A good percentage of my childhood comics collection came from flea markets, where the unsalable overstock of the still-unfolding Bronze Age was dumped into battered longboxes and sold for two bits a pop. New issues were a prized rarity — and a double-edged sword, because a cliff-hanger ending could leave one dangling for months or years at a time.
I eagerly greeted these monthly opportunities to dive for four-color treasures, but the experience of thumbing through the bins had an inescapably creepy aspect. It wasn’t just the fact that so much of these remaindered comics tended to be either post-Code revision monster/horror titles or freaky-deaky oddities like Plop! or Steve Gerber’s Guardians of the Galaxy run. That stuff certainly did haunt my scaredy-cat younger self, but the weird chills I felt were the product of something broader lurking at the fringes of my comprehension.
When you’re a kid, the awareness of time’s inexorable passage operates within a much tighter window. To adult Andrew, “four years ago” is the stuff of recent memory. To my younger self, it represented an entire lifetime.
From my perspective in 1980, a comic from 1973 seemed absolutely ancient. The trade dress and brand logos weren’t too far removed from their then-contemporary version yet still far enough so to add a level of vague strangeness that occasionally veered — as in the case of Iron Man’s nose — into surrealist territory.
The weirdness extended to the ads within the books, which luridly pitched products which had ceased to exist outside vague memories or as a sun-bleached display in a downtown joke/hobby/toy shop passing time before its inevitable rebirth as a frozen yogurt place.
Even the feel and smell of the pages — the light caramel tint and hint of mustiness from early stage’s on the newsprint’s acidic deterioration — contributed to overall spooky vibe.
Try as I might to articulate the specifics here, the actual sensation remains hard to pin down. It is such a personal, Proustian thing, yet one that has permanently colored how I experience funnybooks from that era. Whether its a DC Special issue of Plastic Man reprints or a coverless copy of House of Mystery, just glimpsing at a comic from 1973 to 1978 can conjure up associative phantoms from the darkest recesses of memory.
Recommended listening: Red Lorry Yellow Lorry – Strange Dream (from Let’s Talk About the Weather, 1985)
Rise and gloom, sleepyheads.