December 12, 2011
‘Tis The Season by Mark Heike
I don’t know if comic books and Christmas go together for most people, but I have some memories of a few key moments in my life as a young collector that come back to me at this time of year. Now I inherited my mania for comics from my mother’s step-brother, my Uncle Wally. An avid reader, Wally passed on his comics after reading to the nieces and nephews, and no one appreciated that more than little tow-headed Mark. Wally read EVERYTHING- Marvel, DC, Charlton, Archie, Harvey, ACG- he even had some IW reprints. And I got what I got from him, devoured everything and learned to read from them at an early age. Sadly, Wally died when I was five. Really, I hardly remember him. But the comics- oh, the comics!! Once Wally was gone, I was on my own to feed the comic book fix, but at not even six years old, I didn’t have much mobility. I went wherever my parents went- which was usually the grocery store once or twice a week. Now several grocery chains in Milwaukee (where I grew up) in the mid-1960s sold comic book from vending machines. I know, I know- to most of the world this sounds like an hallucination, but trust me- for a period of time in the Midwest, there were large metal-and -glass comic book vending machines that took a dime and two pennies and gave you the comic book you saw through the “window” in the machine. So when I could wheedle pocket change out of my folks during a grocery trip, I could get my comic book fix. ‘Trouble was, the vending machines had a far more limited selection to choose from than wherever Wally had gotten HIS books. As best I can remember, the machines were almost always 100% DC books where I was, and it was rare to see any other companies’ products in them. Well, every month or two my mom, bless her heart, would throw out the comic books I’d amassed (Believe me, she now REGRETS that compulsive clean-up, considering the thousands of dollars in collectibles she now knows she tossed!), knowing I’d just get new ones. So, it wasn’t long before ALL of the books Wally had given me were long gone, replaced by “new” DCs I got out of the vending machine every month. So I remembered a lot of cool stuff Wally used to get, that I couldn’t find anymore. Among those were the early 1960’s Marvel books. When Marvel Comics bubble gum cards showed up in our local discount stores in 1965, I recognized the characters- but where were the comic books? Not in my vending machines. And later in the year, when the syndicated Grantray/Lawrence Marvel Super Heroes limited animation TV show came on the air five nights a week on our local VHS station (And DON’T get me started talking about THAT show- I’ll never shut up!), I was becoming manic! The cool “animated” stories, shot directly from panels in Marvel books were sometimes ones I remembered reading from Wally’s stash, and others I’d never seen. But I was a little kid, and (hard though it may be to believe today) in my world at that time, NO ONE else was reading comic books. I had no one, adult or child, that could give me any information on Marvel Comics- whether they were dead or alive- or where to get them. Until December of 1967. On a weekday off from parochial school, my sister (in high school at the time)and I went on a big adventure. The two of us took a bus to Downtown Milwaukee (my first trip there ever) to go Christmas shopping. I was already having a helluva good time, getting my first taste of “urban downtown” life having spent my early years in a quiet residential/quasi-suburban area, and now we were prowling the streets of the “big city”. (Can you believe that in 1967, the prospect of a 15 year old girl and here 8-year-old brother spending a day on their own Downtown in a large Midwestern city was NOT a prospect fraught with terror? It really wasn’t, though.) But the best was yet to come. I stopped dead in my tracks as we walked down Wisconsin Avenue near Plankington Road in the snow flurries and late-afternoon gloaming as we approached something I’d never seen in real life- an honest-to-gosh newstand. When I caught site of comic book logos I’d been searching for, I couldn’t help but run the half-block to it. (Later on, my sister told me THAT was her one uncomfortable moment of the afternoon, but I ran RIGHT past the side of the stand that was filled with raunchy skin magazines!) Their were MARVEL COMICS there, EVERY title in the line!! They DID still exist- and I knew if they were THERE in seedy Downtown Milwaukee, they must be in other places! I WOULD have access to those cool Marvel comics again!! My kindly sister gave me a quarter and allowed me to buy two books- and the FIRST one I grabbed was Tales of Suspense #99, since Iron Man was my favorite Marvel hero. I kept that book with me for days, reading & rereading it, and basking in the glow that there WERE more Marvel books coming out every month, and I COULD find them. By the time Christmas had arrived, I’d tormented my Dad so much that he’d taken me around to a number of drugstores in our area that it turns out sold Marvel books (on spinner racks) after all. I turned my back on the vending machines (which disappeared in our area by 1969, by the way) and became (for a time) a Marvel Zombie. Now, I can only think of ONE AC story that actually has a Christmas scene it it- Garganta’s Thrilling Science Tales #1. I don’t know WHY it worked out that way, that in almost thirty years of publishing, we haven’t had occasion to do a Christmas scene or interlude, but I think that’s the only one. It can be hard to work with anything seasonal in the periodical publishing game, what with deadlines and the need to meet them. We all love this time of year as much as anyone. And in case I get too busy or forget later on. a happy holidays to one and all!