In our last episode, Tim and his brother Kevin ordered G. I. Joe back issues by mail!
Exactly 7 days later, Betty (our housekeeper/nanny/second mom) was taking Kevin and I miniature golfing. It was a perfect early summer day. Blue sky, bright sun, green grass, low humidity. On our way out, I noticed a light, slim, cardboard parcel wedged between our heavy front door and the screen door. It had my name on it, which was odd since 10-year olds don’t get mail, but putt-putt beckoned, so whatever this was could wait. On our return I opened the box. Kevin and I were thrilled. It was the mail order! East Coast Comics was real! Inside were our 11 comic books, all in pristine condition, along with a giant, updated fold-out order form, and three coupons! One was for a free “grab bag” of 15 comics for a purchase of $30 or more. (Again with these terms we didn’t understand! What was a grab bag?)
Kevin and I spread out our booty over our yellow shag carpet, ah-ing and gawking at the saturated colors and compelling cover art. (Betty sat in her chair, watching soap operas or folding laundry. We had played with our action figures, sound effects and all, in front of her for years, so she paid us no mind.) Overnight the two of us had gone from owning the one newest issue of a comic book to having ten times that amount in back issues. We were now collecting a series. We were on our way to having a run. Someday, somehow, a complete run! (That was a daunting task since East Coast didn’t even have about 15 issues in stock, and we would soon learn that issues #1 and #2 were valued at over $40 each.)
Reading these comics piecemeal, #54, #77, #84, was tantalizing. No consecutive issues to link story threads together. We had to do that ourselves, or live with the pleasant anxiety of not knowing the whole story. This is an anxiety I miss in the age of graphic novels reprinting whole comic book arcs and DVD box sets (or Hulu) laying out for me everything start to finish. Before on-demand and MySpace Music, if you didn’t own an album you only heard a song when it played on the radio. Before home video transformed itself from just top movies to everything ever, you only caught an episode when it premiered on TV, when it reran later in the season, or if you were lucky, when it was syndicated. But half that was random. It’s a topic for another blog post, but the serendipity of hearing/seeing just what you need when you least expect it is a tremendous feeling, and a rarer one when you can watch or listen to anything anytime you’re near any electronic device. And that carries over to sequential storytelling. To get those G.I. Joe issues we didn’t have, we’d have to save up and order again from East Coast Comics. But to track down the ones East Coast didn’t have… we’d have to… Well, we didn’t know.
After issue #90, it would be safe to assume Kevin and I returned to Waldenbooks the following month to pick up issue #91. (And that was a weekly trip anyway, so we were on the lookout.) But summer camp happened instead. My budding interest in comic books was frozen, pushed aside by four weeks in the woods of Cedar Mountain, North Carolina. Besides regular outdoor camp stuff, I drew, and read prose books, but didn’t ask my parents to mail me care packages of comic books, and didn’t know anyone at camp who had brought any. This wasn’t a hobby or an obsession yet. It was still just an engaging lark. Kevin and I would get the next issue of G.I. Joe when we could, but we had no concept that five years later we’d own 10,000 comics and I would work in a comic book store. For now, it was just a G.I. Joe thing.
(I did draw a comic at camp, but I believe it was actually the summer before, and it feels as disconnected from me being a lifelong comics maker as much as those first two Yearbooks feel disconnected from me being a lifelong comics reader. Like a prehistory thing, and not a part of a changed mindset. It was called “Thorax the Ant,” and is about an ant on a quest. But it’s more connected to me reading newspaper comics and occasionally illustrating story drawings than wanting to draw comics. So it was also a lark. Which is to say that after I finished drawing it, I didn’t have strong feeling to make more comics.)
But when we returned to suburban Maryland, and made our Wednesday rounds at Montgomery Mall, issue #91 was nowhere to be found!
What did we do? Tune in next week to find out!