Tony Salmons had a brief connection with G.I. Joe.
Not much touted here is the fact that I own a comic book store. It’s a recent development, and with our renovations still ongoing (shelves, paint, lights, awning, website), it’s a little harder to blog and write. On the plus side, our customers always have IDW’s full line of G.I. Joe comics and graphic novels to choose from. Both myself and the store are in this week’s issue of DigBoston, a free arts and nightlife newspaper, and I manage to give some attention to Real American Hero.
A longer version should be online in a week. Thanks to interviewer Corey Estlund, photographer Jamie Meditz, and art director Scott Murray for the kind coverage.
In our last episode, Tim stretched out this story of getting into G.I. Joe comics by also including Marvel super-hero books like Uncanny X-Men. This week he gets back to G.I. Joe. Sort of.
After that first mail order in the early summer when my brother Kevin and I got 11 G.I. Joe back issues for $22, we were hooked on the process. New Jersey-based East Coast Comics, the fine retailer that had filled that first order, was smart to include an updated catalog (a pamphlet, actually) with it, and some months later we gathered our pennies and plotted to fill more holes in our G.I. Joe run. At this point, the series is on issue #95 or thereabouts, so we’ve got 70 comics or reprints to track down. Several options offered opportunities to get those comics, each just uninteresting enough that I will probably blog about them individually on upcoming Fridays – finding other comic book stores, attending our first comic book convention, sampling a mail order company beyond East Coast Comics. But for today: Our second and third mail orders.
This probably doesn’t mean anything to you, but for me this image is all nostalgia: The handwriting of my 11-year old self, my mom’s signature, specific G.I. Joe gaps we were attempting to fill, the fact that I still didn’t understand what “Alternates” were – (second choices in case a comic was sold out, so East Coast didn’t have to issue credit slips), and the fact that we were trying out a new series (Nth Man, Ninja Turtles Teach Karate).
Also, memory is funny in how often it turns out to be wrong: This scan concretely places when we bought issue #36 of The ‘Nam, meaning I was incorrect a few weeks back in this very blog. I must not have bought that issue at the Montgomery Mall Waldenbooks as 6th grade began. Apparently it arrived by mail a few months later. I have no recollection of receiving this box, although I do remember thinking Solson’s TMNT book was an amateurish affair, remarkable considering how amateurish the production in Mirage Studios’ actual Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was. So this must have arrived right around Christmas of 6th grade. Anyway, there it is, what was probably our second ever mail order.
But let’s skip a few months ahead to spring of 6th grade. The first two mail orders have arrived quickly. Kevin and I have saved up enough money to place a big order, and with East Coast selling many issues for less than a dollar, this was not going to be 10 or 15 comics. No, this time we ordered 40 G.I. Joe back issues. It was bold, exhilarating, and nerve-wracking. Even though we were clearly comics buyers by now (Joe, The ‘Nam, Marvel super-hero books, Ninja Turtles), it’s still a transition from being boys who spent money on toys to boys who with our own money bought things to read. (Chapter books and the occasional Garfield collection were paid for by our parents.) This shift represented, in a very real sense and not just symbolically, us growing up and away from childhood. We bought toys and played with them for a few more years (me much longer than Kevin), but toys’ days were numbered the moment I bought that first Joe comic. (Except for me becoming a vintage toy collector, another topic for another day.)
My friend Will (Hi, Will), also in 6th grade with me, was becoming a comics reader as well. And comics had a certain currency in my tiny classroom. One friend talked about Wolverine. I drew a cutely terrible Batman parody in my notebook. And new G.I. Joe issues did appear each month concurrent to all this. But as the weeks went by, I got anxious about this big mail order. Why was it taking so long? Why was it taking weeks when the earlier order had only taken one? Was the package lost somewhere en route? Did East Coast abscond with our money? Was the parcel stolen from our front stoop? During lulls in class I would fantasize to Will about what it would be like to open a box with 40 comics in it. To instantly more than double the size of our collection.
The specific scenario I kept painting went like this: Arriving home one day, I’d notice our screen door propped open, even though it always closed shut on its own. Something must be in the way, something I couldn’t see from the car. We parked. I approach cautiously. Now the box is revealed: It’s eight feet tall, cardboard, sealed with packing tape. It can only be one thing. It can only be an East Coast Comics parcel bursting with comics. Literally, the box edges are no longer straight, parallel, and perpendicular, as if the comics are forcing their way out, the packing tape starting to tear, like a cartoon container for some magical energy, some tazmanian devil, some pressurized tank ready to explode. Inside the house I cut it open, but a tidal wave of newsprint pages and glossy covers, G.I. Joe comics the likes of which I’ve never known, surge out as if from a fire hose, like an avalanche, pushing me back, smothering me, the sound like the crash of beach surf!
Will and I said this to each other in a stage whisper, as I’d act it out in my seat, making the rumbly sound effect for the shower of comics. It was a vignette we’d quietly pantomime for each other, sitting in our seats during a lull in class. Will’s enthusiasm only reflected back on me, and the wait only became more difficult.
WHEN WOULD THE BOX ARRIVE?
Note for last week’s readers: The part two chicken scratch doodle of Another World has been partially updated.
In our last episode, Tim bought his first comic book ever, G.I. Joe Yearbook #3…
Then, what I believe is one year later, but could have been only half that, we returned to Another World. I bought G.I. Joe Yearbook #4, looked at but passed on another Mad, and Kevin bought two back issues: G.I. Joe #61 and #62. (Or maybe he’d bought them on that first visit? Memory’s funny that way.) At home he promptly put them on a high shelf in his room where I couldn’t reach them. He never offered them to me, and I never snuck a peak when he was elsewhere. I didn’t even touch them until later when we were regular comics readers and those two issues were incorporated into our burgeoning G.I. Joe collection. This should demonstrate the strange disinterest I had in comic books at that initial point. (It is also indicative of our overly strong sense of personal ownership. My toys were mine, Kevin’s were his. We didn’t share, and we didn’t much trade. This is not meant to sound mean, it’s just how our personalities worked. We played with our G.I. Joe toys side-by-side, my characters and vehicles interacting with his, but him only holding and role-playing with his, and me with mine. Weird, I know. It’s worth an entire blog post, how we played with our toys.) By then we had found D&D wares at the Waldenbooks at our mall (an important location that I’ll come back to in a later blog post), and rarely returned to Another World. In fact, I don’t think Kevin ever went back. I did go every year or three — it was friend and future editor Nick Nadel‘s local shop once he entered the picture, but until I had a driver’s license there was no point in shopping at this third-closest store. It did move and renovate, and finally closed when parent company/comics mail order giant American Entertainment went belly up a decade later.)
But back to those two issues–
Before Kevin whisked them away I do recall seeing these two covers, which by themselves form a kind of contained story, and being worried for the protagonists. This is a point I’ll come back to at a later date on the blog — the power of the cover image — but for now you can likely acknowledge that even if you’re not a G.I. Joe fan or a comics reader, these guys are in trouble. The barbed wire, the handcuffs, the menacing weapons. Trouble!
As with the first comic I’d bought, Yearbook #4 did not turn me into a lifelong reader. I just recall thinking there weren’t enough Joes in the lead Oktober Guard story, being confused by the recap pages that mixed narration with word balloons, and wishing the Joes in the back-up yarn wore their regular costumes and not their civvies. Years later Tony Salmons would give me some original art from that story.
So here’s where the biography stands: Kevin and I have been buying G.I. Joe toys and watching the G.I. Joe cartoon for four years — half a lifetime. For me it vies with Transformers as my favorite thing ever, for Kevin it’s no contest. We read books and newspaper comics, and now own four actual G.I. Joe comic books. But we’re still not readers! What’s missing?
Tune in next week!
In our last episode, Tim’s parents took him and his brother to their first comic book store…
But this is where my memory gets fuzzy. I believe we went to Another World one more time, six months or a full year later. As best as I can piece it together, on the first visit, in addition to the Dungeons & Dragons set, I bought two periodicals: I saw an issue of Mad Magazine and had to have it. Mad was still a kind of forbidden fruit, and we had just gotten into it a few months earlier, but our subscription hadn’t kicked in. For now it was the serendipity of seeing one on a newsstand, having the money, and getting the parental permission. My other buy was G.I. Joe Yearbook #3. (I should here define the series “G.I. Joe Yearbook” as an annual run of double-sized specials that complemented the regular, monthly G.I. Joe series.) Interesting, Kevin also bought a copy. Why did it grab us? Probably because the cover showed favorite characters in distress, a scenario I was intrigued to see to its resolution.
I don’t want to undersell that point. The cover made me worried about the characters. Snake-Eyes is in trouble! Scarlett defends him! Storm Shadow — a villain — is also helping? (This is a stark contrast to many comic book covers nowadays that feature glamor poses with little drama or story content.)
So Kevin bought Yearbook #3 as well – we were occasionally selfish and territorial about our possessions, and didn’t consistently share everything.
Yearbook #3 was just a curiosity. It did not turn me into a lifelong comics reader. That would happen two years later. But it was still an entertaining book, with a wordless story told only in pictures and pantomime that did in fact follow up on the cover image. My aversion to newsprint was abating. (I can’t reconcile how newspaper comics were fine but comic books printed with the same palette on the same stock were not. It might be that I was used to higher quality color and printing from glossy magazines like Hotdog and Dynamite, that I was already picky and fetishizing the bound periodical as a keepsake.) (I mean “festishizing” in the general, non-sexual sense of the word.) But as much neat content as it had, like a fun “Kitchen Viper” joke, and an article on the TV show, Yearbook #3 was still this weird… thing I didn’t entirely love. It’s like an album you don’t appreciate until months or years later, but in this analogy, it wasn’t a single album, it was the entire pastime of listening to music. I liked prose books, I liked magazines, I liked Garfield collections, I liked cartoons, but comics still hadn’t clicked.
I recall pulling Yearbook #3 off my shelf and reading it a few times afterwards, one time lying on my brother’s bedroom floor. But it sparked no storylines for our G.I. Joe toy games, and no discussion of buying additional comic books.
What was the comic that changed Tim’s life forever? Tune in next week to find out!
I should have become a comic book reader two years before I did.
I was reading newspaper comics in the Washington Post for years before I picked up my first Marvel or DC. And in those two years, the only parts of Mad Magazine that mattered were the comics – the movie and TV parodies, Spy Vs. Spy, The Lighter Side, and A Mad Look At. I even scanned through a few comic books one day probably in 1987 – and a G.I. Joe issue to boot! – but put it down with disinterest: Whereas the TV cartoon was saturated full color, the comic was limited four-color printing, and it looked dull on beige newsprint. This was at the house of a friend from school, and I believe my brother read several of his G.I. Joe comic books. But not me.
Soon after, my brother Kevin immersed himself in Dungeons and Dragons, and brought me with him. While we could potentially play with friends using their materials, and even though this board game without a board mostly took place in our minds, we knew we had to buy a few essentials – dice, a rulebook, perhaps a module. I think what happened was that our mom looked up “gaming” in the yellow pages, and found a store in Washington, D.C. It was half-hour drive in the “wrong” direction since we always drove north and west to shop at our local mall, and parking in Georgetown (that particular section of D.C.) was difficult, but Mom and Dad were up for it . And so we visited Another World, a comic book shop with a large back issue selection (whatever that was – it smelled old), new comics, and some gaming.
We procured the red boxed Advanced Dungeons and Dragons starter set. Georgetown wasn’t going to be a weekly trek like our mall (or downtown Bethesda, two miles from our house) were. And it wasn’t going to be monthly. Perhaps Mom and Dad liked to stay out of D.C. on weekends since they were there Monday to Friday for work. Or perhaps they were willing, but Kevin and I didn’t realize we merely needed to ask. Whatever the case, my sense was that this was a special trip, not the start of something. Adding to my disorientation was that Another World had two entrances and a quirky layout. The store straddled two sides of an acute street corner without having the corner itself, was small and cramped, had two different “rooms,” and was on two different levels, one a few steps higher than the other. And again, it was filled with comic books, which I didn’t understand or like, even if I had been seeing Griffin Bacal’s wonderful animated television commercials for Marvel’s monthly G.I. Joe series for years.
But we went back months later and Kevin actually bought some G.I. Joe comic books.
What happened at Another World? Find out next week…