There really were no options.
Sure, "Marvel's Greatest Comics" reprinted old Lee and Kirby Fantastic Four yarns, but by the time I was buying comics they were well into printing the later issues. Same thing with Spider-Man over in "Marvel Tales" - they were well into Romita's run on the book, so there was no place where I could see the classic Ditko drawn issues. Same deal with the Hulk. "Marvel Superheroes" was reprinting ol' Jade Jaws' adventures from the pages of "Tales to Astonish," but I wasn't aware that he had a series that ran a mere six issues back in the '60s until sometime later.
There were no comic book specialty stores to be found. There was no real way to track down back issues that I knew of.
That was it. If you didn't have it, you were SOL.
And then DC introduced their 100-page super spectaculars, which featured classic stories culled from their colorful comics of old in them and Marvel started up a line of Giant-Sized 52-page specials and suddenly I was able to get a gander at a lot of damned cool comics that I never would have seen otherwise. Stan Lee's "Origins of Marvel Comics" was a real eye-opener! At least I was able to see the stories that kicked off the Marvel Age and a nice intro from smiling Stan filled me in on what went on behind the scenes. Each character got a double dose of Marvel magic - in addition to the origin tales, there were later episodes showing the characters from a few years later once the creative teams really got swinging!
A small digression for obsessive anal-retentive geeks everywhere - in the first printing of "Origins of Marvel Comics" there was a bona fide blooper - Stan actually introduced the wrong story when he went into his rant about the second Spider-Man yarn contained in that pulse-pounding publication! Although he talked about Electro and mentioned plot points that made it sound as though he was writing an intro to the "Amazing Spider-Man" #82 ("And Then Came Electro"), what actually saw print in that cataclysmic collection was the "Amazing Spider-Man" #72 ("Rocked by the Shocker")! In later printings, Stan's intro was fixed so that he introduced the proper yarn.
Another digression - this titanic tome seemed to have had more than a few mix-ups along the way. Years later, an updated version that had modern masterpieces replacing the later Lee-penned stories and the editing of Stan's introductions was a complete mess. Somehow this book ran into more problems than any ten books should!
"Origins of Marvel Comics" was a major revelation to me! Never before had I gotten to see how these books began and what they looked like back in the day. I ate it up and you'd better believe I was there for the follow up books, "Son of Origins," "Bring On The Bad Guys," "The Superhero Women" and all the others.
And then came "Treasury Editions!" Marvel's collected samplings of their best, starting off with the "Amazing Spider-Man" and following it up with the Fabulous "Fantastic Four," the "Mighty Thor," "Conan the Barbarian," the "Hulk" and others. DC doled out oversized reproductions of "Action Comics" #1, "Detective Comics" #27 and a host of other "Famous First Editions" in addition to books that collected random samplings from various characters. As an aspiring artist, it was a treat to see these tales in this jumbo format that reprinted them nearly the size of the original art. As a fan, I just liked seeing these things period! Soon, original titles in this format were introduced as well including the first and second pairing of Superman and Spider-Man as well as other crossovers and special events ("Superman vs. Muhammad Ali" is an absolute "must buy" if you don't already have it as is "Captain America's Bicentennial Battles" - now that was good stuff).
But even these were far from comprehensive. Most books and collections tried to illustrate the various creative teams and showcase stories from numerous periods in that character's history. If it was a Spider-Man book, it might show one Ditko story and follow it up with a Romita yarn and one by Gil Kane or Ross Andru. There was no attempt made to give readers consecutive issues of a given title (or almost none - the Thor volumes generally collected extended epics because Thor generally ran extended epics). As a reader wanting a chance to read a full run of a book, I was shut out.
I wasn't able to read the full run of Lee & Kirby's "Thor" until I was an adult and was able to track down copies of comics I never had as a kid. Ditto the "Fantastic Four." I soon discovered that most of the stories I saw in "Marvel's Greatest Comics" were incomplete! At that point, Marvel books were a scant 17-pages in length so the stories were chopped up to fit in the allotted space (they were trimmed to 18-pages. They were allowed to run a page more than other books because they didn't have letters pages).
And these days, walking into a comic book specialty store is the greatest thing ever! The entire run of Lee & Kirby's FF are in print in both color and black and white (I have both) plus there are books that collect Kubert's Tarzan comics and Sgt. Rock and Enemy Ace and then there are the Spider-Man books and the Avengers books and the Incredible Hulk books! All of the comics I hunted for and couldn't find are being collected! All the cool Alex Toth comics and the great old Doom Patrol comics and the Plastic Man comics! I'm like a kid in a candy store! I don't know which way to look as my attention is pulled in every direction!
And then there are the classic comic strips! There are the "Peanuts" books and the "Dennis the Menace" books and those massive "Calvin & Hobbes" and "Far Side" volumes that you could kill a man with, if thrown with the correct force!
I wish there were more Shazam books - a common lament around these parts.
But it's a great time for comics! You have access to the best of the best! You can get "Spirit Archives" and you can track down the Batman stories drawn by Jerry Robinson (who kicks more ass than you can imagine) and you can get Toth's Zorro comics and hundreds of others too numerous to mention. Finally, I can read Otto Binder's Jimmy Olson and Superman comics! Finally, I can see all the Gil Kane Green Lantern comics! At last, I can find all the Elongated Man stories by Infantino!
Keep those trade paperbacks and hardcover books coming my way! I'm that guy who buys every one and treasures them all!
I love comics! I love old comics, I love new comics. I don't like everything, to be sure, but I don't know anybody that does. I'm extremely happy to be living in a time when so much great stuff is coming out from every era and every publisher and I'm pleased as punch to be helping bring a number of terrific books your way.
As a kid, I had no options. As an adult, I can decide whether I want my Fantastic Four comics in color or black and white, oversized or undersized or all of the above! I get a kick out of the various formats and I'll fork out money by the carload to get the books I want. Who needs to eat anyway? So, I'll bring a bag lunch to work for a while so I can afford the comics I want! I'm willing to make that sacrifice, damn it!
When you take into account the volume of books collected and repackaged for our reading pleasure - and the bulk of material from all eras that is available in handsome volumes - I think it's pretty safe to say that this really is the best time to be reading comics - ever.
But that's just one fan's opinion. I'm willing to concede that I could be wrong.