I’ve discussed the situation (read “pit of excess and desperation”) the funnybook industry found itself in during the era I’ve dubbed “The Terrible ’90s” on multiple occasions over the course of Armagideon Time’s lifespan, but thought it might be worthwhile to take those anecdotal asides and weave them into a long-form autobiographical postmortem for that strange and horrible decade.
The best place to begin would be the end of 1988, in the immediate aftermath of my mother’s death. The months leading up to her passing has been marked by extreme poverty. Though I had just started working part-time in the Choate Hospital kitchen, most of the sixty bucks I took home each week was given over to my parents as board, with an additional “we ran out of booze money” surcharge applied a few days later.
Of the fifteen bucks a week that left me for spending money, comics barely rated on my list of priorities. There was the Giffen/DeMatteis/Maguire Justice League, a few translated manga series, and Captain America (for my little brother). Even if I had the scratch to expand my pull list, I doubt I would’ve. The obsessive line-wide fandom of my junior high days had sputtered out years before — done in by Marvel’s post-Shooter drift, DC losing its post-Crisis momentum, and Watchmen‘s revisionist allure souring me mainstream superheroic stuff.
That all changed following my mom’s death. For starters, I was sent to live with my maternal grandmother, who didn’t believe in charging board and thus tripled my pocket money.
Fresh proximity to my father’s family meant I was able to reconnect with my Uncle Gary. Gary was a comics geek turned Jesus freak. His initial conversion in the mid-Eighties was a momentous event for my brother and I, as we were bequeathed his large collection of Bronze Age Marvel comics and other assorted treasures. By the end of the decade, he’d somehow managed to reconcile his faith with his fandom, and was back on the comics-buying wagon.
Gary was really good to us Weiss Boys in the weeks after my mom passed away. He took us to our first comic convention (where I blew $100 on bootleg anime tapes and the Marvel Premiere issue with Jack of Hearts) and showed us around the various funnybook shops in Harvard Square. His geeky enthusiasm was infectious, especially for a depressed sixteen year old looking for something to distract him from recent events. A renewed interest in comics may have been a means of avoiding an unpleasant reality, but it was one that stuck…for a while, at least.
Even so, it probably would’ve come to nothing if not for the single most critical event which drove my turn-of-the-decade fandom — my father’s move to South Boston. Each Saturday afternoon, my brother and I would take the 134 bus in to meet my dad at Wellington Station. The important thing was spending time together, though the specifics often came down to wasting time walking around Boston, hanging out on Long Wharf, and visiting the New England Comics store in Malden Center. My dad thought comics were a load of foolishness. He grumbled and teased us and insisted on waiting outside the place, but he still tagged along and occasionally pitched in a fiver if something we really wanted was just out of our price range.
It was the first time in years I had regular access to a legitimate comic shop with a decent layout and selection of new releases. The giant “THIS WEEK’S COMICS” shelf, stocked deep and wide, along with NEC’s in-house newsletter encouraged me to try out stuff that I would have otherwise avoided — Zot, the Outback Era X-Men, Iron Man, John Byrne’s West Coast Avengers and Roy Thomas’s Dr. Strange runs, the “Five Years Later” LSH relaunch, Justice League Europe.
The store also had a decent selection of quarter bin books. On slow or skip weeks, I’d makeup for the lack of new releases with a sizable stack of the past decade’s leftovers, already gone yellow with acid-eaten age. It’s where I picked up most of my early Alpha Flight run, along with some Byrne issues of Fantastic Four and Perez issues of New Teen Titans.
It was all catch-as-catch-can, just picking up stuff I enjoyed because I enjoyed it. My interest in most of the books faded after a few issues (or the abrupt departure of a creative team), but my interest in comics as a whole was stronger in 1990 that it had been in half a decade.
(On a side note, I still feel a little weird and depressed whenever I go back and reread those few runs which spanned my mom’s death. JLI is one of them, as are Grey and the first volume of Appleseed. Mostly because I can clearly remember talking about certain issues and stories with my mom — who was more supportive of the hobby — and it’s impossible to look at a comic that came out a month before her passing without morbidly musing on how little time she had left at that moment.)