Sunday, December 18, 2016

A Life in Four Colors Interlude: Christmas and Comics

Christmas and comic books are inseparable.

Let me clarify: I hardly ever got comic books for Christmas. I got the occasional comic book-related book (I've talked previously about Jules Feiffer's The Great Comic Book Heroes, for example), but I didn't get comic books for Christmas presents because no one knew what to give me.

I guess that comic books are a great mystery to those who aren't interested in the art form. As tolerant as my parents were of my passion for comics, I know they didn't really understand why I loved them so much. They also had no idea what I had and what I didn't have, so any attempt on their part to give me comic book would have probably been an exercise in frustration for them and for me as well.

But I have loved comic books ever since I was a young child, and I have always relished the opportunity to read and re-read comics--particularly old favorites like Fantastic Four, Batman, The Flash, Adam Strange in Mystery in Space, THUNDER Agents, Amazing Spider-Man, Justice League of America, Carl Barks' Uncle Scrooge, and Bob Bolling's Little Archie. There are few things more enjoyable than pulling out a stack of my favorite comics and reading through them, one after another, with no sense of guilt because I wasn't doing something productive with my time.

Every Christmas season in my childhood, I would turn to my comics to help me pass that seemingly-endless time from the last day of school  until Christmas morning. I  kept my comics organized by title and issue number, so it took me only a few moments to locate a run of my favorites, take a big stack of them, stretch out on the floor in my room or in the living room, and enjoy hours of entertainment as I revisited my favorite tales of wonder.

Early Fantastic Four issues were perennial favorites. They gradually became Christmas mainstays; when I first started reading them in order in the Christmas of 1963, there weren't that many to read--Fantastic Four #24 had just come out a couple of weeks before Christmas, so there were twenty-five comics to enjoy (FF #s 1-24 and the first FF Annual). I particularly loved those early issues--the team verged on dysfunctionality at times, the Thing's frustration and rage sometimes boiled over, and the Human Torch's teenage brashness was frequently quite evident. I had grown up with these issues (I happened on Fantastic Four #1 in the Enloe's Rexall Drugstore in West End Shopping Center the month it was published, and bought every issue of FF from there on), and I knew them so well that I could probably recite the dialogue from key panels, but that didn't stop me from enjoying them again and again.

Of course, the Christmas of 1964 gave me thirteen more issues (twelve regular issues and an annual), Christmas of 1965 added another thirteen to the stack, and so on. But it didn't matter: I would still read through all of those stories in one marathon session, a ritual I followed for several more yeaers.

Adam Strange was another favorite that somehow became linked to Christmas in my mind, although I have no idea why. His adventures on the planet Rann captivated me from the very first time I found him in the pages of Mystery in Space. It would be many years before I had a complete collection of his exploits, but starting in 1961, I would pull out every issue I owned and read through them at Christmas.

Today we have collected editions of almost every Silver Age series that we can enjoy at our leisure, but that wasn't an option in the 1960s. If we wanted to read the stories, we could read the original comics--and that's exactly what I did. It's the main reason my early comic books have creases and folds and color-breaks and all the things that high-grade collectors loathe. My books aren't high-grade; they're high entertainment, and they show all the signs of having been enjoyed dozens of times in an era when there were no comic bags, boards, or boxes.

This Christmas season, I took a couple of hours to pull out those early adventures of the Fantastic Four and Adam Strange. I was taken back to the Christmases of my childhood again, when those stories helped me to overcome my childhood impatience for Christmas morning. Now, they help me to remember that  childhood impatience as a beloved part of Christmas past--but most importantly, they take me back to incredible worlds that I would revisit every December.

It was good to be home.

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