Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ten Cent Fantasy

Before people got so serious and started collecting old comics like rare manuscripts, kids just read them for fun. It's hard to describe the feeling of joy after buying a new comic at the candy store and taking it home to read. I have a theory about why all adults love that "new car smell". It's because they remember that "new comic smell" from when they were young!

Comics were displayed on tall racks at the corner candy store. I remember standing there clutching a dime in my hot little hand and trying to decide what I felt like reading that day. The choice was difficult since there were so many favorites vying for my attention. There were a number of comic book categories worth mentioning.

I guess my favorites were the action superheroes like Superman, Batman, The Green Lantern and Plastic Man. (No, Plastic Man was not a guy heavily into credit card use, but had the power to change or stretch himself into any shape that was called for at the moment....kind of like Barack Obama.)

Next on my list were the great cowboy comics: Hopalong Cassidy, Red Ryder, The Lone Ranger, the Durango Kid, and of course, Lash Larue. The latter dressed all in black and carried a whip...he was a favorite among Greenwich Village kids.

I guess in the late fifties the scary comics gained in popularity...stories like Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror and The Grim Reaper were read under the covers with a flashlight so your mother wouldn't find them. These days our "enlightened" parents would probably read them with the kids.

In a class by itself, although it spawned pale imitators, was Mad Magazine. In its early days, Mad featured well-known writers like Ernie Kovacs, Wally Cox, Danny Kaye and the great Bob Eliot and Ray Goulding. Its parody format was so popular in ongoing pieces like Spy vs. Spy and Little Annie Fanny, that it commanded the outrageous price of 25 cents. (Equal to five large soda bottle deposits.)

Finally, there were the funny comics like Sad Sack, Donald Duck, Archie and Veronica, and one of my my wife's favorites, Little Lulu. Lulu had a pal called Tubby who shared her adventures. "Tubby" would never make it as a character today...it might hurt some kid's self-esteem.

Of course every comic had those Charles Atlas ads for bodybuilding, and the opportunity to sell seeds (yes Grasshopper, plant seeds) out of a catalog to earn prizes like a Red Ryder BB carbine. ("You'll shoot your eye out"!)

Many great old comics are still around, sealed in plastic bags in somebody's temperature-controlled storage vault. Somehow I liked it better when we read them just for fun.


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