top of page

Before the Internet: A Return to the Comic Shop

Updated: Apr 13, 2023

“On April 30, 1993, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) put the web into the public domain a decision that has fundamentally altered the past quarter-century.” --DAVID GROSSMAN. Although plenty of our pastime activities included electronic entertainment and movies, the 1980s offered kids a multitude of recreational distractions that may be less relatable to today’s youth. Whether timeless or lost to time, this ongoing series is dedicated to the many 1980s activities in which we engaged.


Last year I wrote an article about comic shops, and as we again near the annual Free Comic Book Day (May 6th, 2023), my mind returns to that most magical of places, where the smell of paper and plastic intermingle to create a fascinating bastion of imagination. Much like the library and used bookstore, the comic shop promised limitless worlds of exploration and wonder. The store packed its shelves with heroes and villains, utopias and dystopias, wonders and horrors, all for our little hands to grasp and hold close.

No matter if you collected comics in earnest or not, back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, almost all kids had some connection to comics, even if it was only through Tim Burton's Batman movie. Maybe you never purchased a comic yourself, but I’ll bet at least one of your friends had, and they probably dragged you with them on occasion to peruse the aisles too. If you never set foot in a full-fledged comic shop, then perhaps you glanced at one of those spinning metal racks in the corner store, rusty and squeaky with age. Or maybe you flipped through a friend's comic in their bedroom while waiting for them to get ready for a game of manhunt.

My point is this: comics were as pervasive as videos games and most kids had at least a fleeting interest in them. I have to generalize here because it’s not like I have statistics on the matter, and there’s always going to be outliers, children who somehow avoided even setting wayward eyes on a single page being read by a friend. But that’s okay. When I write about nostalgia and the past, I often work in generalizations, and I can usually count on the majority of readers relating. In this case, history makes sense of the large number of ‘80s and ‘90s kids who were enthralled by comics.

According to Jesse Kowalski, 1985-1996 was labeled the “Dark Age” of comics: “From the mid-1980s through the early 1990s, anti-heroes were popular. Dark, pessimistic stories reigned, as in Alan Moore’s Watchmen, where a world looks down on once mighty superheroes or in Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns where a 55-year-old Batman has retired from crime-fighting, leaving criminals to terrorize Gotham City. Readers witnessed Superman dying, Batman becoming critically injured, and Green Lantern Hal Jordan slaughtering his fellow Green Lanterns” [1]. This is no doubt one of the reasons (besides being the right age at the right time) I became fascinated with comics. It’s no revelation to my constant readers that I’m both a horror fan and a horror writer, so anything of the darker bent no doubt drew me in. Dark Horse Comics (founded in 1986), Valiant Comics (founded in 1989), and Image Comics (founded in 1992) were among the creator-owned companies that led the pack in those days (Image Comics being my personal favorite).

This same period in time is noteworthy for being one of the comic industries booms in production and sales (followed immediately by a huge slump and over saturation of previous titles which in many cases would fail to increase in value). This darker edge to comics reached a peak in the ‘90s, “…the same period that spawned Mortal Kombat and Grunge rock. No, this is not a coincidence; all had their roots in the same jaded, cynical, Gen X attitude that was common at the time” [2].

These days, I still have my old longbox filled with those mostly worthless ‘80s and ‘90s comics, and I even occasionally add to them when I see something I remember from my old trips to the comic shop popping up for a dollar at the yard sales. Seldomly, I even take a trip to my local comic shop and peruse the shelves (as I do every free comic book day), and though I don’t regard myself as a collector anymore (if I ever was), I’ll still add a few interesting titles to my trusty long box when something piques my interest (like the recent Madballs VS Garbage Pail Kids crossover).

Mostly though, I've left my fascination with the comic shop and comics in the past, where I sometimes visit on rainy summer afternoons, when there's nothing else to do and my mind craves a flight of fancy. I like returning to the comic shop in my mind, the one I remember from when I still believed in magic. The one that convinced me if I wished hard enough, maybe even I could fly. It's a special place apart from time and space, but as tangible as the keyboard under my fingers.

You should visit your own some time. You might be surprised what titles you'll find still on the shelf.


Recent Posts

See All


Apr 11, 2023

I do remember the distinct smell of my comic book shop. One of those smells that brings great nostalgia whenever I get a whiff of even something close.

I do not collect comics regularly anymore, but I too purchased the Mad Balls vs GPK series myself. It was too fun and too '80s to pass up and just had to add it to my collection.

Replying to

Yeah, had to check out at least a couple issues. I probably would have kept buying them but I forgot all about it and missed a couple issues.

bottom of page