Rude Chapbooks 10.28.11 | EXTRA: Five Ages

Our congenitally crotchety columnist pauses in fulminating on new funnybooks to muse on the first anniversary of “Rude Chapbooks” and, believe it or not, on the strange significance of being a longstanding aficionado of comic books.


This past Monday, October 24, commenced the second year of “Rude Chapbooks,” meaning that the column’s (always hypothetical and likely über-masochistic) regular readers had somehow survived 52 weeks of polysyllables and monomania—a total of 260 capsule reviews brimming with big words and bad attitude.

That first anniversary (traditionally commemorated with paper, by the way) prompted a brief reflection on numbers, appropriately enough for an industry so doltishly obsessed with them. More specifically:

  • The initial year’s reviews involved comic books from 25 mostly distinct publishers. The adverb there, mostly, derives from calving Icon from Marvel and Vertigo from DC, which some might decry as arbitrary.
  • The reviews otherwise involved 186 discrete titles. Here again, an element of dodginess obtains, largely introduced by relaunches and other nominal peculiarities, like Mike Mignola’s tendency to issue Hellboy’s adventures serially but “disguised” as singletons and minis.
  • Of the 25 publishers, Marvel scored the most reviews—63 (24.2 percent of the total), among 48 discrete titles. DC placed second, with 59 (22.7 percent of the total), among 35 discrete titles. (It bears noting that the two publishers would have traded places had their totals incorporated the numbers from their calved imprints. DC, with Vertigo, would have scored 78 reviews; Marvel, with Icon, 67.)
  • Among discrete titles, DC’s Superman enjoyed the most reviews during the year, five (before and after the company’s “New 52” relaunch). The slash-and-burn tenor of that particular quintet of reviews, of course, establishes a profound potential disconnect between attention and approbation in “Rude Chapbooks.”
  • Faring much better were discrete titles with a measly four reviews apiece during the year: Dark Horse Presents, Dynamite Entertainment’s Green Hornet, IDW Publishing’s Next Men, Vertigo’s Northlanders, and Oni Press’ Sixth Gun.

Yes—yadda yadda yadda. In an era wherein data mining has supplanted pornography as a vice, the materiality of all of the preceding, by and large, will depend on the predilections of the individual reader. At the risk of sponsoring a “man behind the curtain” moment, in fact, it tickles me that a given drill-down might “prove” I hate comic books. Quite the contrary. Indeed, in scanning the first year’s reviews, I couldn’t help meditating on the ontogeny of a contemporary comics aficionado (leaving to more impetuous sorts the phylogeny of such curious creatures).

Although “individual mileage may vary,” that meditation led me to ponder these five ages of such an aficionado, which hew less to the objective and quasi-historical (the Golden Age, the Silver Age, and so forth) than to the subjective and associational: 

The ’60s Ahmann’s Office Supply—I believe that to have been its proper name—occupied a spacious Main Street storefront in St. Charles, Missouri, where I passed the beginning of my boyhood. The shop, which apparently shuttered in 1990 after fully nine decades’ operation, tripled as a tobacconist’s, a stationer’s—and a newsstand. Although I recall no humidor, the air there always wafted the heady scent of fine cigars, and sometimes, to cultivate a (minor) artistic talent of mine, my parents would gift me with an unlined pad of half-sized paper. Most often, though, I’d implore them for a treat from Ahmann’s three wire spinner racks, then bursting with comics costing all of 12 cents apiece. Title, genre, and publisher mattered not one whit. Archie? Absolutely! Hot Stuff, the Little Devil? Sure! The Amazing Spider-Man? Well, jeepers, ask a dopy question, why not? Indeed, issue after issue, Stan Lee and John Romita traumatized me: Spidey’s fighting the Shocker with a sprained left arm! How can that be? Now he’s caught a cold—that never happens to Batman! And now—omigosh, I just can’t believe this—now Peter Parker’s thrown his costume in a trash can and just walked away from it all!

The ’70s On Independence Day 1969, my family relocated to rural Ste. Genevieve County, Missouri, roughly 55 miles south of St. Louis. In Ste. Gen—which I’ll forever consider home—I devoted the remainder of my boyhood and my youth to perfecting my technique at foraging for four-color fun. That period preceded the birth of “direct distribution,” of course, and in such an otherwise blissfully bucolic setting, maintaining the integrity of one’s collection often demanded the wherewithal of a five-star martial strategist. By way of example, if the splendidly creaky-floored and cramped Bi-Rite in nearby Bloomsdale lacked the latest Detective Comics with Archie Goodwin and Walt Simonson’s revelatory Manhunter revival, a “please, please, please, Mom” would usually lead to the Ste. Gen IGA (customarily called, simply, Wimpy’s, after owner Wimpy Roth). Ste. Gen’s other main grocery, Koetting’s, likewise supported my jones with two or three spinner racks, at least after it moved from the town square to Point Basse Plaza midway through the decade; so, too, did two dependable local pharmacies, the Dicus and the Rexall. Farther afield, furthermore, I never failed to forage in more-or-less neighboring hamlets in other counties—Festus and Perryville, Farmington and Flat River (now d.b.a. Park Hills).

The ’80s Ah, yes, “direct distribution.” During the bonanza years of Phil Seuling’s brainstorm, I was attending Southeast Missouri State U in Cape Girardeau, midway between St. Louis and the Arkansas state line, and comics were changing—dramatically. What wasn’t yet called the mainstream was sporting a gorgeous alluvial fan influenced by the storied undergrounds of the ’60s and ’70s. In the first swagger of something approximating young adulthood, I expanded my four-color forages from the Metro News (a much-loved, if claustrophobic, independent bookseller) a handful of blocks west on Broadway to a record store ingeniously named the Record Store. Among bin upon bin of LPs new and used, its proprietor—picture comedian Steven Wright’s younger brother—inexplicably stocked three compact white wood cases populated not only with “the usual suspects,” but also with Cerebus the Aardvark and Elfquest and this outré, black-and-white magazine titled… What was it? Oh, yeah: Love and Rockets. Jaime Hernandez’s Maggie and Hopey stole my heart, pawned it on the cheap, used the proceeds to buy sub-Drano beer, and never even offered to share. Yet to this day, I adore those mad minxes—who, if I live to observe my centennial, will invariably make me feel 20-something.

The ’90s, the “Naughts,” and Now Well, hello, Babylon! On moving to St. Louis late in 1990, I felt a comics-related rapture bordering on the religious. My first apartment lay only a few minutes’ drive from the old B&R, reportedly the city’s first comics shop, in the shadow of the historic Bevo Mill; there, among other gems, I distinctly recall buying, with lunatic jubilation, the first and second issues of Alan Moore’s tragically stillborn Big Numbers. I otherwise investigated shops areawide: the one just off Lindbergh and Lemay Ferry, the one on Watson, the one on Gravois, the other one on Gravois. Nowadays, I consider my “local” to be Delmar’s Star Clipper, under the sage proprietorship of A.J. and Ben Trujillo, ably assisted by knowledgeable and amiable associates like Jon Scorfina—but I also recall not just the store’s prior location off Big Bend and Forest Park Parkway, but its original Delmar site, where I bought early issues of Jeff Smith’s Bone. Moreover, on occasion, I still visit the SoCo Fantasy Shop, which I remember from its Kirkwood days; its Manchester sibling, which I first frequented when it bore another, avian name; Telegraph’s top-notch Comic Headquarters; and, on Hampton, All American, with its swoon-inducing back-issue displays.

The Aleph On the door to the pantry of my bungalow—admittedly, a rather strange place—hangs a framed black-and-white poster apparently showing a scene from 1948 and Fremont, Nebraska, an Omaha outlier. At its top, a banner reads, “Comicland.” Below that banner towers an array of dime wonders, eight wide and 21 high, many of them likely long since forgotten by everyone but scholars—Annie Oakley and The Corpses of Dr. Sacotti , Freckles and His Friends and Mr. District Attorney, Powerhouse Pepper Comics and Wacky Duck. At the lower left corner of that array stands a tot in overalls, a striped, long-sleeved pullover, and a short-billed cap who looks like one of Hal Roach’s Our Gangsters. Utterly engrossing him is the comic in his hands, its pedigree indeterminate, its contents blurry and unguessable. The array behind the tot and his engrossment alike strike me as timeless, all other signifiers to the contrary notwithstanding. Beyond mundane considerations of space and time, location and age, regardless of an industry too often all too eager to pimp its medium like the proverbial two-bit whore, that image of the Comicland kid tacitly defines the only thing I myself ever really demand of a comic: magic. | Bryan A. Hollerbach 

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