Earliest Comics Memories (Part 1)

I was looking through some of my old UK Annuals earlier today, which brought back a lot of old childhood memories for me about the very earliest comics that I ever read. I started buying my first comics when I was about four years old, which would have made that sometime during 1965, and I read and (later) collected comics without a break from that point up until 1982, when I stopped reading them for about a decade.

Back in 1965 was the prehistoric past, decades before anything like specialised Local Comics Shops and the Direct Market even existed. Back in those dim and distant days, the UK comics industry was flourishing, and every little corner shop and newsagents had dozens of British comics on display. There were comics of all kinds, from the “funnies” like the Beano, the Dandy, Topper, Beezer and others, to war comics like Hotspur and Victor, sports comics like Tiger, and mixed-genre comics like Lion, Valiant and Eagle, containing everything from sci-fi and fantasy, to action adventure, to humour strips.

For me, it all began in back 1965, when I started to spend weekends at my granny’s (I used to spend every weekend with her between the ages of 4-8). Next door to her house was one of those wee corner shops (except it wasn’t actually on a corner), just like the thousands of other similar little shops (what Americans refer to as “Mom and Pop Stores”) so common on almost every street in the UK and Ireland, back in the days before the big supermarkets came along and put them all out of business. This particular shop was run by an elderly brother and sister team, and on my earliest visits to my granny’s, I initially started visiting the shop to buy sweeties, as any normal four year-old would do. But I very quickly learned that there was a heckuva lot more than sweeties in this shop.

Talk about a big Box of Delights. This one little shop had a long counter-top covered with almost every UK comic available during that period, spread out flat to cover an area about six feet deep and twenty feet long. I had never really paid attention to comics before, but, then, I’d never seen so many of them in one place, and so beautifully put on display. It was mesmerising, and very soon, I was completely hooked. I started off buying my first regular comic, the Lion, followed closely by the Valiant, both of which I would pick up every Saturday morning as soon as the shop opened.

The shop had one of those wee bell things above the door that rang every time someone entered or left the shop. The sound of this bell woke me up every Saturday morning at 6.30am on the button, as soon as the shop opened. I was up like a shot, got dressed, ran next door to the shop to pick up my copies of the Lion, Valiant and whatever else I could afford (sadly never anywhere nearly enough, as pocket money was very short back in those days), and then back into my granny’s, where I’d sit at the kitchen table, eating my breakfast and reading my comics. Sheer heaven. 🙂

This is where my life-long comics reading obsession began, and I have some of my fondest memories from this time in my life, when I was so young and innocent, and full of wide-eyed wonderment, and when I discovered comics for the very first time.

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Nostalgia Collecting – Old UK Comics and Annuals

They say that nostalgia is the narcotic of the over-forties. I’m almost fifty-three, and I can definitely admit that it’s particularly true of me. I’ve always been a very nostalgic person, always fascinated by the past, even back when I was a kid. So pretty much my entire life, I’ve been on a quest to collect old stuff, particularly stuff that has some meaning for me, or which connects me to the “Golden Age” of my youth.

In recent years, I’ve spent a lot of time and money on Ebay, picking up many of the rare relics of my childhood and early-to-mid teenage years. One of the things that I like most is to grab the occasional old (and by old, I mean 1950s-1970s) British comic, as opposed to the US Marvel comics (which I also enjoy collecting) that I became a fan of from my mid-teens onwards. Way back in the day, before I ever encountered my first superhero comics, I was an obsessive collector of several of the traditional British weeklies. But that was before Marvel UK exploded onto the UK comics scene with The Mighty World of Marvel and its offspring from late 1972 onwards, and changed everything.

Over the years I’ve bought a lot of old issues of my favourite pre-Marvel UK British comics from the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s, mainly Lion, Valiant, Eagle and Thunder. I would also dearly love to be able to buy a whole bunch of Countdown and TV21 (otherwise known as TV Century 21), but these seem to be harder to find on Ebay and when you can find them, they are invariably a heckuva lot more expensive than the likes of the Lion, Valiant and Thunder. Maybe someday, when I’m rich. 🙂

Another particular focus of my collecting has been those old UK annuals, the hardback, once-yearly collections of strips and other goodies from our favourite comics. I remember these annuals very fondly from when I was a kid. They were the “Holy Grail” for me back then, something that I eyed up enviously in the shops, and which I really, really wanted to get my hands on, but which were way, way out of my price bracket. We were from a poor family, and I didn’t have a lot of pocket money back in those days (the late 60s and early 70s). And annuals unfortunately did cost on average ten times the price of those weekly comics which were already stretching my meagre resources to the limit. Back then, annuals were simply far too expensive for me to buy on a regular basis, and so were usually only acquired when I got them as occasional Christmas presents from my Dad or other relatives.

So, in adult life, I’ve been trying to rectify things a bit by picking up a lot of these old annuals, and I’ve developed a real knack for snapping them up dirt cheap, or, at least, relatively cheaply. I’ve managed to get my hands on most of the Valiant, Lion, and Thunder annuals, and a whole bunch of assorted other UK comics-based annuals including Hotspur, Battle, 2000AD, Starlord, Eagle, Dan Dare, Countdown, The Trigan Empire and a few others. Add to those the various 1970s annuals put out by Marvel UK, and that’s a lot of annuals.

And just to add quite a few more to the already huge pile, I’ve also built up quite a collection of annuals based on various television sci-fi series, including pretty much all of the Doctor Who Annuals right from the very first one in 1964 up until the late-1970s, plus a bunch of Star Trek, Space: 1999, Blake’s 7, UFO and other assorted television-based annuals.

I often look at these ever-growing stacks of old annuals and comics in my spare room, and wonder “Am I going mental? Why am I collecting all of this old stuff? What the hell am I going to do with them?” Then I open one of them and feel the tidal wave of nostagia wash over me, all the old memories boring up from the depths of my moth-eaten excuse for a brain. And I feel good. Really good. Maybe nostalgia is the narcotic of the over-forties after all, and if it is, I hold up my hands and proudly proclaim that I’m a complete addict.

At least nostalgia is a much safer and more productive addiction than cigarettes, booze and drugs. And we all need our little hobbies to spend our money on, or life would be unbearable, all bills and shopping and crappy Real Life nonsense. The thought of that being all there is to life makes me shudder…