In the early spring of ’76, my social life had begun to take off. I learned to ride a bike and began interacting with the other kids on my block. They all read comics too, and we started swapping them amongst ourselves. I also discovered there were local stores that carried comics; that they were available in other places besides the barbershop or down the shore. My old man gave me a dollar-a-week allowance just to buy comics. Back then, this added up to four new comics a week.
So I ended up buying a lot of comics this year. Too many to recall exactly what I bought or the precise circumstances under which all of them were purchased. Several do stand out in my mind, however:
Defenders #38 (Aug. 1976)
Defenders #37 (July 1976)
Avengers #149 (July 1976)
Avengers #148 (June 1976)
Hulk #202 (Aug. 1976)
Hulk #201 (July 1976)
The interesting thing about these three sets of titles is the order in which I bought them. I purchased Defenders #38, Avengers #149, and Hulk #202 at the local smoke shop between May and June, I’d guess. Then I went down the shore a couple times between June and July and picked up Defenders #37, Avengers #148, and Hulk #201. Apparently the distribution system down the shore was a bit slower than up north. This was confusing at first, as I think I was still wrapping my head around the concept of serial storytelling, and also because I had not begun paying attention to issue numbers. Eventually I began to piece it all together. Once I did, it was off to the races as far as gobbling up new comics. Getting back issues was much tougher though.
When word got around the family that I was collecting comics, several older cousins threw some old comics my way. I think there were also a couple of times where I’d find some at local garage sales. By the fall of ’76, I had discovered the Superhero Shop at the Livingston Mall, which did carry back issues; but most of their stock was unsold issues that only went back a year or two, I think. They did have some older comics under the glass counter at the front, but they were way too rich for my blood. It wasn’t until the fall of ’78 (or maybe the spring of ’79), when Quality Comics opened a booth at the old Union Flea Market, that I finally found a legit back-issue dealer with an extensive and diverse stock at good prices.
Fun Fact: Hulk #202 was my first encounter with a real cliffhanger—one where it looks like our hero just might be dead at the end:
As I said, I was still figuring out serial stories and was greatly dismayed when I first saw this. When I showed it to my father, he laughed and told me, “That’s how they get you to buy the next issue!” I was just relieved to know there would be a next issue.
Fun Fact #2: It was about an hour drive to the shore; maybe a little more. Whenever I see the cover of Defenders #37, “Silly Love Songs” by Wings/Paul McCartney springs to mind immediately. This is because I can remember reading this comic in the car on the way home from the shore and hearing that song on WABC-AM radio about five or six times in an hour, literally. Back in those days, a Top 40 radio station really would play only the top 40 hits; and the top 10 would be in especially heavy rotation.
…At this point, I’m sure many out there are wondering how I can remember stuff from such an early age. All I can really offer in response is: I have no idea. My memory is quirky. I can’t tell you which shirt I wore yesterday, yet I can vividly recall something that happened to me when I was five years old. Go figure.