Just a couple of weeks ago, I had kind of an interesting anniversary.
Specifically, it was the third week of February, which marked the forty-sixth anniversary of my… well, let’s say my involvement with comic books. That week was when I handed a quarter to a drugstore clerk, in exchange for my very first comic book ever. Flash #178, back in 1968.
I’ve already written about that comic in this space several times (most recently, here) and I’m not going to go through it all again. I know why it caught my eye– it was because I was a big fan of the animated Superman/Aquaman Hour on Saturday morning and my favorite part of that show was the intermission where they’d show cartoons starring other DC characters– the Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Atom, the Justice League, and the Teen Titans, variously.
Those cartoons are all on DVD now and I can watch them any time I like; they’re pretty bad, honestly. But I can still feel an echo of the rush of wonder that seven-year-old me felt back then, watching them.
But thinking back to that time, I wondered… what if a different comic had caught my eye? Would that have had the same effect? Would I still be here, forty-six years later? Reading comics, writing about comics, and even working at a school teaching kids how to make their own?
Well, what else was on sale, back in February of 1968? What was on TV, what else was I thinking about back then? What other comics might have been triggers for something that almost instantly became a lifetime obsession for me?
The big TV shows for me, other than the Adam West Batman, were Tarzan, Daktari, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,and The Wild Wild West. They all had comic-book series.
In fact, most every popular TV show had some kind of comic book adaptation appear during the sixties, usually from Dell (later Gold Key.) A few of them, like Dark Shadows and Twilight Zone, outlasted the shows they were based on. Most of these comics sputtered to cancellation before they made it to double digits, though.
But of the TV-related comics on sale in ’68 that would have gotten youthful me’s attention– I wouldn’t have bothered with The Flying Nun or Gentle Ben or Lost in Space— only two were on the stands that week. Tarzan and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
Even without the lure of the nearby superhero comics I’d probably still have blown by them, though, because Gold Key put it all into the cover paintings. The covers were always masterpieces, but the interior art of those adaptations tended to look a bit staid and schoolbooky compared to the other stuff out there. They were invariably less than what I got on television. The monsters on the TV version of Voyage scared the shit out of me. The ones in the comic looked kinda dull.
And the Tarzan… well, I eventually learned to love the Burroughs version, but that was in junior high school. At age seven, I would have just been befuddled by Tarzan and the Ant Men.
The funny thing is, I did eventually catch up. I have both of those comics here today. In fact, both the Russ Manning Tarzan and the Gold Key Voyage from that era are available in nice hardcover collections. Tarzan from Dark Horse and Voyage from Hermes Press.
Dark Horse hasn’t gotten to Tarzan and the Ant Men yet, but I imagine it’s coming. “Volume one” implies that eventually we’ll get a volume two.
In 1968, though, I was all about the superheroes, especially the ones on Saturday morning TV. Apart from the Superman-Aquaman Hour, there was all the amazing Alex Toth Hanna-Barbera stuff. Space Ghost. The Herculoids. Shazzan. Young Samson. Mightor.
And those characters did get to star in comics, as well. From Gold Key again, of course.
But there were none on the stand that day. Hanna-Barbera’s Super TV Heroes #1 came out in January, and it was long gone by then. It was a quarterly, so #2 didn’t roll out until April.
Eventually I did check those comics out. But it was love of the cartoons that carried me through them– the comics themselves were not that great. If an issue of the Hanna-Barbera book had been there waiting on the spinner rack on that particular day, I don’t think that title would have hooked me as hard as the Flash book did, either. Super TV Heroes was from Gold Key and it just didn’t have the surging adrenaline rush the TV shows had. (If Toth himself had worked on it, it might have, but he was nowhere to be found. This art is by Sparky Moore.)
Anyway, you miss a lot when you don’t have that groovy jazz soundtrack playing underneath the action.
No, the thing that set me on fire was that the comic book superheroes in that Flash Giant were more than I was getting on TV, not less. That meant it would have had to be something from DC or Marvel. And in early 1968, they were both on a roll.
Chances are I flipped through a lot of those. But what I landed on had one more determining factor– the price. I had a quarter. I wanted the best bang for the buck, even at age seven. Two regular 22-page comics for 12 cents each was okay, but the 80-page Giants were only a penny more and that was almost double the page count. No-brainer.
So whatever I picked would have been a Giant. And apart from the Flash, there were only two others out that month.
Marvel Tales #14 and Marvel Super Heroes #14.
Either one of them probably would have done the trick. Marvel Tales had Spider-Man, the Torch and Thor; I knew the first two from the cartoons on ABC, and I was sold on Thor when I encountered him in another Marvel Tales a few months later (in a rematch with Mr. Hyde, as it happened.) Marvel Super-Heroes had Spider-Man in the lead and then a bunch of Golden Age reprints in the back– Bill Everett on the Sub-Mariner, the original Human Torch by Burgos and Ayers, and a couple of old fifties horror tales to fill it out. Either one would have sealed the deal as well as the Flash book did; the Marvel Tales might have even swung me over to Marvel from DC. As it was, when I did eventually find it, Marvel Tales was a favorite of mine as long as it existed in its ‘Giant’ format. It was one of the very few comics to win me over despite the fact that something in it always had the hated “To Be Continued” at the end, which in most any other comic book was a deal-breaker for me at age seven.
So I guess it didn’t really matter. I’d still have ended up here four and a half decades later, no matter which 25-cent comic I picked that day. Some things are just fated, I guess.
See you next week.
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