Time Travel via Comic Books*

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.

As a reader whose only comics in a half-dozen years had been Civil War and Captain America, it’s kind of cool to have instant recall of the moment I turned back into a serious comics fan.

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.


  1. Welcome to the site, Josh. Great first article. I look forward to reading more of your stuff.

  2. I hear you, Josh. I can’t look at Superman #19 or Adventures of Superman #442 without thinking about how these comics blew my little mind. Also, my older brother recorded himself reading them while giving each character different voices, which was a great way to help me learn how to read. Man, I wish I still had those audio tapes.

  3. When i was really young and first starting with comics i’d get a lot of “Grab Bags”…y’know like $2 for 10 random comics. Sometimes they were pretty ok, but usually had random stuff on the insides. I’ll see some of those random series from the 70s and 80s whenever i’m looking at stuff in a shop and just get instant warm and fuzzies because they just remind me of being a kid. Another big one for me was a Marvel Series called “Semper Fi” from the 80s. The story of one family in the Marine Corps in every major conflict from the revolution through Vietnam. My dad is a huge military history guy and he would pick them up for me, and even read them himself. I doubt you could even find a back issue now, but every time i see them its good memories.

    Also, looking at old ads, really opens this amazing window into pop culture for me. A few years ago i was involved in a large project that allowed me to go to an archive and look through some original golden age comics. I’m turning the pages on stuff from the 30s and 40s and seeing ads for war bonds and all kinds of other products. It was amazing to see how society was reflected through those ads. And then through the 60s and 70s seeing them embrace beat and flower culture was fun. All that amazing history gets lots in the reprints for sure.

  4. I didn’t read comics much as a kid, but oddly enough, whenever I think back to being younger, I always remember the issues of Superboy and ElectricBlue Superman I used to pick up at the grocery store.

  5. My first comic was some weird issue of Spawn and an issue of Batman where he beat some people to death with a chair leg.Those 2 issues made sure I didn’t read comics for the next 15 years.

  6. An old Hulk issue where he fights Thor puts me in my bedroom somewhere between 5 and 8 years old with a drawer full of comics. That issue is the only one I still have as I gave all the rest away, for some reason, to a boy with the same name as me.

    X-men omega reminds of the drawing I did of it’s amazing wrap around foil cover.

    A Legends of the Dark Knight mini called Blades (drawn by Tim Sale) puts me back in Fantastic Store, my childhood LCS (Long since closed down) along with any Jim Lee X-men or 90’s Cable.

    Watchmen puts me in the North East of England, Easter 2003, working on bungee trampolines and reading comics for my BA dissertation.