Our Comics Origins

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Posted November 4, 2013 by James Connolly in Comic Books

Anyone who has ever picked up a comic book at any point in their life knows what an origin story is and what it consist of. From the time we first peel back the cover of a (now old school) floppy comic, a collected trade paperback, or these days swipe the touch sensitive screen of our mobile smartphones and tablets to read about how a character came to be until the (in some cases) 700th issue chronicling the last stand and death (albeit not always permanent) of said character. We all know what that feeling is and how we subject ourselves to living as a fly on the wall of their universe. Like the heroes and villains in the comics we read we all have an origin story, the time and the place where we were first exposed to what for many of us has become not only a hobby, but an obsession, and for some of us a lifestyle.

It may not be as exciting or intense as that fateful evening that young Bruce Wayne’s parents were gunned down in that alley way or when Peter Parker was bitten by the radio-active spider that gave him the strength and powers of a human spider only to have to learn the hard way that with that power comes great responsibility. It’s still interesting to think about how we began this obsession and how we’ve ended up caring so much for works of fiction that we do things like travel far distances to go to conventions to spend hard earned cash on that one missing piece of our collection, or spend weeks or even months as amateur seamstresses to cosplay as our favorite character, or even mark our bodies permanently to wear images of that character on our skin.

spiderman

my Spider-Man tattoo, in progress & huge on my thigh

For me it started when I was very young about 4 or 5 years old. My father always aspired to raise me to play sports as he has always been a huge fan of baseball, basketball and most of all football. So I was started very young, watching games with him and playing catch outside and eventually playing tee-ball. I grew to love it the same way he did. Not very long after sparking my obsession for playing and watching sports he again influenced me to become an avid collector of things. One night when he got home from work he brought home my very first pack of baseball cards. It snowballed from there and we spent many hours over the years collecting together going to card shops, buying packs, hoping for that one card of that one player that I came to admire (Michael Jordan) back then. As you all may or may not know back in the early to mid 90’s many sports card shops also dealt in other collectables. I recall on one of those many trips looking over and being interested in the brightly colored, exciting looking thin magazines with big bold words like “Amazing” and “Incredible” across the top. From that point on I was always interested in comics and would have done anything to get my hands on them.

After several years of being busy with starting school, playing little league, and practicing in my free time my family ended up relocating back to the other side of the state where we had first lived when we moved from Ohio to Florida when I was three. I lived with my grandmother for about a year and it was then that I met my best friend (still to this day) Alex. At this point I was ten, Alex was a kid that lived down the road who was a couple years younger than me but upon the first time we met at the bus stop before school we got along very well. At that point I was a huge fan of Saturday morning cartoons. My favorite ones being Batman: The Animated Series, Spider-Man, and especially X-Men. Obviously, before those cartoons I was familiar to some degree with these characters. Tim Burton’s Batman was one of the first movies I remember seeing when I was younger. I knew that all these characters originated in comics but that’s as far as my knowledge went. Until, one day I discovered that literally a block away, walking distance for me and Alex there was a comic shop.

K&B comics had a huge yellow banner in front of their store that read “19¢ COMICS” in bold black letters. At that time I spent weekend mornings doing yard work and mowing the grass of our elderly next door neighbor’s house. At that point she was paying me in freshly baked bread to bring home to my grandma and between $5 and $10 depending on how much work that day called for. To a ten year old with 19¢ comic books within walking distance it might as well have been a million dollars. Alex and I would spend hours digging through randomly assorted long boxes looking for our favorites. For me it was about 90% Marvel books with some Batman and a few Superman books sprinkled in. There were times when the supply of comics we liked had been depleted and we would settle for anything that looked cool or interesting to us (I think Alex may still have several issues of “Boris the Bear”).

The focus of my collecting obsession at the point shifted from “Michael Jordans” to “Peter Parkers” and the deeper I went. Now I had known these shops existed and I’d beg my dad to drive me to the other ones I’ve seen in passing that I couldn’t get to on foot. It was at this time I figured out that some comics cost way more than nineteen measly pennies so I’d bide my time until a birthday or Christmas came up so I could ask for either comics or the money to buy them myself.

In the time in between buying books I’d read the ones I had, watch the cartoons to learn more about these bright characters I’ve grown to love and spend hours on end drawing and coloring my favorites. I have very vivid memories of repeatedly sketching and erasing and re-sketching Venom while looking at his image in one of my favorite Spidey books to get him just right. Years passed and with them went the comic shops I frequented as well as the cartoons I watched as often as I could. Thus my obsession came to a standstill for some time.

High school came along and things got busy for me and the only way my love and obsession could live on was through the movies. When I first saw the commercial on TV for the first X-men movie I was amazed that it finally happened. I remember an issue of Wizard magazine that had an article about if they ever made a film based on the X-men who would play the characters (they totally nailed Xavier with Patrick Stewart). So my dormant obsession with these characters lived on through the movies during my high school years all the way through into adulthood. After high school, I ended up working several awful jobs and eventually ended up getting an apprenticeship at a tattoo studio and got into my career as a tattoo artist. Years of paying dues, learning, struggling financially and artistically still kept me (now in my adult life) from getting back into comics and being able to pick up where I left off as a kid. Until, finally, after such a long hiatus, I stumbled once again into a comic shop.

So here I am, a couple years back into the fold. I’ve spent that time picking up current books expanding my horizons with things that weren’t accessible to me as a kid either because they didn’t exist or I couldn’t afford them. Now I don’t only read Marvel and a few DC books, I read anything that I see that looks interesting to me or is written or drawn by creators who I’ve gained an appreciation for. I’m once again obsessed in the very best way possible. I have a weekly pull list at an amazing local comic shop. In between picking up the current books I enjoy and looking forward at what’s coming next, I look back at a deep, rich, history of timeless stories that have piled up over the years that I either missed out on because of my hiatus or want to re-read and explore through my “grown-up eyes.” All I can say is I’m so happy to be back. I think that when you look at comic books as a whole it speaks volumes that through twenty plus years they’re the one thing that has kept my attention and eventually rekindled my love and obsession. Excelsior!


About the Author

James Connolly

I am a tattoo artist 8 years deep, a life long comic nerd, gamer, and writer. I have the raddest dog on earth.