When I was a kid, I owned only a handful of comic books. There was Chamber of Chills #15, from March of 1975; a copy of Creepy Things #2 (Sept. '75?); Ghosts #46 (April 1976); and an incoherent assortment of superhero comics, like the one where Superman (??? Comix Nerds-- help me out here!) gets punched so hard he goes back in time to 1776! I'd say I had a total of five or six titles in all.
The first comic book I ever owned was Chamber of Chills #15. I got it off a newsstand spinner rack at the CTA station on a trip downtown one day. It soon lost its cover, but the effect it had on me was profound. The main story, "The Eyes!", was about a man who discovers that the people around him have eyes in the back of their heads. I endured a lot of childhood anxiety over that one.
Mostly though, I read the newspaper funnies. My family got the Chicago Sun-Times, so I was regaled in the comics pages by the likes of Ziggy (Tom Wilson), Momma and Miss Peach (Mell Lazarus), Big George (Virg Partch), Apartment 3-G (Dallis & Kotzky), and Funky Winkerbean (Tom Batuik). On Sundays we'd visit my Grandma John, who got the Tribune-- where I read Peanuts (Charles Schulz), Dick Tracy (Chester Gould), Shoe (Jeff MacNelly), Hagar the Horrible (Dik Browne), Gasoline Alley (Dick Moores), and Little Orphan Annie (Harold Gray/Leonard Starr).
I read all these comics with no discrimination; if it was comics, I'd read it. (Of course, Rex Morgan MD and Judge Parker were beyond my realm, but I still liked the pictures.)
Then, when I was in the 5th Grade, a landmark event happened in my life. I was walking out of class at St. Constance, when my teacher, Sister Rita Mary, pulled me aside. She handed me a paperback book. "I found this, left behind by one of the CCD students. I know you like art, so I thought I'd give it to you. But if there's anything off-color in there, please just throw it away."
No kidding-- my introduction to the world of subversive comics was occasioned by a nun. God bless her, and I mean it!
Thereafter, I was obsessed with Mad. I began searching through the magazine racks at the Supermarket when I'd go shopping wth my mom. As soon as we got into the store, I'd run to the magazine aisle and scan for a new issue, or a new paperback collection. The first issue of Mad I owned was #192, the one with the (modern) King Kong parody...
Like those old Max Fleischer Popeye cartoons that would appear magically in-between the color ones on afternoon TV, I knew intuitively that there was something very very special at hand-- something I couldn't put my finger on at the time, but was transported and mystified by nonetheless.
I began drawing comics.
End of Part One
(For Part Two, click here.)