I came across the website Comichron some time ago, and it makes for fascinating reading for someone who loves comics as I have.
Take this entry, for instance, detailing the top-selling US comics of 1969, when I was seven years old. This was the age of my earliest memory of comics, with my brother (12 at the time) and sister (14 at the time) both being readers; my brother of titles like Adventure Comics (#10 on the list) and my sister being a reader of Archie (which was #1 on the list that year).
If you look at the list, it is surprising how many titles are not superhero titles. Nine of the top twenty titles were non-superhero: with an astonishing 7 of those being Archie titles, along with two others (Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories, and the Flinstones).
If you read down to the bottom of the page, you see the real number 1, with more than three times as many sales per issue as Archie was Mad Magazine, but they considered that to be sui generis — and they are no doubt right.
One of the things that surprises me is that while their were horror, mystery, and combat titles among the most-read comics, there are no romance titles. I remember those things being everywhere five or six years later when I was old enough to start buying my own comics, although a little research tells me that 1975 was the final year for the genre, more-or-less. Below is a cover I actually remember seeing.
By the age of 12 (1974) I was fascinated by girls, as I was fascinated by all things completely unknown to me. No girls I knew in real life, however, in any way returned the favor. I consoled myself, as many do at that age, by retreating: in my case, into comic books. I thought maybe romance comics would explain to me the inner workings of girls’ hearts in some way, and enable me to cross the seemingly uncrossable divide between them and me.
So, surreptitiously, I would, while shopping for respectable Superman and Justice League titles, browse articles in True Love or True Romance comics. I wouldn’t have been any more covert if I had been attempting to look at porn, I think.
So what did I learn?
As I recall, I learned that I had no chance, whatsoever. I was a “Poindexter”, an skinny, unstylish nerd, and the girls in comics didn’t fall for those guys. They seemed to behave like my female classmates, preferring guys who played sports or who wore the newest clothes. It was kind of like the old game “Mystery Date” where the ultimate loser date (the “dud” I believe he was called) looked a lot like me.
By that age, I was trying as hard as I knew how to be appealing to girls, but nothing was really working. So, I consoled myself by imagining what it would be like to be Green Arrow or Green Lantern, learning to play classical music on the piano, and playing basketball with my buddies for hours every night. Self-consolation is quite possibly the most useful skill we learn in adolescence: it turns out, life presents us with an almost endless series of reasons to need that particular skill.
Having seen my own kids go through adolescence, I know now how hard it is, even when we are very close to our children, to really understand how they feel. We think because we “hurt for them” that we have in some way alleviated their pain, when in fact, we may unconsciously be minimizing it. I realized, being a part of raising three teen daughters, how little I really understood about how they were feeling until years later — and I’m on guard these days as to just how much less I probably understand now that they are grown and I don’t see them daily as I did when we lived under one roof.
I love comics as much now as I did when I was twelve or thirteen, because I love (almost) everything that brings human beings consolation. We often are complete mysteries to each other, but I know of only one path that can bridge such gaps.