My addiction to comics can be traced back to one specific comic book, I know this because it is always in my mind. Often not consciously thought about but it is there. The comic book in question is issue 27 of Saga of the Swamp Thing written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Steven Bissette and John Totleben. The story was called By Demons Driven.
As for these shrieking statues, I’ll not weep,
They’ll perish as they lived: dazed, witless sheep
In slaughterhouses far beyond their ken.
I shed no tear for those that die unshriven,
For they are men. Just men. And what are men
But chariots of wrath, by demons driven!
– Etrigan the Demon
Monsters, demons, possession, alcohol abuse, and pure, visceral storytelling… I still have the comic somewhere in a box at my parent’s house in Cape Town. I read somewhere that Moore wrote The demon Etrigan’s speech in iambic pentameter (who says thet comics can’t teach you anything?).
Growing up in Cape Town in the ‘80’s it was not an easy time to be a comics fan (comics were hard to find), after a particularly bad series of tests and exams my parents banned comics (well they tried to) I rescued the remains of comics from a box in the front of the house, the inner section of a batman 80 page special from the 1960’s I think, with a story about a Mexican batman and a villain with a parrot I can still remember the Batman deducing that the Mexican Batman was in league with the bad guy by seeing parrot claw marks on his colleague’s shoulder, there were also some Archie comics, Richie Rich a Spiderman mixed in with sundry other titles.
I hunted down comics where I could but they were few and far between in those days and it would be a few years before professional comic shops opened.
The first was Reader’s Den in Cape Town and later came Outer Limits which became my regular haunt when I was studying at the Cape Technikon. I collected the entirety of Preacher by Garth Ennis from Outer Limits but I am getting a bit ahead of myself.
Whilst in High School (and after my parents had forgotten about the comics ban) I was introduced to the Batman, and soon I was collecting Batman, Detective comics and Shadow of the Bat and Jim Balent’s Catwoman – only the early storylines as I did like a good story and an improbably voluptuous Selina Kyle could only keep my attention for so long. I collected Batman from the mid 400’s to the early 500’s. In between Batman and studying for tests and exams I discovered a corner store in Kalk bay where I lived that had a revolving rack stuffed with back issues of Justice League International (the storyline before it split into Justice League America and Justice League Europe) a FUNNY, dysfunctional super-hero story starring Batman, the Martian Manhunter Guy Gardner Green Lantern, Mister Miracle, Big Barda and others – just what I needed to take my mind off ever looming exams!
I was saved from superhero comics by 2000AD and discovered a number of writers that I still follow – Garth Ennis, Alan Moore again (it was the complete DR & Quinch trade paperback), Pat Mills and others. Then there was Hellblazer, Sandman – the creation of the Vertigo line in 1993 kept me reading comics, I still have the first issue of The Extremist and some of the Hellblazer comics (Hellblazer predated Vertigo) I have some loose copies of The Family Man and Fear Machine storylines. Along the way I flirted with Spawn by Todd McFarlane – I had number from 1 to the 60’s (I sold those to part finance my ‘plane ticket to the UK)
I spent many Friday afternoons at Outer Limits when it was still on the Cape Town foreshore (after I had finished at Tech.) I was introduced to Sirius Entertainment – they published Chi-Chian by Voltaire as well as his Oh My Goth series and the Dawn comics by Joseph Michael Linsner. The one true comics love of my early to mid-20’s was Preacher by Garth Ennis, I followed Garth from Hellblazer and regretted not an instant! One man’s search for god who has abandoned his creation, followed by Tulip – his ex girlfriend (now a hitwoman) and Cassidy an Irish vampire – it was spot on for my tastes at that time and even today I still love it! Whenever I go back to South Africa (usually once a year or so) I did out my Preacher box and reread the series – usually in the evening when everyone has gone to bed and my nephew Scott is not there as he loves comics but at 12 is too young for many of my comics.
I was also a fan of Bitterkomix – a South African publication mainly by Joe Dog and Conrad Botes two Afrikaner art students who were creating comics that were scandalising Stellenbosch University and Afrikaner culture (this was in the dying days of the National party led government prior to free and fair elections in South Africa.
Nowadays as a respectable librarian earning a (fairly) decent salary with access ot the internet I have been collecting comics that I had only heard about when growing up and also trade paperbacks of comics I read. I have just finished rereading Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis – political futurist sci-fi with a distinct humanist bent bloody funny and sharp as a razor. I have an original B&W trade paperback of Rick Veitch’s Brat Pack, most of Alan Moore’s back catalogue and his ABC stuff.
I do most of my shopping at Gosh Comics which is, to my mind one of London’s best book shops. I have also started collecting individual comics again – only two series Saga by Brian K. Vaughn & Fiona Staples and The Massive by Brian Wood.
I collected The DFC for the entirety of its (too short) run and am debating with myself about subscribing to the Phoenix – I flip through it every now & then at Gosh but am afraid of committing in case I am hurt again.
I also read manga – but fairly infrequently these days (my time as the manga librarian is coming to an end) I still enjoy anime – particularly the movies released by Studio Ghibli, Madhouse and Gonzo.
It is so easy to get hooked on reading comics these days. Most public libraries stock graphic novels, if you are in a university or college take a look under 741.5 in the Dewey sequence. that is how I discovered Watchmen, Maus and Dark Knight returns when I was studying.
Or if you have money to spare check out your local comic shop!