Today, a customer came in to pick up a couple of issues of The Punisher. As I was ringing him up, he mentioned that this completed his run of the series; he was proud of the fact that he now had every issue of the current Punisher run. I asked him what else he read.
"Nothing," he said. "Just The Punisher."
I didn't say anything--everyone has his own entertainment quirks--but I was a bit mystified. I can never remember a time when I went into a comic shop and picked up just one comic book. I would be more likely to eat just one potato chip, just one M from a pack of M&M's, just one jelly bean, than to buy just one comic book. Sure, there are characters that I enjoy more than others--but I really enjoy comic books.
When I was a kid, I never thought of some comics as being just for girls and other comic books as being just for boys; I was just as likely to grab a Little Lulu or Wendy the Good Little Witch as a Strange Adventures or Batman or Adventures into the Unknown or Fantastic Four. The character or the premise was less important than the comic book itself; it was the blending of words and pictures that captivated me. (Of course, I was much the same when it came to television in those days; while I had shows that I enjoyed more than others, I could always find something to watch on the six channels we received--three network channels from Atlanta, three from Chattanooga--because less desirable television was still better than no television at all!)
I loved the three-packs I found at convenience stores and department stores that contained those old Israel Waldman IW and Super reprint books; it wasn't too long before I could recognize the distinctive Ross Andru-Mike Esposito cover art on some of those collections, although at the time I couldn't figure out why the same dramatic art couldn't be found inside the books as well. I relished the discovery of a big stack of Charlton comics (for some reason still unknown to me, I tended to find Charltons in large clumps--it was as if, rather than being distributed with the regular weekly shipment of comics that the rack jobber brought in, the Charltons were held for months at a time, until there were enough of them to fill up an entire rack). I could be amused for hours with a hefty pile of Archie comics--particularly if they included a handful of those wonderful Bob Bolling Little Archie comics. I really enjoyed the Marvel and DC pre-hero and non-hero anthology books; Strange Tales Annual #1, with its heaping helping of monster and sf reprints, was as much fun for me as Strange Tales Annual #2, with its Spider-Man & Human Torch team-up story. War books, hot rod comics, movie and teevee licensed books, Classics Illustrated... heck, in a pinch, I could be amused by a bunch of romance comics (the only genre I thought of as being somehow inappropriate for young boys... although I still read 'em when there was nothing else around).
Of course, there were no comic book shops when I was a kid. In fact, there were no comic book shops when I was a teenager, nor were there any in this area when I was in my early twenties. The closest we came was Cantrell's on Lee Street in Atlanta, where a huge assortment of back issues could be found (most at premium prices, alas); in my hometown of Rome, I could count on Liberty Hatworks & Newsstand on Broad Street to have the best assortment of new comics, with Conn's Grocery coming in a close second. And I don't think I ever, ever went into one of those stores and came out with just one comic book... I never had that level of self-control.
And I'm pretty happy about that. If I had bought just a single comic on each trip to the store--if I had focused only on books starring a single character--think how much I would have missed! I don't collect comics--I consume entertainment, and it's hard to find more entertainment than is contained within a big stack of comic books...