Friday, August 24, 2012

Pop Sequentialism: The Origin, Part 1

I guess I have always read comic books in one way or another, but on Thursday, November 22, 1984, after watching an episode of the CBS television show Simon & Simon, I transformed from being a casual comic book reader into a serious comic book collector.

Just like a classic comic book origin, it was no ordinary day. Local news coverage had been running promos for weeks about the solar eclipse that was to occur. They even let school out early to allow us to see it in person. While I can summon to mind that there was a solar eclipse, I don't have any recollection of witnessing the actual event. In fact, I recall nothing else about that day until 9 PM Eastern Standard Time. I don't remember which episode of Magnum P.I. ran before it, but I have almost completely memorized the plot of the Simon and Simon episode "Almost Completely Out of Circulation":

When the creator of a popular comic book is killed, his grandson goes to A.J. and Rick claiming that he knows who killed his grandfather -it was the arch enemy of the hero of the comic. They eventually learn that every character in the comic is inspired by a real person. So they have to figure out who was the inspiration for the villain.

What stood out most to me about the episode is that they had to go and find old back issues of the grandfather's comics to piece the mystery together, and I learned that the first issue of a series wasn't always the most valuable. In the case of the show, the first appearance of a new character 60 odd issues into the run (and they used a fictional comic book title) was the most valuable issue in the entire series and proved difficult to obtain, requiring the detectives to search the colorful underworld of comics shops. This information struck me like a lightning bolt! It jarred my memory that one of the comics I'd purchased at the newsstand years earlier was a high-numbered WEREWOLF BY NIGHT comic featuring a new character called Moon Knight. Until I'd seen this show I had no idea that comic book specialty shops even existed.

At the end of the episode, I raced to my bedroom and dug deep into my closet, locating an old shoebox that contained the comic books of my early youth. I sifted past issues of DAREDEVIL, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, OMEGA THE UNKNOWN, TOMB OF DRACULA, and there it was: WEREWOLF BY NIGHT #32, still in very good condition. Curious about what it was worth, my dad encouraged me to look in the yellow pages under "Comic Books" and I found two shops in my hometown, which I visited the next day. I bought some old HOUSE OF MYSTERY comics with Bernie Wrightson cover art from the three-for-a-dollar bin, and an issue of COMICS COLLECTOR Magazine with Wolverine and Colossus from THE UNCANNY X-MEN attacking a Sentinel on the cover. The magazine had a price guide and I learned that my first appearance of Moon Knight was worth $36 –more than one hundred times what I'd paid for it.

From that day forward I rode my bike downtown everyday after my paper route, and I listened to the conversations that were so electric they very well could have powered the trains that ran overhead. They revolved endlessly around names that seemed familiar from other comics I'd read on the newsstand, like Frank Miller and his run on DAREDEVIL, or who drew a better Batman, Neal Adams or Marshall Rogers. I quietly purchased the back issues that made the employees most passionately vocal, until I was pulled into one of the heated debates by a large, gregarious guy named Paul Marcure, who seemed to be the manager of the shop. When I agreed that ELFQUEST was for girls and that no male on the planet had any rational reason to be reading it, I was in. When I asked to return a G.I. JOE #1 to buy the Joker Fish stories from DETECTIVE COMICS, I became part of the crew –a crew which included future best-selling author, Tom Sniegoski, phenomenal local artist, Paul Glavin, and the mentor of these slightly, older guys–original Corner Book Store owner, Tim Cole. These men changes my life. The air of encouragement and creativity fostered in the confines of that rundown shop empowered me to seek the unrestrained possibilities of Hollywood. Most of the really pivotal events of my teens revolved around that shop: my first real girlfriend, my first attempts at writing, chemical mind-expansion, even my driver's license!

So while the episode of Simon & Simon was light and even what some might term "forgettable" entertainment, the impact it had on my life was fundamentally enormous. I'd like to take this moment to offer, for the very first time in my life, great appreciation to Paul Robert Coyle who wrote that life-changing episode, and who returned to comic book themes in series like The Adventures of Superboy, Star Trek Voyager and Deep Space Nine. I've never met you, Mr. Coyle, but I owe you a deep debt of gratitude. Thank you.

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