit’s legal THC delivery system: sure, it gets the job done, but utterly joylessly.

    I’ve been in comics circles long enough now that there aren’t many writers or artists that I truly geek out around. The last time was with Jon Bogdanove at the 2006 NYCC for being the artist who took Power Pack up a notch from June Brigman’s already superb pencils. This year at the NYCC, unannounced so far as I could tell (and believe me, I checked in advance), Louise Simonson made an appearance at the Marvel booth. Between the line and my own unusual nervousness, I didn’t go up. But later, just before the end on Sunday, I spotted her with Walt and Chris Claremont in Artist’s Aerie. I could have just gone up and said hello. But I didn’t trust myself. How do you approach someone who’s the very reason why you ever became a comics reader for 22 years? What Stan Lee might have been to an early ’60’s adolescent, Louise Simonson was for me in the early ’80’s, maybe even more so. I think I was honestly afraid I would start crying.

    Weezi, if you read this, you are so f’ing awesome and I love you for it.

  11. Yeah, TAG’s right. Sumerak’s Power Pack is kinda fun in its own way, but I don’t think it would have been a gateway drug for me. As fun as it it, there’s just, well, too little there. Even though I thought the kids in Simonson/Brigman’s Power Pack were a little dorky they added so much charm and intrigue to the book that my little 1984, fourth-grader mind couldn’t help but think it was the greatest thing ever. And it may be that I’m approaching it from an adult perspective, but the new ones just seem kinda fluffy, I guess.

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