Some of my fondest memories involve scanning the comic racks when I was a kid, searching out treasures among the profusion of bright covers and bold logos. There was magic in the experience, and the thrilling anticipation of not knowing what you might find. I remember a few places in particular, places my mother frequented in her shopping, so they became my go-to locations for a comic fix.
There was a drugstore called DD's that had a spinner rack back near the pharmacy counter. That's where I probably bought my first comic, though I couldn't tell you exactly what it was. I remember plucking issues of "Rawhide Kid" off the rack, as well as "Nova," which was the first comic that felt like it was "mine," since I started buying it with issue #1. (I was too young to recognize Nova as a Spider-Man/Green Lantern amalgam.) DD's is long gone now, replaced by another charmless CVS.
There was the magazine rack at a supermarket called Waldbaum's, which is where my mother did most of her grocery shopping since it was the closest to our house. The comics were arranged on the lowest shelves of a wide magazine rack at the front of the store, usually in no particular order, so that you had to sort through everything to make sure you weren't missing a hidden gem. My mom would let me stay by the comics while she picked up the weekly groceries. I could always talk her into a dollar for some comics, so I'd sit on the scuffed, dirty tile floor and pick out my purchases. That was where I discovered "Savage Sword of Conan," usually with Earl Norem covers, and Marvel's "Planet of the Apes" magazine. For some reason, a specific rainy night stands out in my mind, because that's when I found a Frank Thorne "Red Sonja" comic featuring something called a Bear God. I was very particular about getting the issue out to the car under my jacket, so it wouldn't get wet in the rain. Waldbaum's is long gone as well. The building still stands, now housing a Staples and a Jo-Ann Fabrics.
A little later, a place called the Red Barn Deli opened, and its spinner rack held a better selection of the Marvel superheroes I favored. It was where I found the Perez and Byrne issues of "Avengers," as well as the classic Claremont-Byrne "Uncanny X-Men." It was my best chance to follow a series regularly, though there were inevitably gaps when an issue had disappeared before I could get there. I went in looking for the next "Avengers" issue, didn't find it, and ended up with a consolation prize (because any comic was better than no comic) of "Thor" #252 with a great Kirby cover. That cover is still burned into my memory. I think the Red Barn Deli remains, but it stopped carrying comics long ago.
I don't think there's anything quite like having a few dollars in your pocket and pawing through comics, not knowing what you might find. That part of the comics experience is largely gone. Except for the allure of the Quarter Bin.
I'm not an Every Wednesday guy. I just don't have the time to get to the store every week, much less the time to keep up with the books if I was getting a weekly fix. But the last time I was in my local -- Earthworld Comics in Albany, NY -- I raided the Quarter Bin. Or more correctly: bins, as there must be almost two dozen long boxes filled to capacity with delights and disasters. You never know what you might stumble across, what might end up in your stack for a measly 25 cents (which is about what comics cost when I first started buying them).
I gave myself a ceiling of $4 -- the same price as a single issue of many of the new comics on the rack. Here's what I got:
"Hellboy: Darkness Calls" #1: Mike Mignola, Duncan Fegredo and Dave Stewart for a shiny quarter? You bet!
"Domino" #2: The writer of this, Joe Pruett, is currently kicking my ass in our fantasy baseball league, so I didn't buy it for him. I bought it for the glorious Brian Stelfreeze art. Brian's one of the best guys working, and as far as I'm concerned, THE best guy for drawing action.
"Nightwing" #59: Gorgeous, fluid Rick Leonardi art, wrapped in one of my favorite J.G. Jones covers ever.
"Birds of Prey" #66: Gail Simone story? Nice. Dan Brereton cover? Excellent. Michael Golden interiors? Awesome!
"Mister Miracle" #1: Damn, that Pasqual Ferry can draw. This Grant Morrison guy ain't too bad either.
"Spider-Man's Tangled Web" #9: Spider-Man works best when he feels real. Lee Weeks draws him that way. One of my favorite Spidey artists ever.
"Ex Machina Special" #4: If you can't have Tony Harris, John Paul Leon is a pretty damn fine replacement.
"Teen Titans: Year One" #1: Love the Titans. Love this miniseries, especially the art by Karl Kerschl, Serge LaPointe and the late, great Steph Peru. Plus, it's got Aquaman on a giant seahorse, which is always, always cool.
"Mighty Avengers" #4: Monkey Boy Frank Cho draws a spread of all the Iron Man armors. You don't need anything else.
"Action Comics" #844, #845, #846: Adam Kubert utilizes a double-page spread like nobody else. My favorite Superman story of the last few years.
"Grendel: Behold the Devil" #4: Matt Wagner writing and drawing his signature creation in black, white and red. As it should be.
"Bulleteer" #1, #2, #3: Yanick Paquette drawing a lady covered in metal. Duh.
"Countdown Special: Jimmy Olsen" #1: A chunky collection of Kirby reprints for less than the original issues cost. At 25 cents, even the Swan heads on Kirby's Superman bodies don't bother me.
Yes, I know that's actually 17 issues. My friend Will who works the counter at Earthworld threw in a freebie. Now, truth to tell, I already own most of these issues. However, they're packed away in a box somewhere, so it's easier to just grab a new copy. I keep a drawer in my desk filled random comics for inspiration, and all these issues will find a home there.
But it wasn't really about the comics I brought home. It was about the comics I discovered. It was the journey, not the destination, and it helped me get in touch with the simple joy I felt as kid scouring spinner racks. Maybe a quarter bin somewhere can do the same for you.
Shelf Life will appear every day next week as CBR gives me some space to take you through how we put together "Voodoo" #1, from script, to layouts to pencils, inks, color and lettering. We've kept "Voodoo" -- both the book and the character -- pretty mysterious on purpose. But next week we'll pull back the curtain a bit and show off how issue #1 came together. Should be... revealing.
Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it's pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes "Artifacts," "Witchblade" and "Magdalena" for Top Cow, "Voodoo" for DC and his creator-owned title, "Shinku," for Image. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com