March 1981 was apparently a good month for comics I didn’t buy.

§ October 7th, 2019 § Filed under collecting § 12 Comments

I’m sure those of us who collect comic books have specific memories tied to particular issues in their collections. Like Uncle Scrooge and every piece of currency in his money bin, where each item interred there is not kept (mostly) out of sheer avarice, but because of the events or emotions that they can evoke.

I’m probably overselling the premise of the post a bit here, as mostly I’m just talking about recalling the exact circumstances surrounding the acquisition of, or encounters with, certain comics. I don’t mean, like, the Big Ones…I’m sure you’re gonna remember doling out the kid’s college fund to snag that copy of Amazing Fantasy #15 or whatever. Rather, I’m talking about memories tied to, you know, just random issues…nothing remarkable or hugely sought after, but just your typical comic purchase made as part of your day-to-day or week-to-week regular comic purchases.

For example, I remember riding my bike over to the Circle K near the Seebee base in Port Hueneme and buying my copy of Saga of the Swamp Thing #4. Or driving up to the comic shop, picking up the newest issue of Watchmen (#11), reading it, then driving back to Oxnard for my high school graduation. That’s the sort of thing I mean.

I was reminding of this particuilar phenomenon when the following two comics popped up in collections I was processing at the store (which is, of course, Sterling Silver Comics, located in beautiful Camarillo, CA, where I also provide mail order service to locales near and far). Now, in these cases, these weren’t comics I’d purchased at the time (coincidentally, both cover dated March 1981, so likely were released close to the new year), but instead other people’s comics that I’d read. That makes it even slightly more unusual that I’d remember the circumstances of my encounters with these books without having them in my possession as constant reminders.

First was Flash #295:

I don’t remember whose comic this was, but I do remember where I first saw it…in my 6th grade class. Don’t worry, I wasn’t, like, sneaking it in my textbook when I was supposed to be studying, like I’ve seen in that old Daisy BB gun ad or in movies/TV shows but never in real life. It was during some free time, perhaps during an indoors recess period during inclement weather outside, but it was handed to me, and by gosh that’s how I read about Gorilla Grodd fighting the Scarlet Speedster, a story best absorbed in an educational setting.

I’ve never owned the comic, never felt the urge to go back and fill in my collection with a back issue purchase of it. But every time I saw it after that, I would think back to my 6th grade classroom (even down to where I was sitting in that room at the time) and how I first saw that comic there. Eventually, I would start buying The Flash on ‘n’ off with issue #300, which would be a good one to start with. And I’d keep reading, all the way through the whole “Trial of the Flash” storyline which 0killed wrapped up the series. …Hey, I liked it.

The other comic was Action Comics #517:

…which was an issue of the series I had missed, somehow, despite buying the Superman books fairly regularly around this time. Hey, when you’re in sixth grade, even doing the rounds of all the local convenience stores and supermarkets and even making regular trips to the well-stocked newsstand we had in town, stuff sometimes slipped past you.

But this issue didn’t slip past my friend David, and I still remember sitting in a room in his house and reading this issue cover to cover. And again, like that Flash above, every time I saw this a copy of this comic after that, I’d think of David and that day I was at his house, reading his comic book instead of, like, being sociable.

Now the thing about this comic…years later, when I was still working at my previous place of employment, David actually stopped by with a stack of comics to sell. And yes, one of the comics he was selling was that very copy of Action Comics #517 I’d read so many years ago. As it turned out, the boss didn’t buy much (if any) of his stuff, since it wasn’t really in resellable condition (probably not my fault, I’m sure even as a child I handled his comics with the gentle touch of the comics retail professional I would someday become), and I wish the story ended with “so I asked David if I could keep that copy of Action so that someday I could blog about having it in my possession, once blogs are invented” but alas, he took them away to some unknown fate. Probably living happy and free on a farm upstate, and not thrown away or burned in a fireplace.

I suppose technically I own copies of these two comic books now, since they’re in my store with my price tags on them. But it’s weird how two comics I otherwise have never owned have loomed so large in my comic book memories after all this time.

12 Responses to “March 1981 was apparently a good month for comics I didn’t buy.”

  • Thelonious_Nick says:

    Man, covers in that period knew how to sell the comics. Look at that Superman cover. Who wouldn’t want to read it to find out just what that object is that Superman is holding?

    I know it’s considered primitive or gauche or whatever now, but maybe, just maybe, comics companies might consider whether the lower sales on comics nowadays might have something to do with the industry eschewing covers like that?

  • James says:

    “Huh. I wonder what that object Spider-Man is…

    Oh, it’s a candy bar.

    Well, I guess I don’t have to buy this comic. Mystery solved.”

    A story in three acts.

  • Pete says:

    I definitely have those same kind of sense memories with regards to specific comics too, especially in my early days of collecting. But the strongest memory I have is while waiting my turn at the local barber shop (when they were still around) in what must have been 1980. They used to keep some comics around to amuse kids while waiting their turn, and I can distinctively remember reading through What If #22 (What If Dr. Doom Had Become A Hero) and the first issue of JLA where Firestorm joined (#179). It took me years to track them down through just remembering pieces of the plots in the pre-internet age.

  • John Lancaster says:

    Like a weird comic book Rain Man I can randomly grab any comic from any of my boxes and tell you where I bought it, how much it was, what year I bought it (most of the time), whether it’s my original copy or a later replacement or upgrade, in some cases how many times I’ve stupidly sold it and re-bought another (my record is repurchasing a full run of Firestorm 8 times over 20 years). When I see others buying some back issue I know I have, I run through all of that info silently in my head. It may sound like a neat parlor trick but sometimes it feels like a curse.

  • Grandpa Simpson says:

    Now, to take the ferry cost a nickel, and in those days, nickels had pictures of bumblebees on ’em. “Gimme five bees for a quarter,” you’d say.

  • Donald G says:

    For me, every time I see Jim Starlin’s cover of SUPERBOY AND THE LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #238 posted, I’m transported back to a particularly dreary, rainy Saturday afternoon in February 1978 when my grandfather dragged me out for a haircut I didn’t want and I took that comic along to read in the car.

  • @misterjayem says:


    My brother and I read that one to ribbons on a family trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota.

    — MrJM

  • John Lancaster says:

    -Rode my bike about a mile to the Ben Franklin dime store on the corner where I also purchased Spectacular Spider-Man #17, Machine Man #1, Challengers of the Unknown #86, and an issue of Little Lulu (something in the #240’s? – the savant thing doesn’t always work)

  • ExistentialMan says:

    Great post, Mike! My first detailed memories of a specific comic occurred at the neighborhood barber shop in the early 70’s. The first was Little Monsters published Gold Key. The cover was of dad scaring Orvie and Annie with an attractive-looking human mask. The barber (Hippie Barry) must have seen my fascination because he let me take it home. I read the covers off that thing. I finally found and bought a nicer copy at Mid-Ohio-Con in 1983. The other book was Avengers 95 with the Vision beating the crap out of a Skrull on the cover. The Neal Adams art just blew my mind. Unfortunately, that one stayed at the barber shop.

  • Philfromgermany says:

    Hooray for barbers! My dad’s old Military buddy ran a Shop in the next village and there were always comics in the read pile! I vaguely recall flipping through german editions of Kirby FF and Ditko Spider and being somewhat unimpressed by the artwork :)
    What did I know, being five or six years old, I couldn’t even read back then and had already been spoiled rotten by the gorgeous german “Superband” Editions of Superman and Batman which were not only larger format on better paper but also had breathtaking art by Jim Aparo and Neal Adams often fortified with double page pinups of the secrets of the Batcave, Krypton or Fortress of Solitude. I think I turned out a DC guy very early on. :)

  • John Austin says:

    I remember sitting in Algebra class, hopelessly lost, and reading X-Men #98 when it came out in December of 1975. Lunch was right before the class and across the street was a drug store where I bought lots of Bronze Age treasures I no longer have!

    Our desktops in that class had a lid so we could put our books inside. I sat near the back and read that comic, hiding under the desktop, cover to cover. How joyous it was to see Clark and Lois appear!

    I vaguely remember reading Starlin’s Warlock around the same time and having my mind blown by it.

  • Bryan says:

    I recently posted my memory of the day I bought Daredevil 227 on another (non-comic book) site, but one memory of a comic book that I’ve never read is in the first grade when one of my fellow students brought in a copy of Wonder Woman 298. I probably only knew the character through the live action show, so the Frank Miller-drawn cover of a chained-up skeleton wearing the WW costume was absolutely shocking, and I remembered it for years afterwards.