Funny books saved my life.
I was raised, or at least spent the first 17 years of my life, in a VERY restrictive religion. One where we had to attend church meetings 3 days a week and on Saturdays we either had a job or went out from door-to-door preaching “The Word” to the unsuspected community who just wanted to be left alone, especially on a Saturday morning.
Funny books saved my life. -Randy Zimmerman
The primary lifeboat of my youth was that I discovered comics. Something about putting words and pictures together for me made it kind of a television of the mind at a time when television was four free channels from a bad antenna, and cartoons only an hour after school (if you got home in time) and Saturday mornings (when I was supposed to be out “preaching”).. I was always fascinated with entertainment: Television, radio, old radio dramas on record, books… I was well known at the library and would usually walk home from school and stopped in often, absorbing anything that I possibly could about comics and other popular entertainment at the time. Then I would drag my butt home and usually have to mow the lawn (4 large country acres with a push mower), which I wonder sometimes if the parents didn’t make me do just to keep me away from the TV, or my primary refuge, which was my room and my comics.
Sometimes it was books, but I was much more attracted to those words and pictures. When I ran out of comics to read, I started drawing my own, which was where, much to my parent’s chagrin, my passion really took hold.
My parents are so restrictive that they wouldn’t allow me superhero comics, they were too violent for them even back then. Imagine what would have happened if, going up today, they were to see today’s comics that have become multiple times more violent, more dark, more adult than when I was a kid. So for me around the house, it was Archie Comics, Harvey comics (an upcoming column focus those Harvey’s), but mostly Gold Key Comics that were Disney, Looney Tunes (oddly, not violent to the parents), and some adventure and horror titles.
I would get superheroes from the neighbors and read them vigorously. In fact, I was once caught smuggling a Batman Annual into the house and had my butt whipped with a coal shovel to the point where I could hardly sit down for days. Still, I read every kind of comic that I could and kept any comic in the house that I could that wasn’t considered too violent or superhero. War comics slowly crept in because of their anti-violence message, but still no superheroes. supernatural and monster comics crept in; Twilight Zone Boris Karloff, that kind of stuff, science fiction with Strange Adventures were allowed after I convinced my mom that Adam Strange really wasn’t a superhero, but a spaceman like Flash Gordon.
The situation changed when my Mom discovered a Twilight Zone Digest that I had bought and brought home that had someone making a deal with the devil and it was the red-faced horned Satan at that.. Forget the fact that it was a morality tale, and that the devil lost badly, in the end, it was too “demonic” for her taste so I was able to exchange buying superhero comics with the promise that I wouldn’t bring any more of the images of Satan into the house. So needless to say, the start of Marvel’s Black and White magazine boom, Son Of Satan, even Ghost Rider were all suspect and kept well hidden.
The first superhero comics I bought were Secret Origins #1and Legion Of Superheroes #1, both of which will reprint books. New material, the first Marvel I bought was Marvel Team-Up #6 featuring Spider-Man and The Cat. a comic character that wouldn’t last long and eventually evolved into “Hellcat”‘ but that was long after I left home.
Keeping superheroes away from me, without a reasonable explanation, turned them into the bright shiny object I HAD to have, so I read them as much as possible, and when I had read all I could afford on my measly allowance, I figured out ways to get more. Our neighborhood soon became just as comics crazy and we all decided to buy our favorites and share back and forth until we had read EVERYTHING coming out at the time.
I even made a deal with my local drugstore to straighten their rack 4-6 times a week (a job the counter ladies HATED to do) in exchange for a buck’s worth of comics each week, plus it gave me first crack at the weekly bundle of comics as they came in and turned me into the local “dealer”, saving books for people who read particular titles by hiding them in the back of the rack, or handing them directly to them as I opened the bundles. That deal went south when I tried to claim an issue of the Planet Of The Apes magazine as my “wages” one week with the cover price of $1.25. I was worth a buck or less, but straightening comics each week for a buck twenty-five was too much.
When I wasn’t reading comics, I was creating them, so much so that my parents rationed me down to 2 pages of notebook paper a day, just so I wouldn’t run through an entire ream of paper in a week. I soon learned that splitting the page into four or more panels gave me more (though smaller) spaces to draw on, and quickly taught myself sequential art and comic book storytelling. I even earned an A++ in 7th grade science by producing a silly comic on the history of cattle breeding.
I went through school as the weird “geek” kid the weirdo who was “into” comics when most everybody else was just flat out not. That was alright, I could handle school and being the geek kid, because I was already the weirdo outsider whose parents were religious and who didn’t allow me to play sports in high school. Especially when I was a big kid and we had a wrestling team that soon became the State Champions, and our gym coach desperately wanted me on the team, but that didn’t happen, and soon ended up with a “note” on the teacher’s permanent record for harassing me, and sending me home with notes begging for me to be on the team (which I would have done, but we were TOO busy “churching” to do such things).
Outside of comics my other safety nets were going to the Genesee Area Skill Center in Commercial Art, and getting a job.
Going to Skill Center meant I got to learn all the art techniques needed to do my own comics and art professionally. Mostly that meant learning all the tools that Photoshop replaced with a click of a mouse. The closest other option at the time was Joe Kubert’s School for comics in New Jersy, and that was way too expensive for me to attend. Nowadays most every good college offers their own Sequential Arts courses (Courses I could probably teach better than any of their instructors, but I don’t have the college papers to prove it).
A job met Independence. Independence also came with money. Money meant being able to buy more comics and books. To try to get me into mechanics my dad actually gave me a supped up car in my junior year not just so I can drive back and forth to my job but in the hopes of actually taking an interest in engines. That never happened. But it did give me mobility. Mobility meant I could go and visit the comic shops that we’re just starting in surrounding cities, mostly 45 minutes to an hour away). That enabled me to drive back and forth to work and stop at the local (kinda adult) bookstore and pick up the week’s worth of comics that they eventually started getting direct distributed from Big Rapids distribution (another column all in itself).
After graduation I quickly found a way to move out of the house, switch jobs, and start working at a pinball arcade that had an open room in the back that a friend of mine and I quickly turned into a comic shop, mainly so I didn’t have to drive long distances to get to direct comics (yet another upcoming column subject).
Looking back at all that I never realized just how obsessive I was over comics until writing this column, or how all the negative hassles and influences were so counter balanced by my escaping through comics to the point of them being so obsessive to me. They truly became my passion, and they honestly saved my life. That might explain why I get so opinionated about the direction of the art form and some of the nitwits who screw them up.
Next time, I’ll try not to talk about myself so much, but I’ll never stop talking about my passion.
Thanks for being here.