Tuesday, May 12, 2020

It’s a Classic

One day, while I was still in single-digits, somewhere around 6 or 7, I went exploring in my parent’s bedroom closet. This was because I was young, unsupervised, and very bored (there was no Netflix back then; explain it to the youngsters). At any rate, I dug through the shoes and boots, and crawled beyond the bags of cast-off clothes, into the far, darkest reaches, and discovered an old cardboard box filled with what looked like magazines.

Now, in a normal house, this would have been my dad’s porn stash, which would have solved the boredom problem until my mom caught me. Instead, it was a treasure trove of old Classics Illustrated Comics, which held my fascination for many years.

This was one of my favorites!
There were dozens in the box, and from them I gleaned a knowledge of literature I otherwise could never have attained, even if my mom had had the original books.

First of all, I wouldn’t have voluntarily picked up a volume of Great Expectations, other than to use it as a weight for pressing leaves. (Explain it to the youngsters.) Secondly, the vividly colored panels, and the actions and dialog they conveyed, brought the stories to life in a way the stilted prose of the past couldn’t hope to.

What a story! And, even now, I'm not sure
I could conquer the actual book
They were old and dogeared when I found them, and by the time I lost track of them—somewhere in my late teens—the covers were falling off, the pages were cello-taped together and every volume was worn from having been read time and time again. It is because of this serendipitous find that I am able to hold my own in a conversation about Moby Dick or Lorna Doone or King Solomon’s Mines. And even when I am not trying to fool my fellow, ersatz literary snobs (they didn’t read the books either; they just read the Cliff Notes) the knowledge they conveyed remains.

Another favorite!
In addition to classic novels, there were also comics about science and nature. I recall one that purported to show how atomic power was our friend but was, in retrospect, little more than laughably ham-fisted propaganda. Others, however, contained things like dinosaurs and information about space, the universe and everything.

Yes, I even read Gothe (pronounced Go' theee)
They also proved useful as I progressed through school, enabling me to write reports on notable books I hadn’t actually read. (This is not really an impressive feat; who among us hasn’t turned in a book report based solely on the blurb printed on the dust jacket?)

How and when I allowed these comics to slip from my grasp I cannot say, all I can say is I have regretted not keeping them, repairing them, and cherishing them. I supposed it was due to an error in my thinking (which I still suffer from) that everything remains the same. I just thought, if I wanted them again, I could find them somewhere.

Nothing like a bit of Shakespeare when you're eight and a half.
Alas, one cannot. (Unless you are prepared to source expensive collector's items, but that’s another issue.)

Desiring to give my own children a taste of this literary magic, I ordered a full set of Classics Illustrated comics for them, but they were a shadow of their former selves. Gone were the glossy covers and lively interior artwork. The ‘New’ Classics Illustrated were booklets of uninspiring line drawings. My children gave them no more than a passing glance, and I didn’t blame them. In researching this article, I found that you cannot buy them at all anymore, not in any meaningful form. More’s the pity.

This is what they looked like inside.
If I had the chance to turn back time, I would visit my eleven-year-old self and tell him to treat the comics with care. I would urge him to protect them, and to keep them in a more secure container than my dad’s old cardboard box so that, in future years, his own children might benefit, and that he also might retain some cherished memories of his youth.

Scary stuff!
Then I’d tell him to not buy a Betamax. (Explain it to the youngsters.)