I learned to read for one major purpose: my family stopped reading the Sunday “funny papers” to me when I began first grade, saying now I could read them for myself. So necessity forced me into a rapid transition from story listener to reader and eventually story teller. My genre of choice for those early years was the comic book. My father detested them, and forbade my reading them at first. At some point, however, I managed to acquire one that had some sort of story plot like a soap opera. I was in second grade by then and read that one comic book over and over until I could recite the dialogues from memory. Mother tsk-tsked but didn’t take it away from me.
Comics were my entrée into the world of literature, and over the next few years my literary acquisitions included not only funnybooks as I called them, but also the Nancy Drew series and eventually the classics of that age. I devoured the books my brothers had collected, such as those featuring Robinson Crusoe, the Three Musketeers, and all the adventure stories that boys loved in that time. By the time I was 12, I was reading Dickens and Shakespeare and other offerings in that vein, and beginning to do my own writing of stories as well. But it was the comic books that made the difference and led me into the world of story.
In my comic book stage, I read every one I could afford – they were ten cents apiece. It was during the Second World War while my father was in Hawaii and we were in Winston-Salem, and I was out from under his rule of no comics. My favorites were those about Superman, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, Batman, and other such adventurers who would regularly rescue the world from destruction. Because this was during war time, those brave and daring characters would defeat our enemies over and over again. But I also liked the ones with Archie and Nancy and Sluggo and Fritzi Ritz. One moment stands out in my memory having to do with those latter characters.
My mother had relatives in Virginia whom she enjoyed visiting, taking me along. Because she did not drive, we always rode the bus. On one particular journey, when I was about 9, I brought my newest copy featuring Nancy and Fritzi Ritz and their friend Sluggo. It would give me something to read while we traveled. The only problem was that I was susceptible to motion sickness, whether in cars or buses. As I was reading during that bus ride, nausea hit without warning and I lost my most recent meal. Mother was one who could react quickly to any situation, and began ripping pages out of my comic book, so that Sluggo and the others came to the rescue and cleaned everything up. But I was dismayed. She had torn out pages I had not yet read. After my wails about that turn of events, my mother relented, and at the next stop I was allowed to buy a replacement comic book. It may not have been the same as what I had been reading, but I was placated, and the remainder of the short bus trip into Virginia was uneventful.
Today, there remains the vestige of pleasure in reading the comics. I read my favorites and then quickly skim through even the ones that don’t appeal to my interests. There is that added factor of the visual which defines the story, and whether long-running adventures or situations that remain static, both benefit from the skill of the cartoonist. I’m afraid the attraction to comic books did not continue unto the third and fourth generations, as our children and grandchildren have never been big fans of the comics. They have no knowledge of the wealth of stories and adventures they have missed. Maybe the generation to come will rediscover the comics and redeem us all through their joys in funny pictures and stories.