Old Memories “Spawning” New Ones

A garage discovery of my old comic books has “Spawned” renewed joy as I watch my son and daughter develop a love for the art-filled stories I enjoyed in my youth.

Some of my comics.

Early this week, I discovered an old box of some of the belongings that made it through the many moves of my youth. This one was filled with old artwork of mine, some collectible cars that were my grandfather’s, and lots of comic books.

A little more than a year ago, I found many of my old baseball cards I had a kid, so when I saw these comics, I immediately pulled them out and began going through a litany of super hero tales from years past. There was the usual characters…Batman, Superman, Spider-man, as well as lots of first issues of books and characters I have no memory of, making a perfect comic book time capsule of the era in which they were purchased.

Then, I found plenty of my favorite super hero, Spawn. As the kids say, it brought back all the feels.

The 1990’s were a crazy time when it came to collectibles, namely sports cards and comic books.

Sometime in the 1980’s, people discovered that the things they had collected as children in earlier decades had become valuable. This led to a speculative boom of things like rookie cards, and, in comics, first appearances.

Much like sports cards, comic books became all the rage during this time period. Card shops and comic book stores pooped up everywhere, new titles and characters were being created at a feverish pace to drive sales. Comic companies tried gimmick after gimmick after gimmick, and collectors ate it up at record numbers.

Then, suddenly, it seemed to all crash. Like with sports cards, a flooded market meant that many of these books that collectors flocked too, even if they were a coveted first issue, were so mass-produced, that they were barely worth the chromium-covered-cardboard stock their covers were printed on.

I’m 42 years-old, so my prime card and comic collecting years coincided with this bubble that would eventually burst. Hardly anything that I collected back in the day is worth anything, but it hold such sentimental value to me, I feel like it’s priceless.

I was a kid. I never collected baseball cards because I thought they would be worth money someday. If they gained value eventually, great, but I collected because I wanted stat-filled action shots of my sports heroes. I collected because I loved the sport and the players, and baseball cards were simply an extension of that love.

I held the same approach when it came to comic books. Every kid loves super hero, but eventually, you grew out of that. The 1989 Batman film showed that you didn’t have to grow out of that if you didn’t want to, and that many of these super hero stories were stories that were written every bit as well as, say, a Stephen King novel.

As an 11 year-old in 1989, Tim Burton’s take on the caped crusader definitely renewed my interest in the super hero realm. While that film may have opened the door, looking back, as a kid who loved to draw and write, collecting comic books just felt natural.

I started to collect Batman comics, and then moved to other super heroes. I read the stories, but maybe more-so than any kid my age at the time, I read the credits. I knew the artists and writers, and when they changed books, or made a guest appearance on some other title, I tried to follow.

Spiderman #1 by Todd McFarlane…and a few of it’s multiple cover variations.

Then, a new comic book of an old super hero was released. It was Spider-Man #1, and it became the highest selling comic book of all time.

This comic changed everything for me. Sure, the new “adjective-free” title (there was no Amazin’, Spectacular, or Web of), has since been revealed as part gimmick to increase sales, and part attempt to give Todd McFarlane full creative control in order to keep him from jumping ship, but none of that mattered to me.

To me, it was great to get a first issue of one of the greatest super hero of all time, but it also introduced me to my favorite comic book artist ever, and someone I tried to pattern my style after, Todd McFarlane.

There were others after that, as I would also start collecting X-Force, when that first issue dropped a year later. I followed suit with the new X-Men title Marvel gave to Jim Lee, and those three men ruled the next few years of my life with their art and story telling, even when they eventually left to form Image comics.

McFarlane’s creation at Image, Spawn became my new favorite comic book. He was a new creation, not an old character given a new book or new numbering. He looked badass, and the books was drawn and written by Todd McFarlane. As a kid who liked to write and draw, I found this not only intriguing, but inspiring.

The majority of my collecting, and creating my own comics came after my mom and stepdad moved us to Florida from New Jersey as the calendar turned to 1992. I was away from everything I knew, and in an era that didn’t have internet or a million was to stay connected, I felt alone. The feeling only grew when my mom divorced my stepfather a year later.

The next two-and-a-half years, I completely immersed myself in comic books. I had few friends, I was not allowed to have any extra-curricular activities because my mom needed me home to babysit my brother and sister while she worked. My life became reading, drawing, and writing comicbooks, and Spawn was at the forefront of that.

Spawn became the only book I collected religiously. Money was scarce, so occasionally I could scrounge up the two bucks to buy the newest issue, but that was it. I collected every issue up to issue #25. The comic book still runs, and last year, passed issue #300, making it the longest running creator-owned comic book ever.

Spawn #25, OCT 1994. The last comic I bought in my youth.

Spawn’s 25th issue released in October 1994, two months after I left my mom and siblings in Florida, and moved back to New Jersey to live with my father and stepmother. I was a 16 year-old who had spent the last five years in five different school, and was simply tired of not having a place to call “home”.

That month would have been my second in Dumont High School, the school I would eventually graduate from, and while I can’t remember, I can only guess that as my social life finally increased as I became more familiar with my new environment, I began to let comic books go for good. I don’t think I even noticed as the numerous comic book stores in my area began to disappear one by one, as the speculator boom began to bust.

I never went back to comic books, although through the years I would check in to see what was going on. Lots of new books, deaths, and re-numbering. I also watched many of the artists who created Image comics had since left, taking paydays at DC and Marvel again. Every time I checked back in, however, to my delight, Spawn was still going strong.

As I sat and went through my comic books, all my old feelings returned. This time, I got to share them with my 9 year-old son, and my 16 year-old daughter, who basked in all their glory the same way I had when I was young.

Deadpool co-creator Rob Liefeld retweeting my son’s picture.

Both of them are super creative, and quite the artists in their own right. The comfort and inspiration those comic books brought me as an adolescent, had now brought me joy as a 42-year old father, as I watched my daughter and son begin drawing their own creations (myson’s depiction of what Deadpool would look like as a Cartoon Network cartoon even got love from Deadpool creator Rob Liefeld on Twitter).

Surprisingly, there are a couple of comic book stores in my area, so we all went together. I bought my first issue of Spawn in over a quarter century, when I purchased the McFarlane cover version of issue #300.

Now I just ave 275 issues to fill in.

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