Buying Comics with Grandma

By Max Delgado

My favorite multi-issue storyline is rather puny: a two-issue Venom run that spanned Amazing Spider-Man #346-347, where Eddie Brock knocks the crap out of Spider-Man and then drags his unconscious body to a desert island.  They brawl.  And Spider-Man eventually beats Venom not with might, but brains -- tricking his foe into thinking that he’s died in a gas mine explosion.  I bought these two issues at a Foodtown supermarket off the main artery of Central Avenue in West Toledo when I was in the 8th grade.

I love them because they were hard to come by.  And because I loved the art.

During the spring of my 8th grade year finding crack was easier than finding comic books.  This is only half-exaggeration.  Earlier that year the parking lot of my school had became an impromptu dumping ground for tiny yellowed crack vials and finding them during recess was a hell of a lot easier than getting to a comic shop.  The Drake boys and I were smart enough not to touch the vials with our hands, but dumb enough to kick them back and forth along the pavement, and listen to their hollow skitter before stomping them with our sneakers.  Whoever could produce the finest dust with just one blow was the winner of our game.  This was the very early 90’s and the city of Toledo was too busy responding to the crack epidemic to worry about fat kids and their comic books.

As a city we had a few comic shops, but each was a stand-alone establishment, plugged in a strip mall that never seemed accessible.  There was JC’s Comic Shop, but it felt light years away -- you literally had to pass corn fields to get there.  Monarch Cards and Comics was a little closer, but not much, and it would be another year before I figured out the bus lines.  In Dayton, where my father lived, they sold comics at the mall and he would leave me and my sister at a B. Dalton for up to an hour while he went exploring at the golf shop.  I wanted Toledo to be like that, but it wasn’t.

To be fair, I should share this: Batman comics were easy to get.  My parents had allowed me one subscription and I spent my capital on the Dark Knight.  Issues would be delivered to my grandmother’s house monthly, in plain brown wrapping, like porn. I would devour the uninterrupted storylines, and loved the feeling of a run; I wanted more of that.

On occasion my mother would drive me to a shop and wait patiently in the car while I browsed.  She did this about once a semester and only when the little things lined up: my sister had to be at a friend’s house, the groceries all bought, my homework done, and the roads dry.  She’d park.  I’d strip off my seat belt and run inside, wanting for that wash of colors and that smell of dust; wanting for the comic shop to be my personal clubhouse and knowing that it could and would be for a few brief spastic moments.  And it was.  But knowing that my mother was sitting out there, sighing behind the steering wheel always killed it for me.  She only had about fifteen-minutes in her.  My father, when he took me, had even less.

Sometimes I lost track of time and my mother would come looking for me.  She’d wander up and down the rows, squinting at the posters: Punisher emptying his magazine; Psylocke pushing out her ass; The Joker licking razor blades.  Catching a glimpse of her across the shop my balls would suck into my body.  She’d have the look of a pilot wondering when to hit the eject button.  I’d quickly grab her by the arm and lead her out, to save us both.

I had to hunt for comics elsewhere.  And alone.  So I spent most of puberty walking through West Toledo, looking for a comic-rack.

Even at fourteen, I could tell you this:  Farmer Jack’s Supermarket didn’t have shit.  Sometimes I’d find a movie monster fanzine there, but never comics.  Less than a mile from our apartment was Thackeray's, a bookstore located at The Westgate Village Shopping Center, but comics were below them and it would be another a few months before I discovered graphic novels.  The Rite-Aid near my apartment was worst of all: they only had Archies.  Yes, there was a 7-11 that I could walk to, but it took an hour just to get there.  During the summer, when I watched my sister, I would sometimes death-march her down Monroe Street, promising a Slurpee if we arrived, but we’d get there stringy-haired and red-faced, and the store was so central that the comics got picked-over quickly.

To this day I thank Jesus for Foodtown.

Foodtown wasn’t a weekly destination for us, but my grandmother went nearly every weekend after church and sometimes we’d tag-along and do our shopping, too.  If our behavior was good, my grandmother promised us a small treat -- something under a dollar.  The periodicals sections was nestled to the far left of the store and had everything I needed: that wash of colors, the smell of dust.  The comic rack was old-school -- a metal turnstile you had navigate carefully or risk cracking the spine of whatever book you wanted.  This was where I bought my first Groo, my first Spider-Mans; where I discovered team books; I got a taste for X-Men, Alpha Flight and the Avengers.  It was the start of everything.

But we didn’t go every week.

In this sense, the Venom run represents a little victory for me.  It meant I’d made it twice, consecutively.  And the art was fabulous.  Erik Larsen’s style was both controlled and loose -- lines would flow, but then quickly pivot; his pen extended everything just a touch -- a technique that made him the perfect artist to tackle Spider-Man.

Five years in, and I didn’t have a longbox yet.  I had a small room and a floor covered in cardboard boxes -- each box stuffed with comics.  The box next to my bed was reserved for whatever I was reading right now.  And for a while at least, this run was right on top.