By Gene Hendricks
When I was a kid, there were several things I looked forward to about visiting my grandparents’ house, beyond seeing Nana and Pop. The first was that I got away with more. My grandparents were VERY indulgent of my sister and I, and we got away with a lot, which frustrated my father to no end. The second was being able to have our own little play area, which was the finished basement, complete with Nickelodeon on the TV and a fridge full of YooHoo. But it’s the third item that I want to talk about, and that is my comic book.
Yes, that’s right, singular.
The first comic book I remember is Incredible Hulk #267, cover date January 1982. I might have had comic before this, but they were most likely Donald Duck comics, or some such, and as much of interest to my younger sister as to me. This one, though, was all mine. It was kept in a dresser drawer in the room we stayed in while visiting, along with some other toys and reading materials. I have no idea where it came from, but I think that my grandfather bought it knowing that I was a fan of the TV Show. He definitely knew that I was a fan, not because he saw me watching it, but because I always asked him to play David Banner with me. Since he had green eyes, I would pretend he was changing into the Hulk (which was my role) when he made them really wide.
Every time he did it, I could hear that chord of music from the show.
The interesting thing about this comic was that I was in kindergarten when it came out and I managed to read it 3 different ways over the years that it was there.
At first I liked the pictures. I’m pretty sure I knew some of the words, but I was more into the pictures. The fact that the art in this was by Sal Buscema probably had something to do with that. In fact, I think that it was seeing this type of art very early lead me to appreciate those comic artists that draw figures more grounded in reality.
Looking back on it I realize that I’m one of those people that isn’t a fan of art that doesn’t look like something, or that I can’t connect to some kind of reality. Picasso doesn’t do it for me, for example. But with Buscema’s art you could see the reality there. Yeah, the Hulk was huge, but he was in proportion. Betty Ross and Rick Jones looked like real people, completely in scale and wearing non-skin-tight clothing. Buscema, Byrne, Garcia-Lopez, Jurgens, Perez, Ordway, these are all comic artists that make the superhero world they are working on look like it could actually exist.
Then I started reading the dialog balloons. For some reason I thought that the yellow narration boxes weren’t part of the story (I was a weird kid, OK?). I was able to get the story well enough through these and, since I didn’t know what I was missing, I didn’t feel like I needed more. It probably also had to do with my still learning how to read and being able to tell my parents that I had read the entire comic on my own. In any case, I’m pretty sure that phase didn’t last too long.
Finally, I eventually managed to read the whole thing -- all text included, but by this time the comic was getting kind of beat up. I do remember that I was able to bring it home at some point, but that was after I had started getting other comics, mostly Spider-Man, but also more Hulks and other titles as well.
I should point out that I do not have this issue any more.
After all the years in that drawer, and the fact that I have read it I don’t know how many times, it bit the dust sometime in the '90s. Being a snotty teenager at the time, I just tossed it in the trash, not realizing the sentimental value it would hold for me in the future. But such is life.
Part of that is probably because my grandfather was much closer, geographically, to us at the time. After my grandmother died, he moved in with us for a time, and then bought a house in our town. He’d come to our house for dinner every night and we’d spend weekends during the summer at his house, since it was on the water. I didn’t ever think that I would need a busted up old comic to remind of him, since I couldn’t conceive of a time when he wouldn’t be around.
I never really thought about it but I think my grandfather was the one responsible for getting me into comics. Not just for buying me this issue, but because he would tend to get me a comic when he would go to the newsstand/convenience store, even when I got into high school. I don’t think he “got it," but he knew that it made me happy -- so he would get me what he thought I liked. He would even get me the same issue multiple times, simply because he didn’t pay attention to what he’d already bought me. I was grateful for each one, never letting him know if I already had it. I didn’t think about it too much at the time, but I really appreciate it now, especially when I see what my dad is willing to do to make my daughter happy, even when I know he doesn’t really want to.
You can always read more Gene Hendricks' work at his blog www.thehammerstrikes.com