Ron Kasman on “Confessions of a Comics Fan”
1. Ron Kasman has a really neat story in this week’s Negative Burn #5. It is like an Orpheus and Eurydice story, only about collecting comic books. It’s really quite neat, and well worth the read (and this week’s Negative Burn was good overall, I thought).
2. Ron hangs out at the Collectors’ Society, where folks who collect coins, cards and comics congregate. It’s an especially neat place if you want to buy and sell old comics.
Anyhow, Ron’s guest entry for today is his tale of how he got into comics. It is titled “Confessions of a Comics Fan.”
“Confessions of a Comics Fan.”
By Ron Kasman, age 52
I was in Grade Five, that’s 1963, and home with the measles. My aunt Annie, a widow, who brought up three kids working as a newsdealer, took the time from her busy life to bring me a stack of comics that had been remaindered at her newsstand.
My favourite character at the time was Superman. To maximize my enjoyment I read a Superman title followed by what I considered to be a lesser title, then another Superman, then another secondary title, and so on through the stack.
Marvels were easily identifiable by the symbol in the corner of the cover. The ones I had read were strictly second rate. I assumed “The Avengers” to be no different. The cover was strange– white background, goofy title lettering and Captain America’s poorly drawn face.
Inside, Stan’s hype was the first thing that hit me, about how we’d remember the story for years to come and how he wrote it and Jack drew it just like in the golden age. I had certainly never heard of the “golden age” but it sounded important.
And, the story was way beyond the Superman formulae. It involved many exciting plot elements: an alien with a rocket ship and a ray gun, a man who had come back to life from suspended animation, gangsters, teenagers on bicycles with cameras helping to solve the crime, and a wicked sea dweller. The dialogue was snappy and the characters were more grounded in reality than the stories at DC. If my memory serves me well, it was a 24-page story. The Superman comics had three eight-pages at the time. The Avengers story was not just longer; it was deeper and broader too.
Jack Kirby had yet to introduce the wild machinery, starscapes, and deep perspective that became the hallmarks of his style three years later. What he had was intense movement and characters drawn in the peak of emotion. Jack Kirby remains my favourite artist today, not just in comics but also through all history.
This comic changed me from a kid with a cursory interest in comics, just like every other kid back in 1963 when it was a mass media, to a Marvel Madman, a Quite ‘Nuff Sayer and a Front Facer, buying three Marvel titles a month. I no longer was content to wait for Aunt Annie’s irregular shipments.
I began collecting the Avengers with issue #8, the Kang the Conqueror issue and managed to pick up almost all the earlier ones by purchasing them for pennies from neighbourhood kids. Issue #3 was the only one I didn’t get for under cover price. I purchased it for $1.75, which seemed like highway robbery, from a kid outside of Captain George’s Memory Lane comic shop. He walked in carrying a gym bag filled with comics and left the store with a dozen other kids following him to a nearby street corner where he negotiated business. This was when I was in Grade Ten, some five years after reading Avengers #4.
I became an Avengers expert. I had opinions on the quality of single issues. I knew which characters were well developed and which were poorly developed. I understood how the line-up changes affected the kind of stories that were being told.
I had never seen my name in print. I wondered what type of people wrote into the comic book letters page. So, I composed a letter, which I was sure would get the attention of the people at Marvel, commenting on the variety of characters in the Avengers title. Though I was discouraged not seeing my letter in print over the next few issues, eventually I had a postcard sent to me signed “Stan” telling me that it would soon be published. It came out in Avengers #72. Keith Pollard, future Fantastic Four artist had a letter published in that issue as well.
Well here is what came of it. First, I got junk mail from various people selling fanzines and back issues. Second, I got a phone call one day from a local fan that was calling everybody in Toronto that had had a letter published at about that time. We would meet in his parent’s home on a Sunday afternoon.
I bussed to his home carrying a gym bag full of comics that I no longer wanted. I thought that the only thing people could do at such a meeting was exchange comics. I would become a latter day version of the kid at Captain George’s comic shop. I remember going to the back door, being greeted and going down the stairs to the basement.
His room was a monument to the industry. He owned a Flash story by Carmine Infantino. The original art was up on his wall. His own amateur renderings, which were excellent for a teenager, were on the wall too. He had a drawing board. He published fanzines and corresponded with other people who published fanzines. Twenty young men and one young woman (who never returned nor did her boyfriend) assembled in that basement. Not one of them wanted to purchase my comics. They weren’t collectors but considered themselves to be artists and writers. They wanted to produce comics and fanzines. Some of them already had.
The kid who organized the club called for quarterly meetings. I continued to attend. We became friends.
I was in Grade 12. It was 1970. I had gotten a job as a locker room attendant at a swimming pool only a short walk from the home of my comic fan friend. He would often come by around lunchtime to talk or show me the latest fanzine he had gotten in the mail. One of the fanzines advertised “The Detroit Triple Fan Fare”. I am not sure what the Triple stood for but 1/3 of it was comics. Let’s assume the other 2/3 were movies and science-fiction novels.
I suggested that we attend. It seemed like a crazy idea coming from a kid like me who had never been more than 20 miles from his home, but all the parts were there. My brother had a car that he would let me borrow. I had a bit of money from the summer job. We had other friends who would fill the car. Why not?
As an adult, going from Toronto to Detroit is nothing-a four-hour drive. Many times I have gone there and back in a day. Back then it was an adventure that included road maps, instructions from family on safety when travelling and phone calls back to Toronto to confirm our safe arrival. The border guard warned us because of our age and obvious naivety that Detroit was not what we were used to and that we should be careful.
Detroit was different. The streets downtown were void of pedestrians, which was the way large American cities were going back then. The convention, though, was jumping with adolescent males who would later become part and parcel of the industry. Terry Austin, Rich Buckler, Al Milgrom, Tony Isabella, Jim Starlin, Greg Theakston, Tom Orzekowski, Arvell Jones, Desmond Jones and Keith Pollard were some of the fans in attendance that would soon work in comics. Joe Wesson and Mike Kurcharski were talented and interesting young men I met, who were also deeply involved in fandom. Dan Adkins, Jim Steranko and Berni Wrightson were attending professionals. I watched them draw and had no idea that a professional could draw so quickly and fluidly. Steranko auctioned off an hour of his time for a charitable organization. I think the hour went for $110. We bid on an hour of Wrightson’s time, which was foolish on our part. When there was no money left in the money pool, the kid behind us offered $10, wanting a sketch from Wrightson if we won. Others threw in too. Eventually Wrightson’s hour was cut into more pieces than a wedding cake. Thank goodness we lost.
You could get any comic in Detroit that had been published by Marvel or DC in the previous ten years. There were no “dealers” then, only people selling out their collections. The big bargains were on Sunday afternoon. I remember the price of one comic I didn’t buy but should of; Journey into Mystery #83 featuring the first appearance of Thor was on sale for $3.50. Who would pay that much for a comic, I thought.
I went home to Toronto changed forever. Everything turned out OK. Today I collect, draw, write and teach art in a high school. None of these things would likely have happened if not for my love of comics.
This is Brian now – Pick up Negative Burn #5 on Wednesday!!