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Friday in the Wayback Machine

During the summer of 1975, the way I read comics went through a major sea change. And because of that, the course my life eventually took changed as well.

In August of 1975, I was thirteen years old. My father’s alcoholism had reached the point where he was unable to hold a job, and my mother was trying to hold things together all on her own. She had taken a teaching job and we were scraping by, but money was very tight. It was no longer possible to wheedle a quarter or fifty cents out of her for a comic book on our occasional visits to the drugstore. Instead, she snapped, “Why don’t you go earn some money of your own?”

I suspect she might very well have just been venting about having to be the sole breadwinner, because usually she was a pretty soft touch. Anyway, I didn’t take it as a rebuke. Mom had been bitter and grouchy from about 1968 on, and in fact she pretty much stayed that way until her passing earlier this year. It had become her normal tone of voice. So I assumed her remark was an actual parental directive, and prepared to enter the work force.

At thirteen, my options were limited: I could mow lawns or babysit. I did both, and soon I had a regular customer base and was earning anywhere from $10 to $12 a week. Back then, that was a lot. Suddenly, I was a man of means.

At roughly the same time, the grocery store up the street changed hands. It went from being a Thriftway to being a Sentry Market. And now that it was a Sentry…

…they started to carry comics. (And much cooler paperbacks and magazines, as well; the new magazine distributor specialized in infinitely more lurid fare than the previous guy did.)

This was a huge, huge deal.

Reading had always been a big part of my life anyway, but to really put across why this was so momentous a development for me, let me try to give you a glimpse into those misty days of yesteryear. Here is what the pop culture landscape looked like to a thirteen-year-old boy back then.

In August of 1975, video games were in the embryonic stage, hardly more than phosphor-dot pinball on a TV monitor. There was no such thing as home video: Sony’s introduction of VHS was still a year away. Movies played in theaters for a couple-three weeks and then disappeared, until — if you were lucky — they played again on television, which generally only had five channels or so to choose from, the three major networks and a couple of local stations. There was no HBO or Turner Classic Movies or Cartoon Network — hell, there was hardly cable.

In terms of adventure, SF and fantasy? There was no Star Wars. The original Star Trek showed in the afternoon as scratchy syndicated reruns on the local station, and the animated Filmation series was available on Saturday morning. In theaters, the big hit was Jaws, which was setting box office records all over the world. On the geek front, though, it looked pretty grim. The most recent James Bond movie had been the disappointing The Man With The Golden Gun, over a year and a half previously. George Pal’s Doc Savage had just tanked in theaters a couple of months before, but I and several friends were hoping we’d be able to talk our parents into letting us go see The Land That Time Forgot when it came out in a couple of weeks. We would have loved to see Death Race 2000 back in April, as well, but we’d known we’d never get permission for that one.

Somehow, even then, David Carradine managed to be in all the cool stuff. It took me another decade to finally get to see this, but I loved it instantly when I did. Best Burroughs movie ever.

Parenting was quite a bit stricter in those days, too — at least, it was for me and the other kids in my neighborhood. If we went to a movie alone (a tough sell in itself) it was damned well going to be rated G, and in 1975 that meant Disney. Period. Back then Disney was doing stuff like The Apple Dumpling Gang and Escape to Witch Mountain; their last animated feature had been Robin Hood in 1973.

The G-rated ghetto. There was a long grim dry spell for animation in the 1970s. You have no idea.

Even at age thirteen I’d already outgrown that crap. But for me to see any movie that actually looked cool, like Jaws or The Land That Time Forgot or Legend of the Werewolf, I had to have an adult along — which in practical terms meant that I never got to see anything cool in the theatre. We didn’t really do family outings or movie nights when I was growing up.

Generally, we never got to see any truly badass movies until they played on Saturday night’s late-show horror broadcast — ours was called Sinister Cinema, and it had local radio host Victor Ives in a Dracula cape introducing vintage scare films, occasionally abetted by fellow radio personality Jimmy Hollister.

Victor Ives in full Sinister cinema regalia, holding the head of his co-host Jimmy Hollister. Another shot of Ives and Hollister, this time with Hollister as Igor figure Raven.

Sometimes cool fantasy and SF would show up there; that was where I first discovered Hammer films. Riddled with annoying commercials from local used-car maven Ron Tonkin, but at least I got to see them.

Elsewhere on television it was almost as bleak. Kung Fu had ended, but The Six Million Dollar Man was going strong. There was as yet no Bionic Woman, nor any of the other half-dozen television superhero-type shows that launched from that trend; we had seen the Cathy Lee Crosby Wonder Woman, but not the Lynda Carter one. The Planet of the Apes movies had done so well rerunning in prime time on CBS that they’d tried it as a weekly television show, but that had gone south a few months previously. Kolchak: The Night Stalker had lasted a little longer, but by that August it was gone too. Saturday Night Live didn’t exist yet.

The reason I’m giving you this litany is because to really get a sense of how life-changing it was for me to suddenly have access to a regular source of both comics and paperback novels, you need to realize how limited the entertainment landscape was back then. Especially for me… a thirteen-year-old kid that didn’t live close to a movie theater or a big bookstore. Basically, my choices consisted of what I could get to on foot or bicycle. Even our local branch library was across town, a forty-minute trek on my little Schwinn Stingray, and that trip always held the possibility of me being grounded for a month if Mom found out I’d gone downtown on my bike. Despite that looming threat, there were times I was bored enough to chance it.

Comics? I had to finagle a ride to where they were sold — Village Drug, usually, way out of range for me or my bicycle back then. Once I was there, it was a question of whether or not I could persuade Mom to part with a quarter. Until I had an income of my own… but even then, prospects were still pretty bleak. Money was only half the equation. The other half was access.

So, that day when I ventured into the new Sentry Market, a mere seven blocks from my house, and saw that comics rack…. well, you can imagine. I rounded the corner of the candy aisle and suddenly there it was, bathed in a halo of golden light. For a moment I could only stand and stare as the angel chorus swelled in volume.

At least it felt that way.

I developed a routine over the next couple of weeks… mow a lawn or something to acquire cash, then bicycle up to the Sentry for a bottle of Coke and a couple of comics. I was like a guy who went on a spending spree after winning the lottery… I went from one or two comics a month, three if I was lucky, to six or seven a week. It was glorious.

It occurred to me that it might be fun to look back at the books that were actually on that rack in August of 1975. The ones that started the rock rolling down the hill, the process of my immersion in the world of comics and superheroes that ended with me teaching cartooning classes in public school, as well as writing this weekly thing for you all.

Here’s what I snatched up, those last days of August. I can’t swear to this being the actual order in which I bought them, but it’s pretty close to what I’m giving you here, I think.

Defenders #28 was the first one, I can tell you that much.

Not the GREATEST issue of the Defenders, but still about three hundred percent smarter and cooler than anything else on the stands.

I’d only seen three issues of The Defenders before that. #21, introducing the Headmen, and to this day one of my favorite single issues ever… and #24 and #25, the concluding issues of the Sons of the Serpent arc. That was enough to make Steve Gerber’s Defenders my favorite Marvel book ever (still is, in a lot of ways) and thus I was willing to buy a book that was “continued.” This was part three of the story that re-introduced the Guardians of the Galaxy, who were all new to me, but Gerber did a good job of bringing me up to speed. I never got lost and enjoyed this enormously.

I also grabbed Amazing Spider-Man #149, the conclusion to the (original) Clone Saga.

This story holds up really well, considering.

This particular arc had been really goddamn frustrating for me to try and keep up with. Earlier that year, vacationing with the family on Mt. Hood, I’d managed to get hold of #141, #142, and #143. Getting three in a row like that was enough to persuade me to give the regular monthly Spider-Man title a try again, rather than just the Marvel Tales reprints. (I still wasn’t crazy about Ross Andru’s art, but the story was interesting enough that I got over it.) The Gwen Stacy clone subplot had started to unfold there, and then I’d missed a couple. I’d grabbed #146, where Gwen was sort of back, and then missed a couple more, though I knew the Jackal was the big villain. I’d missed a couple more, though I’d flipped through #148 just in passing one day at a Fred Meyer store… hadn’t actually read it, but skimmed enough to see the big reveal at the end. So this appeared to be the conclusion and there was no WAY I was missing out on that.

Doctor Strange #10 caught me with the cover.

The cover made this look a lot more old-school than it really was. But I loved what Englehart and Colan were doing.

I loved Doctor Strange anyway, and I remembered Mordo from the old Lee-Ditko reprints in Marvel’s Greatest Comics. That, coupled with the way Gerber’s Defenders had raised Stephen’s stock with me in the last few months, made this a pretty easy pick. As it turned out, the action poses on the cover had nothing to do with what was going on in the actual story, but I didn’t care… Englehart’s trippy take on the Sorcerer Supreme sold me, and this was the first time I’d really appreciated Gene Colan’s work. Even Frank Chiaramonte’s scratchy inking couldn’t hurt it.

Daredevil had been a favorite of mine since I’d seen him guest-starring at Reed and Sue’s wedding in Fantastic Four, years ago. I also had fond memories of the 1972 Daredevil Special that had reprinted the Lee-Romita story from #16 and #17, featuring Spider-Man. That was enough to persuade me to try the solo title.

Took me thirty years to see how this turned out.

This issue, #126, was my introduction to the work of Marv Wolfman. I liked it quite a bit, though for some reason I managed to miss the next couple of issues, it wasn’t until the Man-Bull story a couple of months later that Daredevil was firmly on my personal list. (In fact, I never did track down #127 until our trip to Seaside last year.) It wasn’t lack of trying. Somehow I kept missing Daredevil when the books showed up. I think part of it was due to me failing to figure out the distributor’s routine; back then, “new comics day” was not nearly as regular an event for newsstand distributors as it is for us today. But when I eventually worked it out, Marv Wolfman’s Daredevil quickly became one of my favorites. (Yes, even #133, the Uri Geller issue.)

I liked the Fantastic Four and I liked Roy Thomas’ writing, so this was a pretty easy sell.

A Kirby-Sinnott cover is not to be snooted, even with that egregious mistake on Ben's hand.

I’d been avoiding the FF; flipping through the book on the stands in recent months, I’d gotten the impression that everything I liked about the Lee-Kirby days was gone. But Fantastic Four #164, the first part of the two-part Crusader story, had a pleasantly old-school feel about it, starting with that Kirby-Sinnott cover. I’d never heard of this George Perez guy that was drawing the book, but he had kind of an interesting approach, and the Joe Sinnott inks kept everything looking the way my thirteen-year-old self thought it should.

Generally, my preferences had slowly swung towards the Marvel books that year… the DC offerings in 1975 just felt tepid, for the most part. The 100-page books that I had loved so much were all gone, and in their place were these horrible little anemic 17-page things. Usually with lame stories and really lame art. The state of the DC superheroes in 1975 didn’t seem so much like a decline as it did a crash dive, especially considering the heights to which they’d risen at the start of the seventies, the Batman books in particular. Just the year before, Detective had been kicking ass with Archie Goodwin and Manhunter, and that was followed by Len Wein and Jim Aparo’s “Bat-Murderer!” Right around the same time we’d had Wein and Neal Adams’ “Moon of the Wolf!” over in Batman, Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams’ “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge,” a couple of stories teaming Batman with the Shadow… and then in 1975 it was like everybody forgot what cool Batman stories looked like. Suddenly it was dumb gimmick stories by David V. Reed and Ernie Chan. Even Denny O’Neil, one of my favorite Batman guys, seemed like he was phoning it in… and the Bat-books were generally the high end. The other DC books looked worse.

But I couldn’t bear to completely walk away. The right cover could still catch my eye.

It was Earth-2 Robin that sold it.

Justice League of America #124 hooked me with the cover. I was still a sucker for a good Earth-Two story, especially one featuring the adult Dick Grayson in his freaky hybrid Bat-Robin costume. The story was the conclusion to the goofy two-parter featuring Elliott Maggin and Cary Bates, the Crisis on Earth-Prime. I liked it okay (especially Maggin’s line, “Hawkman’s got a personality that would bore a grapefruit!”) but not enough to start picking up JLA regularly again.

A book I did like enough to add to the personal pull list I was creating that month was, surprisingly, The Joker.

This was a really good series, all things considered.

Joker #4 was a smart, fun story featuring the Joker facing off against Green Arrow and Black Canary. And having the villain as the ostensible protagonist was a weird enough idea to intrigue me. That ended up being a DC title I stayed with.

The other DC book that intrigued me that August was Hercules Unbound.

Came for the number one, stayed for the post-apocalyptic fun.

I bought this because it was a #1 issue, plain and simple. I wanted to get in on the start of something. And I recognized Gerry Conway’s name from Spider-Man, so I figured why not? The post-holocaust-SF-meets-Greek-myth angle was enough to keep me around, especially since it featured spectacular art from Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and Wally Wood. This series and The Joker were the only DC books I bothered with that year. Sadly, neither one of them lasted.

I had only the vaguest notions of what ‘collectible’ meant, but I still was enough of a collector to be interested in getting #1 of a series. That was what had prompted me to pick up The Invaders a couple of months before on our family’s Mt. Hood sojourn, so I was overjoyed to discover the conclusion to that story right there in my local grocery.

I'd bought #1 because it was #1 -- I bought #2 because I liked it.

I grabbed Invaders #2 the second I saw it, delighted to have both parts of a two-part story. That was a rare goddamn occasion for me in those days.

I picked up Super-Villain Team-Up #2 for essentially the same reason. I’d bought #1 on the Mount Hood trip and here was #2.

Steve Englehart eventually saved this book for me.

However, I was irked to find that this one was continued again. I ended up staying with it a little while longer, but a few months later when Englehart quit, so did I.

Another #1 issue that I picked up simply because it was a #1, I liked enough to keep up with from that point on.

A number one that wasn't actually a first issue. Marvel did that a lot.

Iron Fist won me over despite the fact that the year before, I’d seen one of the Marvel Premiere issues and been underwhelmed. But this had Iron Man, and it was a #1. As it turned out, it also had Chris Claremont and John Byrne in their prime, so I was hooked.

Captain Marvel was another one I’d sampled on a whim during one of our Mt. Hood trips. I’d mostly fallen in love with the art from Al Milgrom and Klaus Janson, as well as Steve Englehart’s accessible-yet-cosmic take on the character.

Starlin's run had the acid-trip reputation, but there was a LOT more drug-related stuff from Englehart and Milgrom.

Previously I’d gotten hold of #37 and #39, parts one and three of “The Trial of the Watcher.” That was enough to get me on board. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve actually seen the stories, but…there was something deliciously counter-cultural and subversive about Englehart’s Captain Marvel and I fell in love with it from the moment I saw it. (Honestly, to this day I much prefer it to the more famous run by Jim Starlin.) So I was tickled to find #41. That was another one that went on the ‘regular’ list.

I should pause here and point out that as sporadic as my comics purchases had been in the months leading up to that momentous two-week period in August, it was nevertheless possible to sort of keep up with a lot of Marvel titles simply because so many of them were bi-monthly. Captain Marvel, Doctor Strange, Invaders, Iron Fist… they only came out every other month, and often stores — especially little mom-n-pop outlets like the Brightwood General Store up where we went to vacation on Mt. Hood — let back issues just stay on the stand and pile up. (That was why I loved the place so. I didn’t give a damn about the great outdoors — it was getting to go to the Brightwood market that lit me up.)

There were a couple of B-list, also-ran books that I picked up as well during those two weeks. Strictly impulse buys, just because I wanted a comic and I’d already cleaned out all the “good ones”… but I still remember them fondly.

Amusing but forgettable. This was the story that Jim Shooter used to use as his example of stupid.

Marvel Team-Up
and Marvel Two-In-One tended to be books I never bothered with unless there was nothing else out I wanted or the guest star was particularly intriguing. In these particular cases, neither of these were continued stories, I had fifty cents to burn, and I remembered liking the Beast from his Amazing Adventures days. I didn’t regret the purchase, they were entertaining enough books… though Marvel Two-In-One #12 had the dubious distinction of being the story with a plot point that Jim Shooter would use to define ‘stupid’ for a number of years afterward. (If you’ve read it, you’ll know. If not… well, let’s just say that Shooter wasn’t mistaken. Even thirteen-year-old me, who loathed science class, knew there was no way a rocket would do that.)

I wasn’t all that interested in Captain America or Iron Man, either, but I was still basking in the joy of being able to go to the store and buy a comic any damn time I felt like it. The novelty hadn’t worn off yet. These two I picked up mostly because I saw they weren’t “continued.” Glancing at the last panel and checking for the dreaded “continued” was a habit I’d gotten into years ago. For a long time when I was growing up, that was often the deciding factor in whether or not I bought a book.

Just not good. Lame fill-ins were common in those days, I'm afraid.

Despite featuring Captain America and Iron Man, both characters I liked a lot, and both being done-in-one, neither one was good enough to keep me coming back. The Iron Man issue was a fill-in and the Captain America was a somewhat perfunctory and lame wrap-up to the whole “Snap Wilson” subplot with the Falcon, a collaboration between Tony Isabella and Bill Mantlo after Steve Englehart had left the book. (I did add Captain America to my ‘regular’ book list a couple of months later when Jack Kirby came back.)

Then, in September, it all started again….

It doesn't LOOK like a life-changing moment. But it was.

… and really, that was what changed my life. Being able to get the next issue of a book I’d picked up a couple of weeks before.

To a kid who’d always had to struggle just to get to where comics were sold… this was truly intoxicating. It made me a regular monthly reader of comics instead of a sporadic, occasional one. I found that it was possible to follow a book, that I could stop worrying if an issue ended with “To Be Continued.” At long last, I could keep up. This was when I learned to relax a little more in my comics reading, to enjoy a big sprawling story that unfolded at its own pace. (Bearing in mind that in 1975, a “big sprawling story” was five or six issues.)

If I hadn’t had that… I don’t know. It’s possible I’d have found a way to keep in touch with comics, but it wouldn’t have been the immersive thing it was, I wouldn’t have ended up the scholar of comics and pop culture that I eventually became. I’m not sure what I’d have become, to be honest, my home life being what it was — comics and junk culture were an escape hatch that I desperately needed. That Sentry Market comics rack entered my life at the perfect moment. That much, I’m sure of.

There’s a saying that “the Golden Age is twelve.” But for me… it was thirteen. At least as far as comics were concerned.

*

The market is still there, though it stopped being a Sentry long ago; it’s a much more upscale place now, anchoring a little strip mall of gift shops and the like. When I brought Julie home to meet my family a few years ago, we stopped in there so she could buy a toothbrush and they were hosting a wine-tasting. It’s a long way from the place I remembered getting all my Marvel comics and Doc Savage paperbacks.

Those original comics are long gone too, sold off or lost in a move or… hell, I don’t even know what happened to half of them.

But here’s the great part. Almost all of them are currently available in paperback, and some, like the Guardians of the Galaxy Defenders arc, are even out in hardcover.

The Defenders, Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, Super-Villain Team-Up, Marvel Team-Up, Marvel Two-In-One
and Iron Fist are all available as Essentials.

One of my favorite Essentials. Another favorite. Honestly? This one kind of sucks, but I still like it. I'm sentimental.

The Joker story is reprinted in the Green Arrow/Black Canary collection, For Better or For Worse. The Justice League story is in Crisis on Multiple Earths volume four.

I actually bought this mostly FOR the Joker reprint. I'm still a sucker for Earth-2...

The Crusader story is the first one found in Fantastic Four Visionaries: George Perez volume one. The Invaders story is reprinted in Invaders Classic volume one.

I'm holding out for the Essential volume. But it's amazing to me that this book is out there. another sentimental buy for me, but dammit I loved Invaders in all its geeky glory.

….and so on. The only ones that haven’t been reprinted anywhere are Daredevil, Hercules Unbound, Iron Man, Captain Marvel, and Captain America. The Daredevil and Captain America stories are certain to be included in the next Essential volumes of those series, and it’s likely that the Captain Marvel and Iron Man issues will eventually get the Essential treatment as well. The Hercules Unbound was actually scheduled for reprinting in Showcase Presents The Atomic Knights but for whatever reason, it never materialized.

To me that’s just a dazzling wonder, that all those stories are so easily available. My personal Golden Age might have been thirteen… but when I look around my office library where I’m typing this, surrounded by dozens of reprint volumes of my favorite comics, and consider the amazing inroads we’ve made into bookstores over the last decade, I can’t help but think, Damn if today isn’t looking pretty good too.

See you next week.

35 Comments

Excellent piece, Greg. Summer of ’75 was just when I was getting into comics with my friends’ discarded copies of Iron Man, World’s Finest and Daredevil [coincidentally, one of those friends was named Greg]. I hate to sound like the old guy on the block, but it is hard to remember that kids’ entertainment choices were so limited, so we had to compensate by using imagination and actually going outside to play. I’m glad that you stuck with your love of comic books, as my mother discouraged me when I told her i wanted to be a comic book writer when I grew up. Not always good with the advice, my mom.

Adding nothing to your story, I just saw The Land That Time Forgot a few weeks ago for the first time, I think it was MGM’s cable channel. It was…interesting, and I’ll probably seek out the sequel someday. And if memory serves, the only G-rated alternative to Disney was a group called Sunn Classic Pictures, which made documentaries and wilderness films…but they may have come on the scene later than 1975

Thanks for the memories.

You are nine years older than I am, but even at age four, my mom was buying me comics at the local Safeway or Sun Rexall Drugs (the two stores in our area that stocked comics). I was and am more of a DC guy, but I recognize a few of your choices and am certain I owned them as well. I got JLA, Joker, and Hercules as well. I had Invaders # 1 but never got # 2. I also had the MTU and Captain America issues.

Thanks for the fond memories and interesting story. I love hearing when comic geeks went from occasional readers to weekly junkies.

Also, I am going to keep your article so I can show my boys (three of them) how lucky they are to have so many entertainment options (although I think they would probably be better off with less TV / movies and Video Games and more comics and books).

Great article. I’m 37 and I can relate very well to your story. I have similar memories and they are very special to me as well. I remember buying comics at the Big B Drugstore and buying my first Star Wars figures at the A & P Grocery Store.

I also leaned toward Marvel, especially Amazing Spider-Man and Incredible Hulk. I didn’t notice you mention Hulk much. However, I did make an exception for Green Lantern and Flash. Never cared for Superman or Batman much back then.

Thanks for sharing your memories.

Great article. A truly interesting read.

There was a used bookstore at the mall that was within biking distance from my house, and while they didn’t carry current comics, they had a few shelves full of random back issues. Clearly someone had sold them a box or two of comics at some point. By the time I discovered them, they were all 1/2 off the price the store had originally priced them at. Eventually they went down to 25 cents each. I think I was pretty much the only person that bought them. When they were half price I’d buy all the cheaper ones, so that it would only be 25 to 50 cents an issue. That Captain America comic is one of the ones I got. Once they got down to a quarter each I’d go every week with 2 bucks and buy eight comics, until I had finally bought the store out. Good memories.

I didn’t notice you mention Hulk much.

I loved him in Defenders, but I didn’t really get interested in the Hulk’s own book until the Bill Bixby television show happened in 1978. Even then I could never really get into the regular ongoing monthly Hulk comic. I much preferred Rampaging Hulk, later simply The Hulk! magazine. Also recently Essential’d, much to my delight.

Incidentally, the reason I ended up writing this column was from playing with the Time Machine widget over at Mike’s Amazing World of DC Comics. I recommend it to all of you who are reminiscing in the comments, but fair warning — it’s really addictive. I wish there was a similar index site for Marvel that did that, though if there was, I might not get away from the computer for a month.

For me it was all about K&B Drugstore and then Walgreens as a second option. The grocery stores in my home town had a really thin selection of comics and the majority of them were usuall Archie, Richie Rich, Casper, and things like that. Every once in a while I’d pick up an issue or two at a 7-11, but the real goldmine was the K&B store. They had a spinning comic rack and then also issues on the magazine rack as well. Until the mid-80′s when I discovered the local comic book shop those K&B stores around the MS Gulf Coast were places I could count on going to and getting some good books.

This was a great article.

Amazing Spider-Man #149 was the first comic I ever purchased as a back issue from Lone Star Comics in Texas. I live in Minneapolis, MN so it was kind of a big deal to me.

I was born in 1972 and started collecting monthly comics with Amazing Spider-Man #235 in 1982. I had many comics by this time, but that was where I started following a specific character and series. Growing up though I had a cousin who was ten years older than me and I had read and reread his comics a thousand times. He had a lot of issues of Amazing Spider-Man, but they stopped with #148 the penultimate issue of the original Clone Saga. I supposed he had discovered girls or something and left comics for a while, but to my young self it was incomprehensible that someone could have had all the parts of the story except the ending.

When I learned you could buy old comics through the mail it nearly blew my mind, and I remember pleading with my parents that I HAD to get Spider-Man #149. I owed it to the world to find out how that story ended. You’re welcome world.

Oh, and as we’re all sharing where we bought comics for me it was 7-11 and Snyder’s Drug store. Amazing Spider-Man, New Teen Titans, and Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew were my poisons.

Eventually I discovered Shinder’s, a store that sold all the comics, even weird black and white ones and tons of old issues. Like once every couple weeks based on chores I got a ride to Shinder’s and $5.00 to spend however I wanted.

Wonderful piece. I was wondering, given your love of Englehart’s work on CAPTAIN MARVEL and THE DEFENDERS, if you were also reading his AVENGERS stuff at the time. I finally caught up with it this summer via the Essentials volumes, and it gave me a real appreciation for how good he was back in the mid-70s.

I was wondering, given your love of Englehart’s work on CAPTAIN MARVEL and THE DEFENDERS, if you were also reading his AVENGERS stuff at the time.

I got there. But it was the following month, September. I was trying to confine the scope of the column just to the books I got those first couple of weeks (and even at that it still ended up nudging 4000 words or so.) But I could have gone on and on. Others added quickly. Avengers, I was on board from around #143 on. That arc was reprinted too, in the collection Serpent Crown. I started picking up Thor the following month as well.

Nice work Greg! Thanks for helping me remember the good old days.

I’m hoping you can update your your X-Men tutorial with the former student at some point as well.I’ve run into a similar situation at work and need the help.lol

Great column! I can’t believe how spoiled we are today, just drowning in media these days, compared to your experience of the 1970′s.

Man, that Robin Hood is my favorite Disney movie. Must have seen it a hundred times.

I only have one thing to say to that, Bill, and that is: Oodelally.

Michael, I grew up in Minneapolis too, and Shinder’s was my first source for monthly comics. It wasn’t until college in St Cloud that I started going to an actual comic shop to get my comics. So much better than Shinder’s.

I’m a few years younger than you, but I remember those days. I bought a lot of Harvey back then, as well as Gold Key, though it didn’t take long to realise how lousy they could be, even at that age. With the more mature books, I preferred DC at first, over Marvel, because they didn’t have very many continued stories. I hated those, too, even though the drugstore I bought them at was close by. They didn’t seem to get every issue, so with continued stories I missed a lot. Also, Marvel sometimes scared me in the early days, with stuff about infinity and time-travel paradoxes. I did buy a lot of Spider-Man, though. The first one was the introduction of the Punisher and the Jackel. I really wish I still had that one; I can’t afford it now.
The only one of the books you show here that I have is the Spider-Man #149, and I actually bought it at a flea market about six years later.
I did own one issue of the Joker. I was wondering if anyone else remembered that series.
I refused to buy Captain Marvel back then, because I’d read the Shazam! series, and I was really offended that someone else was using the name. I didn’t even know which one came first (but it looks like I guessed right). To this day I’ve only read one issue, which I picked up for a quarter in the mid-90s. It is #37, the first part of the story you mention, and it is weird and trippy, just like you said. I love the part where it revealed Annihilus to be a composite creatures, made up of many tiny Annihiluses. Has this ever been mentioned again? A later John Byrne story seems to contradict it, though not for certain. And it’s worth having simply to see Rick Jones on acid.

Another great article, Greg. I grew up in a small town (1700 people) and the only game in town was the Food King who would carry sporadic issues of Power Man and Iron Fist, Rom, Thor, and Marvel Tales. I think I was the only person in town buying them. I was also lucky to have a friend buy me subscriptions to G.I.Joe and Star Wars for my sixth birthday, and I used my paper route money to renew it every year (except I changed Star Wars to Uncanny X-Men). I will never forget how happy I was when I checked the mail to find a comic wrapped in the brown paper. I kept those subscriptions going for years until I found a comic shop in the area.

It’s funny how at the time I thought that the comic shop was the greatest thing in the world, but now I think that they are really hurting comics as a whole. Everyone is posting memories of buying comics in grocery stores. That was the hook for all of us, an impulse buy we talked our parents into, not making them take us on a trip to a comic book store. Plus, most comic stores are not very kind and welcoming to children. I think that is sad, since most of us who immersed ourselves in this hobby always felt a little outcast, in my opinion. We should welcome like minds with open arms.

Ah, you young people. ;-)

I recognize the cultural landscape, although it didn’t seem quite as bleak to me. One big thrill was Saturday morning cartoons, which were always good for 3-4 hours of fantastic fun. The Marvel cartoons had come and gone, but Superman (in various permutations) was practically a mainstay.

And what about the after-school repeats? Not only “Star Trek” but “Sea Hunt,” “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” “Lost in Space,” “Batman,” “The Lone Ranger,” “Wild, Wild West,” “Get Smart,” “Man from UNCLE,” “Time Tunnel,” “Land of the Giants,” and more. No shortage of action/adventure there.

Were you living in a small town, Greg? I would’ve thought shopping centers were ubiquitous by 1975. Anyway, I was luckier than you in that regard. The local shopping center was a five-minute drive away and my mom took me there once a week. While she did whatever it is moms do, I spent maybe 20 minutes buying comics from the spinner rack at Thrifty Drug Store and 40 minutes perusing the sci-fi section in Pickwick Books (later B. Dalton). My $1/week allowance wouldn’t have gotten me far even then, but I hoarded my Christmas and birthday cash for the rest of the year.

The library was adjacent to the shopping center, so we also went there a couple times a month. I spent my time in the juvenile sci-fi section, or whatever it was called. Lots of books by Heinlein, Asimov, and similar authors.

Another source of reading material was the Scholastic Book program run through the schools. As I recall, we got a catalog of paperbacks we could buy for the then-standard 50 cents to a dollar. My parents would let me get a few of these each time–perhaps because they were “educational.” So that gave me a lot of cheap books featuring Encyclopedia Brown and other mini-mysteries, UFOs and other unexplained phenomena, and the like.

P.S. I have most of the comics you listed. I think that’s about when I started subscribing to comics. I forget why. The drug store stopped carrying comics, I was going to college and needed a source, or it just seemed more convenient.

Luckily the first comics shop had opened about 10 miles away. That supplemented or replaced my subscriptions and kept me in comics during the college years. I returned home once every three weeks just to visit that place.

Your column has given me a tingle of deja vu, Greg. Change the year to 1968, the city to Tacoma, the store to the Piggly Wiggly on 64th and Yakima, and the babysitting jobs to an abrupt increase in my allowance thanks to my dad’s new job and it’s *my* story too. Until that magic summer, “new comics” meant hand-me-downs or a raid on the local thrift stores. That first trip, I came home with Fantastic Four #82, Amazing Spider-Man #68, Avengers #59, Iron Man #9, Sub-Mariner#9, Doctor Strange $176, Thor #158, Daredevil #56, Silver Surfer #4 and Not Brand Echh #12, plus that month’s issues of Batman and Detective. Alas, the Piggly Wiggly became a Tradewell six months later and took out their comics section. It wouldn’t be until the late ’70s, when I subscribed to 20 or so Marvel titles, that I again had a reliable source.

Like most of the other posters above, I too was a kid in the 70′s and I too was exposed to most of the entertainment options of the time. The big difference is that I live in Puerto Rico, a country where everybody speaks Spanish, but because of our connection to the United States, there’s plenty of stuff in English as well.

My first comics were reprints of American comics in Spanish. They had no credits (so I had no idea who wrote or drew them). Also for some reason, there were no Marvel reprints available here; I knew the main Marvel Heroes only from TV cartoons. One day I walked into a drugstore and found comics in *gasp!* English! And there were SO many and so varied, featuring characters (mostly Marvel’s) that I had never even heard from! OF COURSE I had to have them! I ended up spending my lunch money once a week on comics. Hey, going hungry for one afternoon was worth it to get my weekly dose of wonder! ;)

Oh, did I mention I DIDN’T speak English at the time? :P Not a lot, anyway. I had to figure out the dialogue on my own, sometimes with the help of a dictionary. But again, it was worth it- not only it was fun, I actually learned quite a lot of words that they don’t teach you in school that way (like “coherent light”- you know, a laser) . As you can tell, I eventually got pretty good at it. ;)

My first comic book in English was Super Friends #10, featuring a battle with Hollywood movie monsters… who turned out to be- alien superheroes? Hey, it was Superfriends! But the comic was far less dumb than the TV show, believe me.)

My first Marvel comic was an issue of The Hulk, which I bought not for the Green Goliath but for Doctor Samson, who I thought looked really cool (it was a fill in issue- Samson versus The Rhino; Hulk barely had a cameo.)

Ironically, I missed The Dark Phoenix Saga, which had just finished. :( Though X-men soon became one of my favorite comics. I did catch most of The Korvac Saga in The Avengers, however.

Were you living in a small town, Greg? I would’ve thought shopping centers were ubiquitous by 1975.

Pretty small. Lake Oswego, a suburb about nine miles south of Portland, Oregon, and we were barely inside the city limits as it was — another mile south and we’d have been at a West Linn address instead.

Oswego’s built up A LOT since then, today the whole town looks like one giant upscale mall. But thirty-five years ago it was small enough that there was just the one shopping center and it was barely out of bike range — it was WAY the hell out of my PERMITTED bike range. (Don’t forget to factor in the strict parenting stuff. I left out all the different times I fought with Mom about why I still was READING comics.) Certainly, trying to get to the one comics-carrying drugstore on my little Schwinn was a major undertaking AND would have probably resulted in the bike getting confiscated if Mom found out. That was why the Sentry Market carrying the books had such an impact. It was within permitted bike range — hell, I walked it half the time — and I had my own money. Boom, money plus access equaled collector.

As far as the syndicated TV packages, again, there was just the one station — KPTV — that ran any of that stuff, and remember, in 1975 it was a three-hour window in the afternoon, 4 to 7 PM Monday through Friday, not an all-day, all-night operation like TV Land. So apart from Star Trek — which was a perennial — those other shows were all gone, replaced by fresher reruns. I think we had Mod Squad running concurrently with Trek, and that was about it. My brother and I did enjoy Mod Squad. Even though it was often a little too adult for us to follow we knew that by ten minutes to six, in almost every episode, Pete and Linc would be beating the shit out of someone.

And Saturday mornings, for me, had never really been the same since Peggy Charren had sucked all the joy out of adventure cartoons. When once you had Space Ghost or Birdman or the Herculoids, well, Speed Buggy and Scooby-Doo just come off as lame. I tried to like Shazam and Isis, I really did, but…. a superhero show that always ends with a lecture and no one can throw a punch? Pfft. Call me when the real stuff comes back in style.

Not to get all Old Man Crankypants about it, but it was a lot harder to be a fan back then, just in terms of finding the good stuff. Geek culture rules the world now, but it was not always the case. In the early-to-mid 1970s (pre-Star Wars in other words) especially if you were a kid too young to drive, you really had to dig for it.

Greg:

This was a wonderful piece. I think anyone who grew up during the Bronze Age of comics is able to read this and plug their own personal experiences into it. For me it was the arrival of a new mom-and-pop grocery (Tom Thumbs) a block from my home in the late ’70s. The bike ride, working for comics cash, the sense of wonder and empowerment — it was all the same. Also, my family often went to the Puget Park Swap Meet during the summer, giving me access to back issues long before there were comic-book stores in the area. Good times, and great memories. Thanks for taking me back there.

Cheers,
Andrew

Hey! I didn’t know you grew up in LO. If the “downtown” area was the only part that was built up, I’m not surprised you couldn’t find many outlets selling comics.

Okay, thanks for the info.

I was addressing the range of what was available from the mid-’60s to the mid-’70s. I have no idea what was on TV specifically in 1975. By then I had outgrown Saturday morning cartoons, which–as you say–had gotten worse.

I know the rerun hours were limited, but I grew up in the Los Angeles area. We had four local channels as well as the three networks. Even though only one or two channels ran reruns, we probably had more shows to choose from. (Add “I Dream of Jeannie” and “Bewitched” to the fantasy side of the equation.)

If there are any mothers out there…moms, take your kids to the library, bookstore, or comic-book shop regularly. Give ‘em a book-buying allowance if necessary. It’s probably one of the best things you can do for them.

P.S. This may be the first comic I ever read:

http://www.coverbrowser.com/image/superboy/127-2.jpg

And these were among the first comics I owned:

http://www.coverbrowser.com/image/superboy/129-3.jpg

http://cache.coverbrowser.com/image/the-flash-1959/169-1.jpg

Incidentally, the reason I ended up writing this column was from playing with the Time Machine widget over at Mike’s Amazing World of DC Comics. I recommend it to all of you who are reminiscing in the comments, but fair warning — it’s really addictive. I wish there was a similar index site for Marvel that did that, though if there was, I might not get away from the computer for a month.

Mike’s Amazing World of MARVEL Comics is coming soon.
An Alpha version is already up at http://www.mikesamazingworld.com/marvel/

BTW – I am also from Lake O.

DCIndexer
Mike’s Amazing World of DC Comics
http://www.dcindexes.com

Jazzbo -

I eventually moved to Drramhaven, which I somehow talked my mom into taking me to once a week (we lived in Maple Grove) because they flew their comics in at the time and got them one day before Shinder’s. Man, those were the days. I eventually returned to Shinders post college when I worked at the Ridgedale one for a few years and got the employee discount, and even afterwards because the other employees continued to give me the employee discount.

Of course now Shinder’s is dead and gone and I’ve turned to mail order with occasional stops at Hot Comics for a random trade or the like.

I enjoyed the story about Lake Oswego very much, as it covers the period just before I met Greg. In 1975, we were both freshmen in high school. Yes, they had high schools in those days. And Greg is the one who got me to start watching Star Trek!! I’d have guitar lessons after school, then would have to get home right away to see Mr. Shatner. Village Drug also had a nifty lunch counter (an American institution that was just dying out…)

At some point, Starlog magazine came out (issue #1), and it talked all about this new movie called “Star Wars.” This was before they invented “hype.” We thought…well, if it’s in a science fiction magazine, it must be worth seeing. And it was (!) Saturday Night Live came on in 1975, and we got hooked on that, and then I got my driver’s license and there was no controlling us. I’d take Greg to bookstores and used record stores, and that’s why we’re the people that we are today. Something like that.

I think you asked recently which columns we readers like best – I’d have to say the ones like these are my favorite. What a flush of memories, as I had many similar experiences, i.e. the not-too-understanding parents, the restricted bike range (I actually didn’t even live in a town at all, which made things harder), the joys of the grocery store spinner rack (and since you mentioned Fred Meyer, their magazine/gift/candy sections where the comics were held were like heaven to me back then), the dread of the “To be continued” box at the end of comics, etc. Oh yes, and KPTV – it would be impossible to count the hours idled away watching the late afternoon reruns. Anyway, that Marvel Team-up issue was one of the very first comics I owned – I loved it to death even though I was only about 8 at the time and just starting to actually READ the comics rather than just skim through them looking at the pictures. I started picking up MTU semi-regularly after that, whenever I could find it. And it probably explains why I still have a soft spot for Sal Buscema’s art.
By the way, you mentioned the annoying Ron Tonkin commercials – agreed, they were obnoxious, but I think at the time nobody beat out appliance huckster Tom Peterson for sheer annoyance during late night programming.

Hey! I didn’t know you grew up in LO. If the “downtown” area was the only part that was built up, I’m not surprised you couldn’t find many outlets selling comics.

It’s INSANE how much more of Oswego there is now, just physically, than there was back then. The old configuration of ‘downtown,’ the retail core, was essentially a T-shape, upside-down — the vertical stroke was “A” Street and then the crossbar at the bottom was State Street. The length of State Street was roughly seven or eight blocks; that was all retail till you got to George Rogers Park. Then retail businesses ran up A street maybe five or six blocks up from the intersection with State before it went residential again. Parallel to A Street was B Street, also with some retail businesses but they didn’t even go THAT far, only about four blocks up from State till you hit the post office.

I’m simplifying for the sake of clarity, but really, that was IT for “downtown” Lake Oswego. You’d reach the south end of State Street and have the option of going out Pacific Highway to West Linn, which was out by where I lived, or turning on to McVey Avenue and following the south shore of the lake out towards I-5. No businesses out that way to speak of, except for the Sentry Market, the bowling alley, a couple of gas stations, a lumberyard and a marina. Pass the Sentry and it’s all pasture till you get to the freeway.

That was then. Today it’s all so developed, with new housing, new streets, lots of little retail strip malls anchored by a Starbuck’s or something like that… they’ve built it up so much that the ground it’s sitting on has itself changed. Where the Sentry and the bowling alley used to be, there’s a whole little shopping center and half of it would have been sitting in mid-air if the land still looked the way it did in 1975. They built it up so much they actually had to import more land to build stuff on. It’s unnerving. One time Julie and I were down there visiting and actually got LOST in the maze of streets down there in “Palisades Terrace” or whatever they call it now… it used to be a big horse farm with fields and one two-lane road through the middle of it.

About the only thing that’s the same is that there are still no minorities. The “Lake No-Negro” joke still applies to that town. The place makes Stepford look ethnic.

That’s not exactly correct. The ethnic minorities in Lake Oswego either fished off the railroad embankment near a restaurant called “The Wharf” (another story)….or owned houses in Lake Oswego, because they played for the Portland Trailblazers. And, god…I hate to bring this up within the same paragraph…but at the other end of State Street we spent many a night drinking coffee at a place called…”Sambo’s.”

Yes, it was an actual chain of restaurants that survived into the early ’80s, and we’re deeply ashamed. The younger folks can look it up on this Wikipedia that you now have on “The Internets.”

I can’t quite wrap my head around “all pasture” until you hit the freeway. Dang. That’s a ton of build-up in the years from 1975-1993, when I moved there. I didn’t deliver too much to downtown LO (I was a messenger driver for a few years), but technically, all the stuff out on Kruse Way was “Lake Oswego.” And then there’s no real break in the development between LO and West Linn these days. That’s just amazing how quickly it became a big town. Strange.

I miss Portland.

The irony is there was never any racial slur intended with the Sambo’s chain. It was actually named for the owners, Sam and Bo. But that didn’t stop people from complaining in the late ’70s-early ’80s. According to Wikipedia, there is still one Sambo’s left, in California.
I’ve read a few things which mention the chain and call it ‘Southern’, but it originated in California, and became popular nationwide. There seems to be a common assumption that anything racially offensive comes from the South. I’ve actually seen books that said minstral shows (which originated in Pennsylvania, and were popular throughout the North before becoming popular in the South) and ‘sundown laws’ (mostly found in Western states) were Southern phenomena. I know you didn’t mention the South, but I bring it up because I see this sort of thing all the time, and I wanted to set the record straight. The South has enough racist history without being burdened with any more.
There was a Sambo’s in a nearby town when I was a kid. When the chain went under in the early ’80s it became a Denny’s (as did many Sambo’s). Considering the later racial scandals involving Denny’s, that’s kind of funny.

There’s still a restaurant called “Sambo’s” in Lincoln City, OR, but it’s not related to the chain, and it does use images from the book “Little Black Sambo”.

And the Kruse Way side of town is called “Lake Grove”. Years ago the towns of Lake Grove and Oswego merged to form “Lake Oswego”. Which is why, I’m told, the town is called Lake Oswego but the lake is called Oswego Lake.

Rob in Aloha

Those are some good comics. Good job.

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