On a recent episode of his podcast WTF, Marc Maron spoke with author Steve Almond about the power of music to function as something of a time travel device. “There’s a time travel element to music and how it captures emotions,” they note, “and how it frames a moment in your life and holds it in your memory.” It got me thinking about how comics do the same thing.
For me, it’s a comfort to open a comic and be instantly transported back in time. I’m a nostalgic guy by nature, and it doesn’t hurt that my comics are almost always tied to happy memories. Simpsons Comics takes me back to the carefree days of grade school, and World War Hulk #1 (while not the best book in the world), puts me in the breakroom, reading at my first job in the city I now call home. Even comics that I read during junior high and high school, not exactly high-water years for me, are time capsules from happy moments of respite.
It’s not something that every book does for me. In the years since I’ve gotten into comics as a serious weekly fan, I’ve bought dozens and dozens of books. Filled with stories good and bad, at the end of the day most of these are just staple-bound glossy pages. They’re good, they’re beautiful, but they’re like all the noise of random pop songs on the radio. I enjoyed them, but I didn’t internalize them.
Comics that I read at momentous occasions in my life, or that were reading milestones, are little paper Deloreans.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Adventures #35 was the first comic I ever owned. [Note: Yes, I started the book mid-arc and survived. It can be done.] Re-reading it this week, it flooded me with memories of that summer between first and second grade. It took me back to reading it again and again and again, acquainting myself with a story unlike anything I’d seen on the TMNT cartoon. I was instantly in Mr. Paperback once more, asking if the next book had arrived. Despite the fact I was sitting in my apartment drinking a beer, I was once again 8 years old.
A more recent example – and one that ties into iFanboy – is Captain America #25. I’d be lying if I said I actually remember reading the book, because I don’t. Picking up my old issue instead reminds me of a brutal drive through a snowstorm the Monday after the book came out. I knew I’d be creeping along, and wanted some audio to focus on rather than the swirling white death outside. I settled on episode 71 of a podcast called the “iFanboy.com Pick of the Week”, and Ron, Josh, Conor and Daryl steered me through the storm. So, while reading Captain America #25 doesn’t bring back memories of reading the book, it takes me back to a very specific moment in time.
I’m in my local public library, jobless, when I read Invincible, and I’m on the bus back from my first con reading Marvel Divas #3.
These mental time capsules, spaced over decades, also highlight how the way we read comics has changed, and how the industry has changed. If I look at the embossed cover of Web of Spider-Man #100, I remember picking the book out in the comic shop just because it was so shiny. When I flip through my trades of the start of Ultimate Spider-Man, I remember how I first read the pages – on a computer monitor, through Marvel’s prototypic (and free) panel-by-panel digital reader. Increasingly, memories of comics are tied to discussion I had about them at release with friends on message boards, Twitter and Facebook. Like the iFanboy example, some books are tied to hearing the author talk about them with John Siuntres.
More often than not, these memories are just flashes. It’s a drugstore comic rack here, a friend’s living room floor there. That doesn’t mean they’re any less effective, or affecting. It’s a feeling I get from music, too – a verse of a song can get me in the same way as a page in Mutanimals. For some reason, I don’t get the same effect from movies, or TV, or novels. But a comic? It’s a perfect snapshot, a perfect relic of it’s time. The era-specific ads don’t hurt in taking me back, I’m sure.
* If you’re looking for a piece about time travel IN comics, meet Josh Christie at the iFanboy brownstone last Wednesday.