Thursday, March 6, 2014

Guest post: The Mighty Jeff Strand gets crabby....

 (Jeff Strand is a delightfully twisted fellow who has written some hilarious/gross/scary books that you really need to read. His latest, I HAVE A BAD FEELING ABOUT THIS, is currently available wherever fine books are sold. Even if they don't sell fine books, having this book in stock will class up the joint and give everyone a better feeling in general about the store in question.. Visit him online at his official site and give him some love. Or money. Or both.)
Take it away, Jeff!

The Rise and Fall of a Comics Fan

My new book is a novel, but since this website covers so much material related to comics, I figured I'd share the tale of my time as a crazed comic book collector...

When I was a teenager, I couldn't conceive of a future in which I didn't collect comics. I was obsessed with them. It was a way of life. For a couple of years, pretty much every penny I had went to buying them, though later I would divide my pennies between comics and renting horror movies on VHS. (Fortunately, I did not have a girlfriend, or there would have been some very difficult financial decisions.)

My best friend had started collecting comics and was encouraging me to join him in this hobby. I was at the convenience store to buy some Tangy Taffy, which is how I spent my money before getting into comics, and I saw DC's Blue Devil #1 on the comic book rack. That seemed like a perfectly good place to start, so I bought it, read it, and was instantly hooked.

(R.I.P. Tangy Taffy. You were so delicious. So pure.)

Despite my first comic being from DC, I quickly became what people called (with a disapproving cluck of their tongue) a "Marvel Zombie." Not the literal Marvel zombies they've got now that eat other characters--it was a term for a comic book fan who bought Marvel titles and almost nothing else.

That didn't last, though, because I quickly discovered independent comics. They were usually in black and white, cost twice as much ($1.50 for a comic? Insane!!!), and not published as often, but something like Myth Adventures or Ralph Snart offered far more entertainment value than a 75-cent mainstream title. But I was on a tight budget, and quantity was also an important factor, so I still mostly bought Marvels.

West Coast Avengers? Awesome. The Fantastic Four under John Byrne? Awesome. Groo the Wanderer? Hell yeah. Yes, I was a collector who kept them in Mylar bags and had a heart attack when somebody would fold the cover around the back, but I re-read the crap out of these things. That's what they were for.

Like I said, I couldn't conceive of a future in which I was not a comic-obsessed mega-fan. Then I got a girlfriend, and, actually, that's not true. Rest assured that this story will continue in 1980's nerd tradition until the end.

A slight erosion in my comic-collecting interest began when Marvel went cross-over crazy. For a while, it seemed like every other comic had a story that began in one series and continued in another. If you were a completist like me, you had to buy the other issue. This got completely out of hand with Secret Wars II, which over its 12-issue run crossed over into every single title in the Marvel Universe. Sometimes it was a crucial part of the story; sometimes it wasn't. I believe there was one that devoted a single panel to the cross-over element.

I did read them all, of course, but suddenly I was buying some comics primary to own them, not to enjoy them.

Then I discovered subscription services, where you'd get a list of all the upcoming comics for the next month, pick the ones you wanted, and have a box of goodies mailed to you. This was amazing because they had everything (no more hoping that obscure new titles would be at the comic shop!) and the prices were discounted (I could buy more!).

The downside? I got all of my comics at once. And using the willpower for which teenaged boys are renowned throughout the world, I'd burn through the whole box in a couple of days. Binge-reading them wasn't as much fun as trying to make the experience last from week to week, and some of them were getting...skimmed. I'd get the next issue of Spectacular Spider-Man without quite remembering what happened last time. I still went to the comic shop to browse, and sometimes I'd see a new issue on the shelf and not be entirely certain if I owned it or not.

I eventually decided that the once-a-month delivery program didn't work for me, but I was buying 25% more comics now, so some had to be cut. Even if it wasn't a comic I was enjoying all that much, having my collection of a series just end was a painful process.

Then: tragedy. I went to Alaska for the summer, and it was about a month before my summer job started. No money to buy comics.

When I got my first paycheck, I hurried to the comic shop...but I was now a month behind! There were two issues of all of my favorite comics on the shelves! The financial expenditure to get caught up was out of my reach! Noooooooooo!!!

I decided to quit collecting Marvel comics. From now on, I'd just collect the independents.

The thing is, once I dropped half of my titles, it became very easy to drop the other half, too. I thought having a gap in my Ralph Snart collection would shred me inside...but the series turned into full-color reprints of old black-and-white issues, and I thought, nah. All at once, I'd gone from comics as a defining personality trait to quitting cold turkey.

Since then, I've discovered The Walking Dead and I absolutely love The Goon. Hearing that Dave Sim actually completed his promised 300-issue run of Cerebus filled me with giddy delight. I even wrote the script for the first issue of my own series--I haven't done anything with it, but I wrote it.

I still have all of my comics. ("You put them five in a bag???" asked my outraged brother-in-law, reviewing my collection.) If I started up again, I'd have a gap of about two decades to fill, but you never know...

Oh, I'm doing this blog tour to promote my new novel I Have A Bad Feeling About This. The book has a couple of scenes where the characters read comics. You should buy it.

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