I listened to the latest episode of Grouchy Old Geeks last week (formerly Comic Book Outsiders) and they were talking about how they go into reading comics when they were growing up. It inspired me to think about my own back story and how I got into the medium as a reader and later a writer. Although I do have a feeling I may have blogged about this on my old site previously, so apologies if you have read this before.
The first comic that I read regularly was Whizzer and Chips, a British humour weekly along the lines of The Beano, The Dandy and Buster. The conceit of two rival comics inhabiting one publication made this comic more exciting and seemingly more anarchic then those other similar titles. I liked this comic so much that I got my Gran to start ordering it from the local newsagents for me. Going into the shop to collect my order was the highlight of my weekend or after school trips into town.
When I stopped reading Whizzer and Chips I moved onto Tiger, a sports based anthology book featuring football strips Hot Shot Hamish and Billy's Boots alongside wrestler Johnny Cougar and other stories like Martin's Marvellous Mini. Hot Shot Hamish, along with Roy of the Rovers was one of the first characters I tried to draw myself.
Around the same time as this the kind of t-shirts you could buy were very similar to kids' clothes now and photos of me at first school age tend to show me in a Hulk, Star Wars or Flash Gordon (the first film I saw in the cinema) t-shirt . Along with the Incredible Hulk TV show my gateway to super hero comics was largely thanks to the animated series Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, which teamed the titular web-slinger with Iceman and Firestar. It wasn't long before I was subscribing to the Marvel UK reprints of Spider-Man.
I was an avid Spider-Man reader, but at the time Peter Parker was just one isolated character to me, as Iceman and Firestar didn't feature and other Marvel heroes only appeared sporadically in the title. That all changed in 1985 when Marvel UK reprinted the crossover series Secret Wars and suddenly I was introduced to the wider Marvel Universe. I was suddenly reminded of heroes I already knew like The Fantastic Four and the Hulk and introduced to lots of heroes and villains I didn't know such as the X-Men, She-Hulk and Wrecking Crew. My mind was blown by the scope and scale of the Marvel Universe and things like Marvel's Secret Artist and the inclusion of Alpha Flight as the back up strip made me a verified Marvel zombie pretty quickly. Spidey's costume becoming black, Ben Grimm staying behind, She-Hulk joining the FF and Dr Doom being the most interesting villain of all made a young me wide-eyed with enthusiasm. I was just as interested in Secret Wars 2, although I haven't re-read that to see if it deserves to be quite as maligned as it is. It was around this time that I started to dabble with thoughts of being a comic artist (I hadn't gotten my head around the idea of writers) and got Stan Lee's How to draw comics the Marvel way and some other cartooning books too.
I got the same rush that Secret Wars gave me when another book arrived in the newsagents. Action Force, or GI Joe as it was originally called in the US, was another book that I positively adored. The hairs on the back of my neck still stand up when I see the old covers for the series. Like most readers at the time the ninja characters of Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow were my favourites, but the scope and scale of this military world was also what I loved about it.
Football Picture Story Monthly began in 1986 and was my other comic drug around the time of Secret Wars and Action Force. Each issue, which was the same size as Commando, was a whole standaone story and as a football loving comic reader it was perfectly pitched at me. This was the book that made me more of a collector, as rather than subscribing to the series I would go to newsagents in any town I visited and pick up the ones I didn't have. I loved the way that they used to bring characters back for sequels and Jon Stark and particularly High Rise Rovers were big personal favourites. When I got to write the Fame:Beckham book for Bluewater I was trying to get back the same kind of feeling that those books used to give me and I even added High Rise Rovers within graffiti as an easter egg in the issue. I kept reading the books into my mid teens and when I used to attend the AFC Bournemouth Summer Soccer School I would sometimes read these on the way to and from the training ground.
As well as picking up UK comics and UK reprints of US material I started to buy US comics like Daredevil and The Punisher around this time too, picking up whatever I saw in newsagents and feeling a real rush from them being US sized and full of US ads. I gradually drifted away from comics, leaving them behind to be replaced by low budget action films and particularly martial arts movies. I'd read the occasional 2000AD but it hadn't really got its hooks into me and I soon saw comics as a childish pursuit as my GCSES, A-Levels and University beckoned.
I think my break from comics lasted from 1989 to 1999, so I missed the crazy boom and bust nature of the 90s, the launch of Image comics and the shift to the direct market. It was my first ever beach holiday, two weeks in Rhodes that unintentionally brought me back to comics. I'd read all the magazines and books that I'd packed in my case and had wandered to the shops to find something else to fill my time. I noticed that one of the shops had a rack full of American comics, both Marvel and DC titles. I picked up a couple and read them as soon as I got back to the sunbed. I think it was a Hulk issue and a Batman book, but I'm not 100% sure (although I will still have them somewhere). I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed them and I headed back to the shop and bought all their stock and two issues of Wizard magazine.
That was it, I was a comic reader again. I was soon buying Marvel comics again, picking up 2000AD regularly and collecting trades of many of the titles I'd missed like Preacher, Watchmen, V for Vendetta and The Dark Knight Returns.
By the time of my next holiday the following year I had bought enough singles issues and trades to fill a room in the house and I was already thinking about writing comics and attending conventions. Alongside the comics themselves, it didn't take long for my screenwriting books to be replaced by books on writing for comics instead. Haing wanted to draw comics as a child, then planned to write for the screen when older, I suddenly realised the perfect place for my creativity was staring me in the face. This was the book that made me believe that was possible.
Between Revival, Saga, Nailbiter, Fuse, Deadly Class, Lazarus, Southern Bastards and Sex Criminals my reading these days tends to be Image Comics trades. One thing is for sure, I don't think I'll ever not be a comics reader again. Alongside writing for the medium, reading comic books is still one of my greatest pleasures. I can't imagine not being a comics reader any more than I could imagine not watching movies or TV shows or listening to music. Anyone who loves stories should be exploring all the great titles the medium has to offer.