The Forestdale Pharmacy was always a fantastic place to buy comics growing up—and where my mom bought my first comic book ever, Star Wars #71. Growing up it seemed every store had comics, and you had to hunt around a bit to find all the various titles. Forestdale Pharmacy was always real good for Star Wars and Marvels—it had a full spinner rack.
Brooklere Pharmacy was strong on DC and also had a habit of keeping comics on the spinner for a few months, so you could complete a couple months at a time or get a good sampler of a new title. The Big B had a flat rack filled with Marvels. I got my first issue of Avengers there, #243 (I had to ask my dad to explain how you pronounced “Vizh,” the bizarrely-spelled nickname for the Vision, and he somehow knew immediately). I also remember that I got Star Wars #73 there, and my first issue of Spider-Man—#252, featuring the debut of the exquisite black costume (or, if you prefer, Venom), which is by far my favorite. I somehow knew that Spidey didn’t look that way and was amazed at the wonderful re-design.
That issue of the Avengers and the Spider-Man had created in me a storm of lust for Secret Wars. The A&P carried a wide range of Marvels and my mom picked me up Secret Wars #3 there—I had gotten #2 at the rarely-visited 7-11 the month before after basically having a fit in the store. I could never find the first issue; I didn’t read it until almost twenty years later. It was pretty terrible, and even when I was nine years old I realized that Jim Shooter had a terrible grasp of the X-Men, who I felt were treated badly by the storyline.
My first introduction to the X-Men was also purchased at the Big B, which in retrospect was probably my favorite place to buy comics. Uncanny X-Men #185 intrigued me, but was a tough jumping-on point. I was in love with the way the team called each other by their first names and the impressive mythology Chris Claremont built for the team. I skipped the next issue—I think Barry Windsor-Smith’s impressionistic “Lifedeath” turned me off, but it may have been that I didn’t have the cash, because I only started picking up the title regularly about a year later, with #193, which cemented the team as my favorite. The tortured history of James Proudstar intrigued me greatly, and I was thrilled and horrified to learn that one of the X-Men had actually been killed before. Such a thought had never before entered my mind: even Obi-Wan Kenobi hadn’t really died, just transcended physical form. Such a complex belief system seemed completely normal to that weird little Baptist Star Wars fan with bucked front teeth and a bright-red bowl cut.
As you can tell, I was a Marvel Maniac, through and through. I would sample most Marvel titles—save the New Universe, which I realized immediately was pure and worthless dreck, with no life or mythology underneath its bland covers—but DC’s pathetic eighties output left me cold. I did pick up a few Batmans and Detectives here and there but for the most part Batman was so big he never changed; his very immensity made him static and ultimately boring to me. I did learn to love Alan Davis’ art through Bats and was quite simply awed by Batman 404-407, crafted by the never-again matched team of Frank Miller, David Mazzuchelli, Richmond Lewis, and Todd Klein. Better known as Year One, I can do no more than say that it made me know deep down inside that comics weren’t just this wonderful world in which the characters I loved could flourish (Star Wars comics and toys made me adore the movies that much more). Year One was art. Todd Klein’s much-emulated “diary entries” to show Bruce Wayne’s inner thoughts conveyed more through appearance than years of Batman comics. How? Because Bruce writes in cursive.
Of course he does; the man is a billionaire. But the lettering shocked me at twelve years old, by then a hardened and dedicated comics fan, because the visual components of the lettering helped convey the loss and struggle of the story. Similarly, Mazzuchelli’s art was sui generis: I had never seen comics noir before, didn’t know it existed. And Frank Miller: I will say it now, that Bob Kane and Bill Finger may have given birth to the character of Batman, but Frank Miller breathed life into his four-color form. The Books-A-Million in Homewood had a paperback of the collected The Dark Knight Returns—I had no access to the direct market growing up—and my hands shook as I read it. Miller has written both the beginning and the end of Batman, and all good writers should acknowledge this and simply scribble in the margins. There is nothing left to say.
This Polaroid is a detail from a larger piece I’m sending to my person for the Modern Letter Project. I hope she doesn’t mind that I wrote her a letter about comics; it’s really about my life.
Update: Callalillie finally got my letter! I’m kind of embarrassed it took me so long to put it together. You can see the finished piece at that link.
Update II: Legendary letterer and designer Todd Klein offers that writer Frank Miller conceived of the idea for the “diary entries” in Year One.