Monday, December 23, 2013

A Life In Four Colors (Part Forty)

Like so many of us, I remember a plethora of toys from childhood Christmases past, but my two most vivid memories are of books, and both date from the Christmas of 1965.

The first was Jules Feiffer's oversized book The Great Comic Book Heroes, which was my first significant exposure to Golden Age comics of the 1930s and 1940s (I had seen the occasional Golden Age reprint that DC would include in their Annuals and 80-Page Giants, but these were just earlier adventures of major characters like Superman). I was absolutely enthralled as I read through the book--not only were the Golden Age reprints captivating, but Feiffer's accompanying text explaining his life with comics was equally fascinating. Even better, this book wasn't limited to just Marvel or DC; it features great stories from both, as well as tales from All-American, Quality, and many others. Superman, Batman, Captain America, The Sub-Mariner, the Human Torch, Plastic Man, Wonder Woman, the Spectre, The Spirit, Hawkman, Captain Marvel, The Flash, Green Lantern... so many wonderful stories, all from an era whose comics I had never actually seen! Every tale was filled with energy, overflowing with vitality and excitement, and I dreamed of a time when I would be able to read more of these stories from the years before my birth.

 I read and re-read that oversized hardcover a hundred times, at least--and it was prominently displayed on the dark oak bookcase that my parents gave me to hold my growing library and collection.  Recently, I moved that bookshelf to the master bedroom of Marchmont, our second house--and one of the first items I put on display was my worn but still intact copy of The Great Comic Book Heroes. I still occasionally pull that well-read edition from the bookshelf where and thumb through it again, and I still feel the same excitement.

The other 1965 book memory involves the James Bond novels. I was a devoted fan of the James Bond movies by the time I was 12, but had not read any of the books. My parents were a bit concerned about the sex and violence in those Ian Fleming novels, but they also were reluctant to tell me that I couldn't read something that I wanted to read. I had put the entire series on my Christmas list, but wasn't at all confident I'd actually get them.

On  Christmas Eve 1965, my parents were going to a party at a neighbor's house for an hour or two, while I stayed at home to keep an eye on my sister Kim. As they were getting ready to leave, they gave me a hefty, carefully wrapped cube and told me to go ahead and open it early. As soon as I tore the corner of the paper away, I recognized the distinctive Signet paperback cover design of Live and Let Die; beneath it were the rest of the Signet editions of the James Bond novels in their matching cover designs. "We've decided that you're old enough to read these," Dad said. "And we thought you might want to start reading one of them tonight." I was doubly thrilled--not only because of all those novels I looked forward to reading, but also because Mom and Dad had enough faith in me to give me these books in spite of their concerns. 

And once again, even though I have subsequently acquired all of these novels in hardcover editions, I still  have those original paperbacks given to me by Mom and Dad 48 years ago. At Christmastime, I often take a look at those covers once again and smile, remembering how I was so excited and eager to read these books that, once my parents had come home and everyone had gone to bed, I turned on a small light and read for another hour or two that night.

Books aren't just filled with stories... they're filled with memories as well, and we as readers collaborate with each book's author to add those memories. Once they're added, they can never be stricken from those volumes, no matter how much time passes or how worn the books become...


Charles R. Rutledge said...

I didn't get my copy of The Great Comic Book Heroes until about 10 years after you, but it had much the same effect on me. My well thumbed copy is still on my bookshelf.

Cliff Biggers said...

It's a shame that the most recent reprint of this book has NONE of the classic comics material, only the Feiffer text. Every comics publisher should work to restore those reprints, because they've done so much to inspire new readers and collectors who are unaware of comics' rich and storied history.