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The Golden Age

Longbox Graveyard #1

A couple weeks ago I saw Thor.

I reacted with geek glee, geek rage, and geek envy.

Chris Hemsworth defied my expectations and was terrific in the lead role — handsome, charismatic, and heroic. Asgard and the Asgardians came off OK, the Destroyer got to blow things up, Loki was sympathetically malevolent, and Anthony Hopkins‘ Odin chewed the scenery. It wasn’t Shakespeare, but I couldn’t really hope for a better Thor origin movie.

(Geek glee! They got it right!)

I read my first Thor comic book a decade before Chris Hemsworth was born. I stuck with the book through some lean creative years, and developed that irrational sense of ownership geeks get over their closely-held secret obsessions.

(Geek rage! How dare someone else cash in on my discovery!)

When I was twelve, I found my dad’s sculpting hammer and leaped around the overgrown hillside below my house, throwing it at trash heaps and rusty water heaters. I was still enough of a child that I fantasized discovery of an ancient hammer might transform me into a superhero, instead of the aimless and underemployed teen and twenty-something I would become.

(Geek envy! I was supposed to be Thor, not this talented Aussie with superior bone structure!)

if I could have just found the hammer, I know I would have been worthy!

The “Golden Age” of comics is twelve.

That’s how old I was in 1974, the year I discovered comics, and fell in love with Thor.

That same summer, I decided I also loved Captain America, and Conan the Barbarian.

(I kind of liked Green Lantern, too, though after seeing that movie, I think I’ll edit that part of my past.)

All these characters and more besides come to the screen this summer. This is either the apotheosis of my pop culture youth, or a rare moment of perspective on my mobius strip path through life.

Thor #227 — my first!

My little lad Jack is eleven. Miles is fourteen. They bracket my age from the summer of ’74.

I lived in Hollywood, California, which was no more glamorous then then it is now. My home in a 1920s-era bungalow on Cahuenga was up a daunting hill from a newsstand just south of Hollywood Boulevard. World News & Books is still there, and doesn’t look much different than I remember. Maybe they still sell comics, but those comics will be as different from the .25 cent books I bought as a kid as is my bloated, broken-down butterfat body from the twelve-year old boy that braved that hill to buy them.

My boys are now the age I was when I discovered comic books, but they’d never dream of hiking a hill to buy comics with their allowance. They will watch comic book movies, but they far prefer World of Warcraft or Grand Theft Auto IV to reading comics or anything else. I tell myself it’s just their age, but it troubles me they don’t like to read. I think it troubles me more that they refuse to embrace my old comic book heroes, denying me the excuse to re-live my youth through them.

Superhero movies are a place where our interests intersect. We liked Thor — liked it a lot — which was something, because after the first movie trailers, with all the screaming beards and hospital interns being thrown around, I expected the worst. We geeks always expect the worst when our heroes are reimagined for an audience that couldn’t be bothered with them in the first place. We threaten our dignity by letting our geek flag fly for Thor or the X-Men, and we emperil the rosy memories of our past by revisiting the deep affections of youth and remembering who we were, and who we might have been.

in the 1970s, Thor was often at his best in books other than his own

Watching these movies should be a victory lap, but instead it’s an ass-puckering second chance to feel ridiculous for loving comic books. Only this time I’m not alone in a treehouse — I’m defenseless in a theater, with my friends, my wife, and my kids.

My favorite characters from my pivotal summer of ’74 are getting big movies all at once, validating in that money-makes-it-matter fashion that I had good taste as a kid. I stuck with comics, off-and-on, into my late twenties, but largely abandoned them as a fan during my brief career as a comic book writer.

And now?

I’m either ready to get out of comics once and for all or reawakening to a call long past its final echo.

I didn’t see it coming when I took the boys to Thor, but no sooner had that Sturm and Drang faded from the screen than Jack turned to me and said, “Hey dad, do you have any Thor comics out in the garage?”

Boy, do I.

behold, the Longbox Graveyard!

This blog will be about coming to terms with comic books, and trying to enjoy them again. For reasons that will become clear, I have ignored and denied my interest in comics for decades, to the point where I’ve become burdened and a little embarrassed by my Accumulation of books.

I’ll try to be honest as I crack open the Longbox Graveyard, both about the books themselves, and what they mean to me. Expect plenty of geek glee, geek envy, and geek rage! And expect some negative reviews, too, because I can already tell you the years have not been kind to some of my cherished favorites.

My focus will be Marvel and DC books from the Bronze Age (1970-1985), because that “Bronze Age” was the “Golden Age” to me. As I turn my comics Accumulation into a Collection, I’ll tell you which books escape the Longbox Graveyard (and why). I’ll write about getting (re)started in comics collecting — building databases, buying and selling back issues, and grading books. I’ll eventually try to come to terms with my own unsuccessful career as a comics creator.

I’ll try to post once a week or so, until I don’t. I’ve got over two months of blogs in the can so I should be able to keep pace for awhile. Expect a new blog every Wednesday, and yes, they will be numbered like comic books (OLD SCHOOL — no negative numbers or issue zeroes for Longbox Graveyard!).

Please subscribe to this blog to receive notice of future updates. Click HERE for RSS feed … or check the links at the top of the left column of the blog’s home page for a link to subscribe via email. I also have a dedicated Longbox Graveyard Twitter feed but I’m not certain how active that will be just yet.

I welcome your comments. Positive or negative, your participation will encourage me to continue this blog.

(And if my nostalgia has you itching to read some comics, check out the excellent library of Thor reprints on sale via my Amazon store).

NEXT WEEK: #2 The Micronauts!

(Special thanks to Farzad Varahramyan — a legitimate genius and a better friend and business partner than I deserve — for creating this blog’s original header art)

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About Paul O'Connor

Revelations and retro-reviews from a world where it is always 1978. There's a new blog every odd Wednesday at www.longboxgraveyard.com!

Posted on June 22, 2011, in Collecting and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 66 Comments.

  1. I too have a collection. I keep it in a special box and it is worth about $10, mostly cash. It contains bits of string, some rubber bands, and some drywall screws. I am not as organized as you.

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    • Paul O'Connor

      We’re supposed to be talking about our comics collections here, Tom. Please reserve comments about your collection of human heads for my OTHER blog.

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  2. I was a huge fan of the Walt Simonson Thor and have nearly the full run of old comics. Even better, I just bought the Thor Omnibus, a three inch thick, five pound, leather-bound compilation. I was a bit mixed on the movie – I thought it was well cast and had some great moments, but it dipped into the cheese a few times too many.

    Oh, if you want your kids to read, get them comics on the Nook or an iPad. Paper is so last century…

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    • I was delighted to discover that I had a full run of Simonson’s Thor in the Longbox Graveyard. I’m reading them now and they’re excellent — ten-out-of-ten stuff. I’ll review them for issue #11 (give or take) of the blog. Jack’s reading them, too, although I have to proactively check in with him to see which is the last issue he’s completed, and put the next issue in his hands. He dug Beta Ray Bill. It’s a start.

      The movie wasn’t my favorite superhero film but it didn’t crap the bed and it was a real hoot in parts, so I’m putting it right there with Goodfellas and Citizen Kane.

      Digital comics are a whole different can of worms. The Ulm and Tom Mason and I blogged about them at our Appy Place blog last year and I’m sure I’ll get around to them sooner or later here at Longbox Graveyard. I am intrigued by DC Comics’ new day-and-date initiative for digital books and that might give me an excuse to seriously examine the form when they do their big reboot at the end of the summer.

      As an iOS developer it is probably a hanging offense to admit I do not own an iPad, but I expect that will change later this year, too. I have read a few books on my iPhone, and you’re right, a digital interface is more likely to interest my kids than moldy funny books from the garage. I mentioned the DC thing to Miles and he said he’d read Batman books on his iPhone, and also said he liked the idea of starting with a fresh #1 so he wouldn’t feel like he had to catch up with a bunch of stuff.

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  3. Best Blog ever. After reading this, Paul I kinda got the same rejuvenation for Comics again. Though I do not have longboxes My 15+ short boxes are filled with “modern” books from ’85-’95 the age of Image. My heroes were the X-men, Wolverine, and Spiderman (I have web of 1-100) why I dont know…want a very good run but Charles Vess’s cover to number 1 got me hooked. I’m totally geeking out =). This year at con I may finally fill in some of my back issues to X-men.

    Can wait to read on how you organize, catalog/grade and sell you books.

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    • I actually have a goodly number of books from 1985-1990, too — I didn’t really check out as a reader until I was writing regularly, starting in 1990 or so. That was a heavy DC period for me — a lot of Alan Moore and Batman books. I’ll get to those eventually.

      As far as organizing the collection is concerned, it’s mostly been brute force and massive ignorance. I’ve been using comics database software from Collectorz.com (and like it a lot), and triaging stuff quickly into “stuff I’m keeping” and “dross,” with the dross box so far outrunning the keep box by about five to one. And of course the process has been slowed by reading old books, which is a happy problem to have.

      I have three or four blogs already written specifically about collecting, and I intend to roughly alternate between reviews and collecting insights on a week-to-week basis. The next collection-focused blog with be #3 “The Accumulation” in two weeks. I need to write up a review of that Collectorz software, too.

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  4. Cleitus the Black

    Paul,

    Its funny how alike our comic tastes appear to be. While I never was a collector or voracious reader, my favorites were definitely Thor, Conan, and Captain America, and I thought Vision was pretty cool too.

    I never read consistently so don’t recall any particular long term story lines but there was one Conan story that really struck a chord with me for some reason, and I can still picture certain panels as clear as day. It was about a huge black guy that was trained from birth to be a “strangler.” As a young child he was given animals to throttle, then as he aged he killed younger children, then he finally graduated adults.

    Needless to say, he and Conan get into a brawl and end up trying to choke each other out. This guy Conan is facing just dwarfs him height and muscle mass, but he isn’t as “hard” as Conan or used to getting throttled himself.

    I still vividly recall the frame where they are viewed from the top down, Conan’s shorter arms locked straight out on this monster’s neck, whose longer arms bend around the outside of Conan’s and lock on his throat. And then the frame where Conan’s thumbs begin to dig into the dude’s softer throat, followed by a spurt of blood as Conan’s thumb penetrates and crushes his windpipe.

    Good times.

    If you happen to have that issue it would be pretty cool to take a look after 25 odd years to see how accurate my memory is.

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    • Paul O'Connor

      The Vision was uber-cool in 1974!

      I’ve re-read the first 25 issues of Conan the Barbarian and they held up pretty well — I’ll review that Roy Thomas/Barry Windsor-Smith run in LBG #7. The scene you describe didn’t occur in that first run, and I don’t remember it myself, but I plan to eventually work my way through the first 115 or so books in that series, and if it pops up, I’ll let you know.

      One of the things that made that particular comic stand out was the violence when compared to other books of the age. The original RE Howard stories can be visceral and grisly and more of that stuff made it into the comics than you’d think the Comics Code would permit. Was that a black & white story by any chance? If it was in Savage Sword rather than Conan the Barbarian then it was non-code and there was a bit more blood and sex.

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  5. Great stuff, Paul. This also struck a chord with me, though comics renaissance took place a bit later. I’ve only got 4 longboxes and one bin full of comics in the attic, but they were certainly my world for a while. In college I pitched a “Comics as Literature” class idea to my English professor, mostly based off of reading the works of Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman.

    I’ve also been pretty lucky when it comes to my comic heroes coming to the big screen (Iron Man, Spiderman, Watchmen, V for Vendetta, hell even Constantine was miles better than I expected) with Swamp Thing being the MAJOR exception. Poor Swampy. We finally have the CGI capabilities to do Bisette/Totleben proud, but I doubt anyone with love and pockets deep enough to do it justice.

    I’ve recently bought a few issues on my iPad and am also looking forward to the DC reboot, though it is a very different experience from holding the comic in my hands. There’s a distance there that doesn’t exist when holding the book. When you’re reading a comic book, it’s yours. When it’s digital, it still feels like it belongs to the Web to me. I suppose the tangible will always be more real to me than the digital.

    Very much looking forward to your future posts!

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    • Paul O'Connor

      I might have known you’d be a Vertigo guy, Tim! Alan Moore’s run on Swamp Thing might be the single best comic series I’ve ever read. At least, that’s how I remember it. We’ll see how well those books hold up when I rescue them from the Accumulation. I did read the first collected trade paperback about a year ago and thought it was still strong, so I am optimistic the rest of the run will live up to my memories.

      Vertigo books are actually a hole in my library. I’ve read only about a third of Sandman, and nothing at all of Constantine or Preacher. I’ve got V For Vendetta here on my nightstand and am nearly through it.

      I hear you about the ephemeral nature of digital books versus physical … but get back to me when you’ve got 25+ longboxes to haul around instead of four, you day-tripper!

      Thanks for reading, Tim.

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  6. Yeah I was fully a Marvel only guy until my local comics store owner had me read The Anatomy Lesson. From then on it was largely over for Marvel. I do have the entire run of The Sandman, (though I believe it may have been revived after Gaiman left), and also collected a large number of Cerebus the Aardvark, as well as all of the early Tick comics.

    In college I actually made a Tick costume by sewing two blue Champion sweatshirts together and sewing in the pecs and abs and stuffing those with pillow stuffing. I also carried a straw and a ViewMaster. No one knew who I was. It was spectacular.

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    • Paul O'Connor

      I can clearly see you as the Tick. It’s practically typecasting.

      “Anatomy Lesson” might be the single most important mainstream comic of the 1980s. That’s where Alan Moore laid down the DNA for the reinvention of characters (and comics, really) that would drive the business for years. A brilliant story that in a single issue turned Swamp Thing inside-out and reinvigorated the business by showing how you could take the least interesting, most cliched character in your line and make that your best book. It was the comic book equivalent of Brunelleschi’s Duomo.

      One of the creators I’ll be looking at closely here in future blogs is Jim Starlin, and how he reinvented characters like Captain Marvel and Warlock — characters that were kind of in the same space as Swamp Thing before Alan Moore got hold of them (unloved and unappreciated). Starlin reinvented by going outward — by going to the largely undeveloped “Universe” part of the Marvel Universe and making it his own. His stories were inventive and fun but because they didn’t so deeply reinvent the title characters they were like a rock in a pond, with ripples that quickly faded, whereas Moore’s character-based reinventions were more like a meteor strike, and the tsunamis are still rolling a quarter-century later.

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  7. In 1974 I was 2. :-)

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  8. And then did it again with Miracle Man. Now *there* was a cliched character. (His nemesis was Kid Nastyman? Seriously?) To take that bazooka wrapper hero and make it BRILLIANT…that kind of talent just floors me.

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    • I should track down Miracle Man again. I read the Ulm’s issues once, decades ago, and had pretty much forgotten about them before now. I remember the book diverted into a pretty unexpected and dark direction. Wonder if it’s available in digital form?

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  9. Best blog ever. I love the fact that I actually have all of these books and remember buying them from 7-11 and hiding them on the treacherous walk home — it was definitely not cool to stroll through the Saticoy Apartments with Giant Size Man-Thing #1 hidden in my pocket…

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    • Paul O'Connor

      Perhaps if you’d made sure the Saticoy Apartments knew all about your Giant-Sized Man-Thing you would have attained the respect you so craved!

      (thanks for the straight line, Ulmster, and thanks for visiting the blog)

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  10. I am a comic book collector, so of course I am starting with your blog entry #1, and will march slowly through them all.

    You mentioned your kids — my daughter (now 21) had poked through some of my comics over the years, but it was with comic book podcasts that she found a passion for certain titles, especially older Legion stories. And it did my heart proud when she took advantage of the New 52 last year to start buying new comics, All-Star Western & Demon Knights.

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    • Hey, Prof! Thanks for reading and commenting. I salute your resolution to march through this blog in order. I’m still figuring out what Longbox Graveyard is all about, overall, and I’m not sure I really got my legs under me before “issue #10,” but I do still like some of my early issues, particularly my review of Ed Brubaker’s Captain America.

      And good on you for developing a comics reader for the next generation. My kids are still pretty touch-and-go. Jack will read the odd issue of Simonson’s Thor or a World of Warcraft comic, while Miles will go for anything Frank Miller (and we recently had it out over Holy Terror), but for the most part the lads have no interest in my comics collection. And so it goes.

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  11. I turned 12 in 1974 too which is why your blog strikes home for me. I’d been reading comics since I was about 6 but 1972 is the first year I really remember buying them more than just sporadically and by 1974 I was fully committed. My collection has long since been sold off so you’re giving me a chance to revisit memories from the last 4 decades, as scary as it is to write that…

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    • As a guy still trying to dig out from under thousands of comics, take it from me that you’re not worse off for having sold your collection; plus, to judge by the action I’m getting on eBay, it should be trivial for you to re-collect the twenty or fifty or one hundred most desired books from your youth should the impulse strike you. It’s never too late to go backwards in time.

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  12. Fantastic blog! I recently discovered you through a mention on chasingamazingblog.com. Although, the Bronze Age passed before I started collecting comics, I find myself increasingly drawn to that era of funny books. Thanks for the time and effort you have put into the blog. I can’t wait to catch up on all the previous posts.

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    • Welcome to the blog (and kudos to Chasing Amazing for the referral — this is one my favorite comics blogs, by the way). Enjoy your browse of 100-odd LBG entries and please feel free to comment on any article that interests you, whether it was published last week or last year!

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  13. Reading your childhood story was delightful. Reading the angst of becoming an adult was familiar. Reading that you decided to haul out your childhood treasures – priceless. :)

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    • It has been a strange ride, to be sure … two-and-a-half years since first publishing this post and this crazy blog has become part of my life; my comics Accumulation is very nearly tamed; I’ve built a comics man cave out in the garage; I’ve rediscovered genuine love for the form; and I’ll be dabbling in webcomics publishing this upcoming year. The blog has led me to new associations and new friendships. I’ve hosted panels at Comic-Con and WonderCon.

      It’s been good!

      Thanks for reading and posting.

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  14. I think we all have an affinity for what we grew up with. This is why I think I fondly remember the DeFalco Fantastic Four run, while most others aren’t very kind to it.

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  15. Hi, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I look at your blog site in Safari, it looks fine but when opening in Internet
    Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up!
    Other then that, wonderful blog!

    Like

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