Kalamazoo Comix

The comic boom in my childhood started with turtles, four teenage mutant ninja turtles to be exact. I remember seeing the cartoon on television for the first time and was hooked by these green bad asses fighting rat kings and talking brains. Television was one thing, these little magazines that started it all, was another monster that would consume my life for two decades.
Fanfare was, and still is, the main comic shop for our city. Wedged in between two cities, Fanfare caters to a population of 120,000 and manages to survive while shops across the country continue to go out of business. I didn’t know about Fanfare at first, my own exposure to comic books came from grocery shopping at the local Jewel Osco, waiting by the magazine rack while my mother filled the cart. Every month the titles changed; the shop appeared to be getting the leftovers from the comic book distributors. One month, Captain America was on the shelf, six months later he would reappear with a different story and a different villain. I needed a better source.
Every week we drove past Fanfare to do our weekly shopping at Meijer. The shop was small, stuck in the back corner of a mall with three parking spots. I looked at the new issues of TMNT and other comics that I wasn’t familiar with. They even had something called Samurai Squirrel and Hamster Vice. These titles didn’t take off and were later grabbed out of the quarter bin. I remember the first time I went and my mom pointed out the quarter bin. The selection was over whelming and while I debated what comic I could get with my money I realized that I could leave with a handful of comics instead of just one. I found a story from Detective comics (batman) where he was fighting Clayface and from that moment on I was a Batman fan. My collection grew and as my interest expanded my parents encouraged me to buy the old ones because they would be worth more money. It was like taking stock advice from a communist. I had the heroes I was looking for and of course I was going to take care of them, I would want to read them again and again.
Like any other hobby, comics has a level of peer pressure that encourages one to stay up to date with new stories forcing you to buy comics new paying out insane amounts of money for stories that you don’t know if they are good or not. The prices continued to go up and while I was happy shuffling through the quarter bin, I found myself subscribed to multiple batman titles and Daredevil. The way these companies were writing the series one had to follow a dozen titles to know what was going on. In total we had: Batman, Detective comics, shadow of the bat, legends of the dark night, Robin, Nightwing, birds of prey, Catwoman, Gotham Nights, Anarchy, and I’m sure I am missing a few. Add in the rising cover prices and eventually I was done. What was once the hobby of poor kids with no father figures in their lives had turned into a money pit of despair.
There was something better than the big three companies happening in town. Local shops started to carry independently published comic books, printed of from the local Kinkos. I grabbed whatever was on the shelf and started to follow this movement with a sick obsession. The number two shop in town, Discount Hobby, put some money into self-publishing their own collection of local comics and that was how Kalamazoo Comix was born. Anyone could submit their own story, up to three pages in length and in the second issue I joined the ranks of local legends like Stew Miller, Dustin, Paul Sizer, and Aaron Warner. My story was infested with spelling errors and the art work was below subpar. There was a release party for the issue and when my job wouldn’t let me have the night off to go, I called in sick.
My friend Dennis was in that issue as well and we hung out that night with other local artist listening to the DJ for Radio X, Kalamazoo’s alternate radio, which later turned into a country station. All night I waited for my Girlfriend to appear and she didn’t. I had already made the rounds and while I should have been enjoying myself, I didn’t have anyone to share it with. I flipped through quarter comics, grabbed discounted Crow merchandise, and listened to recommendations for titles that I should be reading which of course sounded like all of them. I don’t know how people have this much time on their hands or money to keep up with this hobby.
Later that night, Christina stopped by the house. She apologized for not being there after she said she would and when I asked her why she didn’t go she replied, “I didn’t want to.” We went back and forth on what happened. I went to her football games to watch her in the marching band when I didn’t like football, or marching, and in return the one night I asked her to show up to something she brushed it off as something stupid. Ya, I’m still pissed but mostly at myself. I continued seeing her after that acting like the codependent turd that I was.
Comics would remain a part of my life into my twenties and after that a man has to let go of childish things. When I do read comics these days it tends to be graphic novels, how comics were meant to be read without the pricing scam. The older titles appear to be the sweet spot for good story telling. I can’t stand Batman’s son, Daredevil is a train wreck these days, and from what I’m told Wolverine can’t keep his dick in his pants. The comics of my childhood have been flushed down the toilet and now rest in a septic tank with the lowest of the low reading this trash. Yes, I’m old, I’m grouchy, and I want people to stop whoring out my childhood superheroes to the lowest common denominator. I will admit, as a kid we always wondered how the X-men didn’t have some kind of mutant orgy going on with all the freaks and weirdos living in one big Hugh Hefner style house. We talked about it but it didn’t happen in the comics. That was for us to discuss and wonder about, it was part of the magic. Now we have 50 Shades of Jean Grey and there is no going back. There are no more ladies on the streets but freaks in the sheets, everyone is a whore now and it’s hard to clean that image up after it happens.
In college I became the comics page editor for the Tower Times, a rag tag band of motley crew rebels who above all else fought for the right to legalize pot and explained the dynamic details of rap lyrics to the white masses. The paper had its ups and downs and while I can say I had my moments, as time went on it only continued to go down. Not only was my comic strip turning into that part of the paper you ignored or glanced over so was my career as a college student. I couldn’t afford classes, I couldn’t afford comics, I could barely afford rent. Welcome to life, it’s not a superhero comic, there aren’t any spandex clad women coming to bail you out, your friends don’t have your back, your arch nemesis is yourself, and there is no such thing as superpowers, you are as useless as the next guy.
I once thought of comics as the mythology of our times. The new religion that would help young men become adults showing them a path to greatness. Like anything else in life, it has been hijacked and turned into something perverted, something I don’t recognize anymore. I have heard of some people trying to keep it on that path but when the market is overwhelmed with shit who wants to shift through it in search of those few diamonds not knowing if they are in there?
In my basement I still have my collection. The one box of TMNT comics, the mirage series not that Archie crap. Batman fills most of the shelves alongside Daredevil and the Punisher. I don’t know if my daughter will be interested in them one day or not and I will likely never read them again. I guess it’s the memories that are important. Riding my bike to the comic shop and filling my backpack with reading material for that week. I will never forget cruising down Bronson Boulevard and seeing a man hanging out of a car window with his arm stretched back. In a split-second water exploded everywhere, something hit me in the chest and I struggled not to lose control of my bike. My shirt and pants were soaked. By the time I looked back the car was gone. I was the victim of a drive by water ballooning. The things we go through for comics. If there is one thing that the average comic book reader should take away from those stories it’s sacrifice. We all gave up something. In the end we have to decide if it was worth it. Eventually most of us gave up comics in order to have something better and those poor bastards who don’t I feel sorry for them. The point wasn’t to stick with it but to transform you into the man you would become. The average comic reader is Peter Pan without a Wendy to aid him into adulthood. Go with Wendy my friend, become a man and see the real world for what it is.

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