Herein I'm going to take a stab at remembering and recounting my personal journey with comics. I'll approach this like a scientist (on drugs). This is long and rambling. You've been warned.
When I was 7, my parents divorced. My mom and I moved from Louisville to Somerset (where I was born and where she was born) into an old shack without a bathroom or running water from what I can remember. I do not remember any comic books prior to this time, though it is possible I had a few here and there. I mostly remember TV shows like Shazam and Hulk and cartoons like Quick Draw McGraw and Bugs Bunny.
Sometime after the divorce, before I turned 9, someone in the family gave me a stack of comic books. These were legit funnies
. I had some Casper, Hot Stuff, Wendy, Donald Duck, Archie, and probably Uncle Scrooge and Richie Rich. My memory is very old, of course. This was the late 70s. I was born in 1970, so this would have been 1977-1978. I'm guessing the stack of comics was about 15-20 in number. They were beat up, well-read, and came from a cousin who was kind of a blacksheep and died far too early. He would have been a young man at the time, probably 18-20.
I read and flipped through those comics quite a bit. I'm guessing several of them survived and were carried from home to home by me (we moved a lot between 1977 and 1984).
Perhaps it is largely this exposure to silly fun comics like Hot Stuff that lead to my lifelong love of cartoon art. I do credit Hot Stuff as the progenitor of Zarp, though he wasn't based on that character explicitly.
FOOD LION AND THE DIX RIVER CONNECTION
My mom and I lived in the red shack for about a year, I guess. I have lots of memories from there. I remember the nasty outhouse (I tended to go in the woods instead of going into that thing). I remember a dog named King and another dog whose name I don't remember. I remember a bicycle that got ran over, much to my dismay. I remember getting some toy cowboy guns for Xmas and my little cousins crying for them. I also remember coming home from school one Friday eager to watch Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, which was heavily advertised on TV for that Saturday. But our cable had been cut off that day due to non-payment. I was crushed. Perhaps, in hindsight, I was spared
We were less than poor. We had fucking nothing. We relied on charity from family and on a welfare pittance of about $90 per month. My mom, may she rest in peace, was in over her head and had no prospects.
Anyway... she met Lee about 1978, winter. I was 8 at the time. I know it was winter because he was a ramblin' man who was making a meager living selling truckloads of coal. He would go to houses and ask if they wanted to buy coal. He would then go load his old white pickup truck with coal, then charge the person for the coal and the labor. My mom must have met him through a friend and he brought us some coal.
They hooked up for the next 30 years until his death on May 12th 2008. Lee was, by all measures, my dad. My biological father, kind of a lazy asshole, was never around. Lee was around.
Ok, let me steer this back to the road...
Lee came, he helped us out, he bought me strawberry ice cream, which was super nice. He, being a rambler and a piddler, didn't have a job. We moved around... all the time. Lee "ran off" multiple times and my mom would leave me with this or that aunt or uncle and go off chasing him. She always found him and they always ended up back together. It was a wild time to be a kid. Remind me to tell you stories about garbage dumps and living in a van later).
So we eventually moved to Standford into a trailer in the Dix River trailer park. I was in 4th grade, so it would have been 1980 or so. I was held back in 3rd grade. Anyway, here we were and I was having a good time and met a few friends. One of them, a black haired toothy kid named Danny, was a nerd. He was into Star Wars and comic books.
I do not remember the exact order of events so I'll do my best to jam it all together.
We lived in the Dix River trailer park twice: once when I was in 4th grade and again when I was in 6th grade. My journey into "real comics" happened during this period. I'm guessing Danny showed me some of his comics and I showed him mine. All I had at the time were probably funnies.
It was the second time at Dix that I got serious. I was in Food Lion with my mom and I immediately gravitated to the magazine rack where my eyes fell on Amazing Spider-Man #238
... which happened to be the first appearance of the Hobgoblin. I didn't know shit about shit, I just knew that was an awesome looking comic and I begged for mom to buy it. To her great credit... she did.
This is how learned about "monthly comics". Every month from then on I would make it my mission to ensure that I ended up at Food Lion or Mac's Village Pantry or some other store and feverishly search the spinner rack for the new issue of ASM (eventually expanding to Spectacular and Web Of). I proudly took my comics to school where Danny and a few other pals (a curly headed kid with chubby cheeks, a fat kid, and a black kid - I do not remember any of their names, sadly) would sit in the stairwell and read them.
Beyond reading comics, Danny and I wanted to draw. We had this thing where we would put a sheet of paper under a comic cover and then use a BALLPOINT PEN to trace over the art, leaving an impression on the paper so we could then "draw" it. We savaged a lot of comics in those days. But I attribute this time period to a substantial leap forward in my interest in art and my ability to draw.
Thank you, Danny, wherever you are. You were a friend and I wish we could have stayed in touch somehow.
THE STANFORD FLEA MARKET VIETNAM VET
There was a tiny flea market very close to the Dix River trailer park. My folks were heavily into flea marketing and auctioning (it was our primary income). So I basically lived at flea markets and auctions between 1979 and 1986.
There was this guy at the Dix River flea market. I believe his name might have been Doug... but somehow that seems wrong. We'll call him Doug, though. He had a slightly oversized head and mom would say there was something wrong with him (in a kind way... she was very kind and compassionate to him).
Doug was a Vietnam vet and even I, as a kid, could tell he was troubled. But he was super nice to me and he was into comics. He had boxes of them he sold at the flea market and he let me pick from the boxes and read what I wanted. He gave me a few Incredible Hulk comics. Probably the very few Hulk comics I ever owned. They featured Woodgod and those guys. I would sit next to Doug and absolutely burn up his ears talking comics and I'm sure I was an annoying little shit that he tolerated.
Thanks, Doug. You were instrumental in setting me on my path and I hope you found peace for the rest of your life.
FLEA MARKET FINDS AND BUDDING CREATOR
Lee was always finding these oddball things he could try to sell. He got his hands on a few cases (CASES!) of Marvel Super Heroes bubble gum and rub-on tattoos. He gave me a whole box (the kind you'd see in the store for display). Naturally I used them all.
He also got hold of some kind of DC Comics shit because I had multiple copies of these little miniature comics featuring the retold origins of Superman, Batman, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, etc. I was a Marvel snob even then, but I loved those little comics. I just didn't care enough about DC to actually pick up any DC comics.
It was those mini-comics that gave me the idea to make my own. So I did. I do not remember what year it was. Both the tattoos and mini-comics were sold in 1980, and 1980 was my first time living in the trailer park. But I don't know if Lee would have picked these up at the time or 2 years later. I think it was 1980... which means this was happening prior to my entry into collecting "real" comics.
I drew Hulk and Spider-Man and, I think, The Thing. I folded two sheets of 8.5x11 paper in half and made a digest comic out of them. I'm sure it was pure trash... but it laid the groundwork in my head.
THE SUMMER OF 1983: CARROT STYLE
We moved away from Standford again. We were in Somerset, possibly in one of its sub-areas like Nancy or Burnside. I can't remember. But I remember Flo's Flea Market. I lived at Flo's.
Flo was an indoor/outdoor setup. Indoor there was something truly amazing... comic books. They were a quarter each. Flo got them, apparently, from overflow from local stores. I have no idea how. But her bins were filled with multiple copies of fairly-recent comic books. If a book was on the rack in January, Flo might get multiple copies of it in Feb or March.
And a quarter wasn't so much money that I couldn't swindle a handful out of my mom. So I haunted those boxes day after day and therein I discovered one of the greatest treasures of all time: Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew
I remember stumbling upon the Captain and thinking "WOW!". I dug through the boxes and managed to find the first issue, which I immediately bought. I carried it off, read it, and came back ASAP with more quarters. I hunted like a god damn predator through those boxes of unorganized comics until I managed to piece together the first 5 or 6 issues of CC. Happy as a pig in shit, I read them over and over.
During the following few months of summer, I scored every other issue she acquired, which brought me up to issue 16. That's it, that's all she had, and that's all I was able to get. But it was more than enough to fire up my imagination for years.
Thanks, Flo. I hope your remaining years were fruitful and pleasant.
THE SAVAGE CIMMERIAN
Time passes. We moved around a little bit more. I eventually happened upon an issue of Savage Sword of Conan
at Mac's Village Pantry. It was more costly than other comics and it was black and white. But it was awesome
. And it had women
. Sometimes... they were naked. But also, lots of violence and muscles and monsters. It was MY JAM. I made it my mission to pick up SSOC
every month from then until I was an adult.
My first SSOC, that I can remember, was issue #104 with its sweet-ass Joe Jusko cover. I drooled and drooled over that book all day and night. This was 1984.
My cousin Charlie, younger than me, had picked up a copy of Conan the Barbarian, the regular color series. I read it but was not impressed at the time. It felt like it was meant for kids. What's the "comics code" anyway? Where was the nudity? The neck-to-navel disembowelments? Nope, not for me. I snubbed it. I never once collected that book... what a silly asshole I was. I wish I had got into it.
But then again: poor. Limited funds, you know.
OF DUNGEONS AND MAYBE DRAGONS
It was about this time, the Conan time, that I got into D&D. It was by accident. Kids at school were playing it and I heard them and was observing with curiosity. I was invited to play an elf with a +1 sword. It was amazing. I did a lot of trading with this kid named David, the Dungeon Master. I gave him some of my comics, he gave me the 1981 D&D Expert book. My uncle bought me the red box at the same time. I was SET UP.
We all know that many artists working on those game books were into comics. Willingham and Dee alone were enough to make my mental connection complete. My life went on the comics/RPG path from then on.
APAS AND DIGESTS AND SMALL PRESS
I won't go into this in detail here. It's a whole other story. But by 1987-1988 I was making my own comics and publishing them with friends. This was the natural progression of what I've already told. It was the influence of my good friends in high school that set me on this path. I learned of APAs (Amateur Press Association publications) and digest comics and people who self-published. I wanted in! I got in. I created and published a few dozen comics and contributed to dozens and dozens of other folks' comics through the 90s and into the 2000s. I had a good time.
That's about it for now. There's a lot more to say, of course. Just how did these events affect me? Which individual comic issues made the biggest impression? Who were my favorite creators? What other comics did I encounter? We all have our stories, don't we?
Love the stuff you love. Be critical of it where merited, but love it nonetheless. These are treasured memories of times long gone. They live in our hearts. I still tear up when I think of me and Danny sitting next to each other in class tracing our comic book covers. I'll never let that feeling go.