I am, and have been since age six, a comic book junkie. I say “junkie” because I’ve tried on several occasions to wean myself from superheroes and their variant kind. I’ve gone cold turkey, but then, just when I think I’m clean, I’ll rediscover something new. Like how the American South is featured in numerous titles, from Harrow County, to Redneck, God’s Country, and my personal favorite, Southern Bastards. These books focus on the ways of life in the Southland: some mean, some dirty, and some ennobling. I teach some of these titles in my Southern Pop Culture class at Presbyterian College.
Today I’m waiting to interview the manager of Borderlands, the comic book store situated in a strip mall on Laurens Road. I’ve been a customer for over twenty years, dating back to its former incarnation, Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find. Borderlands is heavily stocked with models of all sorts, hosting all types of gaming fests, particularly on Thursday nights. Mark Larimer, the store manager, rushes in, apologizing. He’s been at Woodmont High, delivering books and stocking the school library’s graphic novel collection.
I think for a moment of how we used to hide our comics in our school desks; how, in fact, I saw my first Batman comic in Miss Pearson’s second grade class, snuck in by a boy named Alan Crawford. He even let me take it home to keep. Comic books are taught in secondary and higher education today, while back in the 1950s they were accused of seducing our innocent youth. I teach the graphic novels Maus, Fun Home, The Dark Knight, and V For Vendetta in college classes, as well.
“Oh yeah, Batman is still number one, Spider-Man a close second. I think it’s the basic story, his origin story,” Mark says, who celebrates his eightieth birthday this year. “Bruce Wayne sees his parents murdered, and instead of letting that reality crush him, he turns this horror into a lifelong crusade to not only overcome his own hurt, but to feel something positive by defending other victims. Unlike Superman, Batman is mortal and despite everything else, we can relate to him. Just like teenagers could relate to high school student Peter Parker.”
For 12 cents, my life could be transformed. My mother actually bribed me into attending church confirmation class by taking me to the comics store beforehand.
Borderlands has been owned for the past seven years by Rob Young. Both Rob and Mark were customers long before the opportunity to own and manage the store arose. And they’ve made innovations to the business, and there are collectibles, too. Rare titles. One that caught my eye is Batman Comics #61, from 1950. It’s in good condition, selling for $600. The story concerns Batman’s building a new Batplane. I promise my wife I’m not interested in buying it (but I am).
I know I shouldn’t, but I place value on objects. I buy into market prices, seller demands. I acquire things because I think they might be worth something to my daughters one day. I once spent $50 on a Spider-Man comic book, the one where the Green Goblin kills Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man’s true love. It has a blue-ink marking on the cover and so can never be in Mint, near Mint, or any CBG-graded system. I have no idea whether it will be worth what I paid to anyone. But I have it, and sometimes I pull it out of its bag and board and think about the time when I could have bought it for 12 cents.
If I could have one redo in life, I would give my father, who passed away nineteen years ago, the chance to reclaim his comic book collection, dating back to the late 1930s. Of course I never saw this collection, so all I have is his word. And I have no evidence that my father would have lied; to my memory, he never lied to me (he might have kept some truths to himself, but that’s a different matter). So when he said that he had the very first issue of Action Comics and Detective Comics #27 (introducing Batman), I never doubted him. He had others, too. He collected them all. Oh my God, the comics this man had.
My father also played the clarinet. His icons were Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. When Dad was eighteen he was drafted, like most other able bodies of his gender and generation, into America’s war against fascism, a war comic book creators had engaged in their stories months before Pearl Harbor was bombed.
I once spent $50 on a Spider-Man comic book. I have no idea whether it will be worth what I paid to anyone.
While Dad was defending his country in Patton’s Third Army, his mother hocked his clarinet for gambling money. Maybe he also had the issue of Captain America where Cap punches Hitler on the full-color cover several months before Hitler declared war on us. We’ll never know, though, because my grandmother also threw out, or perhaps sold, his comic books.
You can look up what these comic books are worth today. I don’t have the heart to do so.
This year Batman turns eighty, the eightieth anniversary of Detective Comics #27. In April, the 1000th issue of Detective rolled off the presses. I reserved two copies for myself and for my brother at Borderlands. Selfishly I grabbed the cover drawn by comics’ legend Jim Steranko, a cover sporting the 1960s Detective logo. I got another for my brother that looked like a 1950s vintage Detective. I thought I was late in reserving copies and halfway expected the Borderlands staff to say, “Sorry, you’ll have to wait for a second printing because the demand was too strong.” Yet when I entered the store, they had scores of the issue, with eight variant covers.
On the day I interview Mark, I decide to get my son-in-law a copy, too, but the display stand is empty. The rush must have been late, but thorough. I check the regular stacks, and there they are—at least fifty copies ready for sale. I find a Golden Age variant. I pay $10 for each copy. Perhaps one day they’ll command half that much. Still, I have something that I love.
I don’t know if I’ll ever stop collecting comics.
Maybe it’s that I remember the boyhood thrill of going to our local newsstand on Saturday and hoping the latest Detective or Batman would be there. For 12 cents, my life could be transformed. My mother actually bribed me into attending church confirmation class by taking me to the comics store beforehand.
Or maybe I want to relive my youth and like Bruce Wayne, overcome a childhood horror. I once had around 300 comics, dating to the early 1960s. I had the first Spider-Man annual, featuring The Sinister Six. My mother insisted that I store them in the finished room of our basement. They sat in a big cardboard box, and occasionally, I would bring them upstairs and lay them out on our den floor, end to end—until fifth grade, when, upon returning from school, I stood paralyzed as my mother told me about an overflowing toilet in the finished basement room. A flood of sewage. A soiled comic book collection that was summarily dumped in the alley behind our house. I took my mother’s word, and cannot remember checking to see if any of the comics were salvageable. I trusted my mother—mothers never junk their son’s treasures, right?
Today, I’ve almost completed replicating my former collection. My oldest titles are Detective #327, from 1964 and Batman #154, from 1963. And after years of abandoning Batman, I’ve re-subscribed to Detective. I’ll be collecting it from Borderlands every four weeks or so. And please, don’t say anything to my wife.
I doubt she’ll understand.