Tuesday, May 22, 2012

IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR

1963. In July of that year, my family drove to upstate New York to
visit relatives of my father.  At 11, I wasn’t thrilled with this
vacation.  But comic books will get you through boring times and,
back then, every stop along the road sold comic books.  I bought a
lot of them and couldn’t tell you which ones if my life depended on
it.  With one notable exception.

My parents weren’t happy with my spending my “souvenir money” on a
whole lot of comic books.  I figured it was my money and I should
be able to spend it as I liked.  Reading those comic books was how
I dealt with the tedium of the long drive.

When we got to the town where our relatives lived, we stopped by a
cigar and magazine shop owned by my father’s uncle.  I headed for
the comics display, but my parents got between me and the comics.
Not wanting to have a scene in the store, they told me I could buy
one and only one more comic book.  That would be it for the trip.

If I could only buy one more comic book, then, defiant little cuss
that I was, I was going to buy one that cost a quarter.  The flaw
in my plan was...I already had the DC annuals on the display and
wasn’t at all interested in the Archie or Harvey giants. 

Then I spotted Fantastic Four Annual #1.  I had only read one issue
of Fantastic Four prior to this, the issue with Kurrgo, Master of
Planet X.  I hadn’t like the issue at all.  It was unnerving to see
super-heroes fighting with one another in much the same manner that
I fought with my siblings.  Kurrgo looked like a sickly potato man.
The art didn’t look as “clean” as DC super-hero art.  And, even at
that age, I realized someone had screwed up the end of the story by
mixing up “enlarging” and “shrinking.”

None of that mattered to me in the smoke shop.  I was a man - okay,
a boy - on a mission.  I didn’t care if that annual was any good or
not.  I was going to show my parents I could outsmart them, even if
it was only in this minor way.  I bought the annual.

It changed my life.

Fantastic Four Annual #1, as I’ve proclaimed on numerous occasions,
is the greatest comic book of all time.  It was 72 pages of sheer
excitement and wonderment.  I read it several times that night and
several more times on the rest of the trip.  I didn’t reread any of
the other comics I had bought.

At 37 pages, the annual’s “Sub-Mariner Versus the Human Race!” was
the longest comic-book story I had ever read.  Sub-Mariner invades
New York City.  A deathly ill Reed Richards seems helpless to stop
him and his forces.  Namor takes Sue Storm prisoner.  We learn the
history of Atlantis.  Action and human drama with great characters.
What an epic!

The other features drew me more into the young Marvel Universe as
I read the origin of the Fantastic Four, their meeting with Spider-
Man, informational pin-up pages of the FF’s villains and question-
and-answer pages with the heroes.  I studied the annual’s amazing
diagram of their Baxter Building headquarters.  A brand new world
opened up for me.

Back in the real world, we were spending the night in the “family
cabin.”  It was a large cabin with a huge common area, a kitchen,
and several bedrooms above the open common area.  It was not in the
best of shape, as I recall, and there had been critters of varying
kinds residing in the cabin whenever humans weren’t there.  Maybe
even while humans were there.

My three siblings and I slept on cots in the common area.  Despite
the unfamiliarity of the place, we all slept soundly, exhausted by
the long drive. 

I got up at the crack of dawn.  While the rest of the family slept
on, I grabbed my small stack of comic books and went to the porch.
But the only one I wanted to read in that lovely woodland solitude
was Fantastic Four Annual #1.

I knew comic books were written and drawn by adults.  The credits
for Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers didn’t reveal that to me,
though the DCs of the day lacked such recognition for their writers
and artists.  However, reading that comic book that quiet morning,
it suddenly hit me that writing and drawing comics were real
jobs.  Butcher, baker, comic-book maker...and I knew what I wanted
to be when I grew up.

The quiet of the morning was shattered when my older sister woke up
screaming.  Sometime during the night, an errant breeze or maybe a
critter had knocked dried insects and insect husks and Lord knows
what else from the rafters onto her cot and, as I recall, only her
cot.  I took it as the universe exacting justice on her.  She had
been her usual bossy self on the long drive, taking my folks side
in the “buying too many comic books” debate.  She’s never forgiven
me for being the cuter, smarter and more talented child.  At least,
she seemed to like our younger brothers better.

I enjoyed the rest of that vacation.  We went to the Baseball Hall
of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.  I loved both the Museum and the
town.  I’ve visited a few times since, and, every time, there has
been something new to excite me and the familiar charm of the area
to soothe my oft-contentious spirit. 

In case you were wondering, I did have money left to buy a couple
Hall of Fame souvenirs.  I couldn’t tell you what I bought or where
they ended up over the years. 

Sad to say, I don’t have my original copy of Fantastic Four Annual
#1.  It went missing somewhere along my several moves from here to
there and there to here.  I bought a copy in much better condition
over two decades ago and cherish it to this day.

Fantastic Four Annual #1 hit the newsstands in July 1963.  It’s a
key month in my comics career.  I’ll be writing about other comics
from that month in upcoming bloggy things, switching back and forth
between the month of my birth, this month of my awakening and a few
other important months.  I know I’ll have fun writing about these
comics and I hope you’ll enjoy reading about them.

I’ll be back tomorrow with another Rawhide Kid Wednesday and, after
that, with the usual mix of news, views, and reviews.

© 2012 Tony Isabella

3 comments:

  1. Late Night FerengiMay 22, 2012 at 10:58 AM

    I believe this one was re-printed in the 1970's in the first Marvel FF Tresury Edition and or one of those 25 cent Marvel Collectors Item re-prints. I remember that story also. After reading Stan Lee's Origin of Marvel comics and a yer prior to it's publication I was seeking out al the origin stories of my favorite super-heroes. DC even had their own "Secret Origins" book that got me on the origins bandwagon. After reading about the FF's start, I wanted to get all the re-prints I could get my hands on. I believe it was "World's Greatest Comics" had past issue of the FF, which I bought with great interest. The 70's were a great time for re-prints of the 60's material, especially for Marvel. It was the only way I could read past issues without spending a fortune. This was all before comic shops. I went to two places to get my comics. A coffee shop called "Ann's" in my local city, and a smoke shop in the city which carried tobacco. My grandpa used to make his own cigarettes with table top machine to save money on cartons. It was a weekly thing to go with my grandmother to get his canned tobacco and get a chance to look at new comics. Why this guy carried comics for so long, I don't know. He let me stay and look each time because every thing I picked up, I bought. At the time they were 20 cents each. I am really shocked that now comics are $2.99 and $3.99 an issue. They are completly way too expensive for me today. That's why my only place to shop that I trust is on Amazon. Sure there are comic shops in my state, but they are all located in very bad areas of their respective towns and you can never find a good place to park.

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  2. Hi TONY, This blog brings back many memories from my youth too. My first comic book was either an issue of ACTION or ADVENTURE comics in I think 1959 or so.. I was sick and my father had taken me out to the doctor's office where the doctor had prescribed for me some medication which meant that we had to stop at a local pharmacy in Kingston, NY where I grew up.. I don't know what my next comic book was... However soon after I was spending my allowance money of $1.00 each week for Batman, Superman, Flash, etc, until I found my first MARVEL comic book. It was I think, again my memory does play tricks with me, Fantastic Four #6 and I was hooked!! I had bought Amazing Fantasy #15 and then when I had read in a DC FLASH Comic Book that some one had posted that they had bought three issues of the now life changing story "Flash of two Worlds" which I had some how missed buy at my local stores (there were two of them that I had frequented.... the Broadway news shop and OTTO's)
    So I had written to the person who had said he had bought three copies because back then they used to print the complete names, addresses, etc, unlike today, to get a reply from him that he had sold them or traded them. However he put me in touch with HOWARD ROGOSKI (I hope that I've spelled his name right.) who then used to send me out hand written letters of some of the books that he had for sale before he then went to his printed list.. well I was deleriously happy.. I bought from him among others a copy of Fantastic Four # 1 for $1.00 (no I don't have that issue any
    more. I sold it for $1000 to start up the Fantasy Mail Company in 1976. It was one of the first mail order comic book companies in the world.. And I could go on and on.)

    If you would be so kind as to listen to my www.blogtalkradio/fantasticfrank.com this coming Thursday afternoon @ 3:00 PM I will be interviewing a friend named TOM COOK who was an animator at Hannna Barara and worked on many other strips like Thundarr the Barbarian, and He-Man, Master of The Universe..

    We will have a great time talking about how things used to be in the good old days..

    Maybe you would want to be a caller in or a future guest?

    I would be honored to have you be a guest on my show..

    Oh and of course there is much more about me like how I am known as Fantastic Frank

    and why my show is billed as going "From Flawed to Fantastic"

    Ff

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  3. The first superhero comic I remember buying was Showcase #4. I was 8, I think. I bought three other comics that day, but I don't remember what they were. The comics were a bribe to keep me quiet and out of the way because my mother was about to give birth to my little brother.

    Previously, I had bought only Disney comics, Little Lulu, a few other funny animals, Archies, Harveys and the odd comic featuring real horses or dogs or movies or tv shows I liked. Showcase #4 featured DC's revival of the Flash and it seemed completely unlike any other comic had ever been to me.

    Superman and Wonder Woman I knew but this new character was completely different. He seemed more real. I loved him. Barry Allen will always be the quintessential comic book hero to me.

    Thanks for jarring loose that memory, Tony.

    - Joyce

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