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Tuesday, February 9, 2010


I was thinking about comic books, comics shops, and how these things have changed over my lifetime.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized how comics have been a thread throughout my life.  As a cartoonist, I suppose this shouldn't be surprising, right?  Except I don't normally think about comics in this way.

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).

(For years, I never recognized Peanuts as a daily strip, but more from the TV Specials, the Sunday strip (which seemed like some kind of auxiliary feature to the specials), and the Fawcett-Crest paperbacks I found lying around my cousin Eric's house.)

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."

The book was Burning Mad, a Mad Magazine paperback collection from 1968.

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...

Then, one fateful day, I found a Mad Super Special, with something called "The Nostalgic Mad" bound into the front cover.  It was mesmerizing.  I felt transported into a weird, thrilling, and slightly scary place:  the History of Comics. 

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.)


  1. Great to see you blogging John, I will have to send some comics your way soon!

  2. I bought that same Mad Super Special with that same "Nostalgic Mad" fascimile issue of the original MAD No. 7, and I remember being so utterly confounded by it, but also completely compelled and even slightly threatened by it. "Transported and mystified" is a good way to put it. It was a major, ground zero moment for me as a young comics fan. Looking forward to reading more...

  3. I had one of those Mad specials with the bonus free reprint of the original Mad. It blew me away, too. I remember becoming inspired by it enough to stop drawing superheroes and do humor instead. I remember also trying to duplicate the logo font for whatever I would call mine.

    I met Mad creator Harvey Kurtzman years later, but we never spoke of comics. Instead, I got into a conversation about my parents selling their house, which I loved.Harvey pooh-poohed my feelings about the house but his wife stuck up for me. A great memory.



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