Sunday, January 20, 2013

The “Gem” Of Young Jon’s Comic Book Collection

As there haven’t been any new Showcase Presents volumes that I’m interested in, or any other collected volumes that I want, and because money wasn’t exactly flowing like water, the last few weeks at the comic shop have been pretty light, so I’ve found myself going back and reading some of my old comics.
It occurred to me that, if I weren’t lazy, I should actually write up some nostalgic reviews of them.  I may do so yet – particularly of the last issues of Action Comics and Superman before the 1986 John Byrne reboot (and also of The Man of Steel, the mini-series that served to kick off the reboot) – but we’ll just have to wait and see if that happens.
In any case, I most recently finished re-reading Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld, which is a comic that holds a lot of sentimental value for me.
Beyond simply having enjoyed it back when I originally read it, Amethyst is an important comic to me because of what it represented.
Growing up as I did in a place where comic shops were essentially myths, mysterious places that were about as easy for me to get to as Avalon or Hy-Brasil, it was difficult to pick up an issue of any given comic on an actual monthly basis.
Lacking a comic shop, I had to rely on grocery stores and gas stations for my comic book fix.  Some stores were better than others in terms of volume and selection.  Jim’s Food Mart, for example, had a pretty extensive selection of comics, many of which I couldn’t find anywhere else.  Sadly, we didn’t do much shopping there, so I had to rely on places that were more limited.
(The best places, which I got to go to even more rarely than Jim’s, were Payn’s News, which had SO many comics, and Central Books.  Both places are long gone.)
Holiday gas stations were often good for finding copies of books that had long-since left the shelves at other places, but, again, I didn’t get to go there as often as I might have liked.
The other limitation on my comic-buying, of course, was money.  I had none of my own, so I had to depend on the indulgence of my parents – or rather, the indulgence of my mom and the blind eye of my dad, who didn’t pay much attention to how many comics my mom let me get – and that often meant having to make some hard choices as to which comics I was going to get.
And finally, a lot of times I didn’t even get to pick; my mom would just grab some comics for me if she went shopping without me.  She did a fine job, for the most part (she really only went astray in the form of buying me things I already had), but if she grabbed something I really, really wanted it was usually just blind luck.
So.  Amethyst.
Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld was what was known as a “maxi-series.”  That is, it wasn’t intended to be a continuing series, but it would have more issues than a standard mini-series, which typically only had a run of 3-4 issues.  (Back then, anyway.  These days they tend to be a minimum of 6 issues, thanks to the whole “decompression” approach.  Also known as “pacing for trades.”  But I digress.)
Specifically, it was going to consist of 12 monthly issues.
Managing to get 12 issues in a row seemed like a near-impossibility in those days.  12 comics!  In a row!  Impossible!
But I enjoyed the first issue enough that I was determined that I wasn’t going to miss an issue, and I managed, somehow, to acquire all 12.
This was a big deal for me.
Eventually I would manage to do it again, with Marvel’s Secret Wars, DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths, and, even more impressively, given that there were even more issues, the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe (Affectionately known as OHOTMU), which ran for 20 issues.
I did okay with DC’s version of OHOTMU – Who’s Who in the DC Universe – missing only one issue out of 26.  (Eventually I picked up the missing issue in the bargain bin at a comic shop.)
But Amethyst was the first, and that’s why it holds so much significance for me.
Sadly, the care and maintenance of my comics – even the ones I really cared about, like Amethyst – was also an issue, and over the years the wear-and-tear of being stored inadequately took its toll on Amethyst, which is why, some years back, I went online and ordered a complete set of replacements.
So even though my originals are long gone, that sentimental attachment still remains.
In my next post, I’ll actually write about the comic itself, and my experience in re-reading it after all these years.  The short version is that, while some of the weaknesses of early 80s’ comic book storytelling were often painfully apparent to my older, more cynical eyes, the story still holds up and I enjoyed it.
Also, for a Code-approved comic from the 80s, the story is messed up.  Yeesh.

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