The Musk Of Old Newspaper – The Vocation of Old Comics

My spine is a wreck. I am currently living through a haze of muscle relaxers and vicodin. Could I blame bad genetics? Yes. Could I point a finger at mud wrestling party as the beginning of these issues? I could. I have to be honest. It is because of a bunch of old newspaper. I knew I was in trouble when I shifted a long box in the move and felt a twinge in my back. What was inside this longbox? A bunch of water warped 70s DC comic books. I can't really blame the books though. They were just innocent bystanders. They were content with being in some elderly man's basement, forgotten and abandoned. Through some happenstance these books ended up at my old local comic store. It was only a matter of time before they ended up in my hands. It was fate. It is my vocation.

This is not my actual back. My back is a beautiful charcoal drawing.

I am in love with old comic books. I love the way they smell. I love how they sometimes crumble apart when you pick them up. I love how sometimes a kid has written some notes in the margins, or cut out the ads. I can't help but smile when I look at a half completed word jumble in a 100 page edition of SHAZAM!

I don't look for the CGC slabbed stuff. It just feels wrong to someone like me. Comic books are supposed to be read. They are supposed to be jammed in your backpack, or left on the lawn while you sit in the sun. When I go looking for the old stuff, I am looking for those books that are on their last legs. I am the retirement community for crumbling books.

The funny thing is that some of them aren't even that good. Who wants to read an old Metal Men issue where the Metal Men are disguising themselves as humans the whole time? Well…I did. Thanks a lot Mike Sekowsky! In the end, it wasn't a waste of 25 cents. It became a curiosity in my mind. Something to file away for the next time that I am talking about the Metal Men with someone. (That isn't going to be happening anytime soon, but a man can dream.) It goes beyond just collecting the issue, For me, it is about collecting the history. There is a part of me that is afraid that somehow that story will be forgotten. Even though it isn't a great story, it seems sad to me that it could just disappear. 

It is probably the major drive in doing a podcast like Tom vs. The Flash. Most of the Flash issues I talk about are not collected in any trades or archives. The only way to read them is to read the actual old issues. In my own way I am just trying to spread the stories out to everyone. To get them interested in the old stuff. Maybe I can curse some other bastard with lugging around old paper for the rest of their lives. I always cringe when I hear a comic book fan say that they hate old comics. My mind just running through what old stories could change their minds. Digging through the imaginary longboxes in my brain, lab coat on, looking for the perfect prescription. There isn't one.

This would be way cooler if she looked like a robot.In all comic book fans there is some hardwiring. There is something that just trips your trigger. You can try and explain it, but you definitely can't infect someone else with it. Any attempt to do that just leads to a furrowed brow and a frustrated fan. Loving old comics is just like a math equation to me; irrefutable and plain as day. It seems crazy to me that someone could love comics now and not be interested in the building blocks of those comics. Then again, some people would think it is crazy to lug a box of old newspaper halfway across the country. That is the curse of the comic fan. We all have the same disease, but the symptoms can be different. Some of us keep buying a book even though we don't love it anymore. Some of use have to buy everything a certain character appears in.  We all have vocation in the world of comic books.

Perhaps my love for old comics is way more selfish then I am willing to admit. One of my favorite quotes about comics is from Grant Morrison: "I think of the DC Universe as fulfilling many of the requirements of a living thing.  It grows, it changes over time, it reacts to its environment.  In fact, considering that the creations in the DC Universe have outlived many of their creators, you could say that the DC Universe is more alive than we are, something that will continue to exist long after you and I are dead." Maybe I am hoping to hitch myself to something that will live on beyond me. If I can swallow up all that history, maybe I get to be part of it. 

For a brief moment as I was preparing to move, I considered getting rid of some of my old comics. Was I really going to read all these old Brave and The Bold issues? Did I need to keep all these issues of Super-Team Family? Yes! I MUST HAVE THEM. To hell with my back.

So next time you see an unkempt man with an untrimmed beard lugging a longbox into a moving van. Smile, turn away, and hope that he has enough back issues to read when he is laid out on the couch. He didn't intend to end up there, but a job is a job. Someone has to give those things a home. 


Tom Katers is ready to be accused of having a DC bias. He is outside and can't hear you, so save it.


  1. Tom, I had high expectations and you didn’t disappoint! I was particularly fond of this line, "I always cringe when I hear a comic book fan say that they hate old comics. My mind just running through what old stories could change their minds. Digging through the imaginary longboxes in my brain, lab coat on, looking for the perfect prescription. There isn’t one." In all seriousness, I’m bummed about your back. Thought we were going to tear the roof off of C2E2, but instead you’ll be prepping note for Tom vs. Botswana Beast. 😉

  2. Generally speaking, I don’t think most old comics are good as well, but it’s like respecting your elders and listening to old stories, some you have heard many times already and you know with a few more embellishments, it could be really great.  You see some old stereotyping that comes at you like a 2×4 across the head.
    Good luck with your health issue. 
  3. One of the best gifts I’ve ever received is a plastic shopping bag filled with about 50 old water damaged issues of Superboy & The Legion of Superheroes. I’ve read bits and pieces of them almost everyday since I got them. Thanks Tom.

  4. Reading back issues while having lower back issues! I love it and am happy you’re here.

    I’ll admit that I used to think I disliked "old comics", but I came to realize the problem was that I was a Marvel reader growing up and almost all old Marvel comics were done by the same two guys. "Oh! I like old comics; I just have a Stan Lee Threshold."

    I recently started working my way through issues of Rom, and it’s given me a whole new appreciation for both older books and Tom Vs. the Flash. The books are fun and fast-paced and more than a little insane, and as I sit there cackling to myself I keep thinking, "I need to tell people about this somehow! I need to share this!"

  5. There is a certain charm that comes with older comics. They are a window into history. The dialog, the way characters are drawn. The subversive innuendo’s and hidden messages in the characters and situations. And even the old ads. Those are some of the best. As much as I love contemporary stuff, I feel they’ve lost a bit of their soul. (lets just say no to lens flairs, gradients and gaussian blur)

    I’m like you Tom, I love buying messed up copies of old comics. My most prized possession is a bunch of old Wierd War Tales with uncredited Neal Adams art that has been beat to hell and back.It gives me some comfort when I talked to a well known creator about his take on slabbed comics. He hypothesized that they may actually turn them to dust faster instead of protecting them due to acid’s and how paper needs to breathe to be preserved. 

  6. I never thought about that Jimski, I was a Marvel kid growing up and Stan Lee is definitely pretty hard to read for long stretches. 

    I remember sitting in my parents basement reading old water damaged comics, seeing the old ads, smelling that musty formerly wet newsprint smell, it still takes me back to my childhood when I smell that.

    Whenever I hear Tom talk about old books and see "Great Moments in Comic History" stuff that is for old DC it makes me wish my dad had collected more DC so I could have read old Legion and Flash instead of old X-Men which… don’t really hold up well. 

  7. Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Great stuff! Feel better soon, Tom!  

    @jimski – I’ve found the same thing with the old Marvel stuff. I own about a dozen DC Showcases, but the only Marvel Essential I own is Tomb of Dracula. All because of the Stan Lee threshold. 

  8. Great article. I love old stuff. Old comics, old cars, old people, etc. Old comics are just such a blast to read, plus it takes me longer to read those issues, so I get more bang for my buck!

    Great to have you aboard, Mr. Katers. And yes, you’re bias towards DC.

  9. I have a similar feeling with old vinyl LPs, especially when they actually sound better than the CD.

    BTW Tom, I credit you for directing me to many of the comics I’ve read and loved over the last few years (especially DC stuff). Great first column…it’s great to have both you and Chris on here to fill the void that Around Comics used to occupy.

  10. The musty pages of my dad’s stack of Silver Age books and old horror comics from the flea market were what pulled me into comics loving grasp. Before falling head over heels for the 80’s Uncanny X-Men, it was those old, wonderful smelling comics that drew me in. I go through ebbs and flows with my old books and right now I’ve been loving older books and their stories. I hope tat you don’t get rid of those boxes of books, Tom. Just remember to bend at the knees next time you move.

  11. I thought the picture of the spine was a misplaced Interweb ad at first.
  12. Just want to say, the entire paragraph that starts with "In all comic book fans there is some hardwiring" is downright quotable for Truth. Well said.

    I spent a lot of the 90’s scouring quarter bins for entire runs of various 80’s comics. I never really went back further than that, but I like Tom’s case for the "building blocks." There’s something a bit sterile about those black and white Showcase and Essential editions, isn’t there? Yeah, they fit on your shelf. Yeah, they give you the basics of story and arts, but there’s something about a comic as an "object" that does still appeal to me, even though I’m totally ready to buy all my current issues digitally. 

    Last year as SDCC, I picked up a couple of random issues of the old Phantom Stranger series. For no reason. They had Deadman in them. They looked fun. There’s something about the old yellowing newsprint, the ads, the letter columns… it adds together with the actual story and art and really makes it something more. I’ve also done the same with tattered old pulp paperbacks.

    I’ve got too many comics to really deal with, and I look forward to buying monthly comics digitally, but I have to admit, I’ll probably always room to pick up an old comic or two. Thanks for reminding us of that, Tom!

  13. I love this.  I can relate, but I have gotten to the point where I would rather have the digital versions.  I got that DVD of every issue of Amazing Spider-Man which caused me to feel the need to get every OTHER Spider-Man comic digitally.  I now have 20+ gigs of Spider-Man comics and while I wish I could get them legally and pay those responsible, I also feel that it is my responsibility to keep Spidey Super Stories and Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine from being lost to the ages.

  14. Great article, Tom.  It was refreshing to hear someone talking about actual comic books instead of "digital comics" and the iPad.

    I also want to echo what daccampo said about the "hardwired" paragraph.  Great stuff!

  15. Jeff Reid (@JeffRReid) says:

    Great column, Tom. Glad to be reading your thoughts in an open and free-wheeling environment.

    And now you’ve got me wanting to read SUPER-TEAM FAMILY.

  16. I love old comics. I recently found a junk store in Brooklyn that has thousands and thousands of old comics thrown in boxes in the corner. I would go through them and there was a lot of Junk but also some fun stuff too. I found a bunch of the Marvel Godzilla comics which have been a blast to read, also some old war comics stuff from DC.

    Again the ads add a lot to some of those comics.  I especially love the ones for the saturday morning cartoons. I am thinking to myself "Man back in the day kids were lucky enough to have a Mr. T CARTOON! I would have loved that."

    Back issues are a blast. I might have to check out some of those Metal Men Human issues you are talking about just out of curiousity sake. 

  17. You had me at "muscle relaxers and vicodin"!

  18. Great piece. Nice to have you here.

    I’ve got a feeling things are only going to get worse in about 20 years. Sure, those old newsprint comics are heavy as hell, but look at the paper comics are being printed on today. Magazine stock, for the most part. A long box of LOSH and Weird War Tales may be heavy, but try lugging around a long box of Time and Entertainment Weeklies. Gonna be murder.

    Hope the back get better soon. Having had the exact same thing, it sucks donkey nuts.

  19. Great first article Tom.  Welcome to the site.  I hope your search for new employment is long and fruitless so that you can continue to concentrate on what’s important! 

  20. Anyone who can’t enjoy a silver age issue of Lois Lane or Jimmy Olsen has no soul.

  21. Sure, old comics won’t fascinate you with stories and artwork. It’s the thought of having something that is older than me.

  22. Great read. I recently stated doing the back issue dive. I’d buy trades of old stories and read those (mostly "Essentials") but in the last year I’ve actually gone hunting for old issues from ebay or the comic shop, or even the salvation Army (I found all of John Bryne’s "She Hulk" in a box at the SA, got them all for five bucks, they look and smell…amazing.) But back issues (like anything else in comics) can run you a pretty penny. So I have to usually put a cap on how much I’m willing to spend each week. Comes out to about 50 bucks, which depending on the seller/series can get you a lot or just a few. But I’m started to build quite the collection (And running out of room!)

  23. Thanks for the kind words everyone…my back is geting better…but those books are still heavy.

  24. As you said Tom, you have a DC bias, and your karmic reward was an injured back. Coincidence? Perhaps. But that’s a risk I’m frankly not willing to take. I’ll leave the rest of you to draw your own conclusions. Or contusions, as the case may be.

    Oh, and thanks for the vast hours of “Tom vs.” entertainment that you’ve delivered over the years. That stuff hammers my funny bone harder than a full long box! I hope you make a full recovery soon!

  25. You have back issues because of back issues lol. This was a great read. I love old comics too, i just love anything old, people, clothes, books, furniture etc. There is a story hiding in something old. I have an old Spider-man comic with a fatter King Pin wannabe from Miami, I am from Miami and i found it at goodwill somethings are just magic. I mean how many times has Spiderman gone to Miami?

  26. Love the article… this is an attitude I’d like to see more of here at IFanboy.  I do have to chuckle after reading this article and then going to the ccomments there are still some people who feel the need to come on and essentially say "I don’t like old comics"… *Sigh*.

     Old comics are no worse then new comics they are just different.   It’s the same as people in the Video Store (Do they still have Video Stores? See I’m dating myself here too) who say …

    "I don’t want to watch that!!!  It’s Black and White!"  Your Loss…..

  27. The economy of story telling through the bronze age of comics was remarkable in comparison to modern age works that avoid tight exposition. The writers and artists today invest much more space in establishing tone and mood, and showing the small moments in detail. Older comics were less cinematic that way and more like comic strips in their narrative approach. All modern creators would profit from reading older stories and considering the best balance of narrative styles to serve their audience and their story to deliver satisfying monthly installments while building a cohesive trade paperback.

  28. Right on! I’m looking forward to more of these musings.

  29. Lovely read, Tom. Good luck with the back.

    I love old comics too, I started out reading early Sixties DCs in the early Seventies – I’d babysit for Lynette in the back street and get 50p, loads of sweets and about 100 of her brother’s unwanted old comics. Magic! 

    I’ve still not read any of the ‘Hunted’ Metal Men comics, sadly. But I do love NOT YOU!? covers. 


    @Jimski Rom’s an old comic? How dare you! 

  30. Thank you for the great article, Tom. I know what you mean. I’m thrilled by the old books as well.

    Every decade of comic book history has its great artists and storytellers (along with its lesser talents). Even the Golden, Silver, and Bronze Ages had their respective giants. Sure, I love the art of Jo Chen and Adi Granov, but Creig Flessel’s best covers for DC blow me away, particularly the cover of Detective Comics #13 (March 1938). His use of light and shadow and the dramatic intensity he created are astonishing to me. One of the purest pleasures that I have had was in reading the humorous, opening story in Lady Luck #86 (Dec. 1949), written and illustrated by the talented Klaus Nordling. Who stripped away the camp and made Batman the terrifying creature of the night he had been in the beginning? The amazing artist Neal Adams returned the Dark Knight to his roots, beginning in the late sixties and into the seventies, with a little help from writers like Denny O’Neil. One of the best X-Men stories I’ve ever read can be found in the pages of Uncanny X-Men 141-142 (1980). John Byrne illustrated it with Terry Austin and co-plotted it with writer Chris Claremont. The fact that a Dr. Who episode inspired it makes it that much sweeter.

    I love something from every period, but I must confess that most of my favorite comic books were published before 1990.

    I’m sorry to hear of your back troubles. I hope that you recover soon.

  31. Great read…Really really appreciate showing some love on the site for the older comics…MORE!!

  32. Hey Tom, just for the heck of it, do you  have any high valued comics? Curious.

  33. @JumpingJupiter Not really. I might have some old Flash issues that might be around $10, but most are terribly breaten up. 

  34. After re-reading the comics I bought and loved in the 90’s (examples being WildC.A.T.s volume 1, Batman: Knightfall, Death of Superman), I found that they weren’t as good as I always beleived them to be. Some of them still hold up, some of them don’t. Does that mean that they were bad stories? No.  I have learned to shift my expectations a little whenever I pick up something to read that’s from the old days like the Showcases and Essentials. That way, I enjoy it for what it is, without having to compare it to the standards of the books I read today.

     Great article Tom. Well done.

  35. Good job tom. A rallying call for collectors. Not keeping them out of avarice or compulsion or investment, but out of love. I am sharing my old issues with my kids. We read them on the lawn, we don’t need any electricity or recharges or power cables. When I heard one of your colleagues binning old issues I nearly cried- they are for sharing! take em to a kids hospital and see them loved to death ! Old comics are the gift that keep on giving, and I plan to spend my retirement re-Reading them for years.