“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.
It felt appropriate on this day, Free Comic Book Day 2022, to take a trip back in time to the comic shops of my childhood, in good old Brooklyn, NY. Not that this would be the first time. Recently while writing the new novel, Tommy and the Order of Cosmic Champions (coming out this fall), I spent a great deal of time reminiscing about my many trips to the local comic store while constructing Tommy’s local shop. The one he retreats to when things aren’t going so well. The place that holds hope, mystery, and happiness around every corner. While writing these scenes, I closed my eyes and breathed deep, trying to remember the smells and textures of those stores. Each one was a little different, but they all held the same sense of wonder.
Like Tommy in the novel, I was also introduced to comics by my father. I remember walking down 86th street and taking a detour down a side avenue at my father’s prompting. When we entered the shop, my eyes popped wide. There were so many colors, illustrations, and action figures. It was a new kind of toy store to me, and one I was keen to explore.
The first comic I ever purchased was Married with Children #1. I know, I know. Not exactly the epic first purchase you might have expected, but I was always an atypical collector. I stuck with Married with Children, then started buying Hook (the four-issue miniseries based on the movie), and finally bought an actual superhero comic when I began collecting Brigade (from Image Comics).
You might have noticed that these comics were released from 1991-1992, falling slightly outside the purview of this site by a couple years. But as I’ve argued in previous articles, I often think of the first part of a new decade as transitional years, when the ‘80s were still alive and in the air. Besides, that’s when I first started collecting comics, and I can’t fudge the facts.
Though there were a few similarities between my comic shops and Tommy’s, there were a lot of differences as well, not least of which being location. Tommy, living in a small town in Ohio, only had the one local store. I, on the other hand, had at least four different stores I would frequent. Probably the weirdest was a little stand that was actually a small part of a video rental store. They didn’t have endless aisles and shelves to look through like other places, but they did have little mailboxes—not much more than a cubbyhole with customers’ names on it—where the shopkeeper would stash comics you requested, and in some cases ones he thought you’d like based on your choices.
As you probably remember from my previous articles on the subject, I was (and am) obsessed with mail. So I jumped at the opportunity to have my own mailbox where comics would magically appear week after week, even if I often passed on purchases. For some reason, early on I was particular about only wanting a certain few comics. It was another comic store owner, from one of the bigger stores, that eventually said, “You know, you can buy other comics too.”
Sure, he was probably frustrated that I’d come in every week looking for Brigade and then leave empty handed when they didn’t have a new copy. And okay, he certainly wanted to make some money. But I still looked at that piece of advice as a great epiphany. That’s when I really started to collect, buying new #1 issues of Image Comics, but also dipping into classic superhero offerings like Superman and Spider-Man (though I always ended up going back for the darker stuff, like Violator, Virus, and Spawn).
These days I don’t buy as many comics. I’ll pick up some stuff around Halloween and sometimes a random new series that speaks to me. And of course, who can resist Free Comic Book Day. Speaking of which, it looks like my local shop is about to open, so I better get going.
Happy Free Comic Book Day, everybody!