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Erik Dunham

Blockbuster First Issue!

ROM: Spaceknight

Rom Spaceknight issue 28 with the hero Torpedo being dragged underground by a giant hand while Rom and Starshine look on in horror.

The first comic book I remember owning was ROM: Spaceknight #28. I was home sick from school. Was I really sick or just sick of school? I can’t remember; I was all of eleven years old. My dad bought it for me to help me feel better. I do remember him handing it to me as he sat on the edge of my bed.

Why did he pick this one comic off the rack at the store? There were many different comics available in March of 1982. My father has always been a science fiction and horror fantasy fan. I’m guessing he picked this particular comic because it was about a spaceknight. Who doesn’t love the idea of knights in space? And the name is too weird: ROM. I like to think Pop saw the super-dude underwear vigilante comics on the spinner rack and thought this was more pulpy and, therefore, more fun.

Little did we know the impact that floppy would have on me. I was hooked. I became a comic book collector, sending away for catalogs and back issues, cajoling relatives into driving me comic shops, and learning the lore and history of the characters. The thrill of finding a back issue you were missing was epic. There was something about completing a run of issues that tickled my brain. I eventually collected all 75 issues of ROM.

Iron Man issue number 126.

I’m not sure when or how I discovered The Invincible Iron Man. I blame my uncle Buddy for introducing me to Shellhead. Wow, was Iron Man the best. His only superpower was his smarts. And while completely impossible, his tech was at least theoretically possible. I hunted down every issue including all of his appearances in his first comic, Tales of Suspense.

I got a job at the only comic book store in Myrtle Beach when I was in high school. I worked for comics, not money, in what was surely a violation of labor law. The mid-80s were a prime time for comics: the independent revolution took off with the self-publication of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by two friends. Art Spiegelman’s Raw and Maus demonstrated comics were a medium, not a genre. English translations of Japanese comics made it to our shores: Akira by Katsuhiro Otomo and Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind by Hayao Miyazaki were mind-blowing for their artistry and astonishingly complex stories. Frank Miller’s run on Daredevil and his The Dark Knight Returns heralded the era of anti-heroes with decidedly more violence and self-referential stories. The high-water mark was Alan Moore’s Watchmen, a 12-issue series that dropped like an atom bomb (actually a giant space squid), questioning everything about costumed vigilantes. Heady times!

College and grad school got in the way of comics. When I did get back into comics, it was Chris Ware and his Acme Novelty Comics that grabbed my eyeballs and didn’t let go.

Acme Novelty Library by Chris Ware.

The web, digital printing, and inexpensive overseas book production all came together in the late 1990s and early 2000s to birth a golden age of independent publishing. The Gatekeepers of Comic Book Publishing had lost their power. Any voice, any story could reach anyone.

I didn’t miss the monthly floppies. I checked in on Iron Man occasionally, but the stories had become repetitive and the artwork was over-stylized and overwrought. I looked more and more to the oddball publishers for my comics fix. The annual Small Press Expo weekend became my High Holy Days and thick, lavishly produced independent graphic novels drained my wallet.

Now my bookcases strain under the weight of Chris Ware, Seth, John Porcellino, Winsor McCay, George Herriman, Lynda Barry, Jack Kirby, Richard Sala, Kate Beaton, Johnny Ryan, Simon Hanselmann, and many others.

I still have all of my Iron Man comics and a few ROM issues. Nostalgia is one hell of a drug.


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