Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Life in Four Colors (Part Three)

An odd thing about comic book readers: almost as soon as one joins the ranks, there is an irresistible urge to find fellow comic book readers. Within months of becoming a comic book reader and accumulator (I was far too eclectic in my tastes to qualify as any sort of a collector at this point), I began paying attention to the reading habits of other people in my neighborhood.

The first fellow comic book reader I found was Ronnie DeAngelus, who lived a couple of blocks away. The DeAngelus family had a house on Garden Lakes Boulevard, at the corner of Lakeridge; there were few things in Garden Lakes more prestigious than a house right on the Boulevard, at least insofar as kids were concerned. It was a real status symbol. Their house was larger than ours, although not by much (by today's standards, it would be a very small house indeed); it was actually one of the smaller homes on Garden Lakes Boulevard, but it was on a spacious lot with towering pines and several cedar trees (an oddity in this area where pines and oaks and elms and sycamore trees dominated).

Ronnie was older than me by a couple of years--and when you're just approaching six years old, a two year difference seems like an immense gulf. I was a pesky kid as far as he was concerned, and he barely tolerated me... but he was willing to trade comic books.

Ahh... the allure of the comic book trade. There was nothing like it. In preparation, I would meticulously sort through my comics, stacking the "must keeps" in one pile on my bedroom floor (we owned tables, of course, but it was an unwritten rule that all comic book sorting must be done on the floor) and the "maybes" on a second and the "trades" on a third. Since I enjoyed comics of all types, each stack would have a mix of superhero books, weird suspense, adventure, fantasy, humor, and so on; even though I was beginning to recognize the appeal of the Jack Schiff era Batman books with their enormous props and quirky storylines, some of those might make it into the stack.

Condition was an important factor in determining what went and what stayed. I was not good about preserving my books; they were read and reread, they were folded and bent, many of the pages and panels were drawn over in pencil as I carbon-copies the images, and some of the books had long since parted ways with their covers. Many of those books made it into the trade stack, along with a few "good books" that I thought might sweeten the deal.

Ronnie's books were in very similar condition, of course; the idea of comics preservation was several years off yet, and it was an alien concept for kids. Ronnie tended to favor war comics, hot rod comics, and pre-hero Marvels, with an occasional Strange Adventure or My Greatest Adventure thrown in for good measure. He also tended to have several Little Archie comics in his stack, and I soon came to appreciate those delightful Bob Bolling tales... although I wouldn't know who Bob Bolling was for several more years yet.

When we did get together to trade, each of us would carefully peruse the other's stacks, deciding what we wanted; at the same time, we would gauge how many books the other was finding, so as to determine just how many books we might be able to acquire in trade. Trades were never one-for-one deals; some books were deemed "really good," and they would be "twofers." Every now and then, an annual or a cherished book might even qualify as a "threefer," although those books usually went unclaimed (who wants to give up three trades for one book?).

Problem was, I would spend far more time looking at comics than Ronnie. He had other interests, including sports, and would get impatient after a while as I perused the stacks. I was not good at sports, although I did try out for baseball and football as a child. (My problem, as it turned out, was very poor eyesight; I had trouble judging the actions of others because I didn't see them clearly until they were about six feet from me. Alas, we didn't discover how bad my vision was until I was in the third grade. Prior to that time, I simply presumed that all people had to put a finger to the outer corner of each eye and pull outwards in order to see; it turned out that such stretching of the lids would flatten my eyeballs just enough to change my visual focal length and sharpen my vision. Don't try that while playing football, though, unless you enjoy having your own finger jabbed into your eye socket...)

After a few months, Ronnie began to spend less money on comic books and more on trading cards. I didn't enjoy trading cards, because there was no inherent reading entertainment. That wasn't the most significant factor that contributed to the end of our trading partnership, though. No, that determinant was a matter of geography.

My parents were looking for a larger and more affordable house, and that necessitated a move from Lakeridge, on the south side of Garden Lakes Boulevard, to Plymouth Road, on the north side. Suddenly, I was on the other side of the road... and while it was just a wide two-lane street (certainly no major thoroughfare), it was an impassable barrier as far as my mother was concerned. Unless I was given special dispensation, I was never to walk across Garden Lakes Boulevard, where cars would speed back and forth at 35 and 40 miles per hour. Suddenly, trading with Ronnie DeAngelus had become a planned event--and six-year-olds are notoriously bad planners.

With Ronnie out of the picture, I needed a new trading partner.

That's when I discovered Jimmy Haynes...

1 comment:

Tredekka said...

I really identify with and enjoy this series. What happens next?!