Tuesday, May 22, 2012
IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR
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