Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Memory Lane Part 7: PROPER Collecting


So, now older and with greater income, I could afford comics more easily and soon got hooked again. I started with the US Marvels...I fell out of love with the X-Men during Cockrum's second run and only saw 2 issues of the Paul Smith run but I found myself easily falling into the latest issues, illustrated by Spidey artist John Romita Jr. The characters rather than the plots took centre stage and this was probably the most "humane" era in Claremont's run. As a huge Byrne fan, I also went straight back to Fantastic Four (have only ever seen his first 3 issues before dropping comics), as well as latching on to Alpha Flight...I appreciate it more now but was doubly annoyed as he'd killed off a favourite character of mine and the team almost never actually got together! I followed Byrne to his excellent Hulk run but other than those titles, I'd pick up practically any series I could: the Spidey and Avengers titles, New Defenders, Cap, iron man, New Mutants, the lot.

I missed a week or so of school when we had to escape to a refuge and the only thing I had to do was walk to the shops and back. It was here that I started getting into DC for the first time...the Crisis was starting and a great buzz was building.

For me, the post-Crisis era was DC's best, wiping away the cheesy old titles and ushering a new era of greatness such as Byrne's Superman & Action, Perez's Wonder Woman, the JLI, Jackson Guice's Flash, the Lightle Doom Patrol following on from his Legion run and so much more. DC were experimenting with adult stories, different formats and paper stocks and the late 80s became a truly great time for comics.

Helping things along, I stumbled across a newsagent in town stocking direct market comics. At first I eschewed the indie fare like Nexus, Scout, Mai and so on in favour of more interesting DC fare and future Marvel releases (from the usual newsagent schedule anyway). Then a comic shop opened up in town during Jim Lee's X-Men run and I became a regular who occasionally helped out (and even designed the store logo), eventually taking a trip up to London to my first comic shop, Mega City Comics in Camden.

Eventually, the LCS closed own and I began making regular sojourns to Forbidden Planet in Milton Keynes before taking notice of an ad in Blast! for ACE, a comic shop with a thriving mail order company based in Essex. My first advance order was the month of Jim Lee's X-Men #1 in 1991 and I'm still using the service.

At the time, there was the youthful joy of collecting...still a thrill to complete a mini series or pick up a first issue, I had every ongoing Marvel #1 (except Darkhawk, which I could never find) for about 5 years. Yep, I even had obscure crap like Tomorrow Knights and Terror, Inc. Most were crap but occasionally I would follow series for a while, such as the first few years of New Warriors but this was a time when comics were still affordable enough that you could easily take a punt on titles, hence my following titles such as Quasar, Wonder Man (both favourite characters of mine), Gruenwald's Captain America, the Eric Masterson Thor and the first 6 issues of the revived Ghost Rider.

Now working, I could also afford to buy back issues and complete runs of Uncanny X-Men and Byrne's Captain America, FF and Alpha Flight, plugging gaps in between issues I already had.  During this time, I followed series such as Starman, Bone, A Distant Soil, Preacher and Leave It To Chance and still have complete runs.

Somewhere along the way though, maturing tastes, declining quality in the 90s and the relative ease of buying comics meant the thrill of comics was dying for me a bit. I quit the long-loved X-line when I realised I was buying 5 or 6 series a month just to keep up with 3 or 4 characters who were being mishandled in comics I never particularly enjoyed. I was coming dangerously close to leaving comics behind altogether, just picking up a few scant titles each month which happened to have work by artists I like. It was then that I decided to start collecting as much Adam Hughes art as I could: a huge favourite of mine, tracking down and obtaining his work kept my interest in the field at a time when the standard output was pretty poor.

Eventually though, comics became more interesting after the boom and burst when sales dictated better quality. I tracked down the vast majority of Hughes work but gave up collecting when I was picking up issues just for his cover or illo and utter hating the rest of the issues (Wonder Woman and Rose & Thorn, I'm mainly thinking you here). By this time, I had lost my connection to Marvel and DC as mishandled series and characters, rising costs, storage limits and changing tastes meant I still had an interest and nostalgia for the lines but was no longer a devotee of their universes.

It wasn't all doom and gloom though as this meant I could explore different comics. I began following artists more and hunted out major work by artists like P Craig Russell, Adam Warren, Steve Rude and legends like wally Wood, Al Wiliamson and Alex Raymond. Excellent archive editions were being produced, allowing me to obtain great work a little off the beaten path. A reluctant convert to the trade format (I would previously pick up monthlies as you never knew if anything would be collected and besides issues felt more like "real" comics!), I eventually saw the light when frustrated at the lack of anything decent to read, I'd take a punt on things that may not have been my usual visual cuppa but sounded good reads. As a result, I became a fan of series such as Y The Last Man, Runaways, Fables and the Walking Dead.

After reaching back through the decades of US comics in various reprints, I also began looking further afield. I tried manga and generally struggled with it, although I found a few gems. I had more luck wit the European fare, particularly the albums issued by Cinebook: the sci fi Aldebaran/Betelgeuse/Antares series is a firm favourite of mine, as is the Bournesque Largo Winch.

That brings us up to date with just one coda to come...

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