Marvel Comics started 70 years ago as Timely Comics. Their first comic, Marvel Comics #1 was released in October 1939. It’s hard to believe that the company has been around this long and has had so much impact on our collective culture. The recent purchase by Disney has many of us long-time fans concerned, but looking at the history of ownership and the crap they’ve put up with, the company should hold up fine.
It’s hard to explain exactly what Marvel Comics means to me. First and foremost they were my comic company of choice. Before I discovered independent companies, I was an X-Man fan. I was a Wolverine fanboy before there were Wolverine fanboys. Of course, my innocent fascination turned to disgust by the later ‘80s when the very comics I turned to to teach me a degree of worldliness displayed the same behavior they had taught me to be cynical of.
While I won’t go as far as to say comics flat-out taught me any great life lessons, they did help me better understand certain things. Being raised in a Christian home, the values of right and wrong were always important. Comics reinforced these concepts while at the same time introducing complex ethical dynamics. Beyond that, though, I think the biggest thing I got from any comic is a yearning for literature. Comics generously lift characters and ideas from all kinds of places. Because I read about Hercules, Thor, Faust, Grendel, and the concepts of Orwell and Huxley in the pages of comic books, I decided to go out and find the original books.
That is not to say that comics aren’t capable of being great literature in their own right. Everyone uses The Watchmen or V for Vendetta as examples, but I’d list Camelot 3000, Stray Toasters, Elektra: Assasin, Maus (more than almost any other), and many others as great examples of the heights to which comics are capable of climbing.
I found it difficult to give up X-Men even though Wolverine was literally showing up in every Marvel title while having two of his own books of one which was bi-weekly. I found a new psycho in First Comics’ The Badger, but it still didn’t have the nostalgic pull of the old-school Marvel comics. I eventually weaned myself off of them when I got into my later teens. I was far more interested in girls and figured that reducing my amount of geekiness would improve my chances. However, I’ve come back to read them time after time and I’m now an avid reader again.
The Times Online has a wonderful list of 70 facts about Marvel comics that you (maybe) don’t know.
The X-Men cover I chose to accompany this post is Uncanny X-Men #216. I chose this issue specifically because there was a full-panel splash page of Wolverine on Page 1 that I traced and drew and drew and drew. That’s how I learned to draw comics tracing and then doing free hand. I never got very good, but, at least for a while, I was able to hold my own. So, thank you Jackson Guice and Dan Green for creating compelling artwork I copied a whole bunch.