by Roger Ash
“What the heck is magic time, Roger?”
Good question! For the purpose of this column, “Magic Time” refers when comics were magic to you. I’ve found that with many of my friends this is the time shortly after you discovered comics and they had the biggest impression on you. It’s the time when you couldn’t wait for new comic day at your local comic shop, or if you’re old like me, when you’d haunt the spinner rack at the local convenience store looking for new issues of your favorite comics. Or when you were sure every UPS truck that drove down the street had your latest shipment from Westfield. (Yes, I know Westfield doesn’t ship by UPS now, but they did back when I was a customer.)
For me, “Magic Time” was the mid-70s to mid-80s. Granted, I didn’t start collecting until the late 70s, but I got a lot of back issues in those days before comics were collected mere months after they were published. Howard the Duck by Steve Gerber & Gene Colan. X-Men by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. Amazing Spider-Man by Roger Stern and John Romita Jr. Thor by Walter Simonson. Fantastic Four by John Byrne. American Flagg by Howard Chaykin. Detective by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers. Warlock by Jim Starlin. New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and George Perez. Dr. Strange by Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner. Just typing this makes me smile. And those titles are just the tip of the iceberg. (and these links will take you to current collections of the books if you want to see what had me so excited.)
Comics were new and exciting and fresh to me. I could pick up a new issue for 35 cents and see if I liked it. The stories may have been based on what came before, but at that point, I was unfamiliar with what came before. It felt like the creators were taking chances, stretching their wings, and speaking to their readers in ways comics outside of the underground hadn’t before. C’mon, Dr. Bong in Howard the Duck? Really? An obvious drug reference that completely escaped the Comics Code. Or how about having Dr. Strange meet God? Adam Warlock fighting an evil version of himself. Very trippy, mind-expanding stuff.
But even within the normal strictures of superheroes, things were new and fresh. Part of that came from the right creators being on the right book at the right time. Thor was never a character that interested me much, but when Walter Simonson took over the book, that all changed. The mix of traditional superheroics, Norse mythology, and Simonson’s dynamic art made Thor and his world exciting to me. Around the same time, John Byrne began his run on Fantastic Four, which is probably the most celebrated run on the book since Stan Lee & Jack Kirby. Byrne’s mix of family dynamics and cosmic adventure made this book a favorite of mine month after month.
And the burgeoning direct market brought in new publishers that added even more new and exciting comics to the mix. Over at First, Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg mixed adventure and politics into a heady, can’t miss brew. Fantagraphics’ anthology series Critters introduced me to two series that quickly became favorites; Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo and Mike Kazaleh’s Adventures of Captain Jack.
Things have changed since then. I’ve changed. Comics have changed. There are still wonderful comics being done today, but I doubt any will have the impact on me that those I read during my magic time did. So, what is your magic time? What books got you going when you first started reading comics? Post your comments below and let me know.
Now, go read a comic!
Cover images for this column come from the Grand Comics Database.