Monday, January 25, 2021

Searching for the Yellow Paper and Finding a Gold Mine

I wanted it to be like it used to be, back in the day.

If you read this blog, I wax nostalgic about a lot of things. Ever since last year's 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back, I've been in a forty-years-ago vibe. Not sure why. It's likely because 1980 was one of the big transition years: graduated elementary school and started middle school. Sure, getting to high school's a big deal, but for me, this was a huge one. It was the first time I went to a new school (I attended Chambers Elementary in Alief all six years), I started learning to play the saxophone, and it was a new decade.

Part of that forty-years-ago vibe is comics, and recently, I picked up my copies of The New Teen Titans. I am enjoying them and aim to keep re-reading them, now with my adult outlook on life.

As Inauguration Day 2021 occurred this past Wednesday, another image came to mind: Inauguration Day 1981. The teachers wheeled the TV into the classroom for us all to watch the swearing in of Ronald Reagan. By the way, for those old enough, was there ever a better thing to see when you entered a classroom than a TV or a film projector? You know the answer.

It was one of the first split screens I had ever witnessed. The American hostages, imprisoned for 444 days, were released on 20 January 1981, after Reagan was sworn in. I have no memory of what I thought on that day, but everything just seemed brighter. Throw in the space shuttle Columbia's inaugural launch in April and the spring of 1981 was a pretty good season for a sixth grader.

By 1981, I had already discovered the two comic book stores here in Houston: Roy's Memory Shop and Third Planet. My family didn't go out shopping during the week too often, so Saturdays were the days that included Shipley's Do-Nuts, Saturday morning cartoons, and trips to the comic store to pick up a few issues using my allowance. Great times.

Cut to this past Saturday. After I consumed some Shipley's do-nuts and watched Saturday morning cartoons on MeTV (and Wandavision), my son and I planned on going to Half Price Books. It had been awhile and we were both looking for some new-to-us music. But I also made a little promise to myself. I would look through the comic book section and buy an old comic. It didn't matter what it was or if there was only one. It didn't matter that I could easily download old comics on my iPad. It didn't matter that I could order a collection via Amazon and have it delivered.

I wanted to buy a comic, just like the old days.

How would I know what comic to buy? Easy. Just look for the yellowed paper.

Half Price gets comics of all shapes and sizes. Some are bagged and most are modern comics, so it's pretty easy to spot the older ones. Plus, those thick annuals are even more of a treasured find. A 64-page comic for a dollar? In fact, it was one of those that first caught my eye. A Bloodlines annual from 1993. Holy cow. When did a 1990s-era comic become old enough to be yellowed?

But a few comics away in that very same row was a group of comics, all with yellowing paper. My fingers walked to that stack and revealed the title: Atari Force #2. My fingers kept walking. There was issue three, four, five. I started counting until I got to issue twenty, advertised on the cover as the final issue. I quickly went back to two and flipped the comic in front of it. Special #1.

Holy cow. This was the entire run of a comic title I remember from the 1980s but never read. Here I was awash in nostalgia for the early 80s and wanting to buy an old comic. Why not twenty?


As it turned out, Special #1 was not, in fact, the first issue. It was an issue released a year after the run ended. But my son--not a comic book collector at all--had actually picked up a few Atari Force comics at a Free Comic Book Day a year or two ago. Viola! He had issue #1.


Atari Force was originally a 5-issue series created by Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, and Jose Garcia Lopez to accompany sales of Atari video game cartridges in 1982. This run started in October 1983 (cover date January 1984) and ran for twenty issues.

Just like the old day, I laid on the floor and read issues one and two and am already digging it. Where the letters column would have been was a short essay by editor Andy Helfer, bringing readers up-to-speed on what Atari Force was and is. Issue two has an origin story of the series penned by Conway along with Fact Files that focuses on the main characters, including major events in their lives. Fun to see some of those dates is still in our future here in 2021 while others are already in our past.

I'll write about the series when I finish, but one thing literally jumped off the page: Lopez's layouts. They are not always your standard number of squares on a page with white borders. He clearly had fun playing with borders and colors and styles and it's a joy to read.

What's also fun are the ads. From spaceship models based on Return of the Jedi and action figures based on DC properties like Warlord and Sgt. Rock (sold at Kmart) to Superman peanut butter and the NBC Saturday morning cartoon lineup (The Flintstone Funnies with Fred and Barney dressed as cops?), I enjoyed remembering those old days, even if for only a few minutes.

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