26 February 1977 was apparently a Saturday and on this particular Saturday I was 6 years, 2 months, 14 days and an indeterminate amount of hours old.
I was also a little boy whose reading skills were poor enough to worry those around me, bad enough in fact for my mother to have been called into a meeting with one of my teachers about the subject. I’m not sure who this particular teacher was and why they decided on the course of action my mother would ultimately take, but their advice was to set me on a course that would significantly alter my life.
The logic went something like this: Alan likes to draw and he likes to look at drawings, Alan doesn’t like to read or look at words. So why not buy Alan comics so he can see the words in a visual context?
So sometime after Saturday 26 February 1977 my mother bought me a comic book, one that was fresh out – an issue 1. It was called 2000AD and recent interviews with Patt Mills (the editor, otherwise known as Tharg The Mighty at the time) clearly state that no one expected it to last into the next decade much less the next century.
Over the next four decades I would not read every issue of this weekly publication, there was a time during the 1990’s when I stopped reading it entirely in favour of the DC/Vertigo line of comics, but it was always there in the back of my mind. Now we much fast forward to a much older Alan, one who had mastered reading and had even mastered something of the art of writing itself.
The year is 2009 and I was working as a civil servant. I was miserable and it was not only the work that is getting me down, there were personal issues too (which I won’t go into here) that had driven me into that place we all go sometimes; the proverbial “rut”. One Wednesday morning I woke with the decision that I would buy a comic that day, there was no logic in my decision; it was merely an attempt to stave off an increasing feeling of panic about life.
So dinnertime I went into a local newsagent and looked through The Spectacular Spider-Man and Uncanny X-Men comics they had on their shelves and amongst them I (re)discovered 2000AD.
It was all I remembered it to be, yes the paper stock had changed considerably as had most of the writers and artists (with some significantly remaining the same); but everything important was still there. Yes it was all I remembered it to be, but… it wasn’t quite the same nevertheless.
So a new quest began.
The first batch I found was from the mid-90’s, and the second were from the early 80’s. Then one day in a local charity shop called Snowdrops I was met at the door by the manager who presented me with issues one through to five and it was then that I realised I what I was intending to do all along.
It should have been obvious of course, but I didn’t think I was re-collecting them. I mean, what idiot would decide to re-collect almost 1,800 issues of a comic they read as a child? Even at 50p a piece we’re still talking a budget here of a thousand pounds, and that’s not including the ones coming out every week.
Even if the money wasn’t the issue there’s the space. There are perhaps two hundred issues to a box, so this would make about ten comic boxes full at least. This would be on top of the hundreds I already have from DC, Marvel and the independents.
This is insanity, I say to myself, Insanity! But heedless to my own good council I continue to buy these things regardless.
So why is this? Is it just because of the enjoyment I get from them?
Why people do what they do is always a complex consideration and there are no simple answers to even the most basic actions. Two years on from the beginning of this re-discovery I find stranger things are resulting from it than I would have thought.
I have always had a rather poor memory. I know that most people profess to have a bad memory but you’ll have to take my word for it that mine is considerably worse than most peoples. More importantly (for this situation at least) is that I have no memories of my childhood and very few of my adolescence and even those I do have a fragmentary and vague.
Since re-reading these old comics from my childhood I’ve noticed fragments of memories I had not been aware of before. Again these are fragments and tell me little of my youth, but they are new and fresh and I have not experienced them before.
I remember a Monday dinnertime, it was sunny outside and the kitchen seemed darker for it. I had eaten beans on toast for lunch and I am leafing through issue 265 of 2000AD (which, if correct, would make me 11 years old and the date 22/05/82). On the cover is a freebie, a pack of cola flavor Bubblicious gum. I take one and eat it on the long trek back to school.
Another day (I used to believe it to be the same day, but this can’t be true because in this memory I’m much younger) I am sat on the grass beside what we called the “tin buildings” at junior school. The grass is off limits but I had sat in a position which was close enough to its limits that I was being overlooked. A hundred yards away a group were playing. They were boys I knew and one or two of them I almost thought of as friends. They were running down out of view and then back again, the place they were going was a clear “out of bounds” area and this is what entertained them.
I remember sitting there and wondering. I didn’t understand what they were doing and why they were doing it. I remember wanting to join in but not knowing how or why. I remember a whistle blown (was this how they signalled the end of break?) and immediately I made my way into the “tin buildings” I had been sitting beside. I remember in the room in which I sat my desk was near the window and about three desks away from the teachers; and I remember being alone in the room even when it was full a few minutes later.
Both these memories were tiggered by leafing through issue(or Prog as it called) 265 of 2000AD. Now why memories from different times should come to the surface is beyond me. Perhaps I was thinking of the earlier memory in 1982 for some reason and I was remembering a memory of a menory?
So far I would suppose that the memories aren’t particularly pleasant ones, but if they are to be considered unpleasant then there are because of a kind of single-minded loneliness that was perhaps self induced. To be completely honest I’m not even sure of how much of these memories actually happened and how much is “imaginative reconstruction”. I remember being quite analytical about things and more self aware than I would give a child credit for: are these interpretations from then or are they just me looking back and “filling in the blanks”?
I do know (at least I feel strongly) that these memories aren’t a fabrication; I believe they happened in some form or another. I also believe that the comic I read in my youth offered more than just entertainment. I think that 2000AD was a friend of sorts and something I used as a child to make some sense of the world around me; perhaps the only thing I used at times.
It is only now as an adult that I can safely analyse these connections and perhaps make sense of the characters I felt most strongly drawn to.
Was I drawn to Strontium Dogs lead character “Johnny Alpha” because he was abandoned by his father but loved by his mother? Did his outward normality and inner strangeness strike a nerve with how I felt inside? Perhaps his strength and clarity lent me some support?
In fact perhaps the person that I am now owes more to these comic book writers and artists than I would ever have thought?