Introduction: Poem and Essay

Childhood

Somehow I decided
at a very early age
comic books were for kids
unable to read
“real” books.

I even felt guilty
as I grew older
when I’d open the newspaper
to the funny pages.
It was something I should have outgrown.

Not until college
did I begin to realize
I might be wrong.
Somehow Spiegelman’s ‘Maus’
was brought to my attention.

Like all bigots
at first I propped up my beliefs
with the standard line:
“This is the exception.”

Soon I was collecting
all his artwork gracing
covers of the New Yorker
But I was educated enough
to realize
there might be other exceptions

I found an author
who’d written several novels
I couldn’t put down
had also penned the story lines
for Supergirl, The Hulk and Captain Marvel.

There are advantages
to getting hooked on comics
at thirty

for one thing,
you’ve got more money to buy them.

But it’s difficult
to explain to your friends
you were late for happy hour
because you were reading
the latest Wolverine.

Most of the above poem is true to some degree. It has been said that the art of fiction is to tell the truth using lies. And the art of the memoir is to tell lies by using the truth. Poets have “poetic license,” but I didn’t us much of that license in the above poem.

Occasionally I will tell people I didn’t start reading comics until I was thirty. Anyone who read the poem above sees the lie in that. Ever since I can remember, the first page of the newspaper I turn to is the comics. Present tense. I get most of my news on the internet, so when I pick up a paper, I turn to the comics.

As a kid I was addicted to one comic in particular. Spiderman. I read the Spiderman serial daily. I didn’t stop until I went off to college. (And only then because I didn’t subscribe. I could have read it in the library, but the effort involved was enough to break the habit. It was a habit I felt at the time I should break.) I also remember very well the Spiderman and His Amazing Friends cartoon from the 1980s. Firestorm and Iceman were my introduction to The XMen.

So this raises a very obvious question. Why the hell wasn’t I buying the Spiderman comic books? Looking back, I have to ask myself an embarrassing question. Did I know they existed?

My earliest recollection of comic books were the ones I received as prizes at Purim Carnivals for winning carnival type games (like throwing a ball through a basket). As you might imagine, these were Archie, Richie Rich, Disney, and other similar comics. So I knew those existed.

However, I was reading what are now known as Chapter Books in first grade. I was taught to be proud that I had “outgrown” picture books. There was a contest in first grade to see who could read the most books, and I read 1509 books that year, including such books as Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and Little House in the Big Woods — all of which are generally considered at the 3rd grade level. (Though most of the 1509 were Dr. Seuss and the like.)

So while I was getting my daily comic fix in the newspaper, and watching endless hours of television, I wasn’t hanging out at the comic bookstore. I was hanging out at the local library. So unless someone had told me what I was missing, I wouldn’t have known.

This isn’t an essay about how I feel my parents ruined my life. It is not their fault. They weren’t intentionally depriving me of anything. They didn’t read comic books either. What happened happened.

So how did this change? How did I get introduced to comics? And how did I go from having almost none to a current collection of over 3000 in less time than it usually takes Spiderman to spin his web? That I will explain in a later essay.