Dawn of the Proto-Nerd: When Comic Books Weren’t Cool

There was once a time when knowing the difference between Aquaman and the Sub-Mariner wasn’t considered useful information. Harken back with me to yesteryear. It was 1958 and I had the occasional comic book cross my path. I loved to read  ‘Archie’, ‘Little Lulu’, ‘Uncle Scrooge’, ‘Hot-Stuff: The Little Devil’, ‘Casper’, and once in a while an occasional ‘Classics Illustrated’  to fill the bill. Until one day at a friend’s house I went through his stack of comics and pulled out some DC titles, ‘Superman’, ‘Batman’, ‘The Flash’ and proceeded to read for the next two hours. Wow! These left the Friendly Ghost in the dust.

Over the next two years, I found many ways to wrangle going to work with my Dad on Saturday’s. He only worked 4 hours on that day, and allowed me to go through the comic book rack while he was busy, and read, as long as I didn’t bend the pages. Often he would have me sweep the drugstore floor and let me choose ten comic books to take home. At 10 cents apiece, I made a buck a sweeping. It worked out great, as I was reticent to spend my 50 cents allowance on anything, but candy and movies. The movie theatre down the street cost a quarter for two films and candy bars were a nickel apiece. Now I was rich in comics!

I read the kid’s comics at the store, I knew that I could read the DC line at Larry’s house, so I branched out. My ten precious comics often included what was to become the Marvel line, ‘Amazing Adventures’, ‘Tales to Astonish’, ‘Strange Tales’ and ‘The Rawhide Kid’. Spiced in there were DC comics they no one else got ‘House of Secrets’, ‘Hawkman’ (still one of the coolest!), ‘House of Mystery’ and others. ‘Turok: Son of Stone’ and ‘Tarzan’ popped in from the Dell line, as did Gold Key comics later on.

Then the odd warp happened, in 1959, while playing hide and seek in my neighbor’s basement I discovered a stack of old comics. I asked if I could have them and they said sure, they didn’t read them and anyhow they had belonged to their older brother, who was now at college. So I brought home 27 or so EC comics. Pre-comics code comics! Bloody, gory, scare the shit out of the nine-year old towhead kid comics. Honeymoon couple’s car breaks down outside creepy empty house. Oh what the heck, it’s empty we’ll sleep in this old dusty bed, and in the middle of the night sleepwalking wife follows voice into basement, goes through the entrance to Hell in the floor. Walking out later she is now a gnarled evil witch who goes upstairs and stands by the bed where her newbie husband sleeps peacefully. She pulls a cord next to the bed and dozens of spikes come down from the ceiling impaling him! The witch now has a ghost slave to help with the next young couple to show up. There were no happy endings. I friggin’ love it!

Then the Atlas line started to shift, becoming Marvel Comics ‘Amazing Adventures’ became ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ [First becoming Amazing Adult Fantasy, then Amazing Fantasy — Know-it-All Editor], they put out ‘Fantastic Four’ and…well you get the drift. Yes, I owned EVERY single new Marvel comic! And I gave them ALL away, or traded for other comics I hadn’t read. These were the days when we read/not collected comics. To me the Kirby/Lee creations were top of the line. Who knew that one day five of my original pile would be worth a half of a million dollars! They were just comics for crying out loud. Adults sneered at them and most of my friends thought they were silly.

In 1964 ‘Creepy’ magazine came out, not a comic, but a magazine, circumventing the comic book code. Artists and writers like Frank Frazetta, Larry Ivie. Al Williamson, Reed Crandall, Joe Orlando, and Gray Morrow thrilled me with intense and lurid tales. Okay it was thirty five cents, but well worth the extra cost. The next step up from the EC line! They had depth and artistry beyond anything preceding them. Comics had come of age. Comics were cool and would never be the same again!