The Smiles We Left Behind

The Spinner Rack strikes again.

One month ago The Spinner Rack Twitter account brought me back to April 1976, when my regular comic-buying habit had begun in earnest. It was a happy memory.

Now a more recent set of tweets brought me back to June 1982, a rather different time for me and certainly a far less happy one.

The comics were great; they weren’t the problem. I was the problem.

When I first started reading comics, they were a source of joy for me—but not the sole source of joy in my life. Much as I loved and enjoyed them, I didn’t obsess over them or drive myself crazy trying to buy up every issue I could find. Even though there was a specialty store right there in the Livingston Mall, The Superhero Shop (a.k.a., Heroes World), which opened the same year I got into buying comics regularly (1976) and carried literally every comic Marvel and DC put out every month, I wasn’t a fanatic about going there all the time. This is because I had other things to occupy my time besides just comics; I also had actual, real-life friends.

Looking at the covers from those tweets, however, I realize that I bought almost all of them (six out of the eight, at least) from the Superhero Shop. So it must have been right around this time, the spring of ’82, that getting my mother to drive me to the Livingston Mall every Friday to get new comics had become a regular, obsessive ritual.

Which means it was right around this point that comics had taken the place of friends in my life. They had pretty much become my sole source of joy.

I was in the middle of junior high. I still shared a number of classes with some of my grade-school friends, but we were no longer in the same classrooms together all day like we once were. And most of them were hitting puberty and turning into young adults while my own development had badly stalled. Most of the guys I had been closest to in grade school were turning into jocks while I remained a weak, puny, child-geek. We no longer fit together and had begun to drift apart.

To top it all off, my first dog Ginger had died in February of that year (1982). I was truly all alone.

When we had graduated from grade school, every other kid in my sixth-grade class had signed the makeshift yearbook they had put together for us (which was basically a bunch of cheap xeroxes stapled together, long since lost by me, unfortunately). By the time junior high was over, the only signature in my yearbook was from a social studies teacher. None of my classmates had signed it.

Comics remained pretty much my whole world from the middle of junior high until my junior year of high school. Only then, after I had turned sixteen, did I finally grow into something resembling a teenager. As it turned out, I ended up physically bigger (or at least taller) than every other guy in my class. Had I developed on schedule (as opposed to being the latest of bloomers), I would have been a jock like the rest of my grade-school buddies, played sports, gone to all the parties, and dated a bunch of girls. Instead, I wound up living out a very isolated and lonely existence for a good chunk of my adolescence. All those comics were better than nothing, I guess, but real friends would’ve been far better still.

At least I’ll always have some fond memories of Fielding Elementary to put a smile on my face from time to time. Comics were still something to me in those days, a really big something… but not everything.


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