Saturday, June 3, 2017

Be Our Guest Writer: A Comic Book By Any Other Name (or Number)!

Martinex1: Our friend and frequent commenter Dr. Osvaldo Oyola has prepared something very special for BitBA with a great guest post full of posits and inquiries.  So we will take an educated stance and get out of the way and let Dr. O lead the discussion today!

Dr. Oyola:  In March of this year I wrote a post on my blog The Middle Spaces exploring what I called “The Pleasure of the Serial Comic Book,” through the lens of legendary French literary critic Roland Barthes and his seminal work The Pleasure of the Text. While I leave it to Back in the Bronze Age readers to decide for themselves if they want to read that, there were some questions that arose from my exploration that I thought the regulars and other erstwhile commenters on this blog might help me find some possible answers for:

1)      Did your expectations about the length of a series shape your comics reading and buying habits?

2)      How did the fact that you were coming into a series that may have started years—if not a decade or more—before you got into comics shape those expectations, if at all?

As most of you probably know, either through direct experience or through the grapevine, comic book series at the Big Two these days don’t tend to last very long. This is especially true at Marvel, where they re-boot and/or re-number a series with little to no reason. The most egregious recent example I can think of was the re-starting of Chip Zdarsky and Joe Quinones’s Howard the Duck as a result of the latest iteration of Marvel’s Secret Wars, even though Howard’s series didn’t crossover with it, the story was a direct continuation between volumes, the creative team didn’t change, and their initial volume had only reached five issues! Something similar happened to The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl at the same time, and they joked about it on the cover announcing, “Only our second #1 so far this year!”

In what we call the Bronze Age of comics, however, this was never a problem. All series began with the understanding that they would last as long as they sold well, and some of the staple comic book titles could weather poor sales for a while without fear of cancellation. The continuity of numbering and story held fast even when creative teams were changed or the characters were re-imagined, and sometimes even when the title of the comic itself changed. In the post I referenced above, I use the example of Power Man & Iron Fist, which started out as Luke Cage: Hero for Hire, before becoming Luke Cage, Power Man, and then was named for the duo merged by market forces since they weren’t selling enough on their own. It fascinates me that in order to own a full run of this series you’d need to essentially own three different titled comic books. There are other examples of this of course. Journey into Mystery became The Mighty Thor, named for its main character after featuring him for 43 issues starting with #83 (and then in 1996 switched back to the original title with #503 before being cancelled). For 16 issues in the early 70s, Daredevil: Man Without Fear became Daredevil & Black Widow.
These days the reading practices and buying patterns of Big Two comics aficionados has been greatly shaped by this change from the ongoing series with indefinite end to the assumption that any new series will not only end, but will likely end before it reaches 24 issues. As I noted in my writing, the same creative team sticking with a book for 17 issues is considered noteworthy. The jury is still out about the range of reasons that Marvel (in particular) is suffering through a sales slump, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that readers, rather than seeing the proliferation of new #1 issues as an ideal place to jump on, see the end of a series they are currently following as a place to drop off. Others, when discovering they have missed an issue of a new series, might decide to wait until the next reboot or for the collected trade, thus giving up on buying individual issues. There is also the possibility of what some sellers call “event fatigue,” wherein the reliance on the “Event” comic series and its countless crossover and tie-in issues leads to a significant drop in sales that cancels out whatever degree these events might draw readers compelled by the series’ premise. I have said it before, and I will say it again, the current marketing approach of the Big Two is a classic example of diminishing returns. You can only go back to the well so many times claiming to be “All- New” and “All- Different” and that a new #1 is a “collector’s item” before it stops working.

While the common wisdom seems to be that contemporary readers feel alienated by high issue numbers, and no one wants to jump on a series ranging beyond the single digits, I remember a time when comics readers had little choice to do otherwise. By the time I had the inclination and possibility of enough money to get Uncanny X-Men on the regular (for example), the series was already in the 160s. I started on Power Man & Iron Fist when it’d reached issues in the 80s range. My first issue of Rom Spaceknight was #21, but I didn’t buy it regularly until 10 issues later. Furthermore, the inability to guarantee that I would be able to find each issue of a series I was following each month also shaped how I read comics then. As much as I would have loved complete runs of comics, I understood gaps in a series to just be par for the course. Part of the experience of reading a superhero comic serial was filling the gaps using my imagination.

Rumor has it that Marvel plans to reintroduce “legacy numbering” to its core titles, like Avengers and Amazing Spider-Man. This is something they have done intermittently in past, as when the total number of issues across volumes hits a milestone (this was done for books like Amazing Spider-Man when it hit #500, Fantastic Four when it #600, and She-Hulk when it hit 100 issues over four different volumes), though whether the legacy numbering stuck seems to have been arbitrary (it did for the former two example titles, but didn’t for She-Hulk). However, this new development seems counter to the thinking that has been in place for the last decade or so, that you can’t attract new readers with high issue numbers, so it seems like another gimmick to temporarily juice sales. Ultimately, however, I think the horses have left the barn, and returning to legacy numbering won’t bring back a significant number of older readers (which is a limited pool to target anyway). Many of us old-timers may not like contemporary cape comics, but to try to shape the books to appeal to us seems like a losing proposition. We are a dwindling population.

All of this is a somewhat over-long contextualizing to the questions I posed above and to elaborate on below. I am hoping the Bronze Age comics readers who cut their teeth on getting monthly (or bi-monthly) books at the newsstand, drugstore or grocery will be willing to think back and share their own experiences with long-term comic book serials.

Given that most of the series of that era we all hold dear had reached high numbers by the time most of us here got around to starting to read them, how did you decide to start a series?

Did the issue number influence your purchase at all? Did the realization that you may never get to read the earlier issues of the series influence your choices?

How did you get your news about upcoming changes to your favorite series? Did you just discover them on the stand? Word of mouth? Bullpen Bulletins? Some other way?

How did you handle missing an issue? Did you stop reading? Simply skip it? Do everything in your power to find the missing issue? Trade with a friend? Borrow it? What if you couldn’t find it?

For my own part, since I knew nothing different, I never considered not starting a series because its numbers were in the high one hundreds or even higher (ASM was past #200 when I started on it). If anything, one aspect of the unified numbering over time regardless of creative team or current imagining of the character, was an easy gauge by which to compare with other readers, in terms of the length of their immersion in the hobby and the depth of their potential comic knowledge. I am not arguing that such “bragging rights” are a reason that legacy numbering is a good thing (if anything, when I was a kid that kind of thing led to bullying and bad feelings), but there is something about being able to count yourself as part of an ongoing and evolving fan tradition, established through a range of numbers defining “your time.”

I never imagined back then that a series would end soon, as I felt completely alienated from the business side of comics and what drove those decisions. If anything, a high issue number seemed like an indication the title would be around for a long time, while a low number newer series seemed less likely to catch on. This seemed the case when I’d find back issues at flea markets and yard sales that were part of series that had been discontinued before my time, like The Champions and The Human Fly. None of these series lasted even 20 issues, and some, like Black Goliath, barely lasted five. I might even hold off on a new series to see if it “got good.”

So, have at it. I’d love to read your answers to any or all of the questions above, and if you could include what were your prime collecting years and example of making those kinds of choices to start an established ongoing series or drop one (or have one cancelled on you) and how it shaped your view on what to buy and how to read, that’d be awesome!

I am hoping we can develop a conversation about this and to ask some follow-up questions in the comments.

Final Note: Even though I opened this post with a description of contemporary comics, I am hoping that this does not become just an excuse to bash Marvel and DC and current books. I included it as a point of comparison, as someone still buying comic books and very much attuned to various attitudes of other current comics buyers, but who, despite being part of the tail end of Bronze Age comics enthusiasts, was not as plugged into the community of other readers back in the day, and am interested in thinking about attitudes and ideas that shaped collecting and reading practices.


Doug said...

Love this article, Osvaldo! Succinct, thought-provoking - what I expect from you. Here are my thoughts on your questions:

Given that most of the series of that era we all hold dear had reached high numbers by the time most of us here got around to starting to read them, how did you decide to start a series?

Did the issue number influence your purchase at all? Did the realization that you may never get to read the earlier issues of the series influence your choices?

Roughly speaking, here are a few points of entry for Marvel's main titles (to the best of my memory): Avengers #130, FF #159, ASM #146, DD #120, MTU #28, MTIO #7, XMen #95. Books I was near the beginning of - Champions and Inhumans, both #2, Invaders #5, Nova #1, Ms. Marvel #1...

As I've remarked in the past, I had a playmate when I was around 7 who was a year my senior. He had older brothers who were somewhat into comics, but not as much as us. I distinctly recall Jeff (his name) telling me that I didn't want to spend my money on Marvel's Greatest Comics or Marvel Tales because they were reprints. That stuck with me, and aside from a few issues here and there (I also had a smattering of Marvel Triple Action but stayed away from Marvel Super-Heroes, Marvel Super Action, and whatever title reprinted early Thor comics), I only bought new comics. So as far as I was concerned, Marvel's (or DC's) history wasn't all that interesting or important to me. It was only after having been a regular reader for a few years that I began to warm to the past. A couple of kudos to Marvel for helping to instill that change in attitude in me - one would be the constant continuity notes from a given book's editor ("You'll remember the Shocker from back in Spidey ##, right effendi?"), and the other would be the Origins of Marvel Comics series of trades that arrived late each autumn in time for Christmas. Those early paperback collections greatly helped to fill me in on the decade-and-a-half that I'd missed, and encouraged me to begin to appreciate the Lee/Kirby team and the art of John Buscema, Gene Colan, Don Heck, et al.
How did you get your news about upcoming changes to your favorite series? Did you just discover them on the stand? Word of mouth? Bullpen Bulletins? Some other way?

I seem to recall that with several short-lived series, they just ended. Often there was a "Well, we're sorry..." box at the bottom of the letters page of the last issue and that was it. I don't remember any times that we as readers received any advance warning. On the other hand, I can vividly recall announcements about forthcoming series as hyped on the Bullpen Bulletins pages.



Doug said...


How did you handle missing an issue? Did you stop reading? Simply skip it? Do everything in your power to find the missing issue? Trade with a friend? Borrow it? What if you couldn’t find it?

Distribution woes are a staple of the Bronze Age. It almost becomes a sort of infuriatingly quaint aspect of the era. I might try to find a different spinner rack or magazine rack that I knew of around town, but was generally reliant on an adult to get me there. So missing an issue was a) a problem from time-to-time and b) not easily solved. Of course the best story ever remains my mom driving me (unwittingly) to Mickey's Books and Novelties to look for and purchase Avengers #161. She stayed in the car; had she gotten out and entered a step ahead of me, I'd have never seen the inside of that store. To be honest (swear on it), I was so tunnel-vision to the comics spinner rack that I spied that I didn't notice the paraphernalia that was for sale. Probably a good thing, as that would have advanced my sexual education far beyond what I'd have been able to handle at that point in my pre-adolescence!

In answer to the query, I never dropped a book because of distribution troubles. But it was interesting when I was selling my collection a few years ago just how many holes there were. Of course, many of the then-holes had been filled in by back issue buying in the subsequent years, but evidence did remain of the spottiness of availability of contemporary comics in the 1970's.

Again, wonderful topic, and I hope others come along to enjoy it and the opportunity to engage with your questions. Thanks Osvaldo, and Martinex and Redartz!


Martinex1 said...

I will get the ball rolling here. First of all, thank you Dr. O for the detailed post.
I will try to answer as many related questions as I can.

Growing up, I don't recall #1 issues ever meaning that much to me. In fact I can recall three #1 issues that I passed on the spinner rack but ended up getting the 2nd issue when it came out - Ms. Marvel, Dazzler, and G.I. Joe. I cannot recall specifically why I passed on them, but I have a few possible explanations - 1) I was very cover driven in my youth. And I know I did not like the Dazzler #1 painted cover so despite being a huge X-Men fan at the time, I passed. I picked up #2 later with the more traditional art and the Enchantress. 2) Price came into play. I had limited funds and sometimes the first issue was more expensive. If I recall correctly G.I. Joe had a wonderful cover with a tank and the whole team, but I was not interested enough in the toyline to plunk down $1.50, but when issue 2 came out I grabbed it for 60 cents (it didn't impress me and that is honestly the only issue of the series I own). 3) I wasn't a jump on the bandwagon type of kid - I knew what I liked, and I was cautious about new characters.

I tend to think the money really played a part - I already had my main titles and when you only have a couple bucks to spend you had to be selective.

As far as jumping into a series midstream and even into a series already in the high digits - it never bothered me and I am not even sure I thought about it. I was making decisions on story impact and covers for the most part. So it didn't bother me to start way into the run of FF, ASM or Avengers. Part of the collecting/completist fun was always filling gaps or seeing a cover or issue that I never knew about before. And even if I jumped in mid-story (ie part 2 of a 3 part arc) it did not bother me; comics back then did a much better job of working as a periodical and filling in the back story via flashbacks and notes. I cannot ever recall feeling very lost. In fact, understanding those "historical" elements with footnote references and the memory panels was part of what really kept me interested. to be continued...

Rip Jagger said...

There's little doubt that my affection for Captain Marvel results from my starting that book with number one. I felt like I'd been there for nearly all of it. (I hadn't of course since he debuted in Marvel Super-Heroes and I didn't get those for years.) Likewise Iron Man, Sub-Mariner and Nick Fury all were new books, staring with new numbering. But Captain America, Hulk, and Doctor Strange all continued the numbering of the classic split books they'd debuted in, so there was little rhyme or reason at the time. Just jump on and get going was the attitude. I know that editors seem to feel that back then readership turned over every two years or so and they seemed to accommodate that for the most part. That got to be more a regular thing in the Bronze Age.

The old-fashioned thinking was that number ones were dangerous since the reader didn't have any confidence that the series was sturdy enough to last and so didn't gamble on it. I guess they had research to support that, but it always seemed a bit strained to me. I liked jumping onto books with number ones until it became fetishistic in the 90's and beyond. Low numbers meant that it was feasible to get them all eventually with a reasonable amount of looking and a reasonable amount of cash. Higher numbers meant just the opposite.

I don't follow new comics much and the regular series I follow now are Astro City which has rebooted a few times with oddball specials and the reprint Popeye which just dutifully released its fifty-eighth issue with about seven more to go to finish the classic Dell run.

Rip Off

Charlie Horse 47 said...

Great article!

The numbering never meant a thing to me, as far as "jumping on." It was simply a question of liking the cover, the internal art, some action on the inside, and MOST IMPORTANTLY whether it was continued from a previous issue. I really did not want to start in the middle of a story. But that would resolve itself in 1 - 2 issues anyhow.

Perhaps the only exception I recall to that was the Avengers run from 90ish to 100 which seemed like a long, continuous story. (Not that it mattered b/c the distribution was so poor I missed most of the issues.)

I really cannot recall buying a comic in the early 70s just b/c it was #1. And, I really do not understand how the marketing data suggests, to today's vendors, to keep restarting at #1. But, I've not seen the data. Perhaps they are only polling LCBSs?

Similarly the marketing data said the typical comic-book reader was aged 10 - 12. Why the seemed to ignore that, target comics for adults... perhaps that helps explain the dirth in young readers?

Martinex1 said...

I see Doug and I crossed paths here - and I have to agree with much of what Doug said regarding information about series, the starting and ending of those runs, etc. I relied on the Bullpen Bulletins and DC Currents. When I first started, I had no idea there were fanzines and local comic book shops. I had no clue. So it was all the internal advertising and notices that gave me any awareness. I had a cousin who gave me a lot of silver age and early bronze age books and I read those checklists up and down and tried to figure out what was going on just from the blurb. As we discussed recently, the House Ads played a big part as well. In fact, my local corner drug store where I bought most of my comics did not carry the Uncanny X-Men, so I was first made aware of the new team by a small letters page ad - I tried to guess which character was which based on appearance (I though Nightcrawler was Storm because of the "Bamf" cloud). My first direct purchase of X-Men was issue 128 - I bought it in a 7-11 in COlorado during a vacation but it got me hooked and I searched out others from that point onward.

I did not always look for comics to fill gaps - even for my favorite titles. I skipped over many Avengers issues along the way and later found them as a completist, but I sometimes had no immediate need to get and read the issue. On the other hand there were issues I had to have (based on my imagination of what was going to occur) and I would go to the drug store, and the news agency, and the 7-11, and the White Hen looking for that. I put a lot of miles on my bike when I did need something. I recall doing that for What If #20 "The Avengers Kree-Skrull War" issue, and also MTU #66 which was the second part of the Captain Britain tale.

To say there were no #1 issues that interested me would be false. I did search out Rom #1, Micronauts #1, and Teen Titans #1 after I started reading each title around issue 15 to 20. I liked those series immensely and it made me go back and find the origin back issues.

That reminds me that later the Teen Titans annoyed me with some strange numbering / title scheme. I was very confused by two "New Teen Titans" series that existed around 1984 with overlapping issues. I think one was direct market or something, but it made organizing the title cumbersome.

Which brings me to my last point (for now) the stop and start and reissuing of series annoys me. I cannot keep them straight or decide how to file them and as I get older I cannot sometimes recall which even came first. How many "series" has the Avengers had now? It used to just be Avengers. Followed I guess by Giant Size Avengers. And I was able to live with West Coast Avengers (or Avengers West Coast). But then there was Solo Avengers and Avengers Spotlight. More recently there is Young Avengers and Avengers Academy. And that wouldn't be so bad (because they are really different books) but along the way the prime Avengers book rebooted a few times??? I just cannot follow it any more. I need it simplified.

Martinex1 said...

One last point - that was not asked about - a guest star and particularly the villain of an issue drove my purchasing a lot. If I did not like who the hero was fighting I often passed. Yes to Nefaria, Living Laser, Kang, Whirlwind, Molecule Man, Graviton... No to Impossible Man, Fasaud, no-name thugs, Kraven, Moleman, etc. I skipped all over the place based on the villain.

Dr. Oyola said...

Hey thanks everyone! Keep those comments coming!

Unfortunately, I came down with some mutant strain of cold and down for the count today (and I totally forgot about this!). So, I will return later in the day and tomorrow, when I feel more up to reading responses closely and asking follow up questions.

Mike Wilson said...

What, I have to think? On a weekend? Well, I'll try ...

As a kid I pretty much read whatever caught my fancy. I ended up falling in love with certain series (Spidey, Batman, All-Star Squadron, NTT, LSH) and read as many as I could. But I didn't worry too much about the ones I missed--I was buying off the rack, so missing issues were not unheard of--and later I was glad when all the reprint series came out so I could catch up.

I know what you mean about the constant renumbering these days: I was reading (and liking) Waid's DD series, but when they renumbered it needlessly back to #1, I bailed.

Doug said...

I didn't mention any DCs in my first set of comments, largely because my memory of jumping on issues isn't as strong as the memories of Marvels. I think I got in on the Teen Titans revival in the second or third issue (so #47 maybe?) and stayed through the end with #53. My entry to Secret Society of Super-Villains was #7 with the great Kid Flash/Grodd cover. Superboy #210 might have been my first, and a few years into my reading career I was able to score a bunch of late Silver/early Bronze Age Superboys. I followed the Legion through Superboy #259, parting with the book when the lead character was jettisoned. Coincidentally, that is around the time I dropped comics altogether. I think I was in on the All-Star revival really early on, and stuck with that for a few years. I did not, however, follow the Huntress into the Wonder Woman back-ups.

I've thought for years that I would hate to be the editors of the Overstreet Price Guide, as that thing just has to be a mishmash of titles, renumbering, volumes, etc. Certainly this is not an industry for a new collector to invade very easily.


Edo Bosnar said...

Yeah, seriously man, homework over the weekend?! Not even schoolteacher Doug gave us work like this back at the BAB! Kidding, obviously - this is actually a great post.

First, my prime collecting years, or rather my initial love affair with comics, began in early 1975, when I was still about 6 years old, and ended sometime around late 1984/early 1985. Within that period, my peak years, when I was just totally consumed with comics-reading, ran from about late 1978/early 1979 to 1983.

Now to the questions:
1. Given that most of the series of that era we all hold dear had reached high numbers by the time most of us here got around to starting to read them, how did you decide to start a series?

Nothing more than liking the way the cover looked, or liking and/or being familiar with the characters. The first comic that I got my little grubby hands on was an issue of Marvel Tales, reprinting a Spider-man story, and I instantly became a Spidey-fan. So in that initial phase I picked up anything off of the rack that had Spider-man in it, as well as occasional issues of anything with Superman, Batman or other recognizable members of the Super Friends, which meant I would also sometimes pick-up JLA and so forth. When I became more "sophisticated," nice-looking art and cool-seeming stories got me hooked. That's how I became an almost religious reader of X-men (in the thick of the Claremont/Byrne/Austin run), Michelinie/Layton's Iron Man, Miller's Daredevil, Stern & Byrne's Captain America, and a bit later Levitz/Giffen's Legion of Super-heroes, while also still following the various Spider-man titles, Avengers, JLA, etc. New Teen Titans and All Star Squadron I read from their first issues.

2. Did the issue number influence your purchase at all? Did the realization that you may never get to read the earlier issues of the series influence your choices?

The answer to both questions is not at all. If I liked something, I read it, regardless of other considerations.

(will finish answers in next comment)

Edo Bosnar said...

(continued from above...)

3. How did you get your news about upcoming changes to your favorite series? Did you just discover them on the stand? Word of mouth? Bullpen Bulletins? Some other way?

Almost exclusively from the Bullpen Bulletins, Direct Currents, and the letters pages. Even when I learned about fanzines, I never got them. The closest I got to that at the time, in 1981/82, was when I bought the Fantaco Chronicles (with separate issues featuring X-men, FF, Daredevil, Avengers and Spider-man).

4. How did you handle missing an issue? Did you stop reading? Simply skip it? Do everything in your power to find the missing issue? Trade with a friend? Borrow it? What if you couldn’t find it?

Occasional missing issues were the bane of all comics readers who depended on spinner racks and drugstore magazine stands. It never meant that I'd stop reading a series I really liked. When I discovered comic book shops, I sometimes made an effort to find missing issues, but since some of the stuff I wanted (like back issues of X-men) were often really pricey, I would just do without. Otherwise, at the time I became fanatical reader (late elementary school/early high school) I had no other friends who were similarly into the hobby, so I was kind of on my own. However, as I've recounted at the BAB a few time, the guy who later became my brother-in-law used to be a comics fan in the early '70s, up to about 1975ish. One summer (1981 I think, or maybe 1982) he brought over his big box of comics for me to read - jammed full of Avengers, Defenders, X-men, and other, mainly Marvel, stuff from that period. Heaven...

I have to say that in general, I don't see any reason to accord so much importance to issue numbers, or why the big 2 in particular feel the need to keep re-starting the numbering with the excuse that potential readers will be daunted by high issue numbers. As I've noted, and I seem to be echoing everyone who's commented so far, it really had no bearing on my purchasing decisions, and I suspect that really hasn't changed. And in many cases, I kind of liked the high issue numbers on venerable titles like Action and Detective - it was cool knowing that they had been continuously published since the late 1930s. I also think it was really cool when DC decided to revive All Star Comics in 1976, after a 25 year hiatus, they simply resumed the number at issue #58 instead of resetting it to #1.
Hope this is helpful. I'll probably think of a bunch of stuff I should have said as soon as I hit the publish button...

Martinex1 said...

The only books I recall knowing the end was near were "Marvel Team-Up" and "Power Man / Iron Fist". Somehow I was aware "Web of Spider-Man" was replacing MTU and PMIF was winding down - but that may have been word-of-mouth or heard at a Comicon convention. So I was never really concerned about series ending; I was probably a little naive as a kid and just kind of assumed the books just went on and on.

I just remembered that I bought "Ka-Zar the Savage" #1 and "Machine Man" #1 off the racks but passed on the first issues of "Moon Knight" and "She-Hulk" and "Man-Thing". But out of all of those I only probably really admired and followed Moon Knight through the series; it was many years/decades later that I purchased MK1. Machine Man I kind of liked in retrospect.

From DC I can only recall buying "Firestorm the Nuclear Man" from the first issue and following it consistently for a couple of years. I liked that book. I may have to dig it out and read it again all these decades later. From what I recall Gerry Conway and Pat Broderick did a nice job on that title and the character was different enough to be interesting

I don't know how anthology books fit into your consideration, but I jumped in and out of Marvel Premiere, Presents, and Spotlight depending on characters. I had absolutely no consideration of numbering on those issues at all.

Also Edo kind of alluded to something I felt - I may have enjoyed and looked forward to the big anniversary issues more than new series - Hulk 300, ASM 200, Avengers 200, FF 200 were all books I looked forward to. Some were good; others were major disappointments. But I really looked forward to those milestone issues and hoped they would be double sized and spectacular. The big number was kind of cool and I would always calculate how many years a series ran based on its number. Hard to believe Avengers 164 (when I really started buying the comics on my own) was only about 13.5 years into the run. I bet it would have been easier for me to grab early back issues if I started back then.

Redartz said...

Fascinating post and subject, Osvaldo! Many thanks for sharing it with us. I'm a bit late responding, but here goes:

Many of my impressions and motivations echo what others have said here already. I first picked up comic books as a seven-year old in 1967, and gave up heroic comics for Archie by 1971. During this initial phase I had no interest in numbering. Spider-Man was in the 60's, Superman was at issue 203. As others have said, it was the cover art that grabbed me. Especially with DC books. In Marvel's case, the ongoing continuity hooked me early on. I recall picking up Amazing Spider-Man 68-73, the Kingpin/ Petrified tablet arc. But spotty distribution kept me from completing that tale for years. But, it didn't make an affect on my purchasing: if it looked interesting, I bought it. Later, when I only bought Archies, the numbering was immaterial. One exception to this: Archie at Riverdale High. I bought the first issue, and then tried (with partial success) to get a continuous run. Distribution again prevented that, and after the first year or so I left Archie and returned to superheroes.

I returned to Marvel and DC in middle school, when a friend reintroduced me the the appeal they offered. This was 1974; I really got hooked. This time around, I was more aware of numbering. My friend showed me the Overstreet price guide, and I discovered how much I'd been missing. I became a completist. And this was simplified greatly by the good fortune of having an actual comic book store in our small town. No longer did I have to rely only on newsstands and the drug store rack. I now devoured the Bullpen pages and checklists, and ordered "The Comic Reader" fanzine to get previews. I'd try to get complete runs of most series that started, and kept buying back and new issues. For instance, I first started Avengers with issue 127, and bought every issue religiously until 225. I also went backwards and completed the entire run. Like Doug, I disdained reprints; only original editions would do.

more to come...

Redartz said...


I became almost obsessive during that period (from 1974-about 1981), trying to collect everything to completion. Not so much with DC, but definitely with Marvel. I bought series like Marvel Premiere up to the point they were discontinued. But I felt that short lived series had less 'gravitas' than long running books like Batman, Detective, or Fantastic Four.
That said, with DC it was more a matter of picking up a book if it looked good, or had a cool artist. Englehart/Rogers on Detective was a good example. I never bought Detective until that run began, and dropped it afterwards.

Soon though, I started dropping books all around. By the late 80's I was selling off books. First to go was X-Men, which I'd completed. I was even skipping issues of Amazing Spider-Man, my eternal favorite. By decade's end I was done.

Then, I returned to comics yet again about 1996. Now completism wasn't even an issue, it was (and is to this day) a matter of whether the book looks interesting or not. In the old days, the question of a given title's longevity was irrelevant to me. Of course, seeing a book numbered in the hundreds did make it seem more important, more collectible. Now the renumbering of books is an annoyance. I look for a good story, and for characters I like. I feel that having a series of renumbered editions cheapens the books, and makes them seem inconsequential. I'd be glad to see the 'legacy' numbering return. But I'd be more glad if the Big Two would simply concentrate on making good stories with engaging characters and striking artwork. If they truly did this, the numbering wouldn't matter.

Edo Bosnar said...

Just a few more thoughts somewhat related to this topic occurred to me: on the matter of first issues, by the time I had hit that "sophisticated" phase I mentioned above, I had obviously become aware that 'older' and 'milestone' comics were often worth serious coin (e.g., I knew Action Comics #1, Detective #27, Amazing Fantasy #15, FF #1, ASM #1, etc. were worth princely ransoms even back in the 1970s), so I wasn't immune to hype about first issues, or big anniversary issues (collector's item!). However, the ones I did buy from the first issue, like All Star Squadron (mentioned above), Rom and She-Hulk, I probably would have bought anyway, because I was either curious about them or really excited to read them based on the insert previews in other books (as in the case of All Star Squadron and New Teen Titans - which, by way of correction, I only followed the latter as of issue #2, because no. 1 did not appear on any of the spinner racks I had frequented at the time). In the case of She-Hulk, I dropped it after the second or third issue, while I intermittently followed Rom until I dropped out of comics altogether.
There's only one series that I picked up from issue no. 1 with the specific intent of having the "whole shebang" because I thought it might be worth something someday, and that was Team America (a decision that is now inexplicable to me). As noted several times at the BAB, I had the whole run of that largely lackluster series...

By the way, Osvaldo (and I apologize in advance for the digression), I read the post you linked at your site last night, and this part really jumped out at me: "...I would read and re-read the previous issue, to take in every detail of every panel, read the letters page, and sometimes re-visit older issues to re-trace the introduction of elements of whatever the current focus of the title might be." It's like you're describing me back then as well. I especially did this during longer ongoing story arcs, like the Dark Phoenix saga or the Demon in the Bottle story in Iron Man: when the latest installment came out, I'd either read it right away and then go back and re-read all of the preceding issues including the newest one, or first re-read the previous installments before getting to the latest. When I got back into comics again back in the mid-00s, and re-acquired some of those stories in tpbs or whatever, I was a bit surprised at how imprinted those comics are in my memory, i.e., how precisely I recalled individual panels, or sequences of panels and bits of dialog.

ColinBray said...

A great post and discussion to read on a rainy Sunday afternoon, thank you.

When I read comics as a seven-year old (1977) I don't remember caring about issue numbers. But when I returned to the hobby as a twelve-year old they assumed a greater importance - and this was mainly in understanding the heritage and history. The Mile High issue lists were really useful like that, highlighting key issues that also got referenced in editorial story captions. I used to think it amazing that some of the comics I was reading were older than me!

This context was important at the time because I felt part of a community and culture much bigger than me which was seductive.

Having said that, a new title with new numbering didn't bother me, as long as the long-running titles stuck around and provided a backbone and identity to their respective universes.

We have lost a lot with the constant restarts and renumbering. There is now no incentive to be a completist and the process of resetting erodes buyer confidence.

Interestingly the only exception I can think of is Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men. Somehow treating this as 'seasons' seemed to work and I don't know why. It may be the quality of the comic or the fact Whedon writes in that format as a matter of course.

Anonymous said...

I started reading comics mid-70s, and believe the vast majority of series I picked up were high-issue numbers and usually mid-storyline. It never bothered me, I just dove into the story and soaked in the action. (Plus, comics back then were very careful to establish what had gone on before, either through exposition or a flashback/recap).

Also fun back in those days were all those asterisks giving specific issue numbers to hunt down for context with the many references in the story. When I eventually discovered back-issue bins, I had some key issues burned in my brain to hunt down and fill-in gaps in those earlier stories (X-Men being the best example).

I think my first #1 was Moon Knight in 1980, and I was very excited at the thought of being on the ground floor of another Marvel classic that would undoubtedly continue into the 100s and 200s.

I'm sad that so many issues get renumbered at the drop of a hat now. It really kills the sense of grandeur and history when you pick up a modern Batman #2 or similar new issue.

The worst offender was renumbering Action Comics. I'd always looked forward to the day when a comic series would hit the magical issue #1000. With less than a decade to go, DC blew it.

They'll probably renumber AC as the magic month approaches. Would've been nice to keep the streak uninterrupted though, instead of cashing on short-term Grant Morrison-induced interest.

-david p.

Edo Bosnar said...

And I just thought of something else, a practical reason why I don't like the constant resetting of issue numbers; the continuous numbering made it easier to keep everything straight in your head. For example, if someone said, "that was in FF #214" or "Amazing SM #157" you knew about when the issue came out, and possibly even a few names from the creative team. Now, if someone mentions X-men V3, #46 or something like that, my eyes just kind of glaze over...

Dr. Oyola said...

Hey all! I want to say thanks for all your lengthy and detailed responses, and I am hoping there will still be a few more to come! As I mentioned in my comment earlier, I have been sick all weekend (like laying on the couch feverish watching endless Star Trek: TNG as I doze in and out kind of sick), and so while I imagined when I planned this post that I'd be able to respond to each comment as it came in and ask follow up questions, fate has had other plans for me. :(

That said, my fever has broken, so hopefully soon my head will be less fuzzy and I will be able to focus.

I will say, however, that one theme I see in a lot of the responses was a willingness to jump into a series right in the middle of story, without too much concern about missing something. Obviously, back in the day we had little choice, but the format and storytelling styles of the time also made it easier to approach it that way. Few arcs went more than 2 issues (3 at most - though there were some exceptions), and they did do a good job of catching us up. These days more and more comics are using the opening page for an internet style recap - in fact, sometimes it will even be stylized as characters using a blog, tumblr or twitter to discuss what has been going on (while I dropped Spider-Man a while ago, I did love for a while the opening page would be Betty Brant maintaining the Daily Bugle's blog, giving a recap). Still, it doesn't seem to work as well for some reason, and I am not sure why.

Anyway, here's a question for the old-timers who were buying comics off the rack in the time of the Avengers/Defenders War. . . since that is one of the earliest two-title crossovers with one story I can remember. . . how did you go about reading it and making sure you got it all? What did you think of the format?

I'll be back later, with specific questions about others comments. Thanks again!

Fred W. Hill said...

When I started collecting comics regularly as a 10 year old in 1973, I pretty much jumped right in without regard how long any series had been around and even without regard as to whether I was coming in at the beginning, middle or tail end of a particular storyline. The quality of the story itself mattered far more to me than the particular number of the issue and I only got a relative few #1s in the '70s when they were new. Yeah, I liked getting the first issue of Nova in 1976, but I but I didn't fool myself into ever thinking it would ever be worth the same as the first issues of Spider-Man or Fantastic Four. Then again, I also have the three issues of the Incredible Hulk in which Wolverine first appears when they were new on the racks and it's to my understanding that might be worth considerably more than the 78 cents I spent on them over 40 years ago. I think I actually liked it that although I was too young to have been with Marvel at its formation, it was a fascinating fictional world in which most events in nearly every title fit in with one another, so that whereas in the first Avengers comic I got, #104, was the conclusion of a 3-part story with one side story wherein Pietro was seriously injured while fighting a Sentinel and in that issue he sees something apparently horrible but which is not revealed to the reader --- until in a later issue of the Fantastic Four wherein it is revealed that Pietro had seen the very large Inhuman pooch Lockjaw and the rather more attractive Crystal. Yeah, it was frustrating to miss an issue, a part of the story, but I loved the parts of the story I could get enough that it didn't bother me enough to make me want to give up on them and go with comics where every story is always complete in one issue with no loose ends or subplots. Of course, the reprint mags helped me get to speed with many significant stories I had missed from the Silver Age, but even with those I was usually coming in several years late with Spider-Man & the FF and most others.

CJ Stephens said...

1. Given that most of the series of that era we all hold dear had reached high numbers by the time most of us here got around to starting to read them, how did you decide to start a series?

I looked for characters I liked. Anything with the Human Torch, when I was really young, or Micronauts or Rom (there were some awesome comics based on toys in the 70s). But I wasn't some newbie, even at a young age. I'd been introduced to comics by my older cousin John, and he'd already regaled me with stories of #1 issues ending up being worth big money eventually. So I tended to jump on any #1s I might see. And at first, it was just a thing I did cuz my cousin said so, but I quickly discovered that I enjoyed picking up new series with new characters precisely because they didn't come with all that backstory and continuity attached that I would never know the entirety of... This may be why I started liking C and D level superheroes, cuz there was much more of a chance to jump in with a new #1 issue with them than there was with Batman or Superman.

2. Did the issue number influence your purchase at all? Did the realization that you may never get to read the earlier issues of the series influence your choices?

Yes and Yes. As mentioned, I dug getting in on the beginning of the story, plus there was the whole mercenary aspect of owning a #1 issue that could make me rich someday... It really bothered me to realize I might not ever know the whole story. Knowing the whole story was oddly important to me, and I guess remains so, as even now I hunt down comics I read when I was young where I never found out what happened, or never filled in all the blanks.

3. How did you get your news about upcoming changes to your favorite series? Did you just discover them on the stand? Word of mouth? Bullpen Bulletins? Some other way?

On the stand, and reading the bullpen bulletin type stuff in the back. I don't recall having any other options. Some of the ads in comics that teased big changes to characters or series without specifying those changes were oddly effective in getting me to check those series out...

4. How did you handle missing an issue? Did you stop reading? Simply skip it? Do everything in your power to find the missing issue? Trade with a friend? Borrow it? What if you couldn’t find it?

I cried to my mom and grandma about it in the hopes they'd somehow fix things for me. Heh. I never stopped reading, and did my best to fill in the blanks based on the issues following the missing one. I didn't have a community of any kind for finding that sort of thing out. And most of my comic reading friends read different titles, sometimes on purpose so we'd maximize our comic spending money, and sometimes cuz I rarely bought the big titles like Batman and Captain America. In most cases, if I missed an issue, that was just that, and I had to roll with it.

Until I became a 30+ year adult and discovered ebay, and suddenly there was another payoff for liking all those weird C and D list characters: most of their back issues were cheap!

Tracking down those first Micronauts and Rom series was totally worth it, by the way.

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