Originally published May 2011
One Saturday afternoon in 1972 my mum came back from the shops with a comic she’d bought for me: the first issue of The Mighty World of Marvel. This was a weekly that reprinted the early (movie-length!) adventures of The Hulk, The Fantastic Four, and Spiderman in glorious two-colour, bringing real American superheroes to us deprived English kids if not exactly for the first time, at least the first time properly by Marvel themselves. It was so popular that it soon spawned a whole family of other Marvel UK reprint titles like Spiderman Comics Weekly, The Avengers, The Titans, and eventually our very own superhero Captain Britain (who was a bit crap really).
Until then my comics reading had consisted of cheeky English funnies like The Beezer, Cor!!, and Whizzer and Chips (I was a Chip-ite, and my sister a Whizz Kid) but these swinging and clobberin’ superheroes seemed far more exciting to 10-year-old me than Colonel Blink and The Bash Street Kids and I pretty much gave up all those and started getting the Marvel UK titles every week.
The character that seriously grabbed me was Spiderman whose alter ego Peter Parker was a bit of a loser despite his super powers: his family was poor, he was shy and hopeless around girls, and he was often picked on at school (mostly by that twat Flash Thompson) — just like me! In British comics, on the other hand, it was the bully or the bad kid who was usually the hero and the weedy, bookish kid was the figure of fun who was laughed at, kicked in the shorts, or shot at with a pea shooter.
I never wanted to be Dennis The Menace (who now seems like a bit of an arsehole, a thug with a nasty dog) but I really wanted to be Spiderman and would daydream about having his super powers so I could beat up whatever knuckle-headed bully was picking on me at school at the time. I got quite emotionally invested in Peter Parker’s personal life too and, I have to admit, I cried when his girlfriend Gwen Stacy was killed. I think I was more upset by that than I was by Ian Curtis dying a few years later.
Back then we had to get our Marvel fix through these reprints because actual American comics were hard to come by at your local newsagent. Every now and then my mum would see one and bring it home for me and I felt like I had come into possession of some precious, rare document from another world. For a start they were in colour (or “color”) and they were full of ads for exotic things like X-Ray Glasses, Sea Monkeys, a newspaper called Grit, and all kinds of other strange curiosities — even your own nuclear submarine! — what an amazing place America was!
Then I discovered the legendary Soho book and comic shop Dark They Were And Golden Eyed and, when that closed, the original Forbidden Planet shop on Denmark Street, so I was able to stop buying the reprints and get the real thing — which I bought lots and lots of every month, especially Daredevil and The X-Men which were going through classic runs in the late 70s and early 80s. Both places had a similar atmosphere to a record shop (where I was also spending a lot of money at the time), being like secret boy’s clubs with their own cliques and mythologies, and needless to say there are a lot of similarities between comic and music fandom: both are overwhelmingly the province of obsessive young males with insufferably smug opinions, a love of arcane trivia, and difficulty with the opposite sex (though there may be rather more virgins in the comics world).
I eventually stopped reading comics sometime in the mid-1980s, the last one I bought regularly was Love & Rockets which wasn’t a superhero comic at all, but even so-called “adult” ones like that weren’t doing it for me anymore and frankly started to seem a bit pointless — if I was going to read something “adult” why not just read a novel? It might be simplistic to say I grew out of them but I think that’s basically it, it’s the same reason I stopped listening to gloomy post-punk. I sold my comic collection in the 1990s which got me a lot more money than the records I also sold at the time (those Daredevils and X-Men had become quite valuable) and haven’t had the urge to pick up once since.
I’ve actually been into a few comic shops recently for the first time in nearly 20 years because my daughter developed a love for Wonder Woman through watching the old TV series, but I have a hard time finding one suitable for her as they’re all so relentlessly dark and violent now (and expensive — $2.99!) with none of the Pop-Art fun they used to have — even a Supergirl I looked at was as bloody as a Tarantino movie. Personally I think it’s all Alan Moore and Frank Miller’s fault, ever since Watchmen and The Dark Knight they’re all trying way too hard to be grown-up and gritty but to me they seem even more juvenile as a result — only adolescents take themselves that seriously.
Download: Comic Strip – Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot (mp3)
2019 Update: I am actually reading more comics now thanks to my kids, but I’m still a Marvel kid.