Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Getting Hooked Part 5: The Inexorable March of Comics


The book(s): March of Comics, various and sundry issues.
Received at: Standard Shoes, Bangor, ME

The thing I miss most about the comics of my childhood isn't any one particular title, creator, or company (though I do miss plenty of all those things), but the availability. Comic books weren't yet ghettoized into direct market shops, they were everywhere. Corner stores, supermarkets, department stores, book shops... hell, March of Comics here? I used to get that at the shoe store, and most of the time, I wasn't even getting shoes!

See, March of Comics was a give-away book produced by the folks at Western Publishing that made use of the vast array of material produced throughout the history of Dell / Gold Key / Whitman. You can read more about the book's history here (standard caveat about Wikipedia accuracy applies, though this one seems legit at the moment), and every issue would feature a different licensed character. I guess back in the day, it was a full-sized comic book, but by the time I came along, it was a lot smaller, maybe a third the size of a normal comic (about the same dimensions that the old monthly HBO Guide magazine was in the 80s, if you remember that).

Anyway, as I said, the local shoe store used to carry these for the kids who'd come in with their parents, and my parents were friends with the manager, Paul. So any trip to the mall would end up with them stopping in to say hi to Paul, and at some point in the conversation, Paul would always ask, "Hey, Billy, would you like a book?" And of course I'd answer yes, because even at the age of 3 or 4, I knew that free stuff was always awesome.

The books themselves? I honestly don't remember a lot about them specifically, though I'm pretty sure I had the three pictured above, among plenty of others. I issues featuring these characters, at the very least. I recall a Tweety and Sylvester story where the pair was visited by Sylvester's Uncle Succotash, some sort of big game hunter who was the source of Sylvester's famous exclamation of "Sufferin' Succotash!" The Underdog story I remember had something to do with cowboys, and I remember the excuse Shoeshine Boy made to slip off to change into Underdog was that he lost his spur (and at the time, I had no idea at all what a spur was). And I can remember a Pink Panther story where he's helping to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling and keeps getting paint in his eye, though that may have been from a different comic altogether.

I know, it sounds like these things didn't leave much of an impression, and no, it's not that they were so mindblowingly awesome that my mind couldn't contain the memories of them without exploding. They were pretty run of the mill Gold Key stories. I knew even then not to expect a whole lot out of any of them. I still have pretty fond memories of them just the same. Maybe it's because they were just the right dimensions for pre-school-sized hands, because they were free, or because it was hard to believe you could get something as awesome as a comic book at one of the most boring places in the entire mall.

Actually, I suspect that last one has a lot to do with it. Seriously, folks... if you're under the age of, oh, say 25, you might not have ever seen it yourself, but trust me, comic books were damn near EVERYWHERE once upon a time ago. And that's why I'm so happy to see such an explosion of manga, original graphic novels, and trade paperback collections in bookstores these days. If you put these things back where your average person is actually going to see them, I can't help but think readership will slowly climb back up again.

Of course, throwing some giveaways out there like March of Comics can't hurt, either.

Quasi-interesting side note: Even when allowed to rummage through the treasure chest at the store, I'd always go for the comic over any of the little toys I could have picked. Nerdhood reared its messy-haired head at a pretty early age in my house.
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