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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Introducing new contributor Michael Campochiaro

We're very proud to add Michael Campochiaro to our ranks of regular contributors. Michael is a seasoned veteran of retro pop culture journalism and has written for Sequart, The After Movie Dinner, Spectrum Culture and his own blog, Words Seem Out of Place. Typically we don't expect new contributors to provide an essay on why 80s comics were so influential to them, but Michael was so enthusiastic about it that we just couldn't refuse. Alright, that's all you really need in the way of introductions. On to Michael...

As often happens with obsessions formed at a young age, a friend's older sibling played a key role in kick-starting one of mine. By the early to mid 1980s I'd been reading comic books for several years already. I was just a wee lad though, content to read Super Friends, Batman, Amazing Spider-Man, and Justice League of America, mostly, plus whatever other books looked cool on the spinner rack at the local convenience store. Then, somewhere around '83 or '84, my friend's older brother introduced us to his prodigious comics collection. Now, he was a teenager and had his own bedroom/bachelor pad in their finished basement. It was filled with cool comics, movie posters, and art he'd drawn of his favorite characters. For the two of us, who were around eight or nine years old, this made him a God.

We spent countless hours on the floor in his room, completely engrossed in comics. This was also during the real independent comics boom of the early '80s, so he had plenty of issues of American Flagg!NexusWhisper, and Badger, from upstart companies like First Comics and Capital Comics. We were like kids in a candy store, only our candy store stocked comics.

One day my friend's brother mentioned the local comics shop. When I expressed no knowledge of its existence, he implored me to check the place out. When I got home I immediately asked my parents to take me there. They knew comics had inspired my burgeoning interest in art and drawing, so they were fine with encouraging this growing obsession. Off I went, usually with my father, every month (sometimes twice monthly) for the rest of my childhood and on into my teen years. My father was the most patient man I've ever know This patience was on full display every time he'd wait quietly for me at the LCS, while I perused the new issues and dug through the back issue bins, lost in the four-color wonder of it all. Even the shop itself was like heaven to me: it was small and cramped and packed so tight you could barely squeeze around people in it. It was complete sensory overload for a kid like me: posters, toys, memorabilia, and of course thousands of comics.

Nexus meets the Badger: Nexus #7 (1985, First Comics)

I came of age at the exact right time to be a comic book nerd. Shortly after discovering my LCS, a succession of groundbreaking comics were released. One of these was Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns in early 1986. I was ten. It astounds me now to think of a ten year old not only reading, but absorbing, the brutality and despair in those pages. Yet I did, and it changed me, made me see not only comics but literature and art differently. Batman had been my favorite character up to that point and would remain so for several more years. I'd never read a Batman story like this before, though. Afterwards, it felt like I'd graduated to the next level. The next level of what, I had no idea, but some small step in the transition through adolescence was occurring.

Another book that changed my life during those years was the graphic novelization of "The Dark Phoenix Saga", collecting Uncanny X- Men #129–137. This released in '84 and I can still see it on an endcap at our favorite local bookstore. The stunningly painted Bill Sienkiewicz cover art, commissioned specifically for the collected edition, beckoning to me: "Buy me!" My mother saw how much I was drooling and said, "Let's get it." These stories had originally been printed a few years earlier, but here, in one gorgeous package was the meat of the saga. A perfect volume for a young reader like me to experience the eye-opening epic grandeur of Claremont and Byrne's Uncanny X-Men. At nine, I was hooked again, this time on the X-Men. To this day, "The Dark Phoenix Saga" remains my single favorite comic book story. I've written about it at my blog before, if you're interested.

This being a blog about DC Comics, I'll refrain from pining any further for the great Marvel Comics of my youth. I'll say this though, during those heady days of collecting as a kid, my go-to titles were always a mixture of DC and Marvel: the various Batman titles, Justice LeagueGreen LanternCaptain AmericaUncanny X-Men, the assorted Spider-Man books, and on and on. I quickly learned that comics nerds liked to choose sides in the eternal DC vs Marvel debate, but I usually played Switzerland because I absolutely adored so many comics from both publishers. Now it's clear to me that I was attracted to DC because their heroes were so iconic, so out of this world and inspiring. They were like living myths, or at least as much as four-color characters on a page can be considered living. Marvel, on the other hand, both satisfied and encouraged my taste for outsider, marginalized characters. They were loaded with characters who reflected my own adolescent awkwardness. They were extremely relatable.

Comic books were the fuel I needed as a kid to explore my own imagination, to encourage my own artistic talents, to take things farther than I'd known was possible before. I was awestruck at the gloriously expressive art in those pages, hooked on characters that I quickly grew to see as inspirational totems (I'm looking in your direction, Rogue and Green Arrow), and constantly amazed at the fantastic adventures that comics took me on. If my comic book origin story sounds familiar, that's probably because it closely mirrors your own.

-Michael Campochiaro

We're looking forward to more Michael Campochiaro submissions in the future. In the meantime, here are some previous articles he's written on various comic book properties:

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